Let’s Review a Product with…SCIENCE!

Stormageddon 2016 turned out to be much easier on us in Tacoma and Lakewood than predicted. Nationally, forecasters predicted our area would be hit by the storm of the century with wind gusts exceeding 70 mph. Indeed, some coastal areas were hit pretty hard. There was even a tornado down in Oregon. Whoa! That’s just weird. But here in the South Sound area, we were really surprised and pleased when we clocked our top wind speed at 38 mph, which barely makes Galapagos wake up from her slumber in the slip. Whew! What a relief!

A tree in Tacoma waits for the wind.

A tree in Tacoma waits for the wind.

So this time, the science/art that is weather forecasting just plain old got it wrong for our area. If you are interested in why, here’s a local article that explains how mother nature always has a few tricks up her sleeve. Scattered around the world, groups of professional, knowledgeable weather forecasters couldn’t believe it, as they examined the radar images and worried that people wouldn’t believe them next time a big storm was coming. Tell you what: I will believe them and I hope you will, too. I’d rather be over prepared than caught by surprise.  It just goes to show how difficult it is to predict the great mother’s wrath. It’s good to put that into perspective before one heads out to sea. Think about it. These are experts. The rest of us are not. If they get it wrong, we certainly can, too. Just saying. I think we’ll just stay on the safe side by giving possible storms a wide berth as much as possible.

Since I have faith in science, I thought I would engage in a little experiment on board Galapagos, just for fun and because I am easily amused. Recently Practical Sailor magazine had an article comparing brands of toilet paper in terms of their ‘dissolvability’ and, thus, how hard they are on a boat’s holding tank system and how likely they are to cause a pollution problem if pumped overboard. They did a test with several different brands, both regular brands and ‘marine’ brands and reported on how fast they dissolved in water. I thought it was a pretty interesting test. It got me thinking. What was all our toilet paper doing in our holding tank? Was it decomposing? Was it sitting there in a large mountain of yuck? How could I find out without getting into a disgusting project? Literally. And what difference does that make, anyhow?

Well, I’ll tell you, because if you don’t live on a boat, you’ve probably not given this much thought. The United States has laws about pumping your sewage overboard, and we follow those laws. But other countries do not have the pumpout facilities that we have here. In some places, people just pump their sewage overboard right there in the same bay you are anchored in. Kind of gross, but there it is.

Because I’ve been raised here in our country where we have things like waste water treatment and where I am educated enough to care about the environment, I’d kind of like to be able to discharge our sewage in the highest and best way possible, given the fact that I’m not going to spring for a big waste water treatment facility on our boat.  If I’m snorkeling somewhere, it’s really going to gross me out to see large clumps of human waste and toilet paper floating by. So I don’t want to submit others to that, either. Galapagos has a macerator pump that grinds everything up before discharging, but what if we could use science to make the discharge that much less ‘papery’ in the first place? And also what if we could break solids down before dumping them overboard, even at sea? That would be a win for everyone.

When I refurbish ours it will look like this.

When I refurbish ours it will look like this. I like to think of this as industrial art.

Some people solve the toilet paper problem by never putting toilet paper down their marine heads. That works pretty well in the United States, and especially in the marina where you can take your trash out regularly. But we won’t be able to take our trash out regularly when we are cruising.  Plus, we have those lovely heads that rarely get clogged. We have the Crittendon Marine Skipper II heads. Those who have them love them. We’ve literally had people tell us how envious they are of our toilets. (That’s right. That’s what happens when you live on a boat. People look at what kind of toilet you have.) With these babies, we don’t really worry about clogs too much. We don’t mind throwing our tp out with the trash here in the marina, but I’m kind of loathe to keep bags of used tp somewhere in my boat for weeks at a time. Call me a princess.

So we don’t worry about clogs, but we do worry about solids building up in our holding tank and then sitting there forever rather than getting pumped out. Those solids are usually in the form of un-decomposed toilet paper. And that’s the long story about why this Practical Sailor article caught my eye. Unfortunately, they did not test our brand of toilet paper: Kirkland from Costco.  We have also been using Zaal Noflex Digestor in our tank and I wanted to know if that actually worked to help break down the paper. So I set up a small laboratory in the galley down at Galapagos and commenced to testing. Science!

