Getting into “it”
We have had people share with us that they feel something akin to envy when considering what Tim and I are up to. Well, truth be told, all’s not sunshine and fragrant roses, or should I say sweet-smelling tropical breezes…
First, a little background on our approach to getting ready. In our “About Cruising” page, on the audio file, we share what appeals to us about cruising. I speak a little about how I look forward to moving away from my usual planning mode… but we really can’t escape it … there is a LOT to do in order to make this dream happen.
When I first left work and joined Tim at his place, we embarked with enthusiasm on our preparation. Many of my management responsibilities had involved organizing and overseeing projects of various sizes. It was a delight to now be immersed in this undertaking, free of formal terms of references, work plans, Gantt charts, critical paths, and the like. To be able to jump in with both feet, without seeking approvals from above, and having ample buy-in from participants, was invigorating.
It was mid-winter. Day after day when we weren’t out snowshoeing or skiing through his woods, or taking care of the day-to-day necessities of off-grid living, Tim and I sat, side-by-side on the couch, with the warmth of the fire on our faces and laptops warming our – yes – laps. Like a couple of kids in a candy shop, we Googled this and that, sampling all the wares we could find, sharing the findings of our random research, interrupting one another and effectively pulling each on various tangents. We would jump from topic to topic, with previously unknown attention deficit tendencies emerging. Have you heard about AIS? Looks like we should get it. There’s some cool composting toilet designs out there, wanna see? Colonization sure had a horrific impact on the Caribbean islands. I think we need a lee cloth for our settee so that we can sleep there when underway. We can make it with that old tent trailer fabric you saved. Hey, did you know that mancala is widely played in Antigua? Look how these guys lashed their spare diesel cans to the stanchions. What do you think is the best way for us to get up the mast if needed? We should learn to use a sextant. I’ve just registered with a Bahamas chat group, want me to register you too? Let’s watch this video on storm tactics. And on and on and on, and suddenly, another day would be pleasantly consumed. Other than having gained a little more knowledge, there was nothing too substantial to show for our time.
Before we knew it, months had passed. Yikes! Time to don my red cape and move into super-planning mode. We brainstormed the tasks ahead, double-checking on some of the resources at hand. We made efforts at categorizing them into the “we won’t be able to go cruising without this”, the “highly desirable but not essential” and the “yeah, this would be nice to have but” lists. We considered the constraints we faced: time and budget. Since we had more of the former than the latter, we would not be hiring outside expertise unless absolutely necessary, so the limits of our abilities was an important third constraint. It all seemed do-able. Well, likely do-able. Looking back on the task list a few months later, it’s interesting to see how many of the high priority items have slipped down as the constraints become more real. Our worn dodger will likely hold out a little longer. Seven thousand dollars for a new suit of sails!!? Let’s leave out the trysail and cut that by a thousand. Do we really need to refinish the woodwork? We wouldn’t want to get everything done before departure – leaving some tasks will stave off boredom once underway.
So, we had a fairly thorough and prioritized list of the nearly 300 items we needed (wanted?) to complete. I then suggested we assign leads. Although it makes sense for Tim and I to both have need-to-know knowledge about everything, it is unlikely that we have energy or brain-power to both be experts in all. The renowned cruising couples we had gleaned information from, Lin & Larry Pardy, Paul & Sheryl Shard, John & Amanda Neal, and so on, all advised to divide roles. It seems that traditional gender roles are deeply anchored in sailing. Before starting a new passage, for example, Larry used to check the rigging and Lin prepared a few days’ worth of meals so that when she experienced the inevitable seasickness, Larry would still be well fed. Important that Larry was taken care of! Ok Tim, I’ll take the lead on making up some frilly curtains and finding some bedding and you take care of the engine, the rigging, the ground tackle – nope, that’s not gonna work for us – we’ll be breaking that tradition!
We have many systems on board that need some attention. We decided that whoever is lead has authority to go full steam ahead on those tasks without feeling a need to bombard the other person with details. Updates and seeking occasional second opinions as needed would be enough. Tim was already gravitating toward electrical tasks in his research. He has lived for years off-grid with a small solar installation supplying electricity to his straw bale abode, so has far more expertise than I. It made sense for him to take on this lead, to figure out what battery capacity we need, the best methods to charge, update all lights to low-draw LED… that kind of stuff.
