captain's log

One hand for the boat. Keep a weather eye. Everybody has a bit of advice for young people about to embark on their first offshore race or passage. If push came to shove, mine would be ‘go early, go often’. As my nephew is about to head to off on a week-long sail training trip in May, I thought I better come up with some sage wisdom, so allow me to elaborate.
I once did a round Ireland race with a guy called ‘Big Jim’. Now Jim was big in many ways, but one thing he wouldn’t countenance was taking a dump at sea. I never found out why and I’ve a feeling it wasn’t prudishness (not Jim, no way), but more a fear of the consequences of blocking the head. I could never do this. As I was surfing down those big rollers of the west coast I was thinking to myself ‘this is cool, this is cool, this is cool’, not ‘this is cool (but wish I could take a shit), this is cool (but wish I could take a shit). At the end of a long 4 days at sea, Jim had a longing in him. Even more than winning, even more than the first beer, he had a longing for the three s’s –Shit, Shower & