When something goes wrong with your toilet back home that’s more in depth than messing around with the chain in the bowl, what do you do? You call someone up and have a plumber over to figure out just what the issue is with your pipes -- and you pay them well for dealing with your shit -- because let’s face it -- who wants to deal with shit? But when you’re on a sailboat in the Bay Island of Roatán in Honduras in the middle of some real political strife over a contested election -- your options are somewhat limited.
So you have to roll up your sleeves (again) and get down to doing the nastiest part of the liveaboard sailing business. A few mornings ago, it was a head that would not flush -- luckily the bowl was just full of urine but it refused to pump out -- felt like I was trying to pump out all the water in the world through a straw full of paper towel. Seems like these things always happens in the morning, usually first-thing in the morning -- these fun little shitty issues that turn into full blown, all-day affairs involving at first periods of disbelief followed quickly by internet searches, followed by references to the Nigel Calder Bible and speaking with anyone who’ll listen about troubleshooting.
By noon I was literally up to my elbows in raw sewage, with the wires to the sump pump having been torn off in the melee of trying to keep all the contents of the waste line from pouring down into our head. By mid-afternoon I ran into the wall, unable to remove the pipe from the seacock despite amble use of the heat gun, using every ounce of strength in my body and rubbing my arms raw on the fiberglass. I was able to rewire the drain pump back together and Andrea did a phenomenal job cleaning up, but I was ready to give up, I said as much but really, who were we going to call? It’s not like there is anyone out here doing these kinds of jobs -- and we’re not sailing to mainland or over to the Rio Dulce to get it done.
So we went over to the Palapa -- got a bite to eat, had a couple of drinks and by the time we got back onto the boat we were both in a more constructive mood, ready to tackle the problem from another angle. We talked it through as a team and were about to try what I admitted was a bad idea when we decided to get another opinion and had one of our friends from the dock come over to talk it through. John has a lot of experience, having sailed down from Maine of all places, so he had a lot to say as we slowly walked him through the host of issues we’ve had with the head since having them serviced in Key West what feels like years ago.
Once we’ve gone through it all, he suggests trying to clear the blockage which we agreed at that point had to be in the seacock itself -- from the outside -- but the water’s so nasty with runoff, so muddy that we didn’t want to jump in, so we decide to try and do it from the dinghy. As John went back to his boat for cocktail hour, he wished us the best of luck, saying it would be a miracle if it worked, but there’s always tomorrow. I must admit, I was doubtful as well, but as the sun was starting to set over the other side of the island, we climbed into the dingy, armed with our longest screwdriver and a length of lifeline and within minutes, I located the seacock, just within reach dangling over the front end of the dinghy as Andrea held us in position.
I got the screwdriver lined up, reminding myself not to drop it -- and put it into the hole but nothing happened, so I got a better grip on it and tried again. Only this time, I drove it in a little harder and twisted it around a bit and like that I felt a gush come squirting down around my hand accompanied by what I can only describe as the smell of sewage. I wanted to scream in triumph but wasn’t 100% certain it had worked, so I used the bit of lifeline to make sure, then we went back in and when I pumped that handle down without resistance and saw the water quickly begin to circulate through the toilet and out through the pipes, I screamed out loud. I felt like celebrating but had to go wash my hands first -- and take a shower -- and then clean my tools.
It was a long day and a long, uphill struggle. But in the end, it was successful -- only possible really because we’re friendly with our neighbors. Without John, without the simple advice he was able to give us, it wouldn’t have been possible. Everyday I’m humbled by the sheer volume of knowledge that other experienced cruisers possess and are not only able to disseminate, but which they are happy, willing and proud to pass along to anyone in need. My only hope is that one day we can return the favor and help out others who are at the breaking point and in need of some friendly advice.