A boat is a series of compromises – so the saying goes. In our case, the biggest compromise for me, by far, has been the head situation. Before we bought this boat we already knew that we wanted to have a composting toilet. From all of our research, it seemed that with a traditional marine head there would inevitably be problems. Permeated hoses, overfilled holding tanks, leaks, odors – ack! There was no way we wanted to deal with any of that.
Pegu Club came with a traditional marine head and while the setup was ingenious for a 24 foot boat, it was really intended more for day sailing. It wasn’t going to work for the way we were going to use her, so it had to go. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough room in the v-berth if we wanted to sleep in it and have a composting head, so we settled for a portapotty. The portapotty was o.k. for the first season, but during our second season I became increasingly disenchanted with it.
One Sunday morning on the boat we were sitting down below waiting out a rainstorm when we observed that we hadn’t used the v-berth for sleeping at all this season. Jeff fits better on the side berth as long as he opens up the hatch so his feet can go through, so the v-berth had become a defacto storage area. (Side note: he is working on a “megabed” design which, if it works, will be the subject of next week’s post.) Why not revisit the composting toilet idea? We called up the size specifications for the two main players in the field – Nature’s Head and Airhead – and took some measurements of the existing box where the portapotty was currently installed. It was going to be a tight fit, but it looked doable. We decided to make it an offseason project.
Last week I was thinking about our upcoming two-week trip and how I REALLY didn’t want to deal with the portapotty for that amount of time. That’s how the UPS man ended up delivering a Nature’s Head composting toilet to our door on Friday. I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning.
The composting toilet works by having two separate bins – one for solids and one 2.2 gallon bin for liquids – with a pair of holes in the front directing liquids into the removable liquids bin and a trap door for solids. The solids bin has an agitator. Fill the bin up to the agitator with peat moss or coir and that’s it. Give the handle a few turns after you use it, and you’re done. There’s also a vent with a small computer-style fan that draws air out through a hose that is vented to the outside. Two people living aboard can use it for a month before emptying the solids bin. To do so you simply put a trash bag over the bin, empty it, and discard it. Some people will put it in a separate container to turn it into compost (hence, the composting toilet), but we definitely won’t be doing that. We’ve read literally hundreds of accounts on various websites, and with the exception of a couple of people, everyone loves it. No parts to break, no repairs, no added expense (beyond peat moss, which is nominal). There is absolutely no odor. For us it was a no-brainer.
So Saturday evening we found ourselves at the boat, ready to install our Nature’s Head on Sunday and to MacGyver whatever was necessary to make it work. After a beautiful sunset and a yummy dinner of cappellini with shrimp and olive oil, and fresh green beans, it was off to bed for a busy Sunday.
We got lucky in that Sunday was sunny with very little wind. The perfect day for a boat project. Overall the installation was very easy. We had to build a base out of 2×4’s cut to size because the latches weren’t quite clearing the box in the v-berth. We got lucky, however, because even with the added height we had just enough clearance for Jeff’s head. We didn’t have to spend any time thinking about how we would run the ventilation hose, because we simply followed the route that the prior owner had taken with the hoses for the marine head. Of course just because the installation was easy doesn’t mean that we weren’t squeezing ourselves into small spaces or lying on the floor peering underneath areas while holding flashlights in our mouths.
Our only hiccup came with installing the wiring for the fan. We had already decided to remove the am/fm cassette radio and accompanying speakers, so we traced the wires and got rid of those. I’ve discovered I have a knack for tracing wires, although there was one horrifying moment where we thought we may have cut the wires for the running lights. We had planned to run the fan to the spot on the electrical panel where the radio was, but we didn’t have a long enough wire. So then we decided to wire it to the port LED light in the v-berth, but the fan wouldn’t work without the light turned on. We tried to run it above the light switch, but we still had the same problem. Ultimately we decided to remove the LED lightbulb and simply leave the fan wired in. We will likely buy longer wire and run it to the panel, but this works for now.
Voila – the Nature’s Head was installed. This picture was before we hooked up the hose. The hose is connected to the port on the left. We drilled a small hole into the panel so we could thread the hose through it and underneath the “floor” of the box that the Nature’s Head is in, down through the bilge, into the area that I was working in above, and attached to the old pump-out which now has a mushroom vent on it instead.
It was well after 7:00 p.m. by the time we were finished and it was time to pack up and head home, so although it’s prepped and ready to go we haven’t actually tried it out yet. That will be next weekend. But I have no doubt that this is going to be one of the best boat-related purchases that we’ve made so far.
As for the portapotty? It’s going to stay in the basement until we buy the big boat. Then we’ll take the Nature’s Head out, install it in the big boat, and reinstall the portapotty for when we put the Bristol 24 up for sale.