So what was another foundational system that we should tackle sooner rather than later, that I could assume lead on, I wondered. What about water? We needed to re-jig some of our plumbing, come up with a way to collect and store fresh water, and deal with that smelly holding tank issue. I have minimal experience, but didn’t feel intimidated (yet!) since setting up our various water-related needs, unlike electrical systems, won’t risk causing a fire on board. Well, come to think of it, water does bring risk of leaks, messing up can really adversely affect our day-to-day quality of life while cruising, we could get sick from contamination … guess there is some basis for feeling a little intimidated. So it was decided. Tim would be the electrical lead and I would lead on the water systems. We were set. I had yet to realize the implications of this assignment, but it didn’t take long to recognize that I had taken on the shitty end of this deal!
The next step in project management? Execute the plan. Time to get into it. It was a cold winter’s day. I thought it made sense to get started by removing the existing holding tank. We were quite confident that it was within the dead space behind the toilet. All other space in the vicinity was accounted for. All I needed to do was remove the existing toilet, open up the fibreglass wall, detach the tank and get it out of there.
As side note, the toilet was easily removed. I cleaned and polished it up, and without much hope, posted it for sale on Kijiji. Much to our surprise, we found an appreciative buyer (also refurbishing an older boat on a tight budget), and made what felt like an illicit transaction in a parking lot, gaining $50 to reinvest in Ariose.
Back to getting the tank out. How does one cut fibreglass? I researched options, and it seemed that the selection of tools and methods people used were varied. Thickness of fibreglass, personal preference, and as I’ve since learned, ease of access are important. I did purchase a decent quality mask, donned it, put my ear plugs in and safety glasses on, and with Tim’s battery-operated drill and reciprocating saw with a new carbide blade charged and at my side, I took a deep breath and began. The initial revulsion of cutting into my precious boat nearly nauseated me. It would only get worse. Within a few minutes the drill punctured the wall, and the stench that emerged certainly did turn my stomach. I was overcome by the disgusting reek.
Oh my gosh. That wall wasn’t ENCLOSING a holding tank, it WAS the wall of the holding tank! I had no choice but to carry on. I poked my head through the v-berth hatch, took a deep breath of clean air, ducked down and sawed. Up for a breath, down to saw. My progress was only a ½ inch or so at a time. And despite my breath-holding practise in preparation for future snorkelling, it was gruelling. Seemed ludicrous to think of friends and colleagues envious of what we were up to.
The holding tank was integral, formed by the rounded hull and 3 vertical walls. Of course we, and all the previous owners, had pumped out the tank. Tim and I even took extra steps last fall at season end to flush lake water through and re-pump. One problem is that sailboats move. They heel and bump and agitate all contents. Excrement has a way of sticking when it hits surfaces, and our flush out had little effect on the tank’s ample coating especially of the higher parts. To make matters worse, the tank floor was an acute wedge-shaped trough. The pump out hose was secured there, but the hose itself acted as a dam blocking some of the contents from ever being sucked out. Ariose was built in 1969. That’s the residue of 46 years of excrement that had assaulted my nose. This was not what I had in mind when I decided it’s time to get into it!
I do need to say, however, that I was grateful that it was about 20 degrees below zero for the several days I worked on the tank. My hands would numb rapidly, but I could only imagine the toxicity I would be working within had it been summer temperatures. With the cold, the offending solid waste really was solid. Tim’s non-verbal communication can be a bit muted at times. He didn’t need to say anything, though, for me to get the clear message that he was not too pleased when he learned that I had helped myself to his best chisel to chip the brown “ice” out.
The main purpose in writing these blogs is for our own pleasure, and as a future memory prompt, but it sure is nice having a few subscribers along. I’m wondering if I’ve crossed a line in terms of over-sharing. In order to not driving subscribers away, I think I had better leave it at that.
I will share the clean bits, though before ending this post. Once I removed all that I could, I then followed with buckets of soapy water heavily laced with bleach. Even though it was hot water, it would begin to freeze as I worked on scrubbing out the tank. I got it to the good-enough point, and then when we were graced by warm weather this spring, tackled it with another thorough washing. Unbelievably, no odour remains. To be sure though, I used my Dremel to remove any loose fibreglass and I’ve since lined it with a new layer. This is my inaugural attempt at this new skill (seems fitting that it looks a little crappy), and just today, I put on the first coat of epoxy paint. We feel satisfied that the space is as good as new – fresh as a daisy one might say! I’ll rebuild the area in the coming weeks and transform it into a storage cubby. In project management talk, we’ll then have our deliverable and can move on to the next ones: installing the sink and new toilet.
But what about new waste we create you may ask? Or possibly you didn’t? In the next Ariose Note, I’ll answer that important question. Bet everyone’s eagerly anticipating that posting!