Boat Life – Our New Euphemism

Yesterday I posted this picture of my husband’s latest boat project. It will make life easier for us and harder for Honey.

Did you guess what it is?

Honey the golden retriever poses with new boat equipment.

The designer posing with Honey and our euphemism in process.

Our New Euphemism

Some call it a composting toilet. Others call it a desiccating head.

I’ll call it what Dr. Seuss called it—a euphemism.

You might wonder why we needed a new euphemism when we had a perfectly fine marine head, er euphemism, that’s currently sitting out in the cockpit.

And no, it’s not just so we can scare off snobby boat people who worry that they’ve docked next to hillbillies.

I won’t repeat my I’d Rather Poop Like A Dog post that recounted a disgusting sewage disaster our fourth day on the boat. But if you want to know what happened, you’ll have to click the link.

Go ahead. I. Dare. You.

For those with little curiosity or weak stomachs, I’ll just tell you that our old euphemism pumped waste into a holding tank.

A holding tank that only holds twelve gallons before needing to be pumped out. A holding tank that will start to seep sewage out the top after about three days. And here’s the kicker: a holding tank that sits under my side of the bed.

Believe me, it was a good incentive to look at a new type of euphemism.

But Pamela, you’ve been on the boat over six months now. Why did it take you so long to deal with this issue?

Sailing In January

We left Maryland for Florida in November 2015.

Thanks to mechanical failures and other mishaps, we failed to leave Virginia until nearly February (pssst, that link goes to my husband’s blog, Bimini Dreams; we should probably rename it Virginia Nightmares).

Because it was freaking cold to be sailing in an open cockpit (we actually broke ice leaving Virginia), we decided to stop in a marina every night.

The snowy view out our port.

January on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal in Virginia.

Marinas are great.

Honey got to walk off the boat to relieve herself in real grass. We got access to shore power so we could plug a space heater in overnight instead of worrying about being poisoned by our propane heater.

Most importantly, marinas have their own euphemisms with hot showers.

Honey the golden retriever at Lady's Island Marina.

How did you manage it so that you have a shorter walk to the euphemism than I do?

Sure, we sometimes had to walk over a half mile from our slip to the closest euphemism building (just think of that the next time you complain about waking up in the middle of the night having to pee). But we only contributed to the holding tank when we were underway.

I kept a note on the door to mark every use so we knew when to pump out.

But you know what’s not so great about marinas? They charge a boat our size anywhere from $40 to $80 each night just to dock. Off-season.

It’s considerably more in desirable locations or in summer.

That’s the fee to tie your boat to a slip and walk to a shared bathroom, er euphemism.

Makes you appreciate those small rural motels where, for the same amount, they also wash your sheets, bring you clean towels, and provide heat and air conditioning.

The euphemism? It’s a few steps from the bed. And there’s no combination lock on the door.

Luckily, we have a new plan for the boat. One that will save us lots of money.

Sailing In Summer

Sailing in summer is pleasant. It’s lovely. Who wouldn’t want to sit in an open cockpit on a 75°F/23°C enjoying the cool breeze?

Honey the golden retriever with Uncle Bob on Meander.

I’m so cute. I can’t believe people still wait for a sunny day before they want to go sailing with us.

When we finish traveling for the day, we won’t need to use a space heater. So we can anchor when it’s time to sleep.

Anchoring has its own issues.

One little boat dog adventure found me and Honey stranded when the current became to strong for me to row against after taking her off for a break.

Honey the golden retriever and Pam row to shore in dinghy.

If I knew how hard it would be to get back against the current, I would never have gotten into this dinghy to begin with.

You have to check your anchor often to make sure it’s holding you in place.

But most of all, you need to beside your euphemism won’t overflow when you’re away from a marina for more than three days.

How will we do that? By installing a composting head, er euphemism.

Warning: if you prefer not to know anything about handling human waste on a boat, please stop now. Come back on another day when I’m writing about something less disgusting. Like maggot sandwiches. Or deep-fried butter.

Building A Euphemism

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There are companies that make composting heads for homes, boats, and RVs. We looked carefully at the Air Head, Nature’s Head, and C-Head before realizing that none of the three would fit in our tiny head compartment.

In fact, someone who owned the exact same boat as us built their own composting head, er euphemism, for the same reason. And if they could do it, I knew Mike could do it.

Me? I can’t hammer a nail without losing at least two fingers.

I have to say that on board, our waste will never fully compost. We don’t have enough room to keep it with us for long enough for that to happen.

People who have these devices in homes, however, can shovel out the dried waste and spread it on a flower garden where it will continue to compost.

So really, it’s not a composting euphemism. It’s a desiccating euphemism.

But if the many people we’ve met who have them aren’t lying, we should have an easy and smell-free way to deal with waste for longer than three days.

Here’s how it works.

The euphemism has a diverter instead of a bowl. This carries liquid waste forward into a bottle.

Composting head with seat up.

Introducing our new euphemism.

Solid waste drops through a larger opening into a waiting bin. The bin contains a drying medium. Some use peat. We’ll be using coconut coir.

Every time someone makes a deposit in the euphemism, they will add a scoop of coir.

When we land in a marina, we can take the dried, solid waste to a dumpster. And dump liquid waste in a toilet or other facility.

Composting head open.

Composting head open – urine bottle in the front.

Will Honey Use The Euphemism

My ideal would be if we could train Honey to use the euphemism too. But given how tight it is, that’s probably expecting too much.

For now, we’ll continue to take Honey to shore in the dinghy when we anchor out.

That’s the part that’s harder for Honey.

Honey the golden retriever takes the ramp to the dock.

Off I go to the euphemism.

Instead of stepping onto a dock from her ramp, we’ll be lowering her with a block and tackle into the dinghy using her Ruffwear Doubleback Harness to keep her secure while she’s dangling from the boom.