The goal: to determine how long it would take for plain toilet paper to decompose in plain water, plain water plus Noflex Digestor, and salt water plus Noflex Disgestor. I did not test using plain salt water because I forgot. Maybe another time when I’m bored.

The set up: Three flasks, or, in this case, cups and glasses, each with one square of double ply Kirkland brand toilet paper.

From the left, salt water/digester, fresh water/digester, fresh water alone.

From the left, salt water/digestor, fresh water/digestor, fresh water alone.

Flask number 1: plain water and tp
Flask number 2: plain water, tp , and a pinch of this digestor
Flask number 3: salt water, tp, and a pinch of the digestor

Each solution with paper was given a couple of stirs with a fork. Then we waited.

Nine hours later, I checked to see how things were going. The results were already startling. The tissue in the plain water had not broken down at all. It came up on the fork in one giant piece. Imagine watching cool fish underwater when this baby, used, comes floating by. EWWWWW.

Intact piece of toilet paper.

Intact piece of toilet paper after 9 hours in plain water.

The tissue in the plain water with the pinch of digestor was beginning to break down significantly, coming up on the fork in small clumps. The tissue in the salt water/digestor mixture was a little behind but was starting to break down. We waited overnight.

Plain water with a pinch of the digester. Significantly deteriorated after 9 hours.

Plain water with a pinch of the digestor. Significantly deteriorated after 9 hours.

About 24 hours after I began the experiment, the plain water/paper was still intact, but seemed smaller, like it had less mass, even though it was not disintegrating into pieces. Still, when I swished it around, it held together. The plain water/digestor/paper mixture showed that the paper was dissolving and that there were only small pieces left floating at the bottom of the container. It was going fast. The salt water mixture was still behind, but was also decomposing the paper. It was just taking longer. (I poured each one into a colorful container to make photographing easier.)

Plain water alone.

Plain water alone after 24 hours.


Plain water with digestor after 24 hours.

Closeup of the salt water with digestor.

Closeup of the salt water with digestor.after 24 hours.

I gave them all a stir to simulate agitation due to boat movement. Then decided that I would add another pinch of the digester to see what happened. Unfortunately, I got excited about adding the product and added it to all three containers. Oops! There went my plain water control.

Within 5 minutes the paper that was previously in the plain water and looked like it was still a solid sheet was beginning to disintegrate. This leads me to believe that it was beginning to decompose on its own and that I just had not waited long enough. Anxious to test this hypothesis, I began another batch with just plain water and 1 sheet of toilet paper. I want to see how long I would have to wait for this paper to decompose without adding any of the digester.

I’ll report back on how that part of the experiment goes, but the results of this test were already very clear. While we are at the dock, we can use a fresh water flush and add the Zaal Noflex Digestor regularly and we’re going to be fine when it comes to pumping out. The directions on the container say to add a bit every day or so, more or less, depending on whether you have buildup in your tank already. This stuff works, and we can keep buying our usual brand of toilet paper and skip the expensive marine stuff. When we are traveling we can continue to use the Zaal, and we will go to a salt water flush to save our fresh water. I’m betting the constant motion of the boat will keep things agitated enough to encourage decomposition. I’ll be putting in a good supply of Zaal Noflex Disgestor before we go.

One caveat is that we use plenty of water to flush, and we make sure to clear the pipe every time. The extra liquid is going to help the digestor get to everything in the tank, even if we have to pump out a little more often. It’s worth it. Oh, and by the way, there is no ‘head’ smell when we use this. Nada. None. That, alone, makes this product a ‘win’.



Bring It, Mother Nature!

Ah, the joys of the almost-living-aboard life. Yes we are deep into the transition of moving onto the boat. This week I brought half of my clothing down to the boat and got it situated in the aft cabin. I started going through the kitchen at home, choosing the things I use all the time to take with us aboard Galapagos. November will be the month where we just move the rest of our stuff onto the boat, leave our house in the capable hands of 4 young adults, and start living ‘the dream’. Remember how I said, “I never want to live aboard during a Pacific Northwest winter!”? Yeah. I remember that, too. How innocent I was as I threw that gauntlet down in front of the gods. How clueless I was in terms of the timing that would unfold.

It's falling.

It’s falling.

