The Great Poop Disaster

As an overly prideful Captain, I hate to admit that I make any mistakes, so it is with a great deal of humility that I bring you the story of the “The Great Poop Disaster.” Frankly I wouldn’t tell the story at all, but my wife was witness to the event and I’d prefer that I tell the story as it really happened as opposed to Michelle’s less flattering version (believe me, my version is bad enough).

It all started while we were at the Dry Tortugas, the most beautiful and unspoiled group of islands in the Florida Keys. My wife, Michelle and I spent several days there, snorkeling, bird watching, resting, and exploring Fort Jefferson, the old Fort that was built originally to protect the Gulf of Mexico shipping lanes and then served as a federal prison during the civil war.

The history and beauty of the Dry Tortugas is wonderful and Michelle and I lingered here longer than we had anticipated, which is not really a problem for us. We had plenty of food and we can make 20-30 gallons of water per hour. We are truly set for long term cruising, except that in the Dry Tortugas Park there is no waste disposal station and it is strictly against the law to pump any waste overboard. Luckily, Double Wide, our 40 foot Manta Catamaran, is equipped with two heads (toilets) and each head has a 20 gallon waste holding tank which can be pumped out at most marinas, or if that isn’t available, it can be semi-treated and pumped overboard via a special pump called a macerator pump. Using the macerator pump method of disposing of waste while in Florida coastal waters is strictly forbidden, so you must use a pump out station or wait until you are well offshore.

Since we had been in protected waters for a number of days, I was anxious to empty the holding tanks. As soon as we were in open waters and well clear of the protected Dry Tortugas National Park, I opened the overboard valves and ran the macerator pumps attached to each head. The port (left) pump, worked perfectly and emptied the tank quickly. The starboard (right) pump, however, was jammed and kept blowing the breaker when turned on.

Since we were headed to Everglades City (an easy overnight sail of approximately 110 miles), I planned to pump out the tank at a marina there, then after making sure it was completely empty and clean, I would repair the pump. It was a perfect plan, except that we discovered that Everglades City didn’t have a marina nor did they have any facilities to pump the tank. Since the port tank was empty, there was no rush to empty the starboard tank. Besides, we planned to head for Marco Island the following day.

The next day we were enjoying a fantastic and relaxing sail from Everglades City to Marco Island (about 20 miles). Those that know me at all will understand that I have to be doing something constantly. When we’re on longer day sails or extended passages, I am constantly busy fixing and tweaking. On this particular day, I was determined to fix the jammed macerator pump on the starboard waste holding tank.

Let me explain the configuration of the water closet (bathroom) in the starboard hull. There is a pump that empties the toilet bowl and forces the water and waste through a hose and into to the holding tank where it is stored. A hose runs from the bottom of the tank up to a fitting on the deck which allows the tank to be pumped out at a waste pumping station. A second hose comes out of the bottom of the tank and runs down to the macerator pump and then continues to a through hull fitting that pumps the semi-treated (finely chopped) waste overboard.

I was determined (did I mention that?) to fix the macerator pump and I reasoned that the tank couldn’t have more than a couple of gallons of waste in it. And I figured I could simply crack the seal on the pump, stick a screw driver in and free up whatever was jamming it. I assumed I’d have some leakage and was prepared with a small bowl placed below the pump, a sponge, and a roll of paper towels.

Here’s where the story really starts to stink! I loosened the first 3 nuts on the pump without any problem. As I loosened the 4th and final nut, a small amount of waste began to dribble around the seal. So far so good. Next, I stuck a screw driver between the top and bottom parts of the pump and broke the seal — wooosh! Within seconds I was covered head to toe in unmentionable waste. When I say covered, I don’t mean splattered. I mean COVERED, as in I could have showered in the stuff! As quickly as I could, I stopped the flow by putting the nuts back on and tightening them down until the flow stopped. The walls, the ceiling, head, and I were all covered in well ripened poop.

Michelle, was at the helm and totally unaware of what I was up to until I ran past her on the way to the shower, throwing my now brown and soaked clothes into the cockpit. Have you ever had a dog that was sprayed by a skunk? I can now fully empathize. All the hot water and soap we had aboard couldn’t get the smell off of me that day. The stench of the boat required hundreds of gallons of water, every cleaner we had on the boat, and several days work to clean up.

So, the next time you’re feeling like you can’t do anything right and you’re looking for some inspiration to cheer you up, feel free to think of Captain Clark, covered from head to toe in poop. It’s bound to make you feel better! Do you have any examples of sheer stupidity that you would like to confess to? Leave us a comment!

   One Comment

  1. Clark
      March 23, 2013

    Update: Since I posted this in 2010, I have heard from a number of other Manta Catamaran owners and it turns out that I’m not the only knucklehead out there — we’ve all made this mistake. I’ve since added a shutoff valve to the hose before the macerator pump. If the pump gets clogged again, the valve will keep me from taking a poop shower (assuming I remember to close the valve…).

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