Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
Emergency Maintenance - 26 February, 2016
I took a shower onboard yesterday. We were going to be able to watch the first new episode of the Big Bang Theory since before we had made it
to Vero Beach (Vero doesn't get CBS). Today, we are going to start heading north and will be underway everyday for at least three days. I should
have known something was going to go wrong.
At about 6:45 PM, Suzanne went to the back of the boat. I was lying on the settee, watching the news. Suddenly, Suzanne called me, saying that
we had "a problem."
The problem was that, just as Suzanne had started to flush our electric toilet, it made a sound like "metal hitting metal" and stopped working. I
immediately went into troubleshooting mode.
I hit the button myself. The generator, which was running, bogged down a little, but the toilet motor didn't run. This told me that the unit was
getting electricity, but something was preventing the motor from turning. This probably meant that something had fallen into the toilet and was
preventing the blades from turning. Suzanne has been keeping her hair accessories on a cord over the toilet (technically, they were off to one
side, but on the same bulkhead). She thought that maybe one of them had fallen in.
This will be the third time I have disassembled the toilet to clear those blades. The first time it was because something had fallen in. The second
time, it had turned out that enough hair had gone into the toilet, one strand at a time, to clog the rotor. I've actually become pretty good at
disassembling and reassembling the toilet.
First step, of course, is emptying the bowl. Fortunately, this time, it was just urine and toilet paper. That's what it was the last two times. I live in
dread of the time that it is not, but there is no point in fighting the inevitable. I started by using a large cup and moving the contents to the sink to
drain. Eventually, I had to get a shot glass to get the last of the fluid out of the bottom. I tried to feel around the blades to see if I could figure out
the problem, but my fingers just didn't bend the right way.
Next, I investigated with an electronic boroscope and a dental mirror. Both told me that there was "stuff" in the blades, but not what the stuff was.
Was there something caught up in there? Only one way to find out. I put on a pair of latex gloves and got to work.
The first hose I removed was the outlet from the toilet. This leads in a large loop up above the waterline and then back down to the Waste
Treatment Device. Unfortunately, there is no way for the fluid in the line to be drained into the tank. When you disassemble the connection, the
fluid in that line comes back over the floor. By working quickly, I was able to keep some of the fluid in the line and tied the end of it up, but I still had
two or three cups of urine on the deck. I picked it up with rags, which were wrung out over the sink and promptly thrown away. I have done this
with paper towels in the past, but it uses two or three roles, by the time I am done. Rags are more absorbent and you can use them two or three
times before throwing them away.
After the outlet hose, I tried again to figure out what the problem was, shining a light in through the outlet. Still no dice. So, I disconnected the inlet
water line, the electrical connections and unbolted the unit from the deck. Again, since I have done this before, I can do it fairly quickly.
I picked the toilet up and drained the remaining fluids into the sink. I carried it to the workbench and unbolted the motor assembly from the
backside of the base. As it came out, I could see all of the toilet paper, hair and strings wrapped around the cutter blades and rotor shaft. It
definitely was slowing the motor down. But, it didn't seem to be stopping the rotor from turning. I unbolted the blades and cut the offending
material off. It was all soft, nothing in there to make a "metal on metal" sound.
I reassembled the cutter blades and took a look at the base of the toilet. I couldn't see anything in there. I picked it up and moved it up and down,
back and forth, trying to see everywhere in the bowl. As I turned the outlet connection down, I heard a light tap on the workbench and lying there
was a small piece of plastic about the size of a large pill. I picked it up and recognized it immediately.
The day before, our younger dog, Jonesy, had decided to chew the buckle off of his harness. He had already chewed one buckle off and Suzanne
had fixed that. This was a piece of that buckle.
Now, how did a piece of the buckle that the dog had chewed up get into the toilet and prevent it from working? Well, here's what I believe
happened. The only one who knows for sure isn't talking.
First, Jonesy chewed up the buckle and, in the process, swallowed this piece of plastic. Next, he carried it around inside of him for twenty-four
hours. Next, he deposited it on the potty pad that he and Ozzy use to do their business when they can't go ashore. Suzanne or I, discovering the
deposit, dropped it into the toilet (we each did this once yesterday). When the toilet got into the its "maceration" process, it chopped up the
deposit, but that little bit of plastic was too much for it. Toilet stops, dead.
I thought of keeping the piece for a class I am thinking of teaching in boat maintenance, but I decided that, no matter how much I disinfected that
thing, I was not going to be able to pass it around a class of students after I told them it had gone through the dog. I threw it away and
reassembled the toilet, taking a break to watch the Big Bang Theory (which was refreshingly funny, thank you). The toilet was reassembled and
tested for operation by 9:00 PM and the head was cleaned, disinfected and smelling like cleaning product instead of urine by 9:15.
And, by the way, Suzanne has moved all of her hair doo-dads to a different spot. I didn't ask her to do so, but I am VERY appreciative of it.