September 26, 2016

Time for some potty talk

WE DON’T OFTEN talk about heads around here, but Harrison Butler did. Quite a lot.

T. Harrison Butler was the famous British naval architect perhaps best known for his metacentric theory of yacht design. But in his 1945 book, Cruising Yachts, he also includes a delightful passage about toilet arrangements on small boats, which he refers to in his delicate way as "sanitary accommodation."  Here's what he had to say:

"This is a most important question which, perhaps for reasons of modesty, is generally most inadequately dealt with.  Accommodation is necessary even in small day-boats . . .

"I am inclined to think that the ability to lodge the sanitation in the forecastle, apart from the main cabin, decides what must be the smallest size of a cruising yacht.  I am utterly opposed to a separate compartment in any yacht under about 12 tons.

"In the first place, it is absurd to sacrifice two-and-a-half feet of valuable space in the best part of the hull for functions which are limited to a few minutes a day;  in the second place, these small compartments, ill-ventilated, smelly and difficult to clean, have no advantages from the standpoint of privacy. A mere thickness of wood does not comprise seclusion, and for all practical purposes of concealment, apart from the visual, might not be there.

"Now, if the sanitation is lodged in the forecastle, there is considerable secrecy, for one can enter the forecastle from the saloon for a variety of purposes. Never forget that that, even when anchored head to wind, the current of air is from the stern forwards, and with an open forehatch the use of the convenience is attended with no unpleasantness.

"Again, these contrivances have to be used at sea, when there may be a considerable motion. An arrangement that, with skilled acrobatics, can be made to function in harbour may be quite useless at sea. With a mixed crew of four, I have never, either in Vindilis or Sandook, found the forecastle lavatory any detriment, except once or twice at night. Under these circumstances, a bucket in the cockpit has sufficed.

"The under-water machines [1] are not suitable for a very small craft; they are too heavy and too high.  Nearly three feet sitting room must be allowed, but part of it can be gained by utilizing the extra height given by the forehatch. In such craft, a bucket will be used. The compartment in which the bucket stands ought to be lined with lead or other metal, otherwise in time there will be a chronic smell, for with a wood lining adequate cleansing is impossible."

The bucket-and-chuck-it toilet system that Harrison Butler aadvocated is now illegal in U.S. coastal waters, of course.  You have to be several miles away from the land before you can do that.  We now have to pump our waste into holding tanks or else install Porta Pottis. Either way, it's pretty disgusting to have to carry your sewage around with you, but it's a penalty we have to accept in the name of creating a greener earth;  although I have to admit it makes me quite mad when I pass a whale, and think of the massive amounts of effluent he and his pals dump into the water, apparently  without upsetting Nature in any way.    

[1] I presume he means the old fixed toilets, flushed with sea water, that discharged directly through the hull into the surrounding water.  —JV

 Today's Thought
Out of the world's way, out of the light,
Out of the ages of worldly weather,
Forgotten of all men altogether.
— Swinburne, The Triumph of Time

"How's your new computer system working?"
"It's wonderful. Works like a charm."
"Great. And how's business?"
"Dunno. We had to close down the business to run the computer system."
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Eric said...

No thoughts on composting toilets? From what I read, it is just separation of wet (1) and dry(2), with constant air movement to dry any moisture in the "dry"(2), and some added inert dry mix with after use and agitation. The wet can go overboard, most anywhere, at any time, from what I understand. I don't know if anyone will arrest you for "peeing" overboard - anywhere; It's likely an indecent exposure charge, if anyone cares at all, even in a marina.
I don't actually know, but wouldn't it be great to free up that poop tank area for food/beer/sail storage?
I'm just curious how much more disgusting the 5 gallons of "dry" poop can be, compared to the 40 gallons of sloshing "suck-out"?