This week the weather gods have a particular treat in mind as the first winter storm of the season hits us early. We expect several inches of rain and possibly high winds. We shall see. As of this writing, there is a one in two chance that a storm will bring winds of a historic level to our area. We are safe on board for this storm, preferring to keep an eye on our boat than spend one of our last weekends at home, safe and dry. Well, hopefully safe, as our home is surrounded by humungous fir trees that tend to sway alarmingly in high wind. I’ve instructed Andrew and Jill to have a ‘plan B’ in terms of getting the hell out of there with the animals and finding safer digs should those winds, indeed, be huge. If a tree falls, I don’t want anyone to be close enough to hear it. This keeps me up at night.

Galapagos welcomed me on board this weekend by springing a new leak in the forward cabin. Actually, it’s an old leak that resurfaced as the metal tape, which I just replaced, somehow got compromised by moisture. There is nothing like coming to the boat during a complete downpour to see a gallon of water on the floor and a big wet spot on the new upholstery. On the other hand, all that time and effort I spent putting that waterproof PUL fabric on the new foam before the upholstery went on has just paid its first dividend. Also the floor in that cabin is now super clean.

Really, Galapagos? Do you hate me?

Really, Galapagos? Do you hate me?

So my first task was to secure that leaky hatch. Trudging up to our storage shed, I found a piece of thick clear plastic sheeting just the right size to lay over the hatch and tuck under the edge, using the weight of the hatch to hold it down. Mission accomplished, this morning proved that this quick fix is holding. When the weather dries out, IF the weather dries out, I’ll replace the tape again and hope it will hold for this season. We will haul out at Swan Town in Olympia next spring and then we will re-bed all of the hatches. Again. This time we hope to do it right. (My secret shame: Can I just pay someone to do this, and also the bottom paint? Our list is so long.)

Apparently the gods thought I needed another lesson in living aboard in the wet and wind, so I think they paid Galapagos to spring leaks in the overhead window in the cockpit. This is even more irritating because that window is bedded with butyl tape and has been leak free for 2 1/2 years. WTF? When we dry out, we’ll fix that one. I love that cockpit, and I especially love how it makes a dandy ‘mud room’ for stripping off wet clothing and shoes before coming below. It. Will. Not. Leak. fullsizeoutput_1e1

On the plus side, I am finally getting the galley organized. This is an exercise in conflict avoidance; as in “Can we please not have our wants and our needs in constant conflict?”. I have determined that I am a spice addict, considering the number of spices I use in my cooking. There is a lot of space given over to spices, vinegars, and oils. These will need winnowing further over the next few months. Maybe.

Also, I think I have a problem with food hoarding. This happens mostly in the fall, where, like a squirrel, I gather the food for my family together and store it, then forget where it is and also never serve it to them. I just like to have it, sort of like some random ‘prepper’ who always waits for Armageddon  and is perennially disappointed; like the homemaker who buys lovely linens but never uses them because they are for the ‘company’ who never comes. I imagine those linens languishing in the closet alongside my canned plums from 2011, complaining that they have no purpose in life other than to wait.  I have home-canned foods from ranging from Mango Chutney to Chocolate Figs to Lemon Ginger Figs to one prized jar of Orange Marmelade. I even have large jars of salsa. Why is this stuff not eaten? That’s a rhetorical question. LALALALALALA….I do not want to hear your answers.

Yes, it all fits. But there is more in the storage shed.

Yes, it all fits. But there is more in the storage shed.

Deciding I needed more space for my hoards of food, since obviously we always want to be prepared to be at sea for months at a time, I took possession of this large space under the settee. Why should Mike get to store engine parts here? Is food not equally important? Flinging caution to the wind, I whipped out the tube socks that I have also stockpiled and began packing jars and bottles and boxes into the space. It’s likely that should we need to pay a bribe to an official somewhere, they will be getting a jar of canned fig preserves from a backyard in Lakewood, Washington for their trouble. I hope they know they are worth their weight in gold.


No, I didn’t buy those Mountain Home freeze dried meals. So you can stop laughing at me now. Someone gave them to us. Hey, they will be quick and easy passage food without messing up the galley! Win!

