After seven years the Vacu-Flush cassette toilet system on the boat gave up the ghost. I cannot say I miss it. It was a good enough system when Les was living aboard alone however adding a female user seemed to strain its tender capacity.
|Vacu-Flush toilet cassette|
Every six months Les had to use a special file that came with the Vacu-Flush system and clean around the toilet trap so it would shut properly and seal tightly. We also knew when the system under the bed needed a clean because a whiffy smell rose up to the person sleeping near the edge--me! The Vacu-Flush also used a LOT of our precious water for flushing. It works like an airplane toilet, sucking bowl contents into the cassette and macerating everything into a liquid.
I have the most sensitive sense of smell and the weakest stomach in the world. The cassettes had to be emptied at a British Waterways (now renamed CaRT) Elsan disposal station. I cannot be within fifty feet of an Elsan or a boat pumping out its loo tank. The stench makes me drop to my knees retching in what feels like a vain attempt on the part of my stomach to throw up an internal organ. This means Les always had toilet detail which didn't bother him and he was more than willing to do it. It did however bother me. I am a firm believer in being an equal partner in all the S****y jobs in life. Men get stuck with them more often than not.
As an Alaskan girl born and raised, I am more than passing familiar with outhouses. We had one. Swept out frequently, limed generously after each use with a dose of Rid-X beneficial bacteria to help the deposits compost down, an outhouse is not a bad way of dealing with human waste. Up north it is COLD in winter and there are bears to contend with in summer...still it beats squatting in the bushes.
On long weekend family road trips (there are no other kind in Alaska where one can drive for hundreds of miles and see nothing but Spruce and moose) eventually one of us kids would need to wee. After pulling the car over to the side of the road, mom instructed us to squat and go. My older sister used to complain that passing cars might see her. Mom replied, "Turn your A** to the road. No one should recognize you from that angle; if they do you are in serious trouble." I always waded into the brush along the roadside and contended with mosquito bites on my exposed flesh.
My goal before I fell in love with narrow boats was to buy a parcel of land in the back of beyond upon which to live, build a straw bale, earth sheltered dwelling and live totally off the grid: solar and wind power with a composting toilet.
|Envirolet composting loo aboard NB Shoehorn|
A further search turned up Boatwif--the blog of Ken and Sue Deveson on NB Cleddau. They had a composting loo on their boat so I emailed and our friendship began. We finally met up aboard our respective boats on the Peak Forest Canal a few months ago and I had a chance to see their Airhead Marine composting toilet in situ. Ken and Sue assured us it not only worked brilliantly but there was indeed, no odor.
|Envirolet turbine fan|
He and his wife wanted a composting loo as they believed in the concept and the technology. He did say they still used a Porta Potti for urine since the Envirolet doesn't separate it out and they had problems with it being too wet to compost. Even still they preferred the composting toilet to either a pump out or a cassette.
Our conversation was a revelation for me. It made me aware of the issues with which one has to be concerned when choosing a system for installation aboard a boat. I found the Airhead composting Toilet website and spent a great deal of time comparing it with the Canadian Envirolet which was designed for cabins and off grid housing.
Airhead loos are marine toilets designed specifically for boats. Thousands are installed on U.S. sailboats with great success. Key to its operation is the fact the Airhead separates urine from solids which facilitates quick composting of the latter and easy emptying of the former.
After viewing the Airhead toilet online I hoped someday we could install one on NB Valerie so I could take my turn in shouldering toilet duties. I had no idea that day was just around the corner and in time for my 55th birthday!
Tuesday, October 2nd dawned cool and bright on the Ashby canal. Les and I were feeling totally chilled and relaxed, languidly lounging over our morning coffee and tea after our weekend visit with family down south. One of us used the loo and the charging system on the Vacuu-flush refused to shut off but it wasn't emptying the bowl into the cassette either.
