Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Checked Your Sea Strainer Lately? The Story of "The Stink"

All this gunk created quite a funk.
The odor had been a menace each time we flushed our toilets ever since we returned from our three week vacation in Chicago.  It was foul.  No.  It was beyond foul.  Had I still been in the clutches of the debilitating morning sickness I suffered during month two of this pregnancy, I would have wretched with every pump of the toilet handle.  It smelled of rotten eggs combined with decaying god-knows-what and the aroma filled the cavity of our boat effortlessly with every flush, regardless if the bathroom-goer went numero uno or dos.  Our boat began to smell like one giant (and incredibly offensive) fart.  It was very unpleasant and no amount of Nag Champa (the incense of choice on our boat) could mask it.

Houston, we had a problem.

Living on a boat means that sometimes you live in or with circumstances that you might not otherwise (case in point: our roach situation which has since been eradicated).  You become a little harder, a little more rugged and you may or may not pee in the sink from time to time (never EVER the kitchen sink, mind you).  The standards you might have upheld in your landlubber life sort of go by the wayside; you wear the same clothes every day, regularly shower  in salt water with Joy dish soap and when you have friends over and your boat suddenly emits a plume of rotten egg tainted air into the cockpit as your partner flushes the toilet (or "head" as we boaters like to call it), you just shrug and say casually, "somethings going on with our hoses" and everyone nods in sympathy while they continue to dig into the pasta primavera.  No big deal.

After living with the stench for over a month (and complaining about it daily), we reluctantly accepted the mystery odor like an unwelcome houseguest.  It got worse and worse until finally we couldn't take it anymore.  "What if we just open up the sea strainer and clean it out?" I asked Scott one day thinking that perhaps it could be the culprit.  He had figured the offender was our sea chest and had been devising a plan to take it apart and clean it out (not a small job, mind you).  That seemed like overkill to me so I suggested what seemed to be the logical, easier step, first.  "No, that wouldn't be it" he said, shaking his head, "that just pulls in sea water, it's always running through there...." he trailed off.  I explained to him that, yes, it did strain sea water but it also collected gunk - and that gunk could create quite a funk if left stagnant for three weeks (stagnant salt water, for those who don't know, goes rogue fast and it ain't pretty.)

He was leery but he also knows that I have good instincts when it comes to this lifestyle so the other day, after a particularly foul flush, he decided to try cleaning it out as the first line of defense against what will forever be known as "the stink".

Long story short:  it worked.  He pulled out the soiled strainer and it was a disgusting mess of filth and grime.  He scrubbed it and made it look like new and put it back in it's housing.  He flushed the toilet and waited for the odor to slap him in the face.  He continued to flush.  It never came.  We can now flush our toilets without having to don Hazmat suits.  And Scott even gave me mad props by peppering me with phrases like "You are so smart!", "I'm so lucky to have a handy wife" and (every woman's personal favorite): "You were right".  Sigh.  Music to my ears.

Anyway, the point is:  if there is a mystery smell coming from any of the hoses in your boat, before you spend a ton of time, money and energy replacing hoses or cleaning out sea chests, you might want to try cleaning the sea strainer first.  Start small and work your way up.

Common sense can get you pretty far on a boat and more often than not, the most simple solution is the answer.
The gunk, and subsequent funk, are now gone.  Free at last!


Roberto said...

You can also try, from time to time, to put some bleach (sodium hypochlorite) in the WC and then flush.
It works! ;-)

Anonymous said...

When we switched our toilets to flush with fresh water instead of salt it REALLY improved the whole head odor situation, in the head, in the hoses, and in the tank. Turns out salt water is more smelly than anything that comes out of us. It only adds a few gallons to the daily water budget. With that giant watermaker you guys have, it would be zero problem for you guys.


At The Moment said...

I too found the odor onboard to be from the intake to head. I have since closed that seacock and actually keep a small jug in bathroom sink. i instruct all (small crew) to do your business, then pour some fresh water into head and pump. the sea water gets nasty too quick on my weekend warrior

Laura and Hans said...

We must have been on the same wave length because I just posted yesterday about not flushing salt water into our holding tank. We just finished installing a new tank and I'm debating whether we need to continue doing that. I now have to wonder where the heck a strainer like yours might be on our boat??!

Anonymous said...

Am up to date now ! Phew ! A very well written job, not one typo as yet . The answer on july 20th was a jewel to read and re read , as was the Emerson quote , so true.
For the types of cruisers you'll find(this one's courtesy of Rich Boren)the Power Cruiser ,i.e. the guy that sails in , motors around the bay ,and goes out again onto the next one and so forth , if you get my drift.
Congrats to you all and fair winds always .
Roberto Marcio da Silva.

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