Friday, February 17, 2012

Dirty Jobs

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

Here's something you won't see in the cruising magazines.  Cruising sometimes means sipping cool drinks in the cockpit as you gaze at beautiful sunsets.  At other times it means doing disgusting jobs and dealing with black water.  Wednesday was a black day for me.

The toilet on our boat is a genuine Wilcox and Crittenden Skipper model. Made of bronze and porcelain with no plastic, it is the Cadillac of marine toilets.  New ones cost almost $1000.   A few years ago, a blog reader said that I should be proud to own one.  It served us well.   Once an internal part broke.  Other times I had to replace rubber and leather parts that wear out.  I guess I've had to disassemble and reassemble it three times in 7 years.   On all those occasions, I was able to flush it thoroughly with clean water before doing any work, so the jobs weren't dirty.  Our friend Chris once had to replace an electric motor in his Vacuflush toilet that was submerged under black water, so I felt lucky not to own that brand.

A couple of weeks ago, we couldn't work the piston.  I blamed the joker valve.  I took out the joker (a dirty job), cleaned it, and that seemed to fix it.  Wednesday, it happened again.  That kind of failure can not wait a day or two to repair. We have only one toilet on board.  I had to tackle it instantly.  

II took out the joker once again.  It was clean.  I investigated further.  I found that the 1.5 inch riser pipe leading from the toilet to the siphon break was plugged with salt.  I removed the pipe, took it outside and poured a glass of water in the top.  Nothing came out.  The pipe was completely blocked with salt.  Then I checked the bronze siphon break -- blocked.  Then the pipe from the break to the Y-valve - blocked.  Then the Y-valve, nearly blocked. 

I worked for 30 minutes to clear the shortest 3foot  length of pipe.  Too tough without a Roto-rooter.  The longer 6 foot piece would have been impossible. So I ran to West Marine and bought 9 feet of new pipe hose.  $5/foot!  Boy their prices are high.  Then I head to clean  the break and the Y-valve of dirty salt, trying to keep that black stuff off the decks.  In the process (get ready to laugh blog readers) I dropped the Y valve overboard.  What a dumb stunt.  I'll get a local diver to retrieve it for me. 

Quickly I ran to Home Depot. I was able to buy a 1.5 inch male-male splicer.  With that I was able to pipe the black water directly to the holding tank without a Y-valve.  Finally, I went to put on the new 3 foot section.  It would not fit over the male stub at the toilet.  I looked at the old hose,  it had been stretched out an extra 1/8 inch in diameter to fit.  How the heck does one stretch hose like that? I have no idea.  I had to give up, go back to reaming the old pipe for another hour using a piece of wire, then reinstating the old hose.  Toilet back in service.  My final chore was to clean and rinse with chlorine all places between the head and the bilge where black water had spilled. Total labor 10 hours.  

So, what happened?  As far as I can figure, the salt built up in these pipes over the years.  We try to follow the recommendations to put vinegar in the toilet every week, but we forget sometimes.  It was not the toilet that was clogged, it was the plumbing.  When I feel how easily the piston works with the new plumbing, I realize that the force needed to operate it has been building over the years.  It must have increased so gradually that we did not notice.  Now, it flushes easier, faster and cleaner than it ever did.  How old was the old plumbing?  I don't know. If it was original equipment -- 35 years.

When I get the Y-valve back, I should replace the other 10 feet of remaining plumbing downstream of the Y-valve, even though the sections I can see do not appear blocked.  

Here is a picture.  You see the end of a 1.5 inch pipe.  The material is thick-walled vinyl. Only a 0.5 inch channel remained open for liquid to flow.  The inner liner is so smooth, regular and round that it appears man-made, but it is not. It is 100% dirty salt. Somewhere else in the length of plumbing, the open channel had narrowed to zero.


  1. Try boiling water then hold the end of the hose in it to get it hot and soft, then push it on the fitting.

    Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. :))

    Good luck

    Bill Kelleher

  2. Like Bill K said, I've used boiling water to stretch hose, but now I just use a heat gun on it.

  3. If boiling water or a heat gun don't work, try the mandril at Midas
    Muffler to stretch the hose. It works for steel tubing.

  4. The boiling water did it. Thanks all.


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