Three tense, smelly, and disgusting hours were spent by my beloved husband, following the convoluted piping of the toilet from the bathroom, under the sink cabinet, behind the bathtub and under the bed. After giving a good clean to every moving part he could find, we tried turning it back on again to find the same issue still existed. The loo had crapped out on us!
We cleaned up the mess and set to cruise as quickly as possible to Hawksbury Junction where Les caught a bus to Coventry. Meanwhile I went online to Argos and reserved a Royal brand Porta-Potti. Seven hours after the initial problem broke our calm morning, Les had returned with the Porta-Potti and we cruised into the dusk, finding a quiet spot for the night. We cruised on to Brinklow where we stayed moored for four days while Les removed all traces of the old toilet system.
In the interim we scoured the web for information about the Airhead system. Mainly used in the U.S. where it is manufactured, sailboat owners who installed Airhead's loved them. The system worked exactly as advertised. I emailed the company which contacted their U.K. distributor, Richard Saillet, owner of the Canal Shop at Hillmorton Wharf.
We stopped in to his establishment last Monday and purchased our new loo. Richard has had an Airhead on his narrow boat for some years. He was impressed enough with how well it worked, he decided to become the U.K. distributor. Richard sold Ken and Sue Deveson their Airhead system three years ago.
Before we purchased, Mr. Saillet took us through the operation and showed us how all the parts worked. For £660.00 ($886.00) we walked out of the Canal Shop with system in hand in one box. Quite a difference in price from the Envirolet which now costs $2,479.00!
After a trip to Daventry via Braunston for a Mushroom vent, plastic pipe and a round steel cutter for the drill, Les returned and spent all day yesterday putting in the new loo.
|Les on the roof with the drill|
|The fan vent hole sealed with plastic piping, silicone, and plumbers caulking.|
|The newly installed mushroom vent for our composting loo system.|
Composting toilets in the States use Coir (coconut fibers) or re-hydrated peat moss bricks as a composting medium. Coir is not available in the U.K. and Peat moss comes from endangered, non renewable, fragile environments so it is not available here either.
|A handful of Cocoa bean husk|
The airhead is in, we are using it, and it is working brilliantly. No odor, no mess either. I will say my initial use gave me a queer feeling indeed. The sound of urine flowing into the fluids container gave me an initial start--I thought I had wee'd on the floor at first! Leaving a solid deposit felt strange too. We are so conditioned to flush it away in water or hide it away in a holding tank.
So exactly how does it work? One places a large paper coffee filter in the loo basin for a solid deposit. The paper filter contains your deposit which is dropped down into the holding tank with the cocoa husks. The trap door shuts and you turn the side handle which gives your deposit and the cocoa husks a good turn, stirring it together.
|Closed solids trap and 2 forward urine holes which divert liquids to front container|
The 0.06 watt 12 volt fan draws air across the bowl pulling moisture out of the solids and venting it and any smells away.
|Clean cocoa bean husks inside the composting tank|
Aerobic bacteria are those contained in yogurt for example. They are the good bugs which break things down and dissolve them. Anaerobic bacteria cause disease and smells, which is why they flourish when dumped into water--a low to no oxygen fluid. In a relatively dry, high oxygen environment, anaerobic bacteria die quickly. Aerobic bacteria grow and proliferate, breaking down the solid deposits in the loo with help from the cocoa husks. A sweet ending to a messy problem!
It's not every wife who gets a cocoa scented loo for her birthday!! (It's undoubtedly not every wife who wants one either but there 'ya go--I am usually the anomaly in any given situation!)
Along with phone calls, cards, emails, and posts from friends wishing me a happy birthday, Ma nature also gifted me with a Kingfisher just outside our window this morning.
In magical parlance, Kingfishers bring a gift of prosperity in new undertakings, love and growth. They are a signal it is time to dive into something new out of which prosperity will grow. When we return from the States in late November we will black the boat and then I will dive into re-formatting, editing and re-writing my blog So This is Love... for publication.