We will plan anchorage spots that are near a boat ramp or other places that will be easy to land a small boat.

But the tricky part is always getting Honey out of the big boat (Meander) and into the little boat (Mini Mea).

If we’re planning to land on a dock in the near future, we’ll bag her waste like usual and tie it down on the deck until we find a trash can.

On trips where we won’t be hitting a marina for a few days, we’ll practice Leave No Trace principles and bury Honey’s waste well away from the waterway.

We could possibly dump her waste into the euphemism as well. Of course, that will only fill it faster and force us to go ashore to dump it.

For now, that’s our plan.

Honey the golden retriever is getting smarter.

Well, it’s a plan.

It’s All About Poop

You can’t know a dog lover without eventually talking about poop.

Either we’re complaining about people who don’t clean it up or worrying about the color of texture of our pup’s.

The same thing happens with cruising sailors.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten into very specific conversations (often around a dinner table; funny how it happens that way) about dealing with waste.

I recently read somewhere that couples who are able to discuss digestive processes with each other have longer lasting marriages.

If that’s true, I’m looking forward to my 70th wedding anniversary. Because we’ve had enough highly personal conversations about all kinds of sh*t, literally, to guarantee this marriage won’t end before we each hit our 90s.

Your Turn: Okay, that was disgusting. Do you have any more palatable questions about cruising with Honey that we can answer in a future post?



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  1. I think we will just continue to enjoy watching Mom pick up our poop on walks and stay here on land, but, we sure do hope this solves your problem!

  2. Teach Honey to use a piece of carpet on the bow . . . it makes life a lot easier on the hook both for you and her!

    • Believe me, Carolyn, that is our future wish. We began working on it several months before moving on board by placing an astroturf mat under the snow so Honey would “christen” it with her scent.

      But we have never gotten her to use it on board. Honey has already gone more than 20 hours without a break and without so much as a whimper. I have a feeling she can outlast me. Because I will inevitably cave and take her ashore if there’s any possibility of doing so.

      I’m working on a post that will explain why I think it’s so much harder to teach a large dog to toilet on a boat than a small one. I’d be interested to know from small dog people if my speculation agrees with your experience.

  3. Ruthie says:

    Oh, my! Who knew that sailing could be so complicated, or so icky at times? Must be a challenge for Honey, too:-) Bless your hearts for carrying on!

    • All of life is complicated and icky at times. I think if you ask most people who live on boats, they’d tell you that spotting a dolphin off your bow or enjoying beautiful sunsets every day makes it all worth it. 🙂

  4. I hope the new euphemism helps make your lives easier! It certainly sounds like it would! Hopefully there’s no more leaky waste!! Yikes!!

  5. I’m sorry, but I spent the whole post laughing my ass off. That was priceless! Haha, thanks. I needed that. 😀

    • Yep, that’s what we tell ourselves when we’re managing the gross things: at least it will make somebody laugh. 🙂

  6. Lynda Fisher says:

    i agree with dachshund nola. it was funny then i remembered your post about the lealy …..

    • Many months later, even I can laugh about the leaky holding tank. But probably not if it ever happened again. 🙂

  7. Chantel says:

    Hopefully the new euphemism works out for you all!

  8. Wow, that sounds very tough, especially the part about needing to take Honey to land for her to go potty. Would she ever use a small astroturf or grass square on deck? Probably not but it was the 1st thing that popped into my head.

    We have new people living near us. They built their house with a composting toilet. Unfortunately, their place smells like human feces a lot of the time. Based on your description, I’m guessing it’s the stuff that they shovel outside. Fortunately houses are far apart here so no one can smell from their house but it’s evident when we walk past their house on a trail. However, they have no friends in the neighborhood because of the feces on the ground near their house.

    Now that was probably more than you wanted to know!!!

    • We started training Honey to use an astroturf square by putting it under the snow before we moved out of our house so she would leave her scent on it. Despite that, she has gone as long as 20 hours without a potty break and without so much as a whimper rather than use the turf on the deck.

      I’m preparing a post on why I think it’s much harder to train a large dog to potty on a boat than a small dog.

      Sorry to hear about your neighbors. They’re definitely doing something wrong if you’re smelling feces. The key is to separate dry and liquid waste. With a drying medium, like peat or coir, the only smell should be peat-y. Not feces-y. Ugh.

      I’ve met one vegan (apparently eating a lot of meat can cause greater smell) who kept his composting toilet in a cabinet next to his bed. No smell at all.

      May you want to print off an instruction page from a human-ure composting website and stick it in their mailbox.

      Speaking as someone who once cleaned human feces out of a crack house, I know exactly what you’re dealing with. It’s one of the most memorable smells I’ve ever experienced.

  9. You just ever think about things so ‘normal’ and yet so impawtant. Congrats on the new privy with more sailing, less dumping. ღ

    • One of the reasons I was drawn to boat life is the same reason I’m drawn to camping. I like the idea of paring down and concentrating more on doing the necessary things of life.

      Having to work just a little harder to take care of necessities reminds me of how lucky I am to have access to clean water, enough to eat, and fuel to prepare it. Sadly, so many people don’t.

  10. OMDoodle – there are some things on a boat you just can’t scrimp on and one of those would be on the tippy top of my list.

    • Yeah, I’m normally really frugal and hate spending money on anything if I can make do with what I already have. But believe me, if we could have fit it? I would have been happy to spend $1200 on a composting toilet. 🙂

  11. I like your down-to-earth, er..sea, posts 😉 It’s definitely interesting reading about all the challenges that life on a boat has in store. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I keep finding life in Tiny Houses very intriguing (one of my favorite shows these days). I think I could see myself living on a small House Boat as well – one that’s securely attached to land on one side, though 😉