Holding Tank Horror Story Contest - Honorable Mention

By Connie McBride

From the dinghy we could just see the sun's undefined edge slip between the treetops. "If I TOW you out a little further you can see it set again. See how much lower those trees are?" Like the Little Prince, we have made a game of how many times we can see the sun set each evening. Usually this involves first standing up, then by standing on the coaming, the boom and climbing the rigging we can see as many as five sunsets an evening.

Not every stinky story has a stinky beginning. This was our first weekend on the new-to-us boat and we were determined to make it the best boating trip we'd ever had. We were veterans at the weekend on the boat routine from years with the little boat, so we ran through the list once we got everything onboard: water, diesel, ice, food, beer, hey do you think we should get a pump out? There was a convenient pump out station we had used for years for the recently replaced little boat. Since the new boat draws 5'6", however, we really were not sure we could get there without running aground--not the way to start the perfect weekend. "Nah, we should be fine, it's just a couple of days." I have learned to not question the captain, that way if anything goes wrong, it's HIS fault!

Even the rare August rain could not dampen our enthusiasm for enjoying what would probably be the last weekend on the hook before school started. The next day Dave and I had spent all day cooped up in our 34 footer's interior with our three boys. So we went rowing about, one of our favorite get-away activities. We rowed our little 7' pram he built me for my birthday everywhere. Dave rowed slowly along the tree-lined shore as I trolled and caught little perch, each one smaller than the last; laughing at how easily they were caught. In the deluge that lasted all day, we even went exploring on land. We walked as far as my bare feet could tolerate, then went back to the dinghy.

The sun was only occasionally visible through the rain clouds and was just setting as we rowed home. As we neared Eurisko, one of the boys shouted, "The head's hard to pump!" Uuuggghh! This is where it starts to get stinky.

We were in such good spirits, nothing could ruin our evening. With every new boat the learning curve starts all over. Before we could address the head problem, we had to figure out how to get from the dinghy back on board, something we had not yet had to do with Eurisko, since we'd only had her a few weeks. Our dinghy is known to be a little tender, we all have stories to tell about ending up in the water because of her, so what happened next was not unusual for us. In trying to get from the thwart to the stem ladder Dave did a perfect imitation of the old Lipton Iced Tea plunge commercial. Even his reaction could not keep the four of us from laughing at him. We got him a towel so he didn't go below all wet and he eventually joined in the laughter, until we went down the companionway ladder. "What died in here?" "We told you the head was hard to pump." If the smell was any indication, this was not going to be nearly as pleasant an evening as we had thought.

Dave started at the source of the problem: the head. It was indeed hard to pump, but there didn't seem to be anything wrong with it. "How long did you pump?" "We were trying to figure out what was wrong with it, so we kept pumping and pumping and it kept getting harder and harder." Oh no, the holding tank.

Eurisko had come equipped with a 14-gallon collapsible-style holding tank located in the forward-most locker under our V berth. Dave folded back the cushion, raised the locker board, and a small steady stream of brown liquid shot out. So much for not needing a pump out! As the bag got full the head got harder and harder to pump, so the boys, with their limited knowledge of our new head and its system, assumed they needed to pump even more. Some time while we were out enjoying our evening in the dinghy, the holding tank had blown a fitting and started releasing pressure, and its contents, all over the inside of the locker. As the amount of pressure in the tank changed, so did the angle of the stream, which means every surface in the locker had received its share of spray. Short of getting a pump out, we could not figure out any way to relieve the pressure and put an end to the shower the tank was giving the locker. Since we were leaving the next day and it was already nearing midnight, we decided to leave it to its own devices until morning. We gathered up our bedding and for the first and only time while at anchor, slept separately, me on the settee, Dave on the dinette seat.

The smell was so overpowering we hardly slept at all, but we did try to keep the situation from ruining our weekend. The next morning we started referring to that area as the "holding locker" rather than tank. Once we got back to the marina we decided that whether or not we ran aground was no longer the most important issue, we were going to get a pump out, regardless. Luck was with us, tide was high and the pump out was successful...for the tank. The cleaning of the locker was not nearly as quick or easy. Between that weekend and the day we moved onboard, nearly a year later, that locker was cleaned no fewer than 10 times, with every chemical imaginable. We tried bleach, head cleaner, bilge deodorizer, vinegar, enzymes, anything that had "cleaning" on the label. Eventually the smell was gone and only the memory remained, of the night our holding tank exploded.

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