Abandon Ship: Hijinks (and High Water) in the Holding Tank

You may have read recently that my wife and I moved out of our yet-to-become-beloved Meander five nights after moving in.

If not, you can find the full report here. The fact that a sailboat is not a house can make the job of stowing one’s earthly possessions on one quite a challenge, and I noted that several days of this tedious activity on our new boat accounted for half the reason we abandoned it.

This post is about the other half of the reason.

But first, I should let you in on yet another way in which a sailboat is not a house.

Houses, or at least most modern American ones, have permanent sanitary drain lines connecting their toilet fixtures to off-site disposal facilities of seemingly infinite capacity—usually municipal sewage treatment systems or, somewhat less endless, septic fields.

In contrast, Meander’s head is connected to a “holding tank” with a very specifically defined capacity of twelve gallons. (For anyone living in any part of the world that is not, you know, the United States, that’s about 45 liters.)

And Meander’s holding tank is located just forward of the head, where its inspection port penetrates the top of the V-berth in the bow of the boat. And this is the berth that serves as our bedroom. Lucky us.

(One way, incidentally, in which houses and sailboats are similar: The owners of both tend to disguise references to anything associated with the end products of human digestion in coy euphemism. Powder room, water closet, loo. . . head. Septic field. . . holding tank. And if you ask a plumbing engineer what it is that the holding tank holds, he’ll say, “Effluent.”)

Having established all this, I should also mention that the first thing we did on the Tuesday afternoon we moved aboard was, for obvious reasons, to get the head up and running.
Just a quick aside here: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that a toilet can account for up to 27% of the 400 gallons a day the Average American Family of Four puts down the drain.

Running a few calcuations to adjust these figures for a family of one (what with Pam having established between us long ago that she has never been in a restroom in her life and our golden retriever, Honey, not yet trained to balance herself on the loo) would not be extraordinarily difficult. And if you were faced with a holding tank not much bigger than the fuel tank on a compact car, it would have occurred to you, an extraordinarily intelligent reader of the type of fine blogging literature most excellently exemplified by this post, to start doing this math immediately.

Therefore, I suspect, you will ask why it didn’t occur to me, a reasonably intelligent author of the type of fine blogging literature of which this post is such an excellent exemplar, to ask the following question until Friday night.

“I wonder how long will it take us to fill the holding tank?”

That was an error.

The next error was, “I’ll figure it out in the morning.”

And as I go on to report that my third error came Saturday morning with one more trip to the facilities, you, my extraordinarily intelligent reader, can already see where all this is “headed.”

Bay Bridge 3746898733_4ccaef6104_b

What’s that smell coming off the Chesapeake? Bay Bridge patrons want to know.


Water on the floor. Water in our bedding. Water in our cushions. Pick up the cushions, and more water rolls across the top of the V-berth. And  onto the floor again.

When Coleridge’s ancient mariner observed, “Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink,” I’m pretty sure he was thinking about the ocean’s high salinity rather than what we were facing.

Having cleaned out restrooms as a busboy in my youth, I am somewhat inured to such things. Distasteful to deal with, sure. But not impossible.

My wife, however, spent part of her youth studying history, and so missed developing such a strong stomach.

On the other hand, she did spend the other part working the service counter in an auto parts store, where she often had to deal with sh*t of a different kind. That’s gotta count for something.

So I wasn’t really surprised when Pam insisted that she be the one, her qualms notwithstanding, to work the forward part of the boat–something about toughening herself up, I guess. Rather, I gallantly decided to express my complete confidence in her by letting her dive in by herself.

She first removed the soaking wet bedding and stuffed it into a plastic bag. Then she passed the soaking wet cushions aft to me for removal to the open air of the cockpit. Then she mopped up the mess on the V-berth and the floor with rags and paper towels. Then she passed our recently stowed clothing aft so I could again get it into the cockpit before it began to absorb odors we did not want to wear.

And when she was done, she turned to me and said, “That’s it. We’ve had enough. Let’s get ourselves to a motel for a few days, use a real toilet, take a real shower, and rest.”

And I replied, “But sweetheart, I’m feeling fine. And isn’t a motel expensive? And shouldn’t you be using a hand sanitizer before trying to hug me?”
So after I ducked the soaked and stinking rag she threw at my head, we showed Meander our backs and retreated to a roadside motel about twenty miles from our marina for a few nights. On top of our ever-lengthening stowage battles, that holding tank spill was the next straw.

That’s right, the next straw. My fielding errors do not necessarily mean we’ve lost the ball game. And to misappropriate one of Tom Hanks’ great moments in A League of Their Own, “There is no last straw in cruising.”

So we’ll be back.

But I’ve got to learn to ask faster questions.


photo credit: Electricity on the Chesapeake via photopin (license)

9 thoughts on “Abandon Ship: Hijinks (and High Water) in the Holding Tank

  1. Are you absolutely sure your going to make it back to the boat. Somehow living on a boat and sailing sounds glamorous and fun until reality sets in. The head is one aspect I wold have trouble with.

    As a kid when I asked if we could go camping, my mother said we could go camping as long as she could sleep in motel with a clean bathroom and shower. That was it for camping.


  2. I must say, I found it thoroughly enjoyable to hear the tale from two sides. I look forward to reading more antics on the high seas (and dock side.) When you add snippets of Honey’s take on life, reading the Mike and Pam blogs are going to be like following you in 3D!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Did you find yourself saying “sh*t happens” frequently during the clean up? 😉 I have a few more puns, but I’m sure I’m the only one who would find them funny. Seriously though I feel bad for you guys. Hopefully this will be the worst that will happen.


    • Edith, to report on what I was actually saying during the cleanup would have required emptying the online world of all its asterisks. But there’s always room for humor in the aftermath in case you want to share those other puns. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • That stinks, what a crappy thing to happen. 😀 If you had put all the things you were saying into writing, your post probably would have been deleted because the computer would think it’s spam.


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