After emptying all the galley cabinets and sorting the contents, then adding what I’ve recently brought down to the boat to the stockpile, I have determined that we have enough food to go offshore for several months without starving or getting scurvy. The fact that food is readily available in Mexico is, apparently, lost on me.

Now we sit, waiting for the big winds to come. Galapagos, out.



Cockpit Cushion Toppers: A Cheap and Easy Boat Trick

Regular readers will recall that we recently had new mattresses made for our aft cabin. Part of that remodel was the purchase of some rather expensive latex foam toppers for the berths. These came at a cost of $570 for the space. That’s not an insignificant cost, even though it was completely worth every single penny. As every boat owner knows, boat beds do not come in regular sizes like your earthbound beds. Therefore, in order to get what you need, you frequently have to cut to fit. And you know what that means.  That’s right. That means extra material. Extra EXPENSIVE material!

That nice 3″ latex foam. We still love it.

When we picked up our new mattresses we were blessed to receive all of the extra pieces of latex foam, neatly stuffed down into large plastic bags. I was going to toss them, but being the cheap and easy boat trick queen, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t like to throw away perfectly good materials that I might put to use. So I kept them and waited for an idea to pop into my head. And it did.


Let’s build some rectangles!

Galapagos has a great cockpit. We love it. But one of the things that I’ve wanted to improve is the napability of the two longest sides. They are long enough to lie down on (one of the absolute requirements for us in a boat, being the famous sleepers that we are), but the hard Bottomsider-style cushions that came with the boat are dead uncomfortable. I decided to see if I had enough latex foam to make cushion toppers for them.

After measuring the sides, I lay the foam pieces out on some plastic up in our workshop/storage space at the marina. Supplied with Elmer’s spray glue and a healthy love of puzzles, I began piecing the foam together to make the long, thin rectangles required. I glued the seams as firmly as possible and then let them sit for a day to cure. Although I had the garage door open for all the gluing, I cannot swear that I didn’t lose a few brain cells to that spray. Do make sure you have good ventilation with that stuff. I trimmed the uneven ends with large scissors, making several cuts from the top down. Sure, I have an electric knife, the tool of choice for this job. It’s at  home. Not at the marina. Scissors worked just fine. We’re not building the Parthenon here.  p1100501

As I did with the new cushions in the v-berth and aft cabin, I decided I wanted to protect these with that PUL fabric I used to keep water from soaking into the foam. This also makes coverings easy to take off and put back on.  Once again, I used the handy 40% off coupon Hobby Lobby has each week.

My only concern here is that there really are a lot of glued seams on these. It is possible that the glue will not hold up in the heat of Mexico and beyond. If that happens, though, I will still have all the other materials all set up to pop the latex out and replace it with foam all in one piece. The PUL fabric has a lot of stretch to it so it can be pulled tightly around the latex. It supports the seams in the foam as well as making the whole thing waterproof. The extra support makes it less likely that we’ll experience a total fail just from moving the cushions around.

Neatly covered in waterproof fabric.

Neatly covered in waterproof fabric, ready for canvas.

To ‘upholster’ these, I wanted outdoor canvas that was water and UV resistant. Since it’s fall, this is a good time to look for summer fabric in the clearance section of Joanne Fabrics. I made a beeline for the clearance bin and found some perfect yellow canvas for $3.50/yard. Done! I actually bought extra of this because I liked it and it was such an excellent price. Retail on this canvas is $29.99/yard. As if I would ever pay that much.

The sewing was straight forward; not exactly my favorite kind of sewing but at least with this project my machine doesn’t protest. I cut two rectangles, some sides, then sewed them together.

Cheerful and comfortable!

Cheerful and comfortable!

These are just the ticket in the cockpit for sitting or laying around at anchor. While underway they can be stored along the sides in the v-berth, or even in the aft cabin, just tucked under the shelf, which will hold them in place. They are a cheap and cheerful addition to the comforts of home on board Galapagos.

Cost Breakdown:

Latex foam – 0 because it was leftover from another project, destined to be thrown out

PUL fabric – 4 yards, 40% off – $31.20

Yellow Canvas – 4 yards at $3.50/yd – $14.00

Yellow thread – $3.00

Total cost: $48.20 plus tax. Win!

Stored in the v berth with Patrick.

Stored in the v berth with Patrick.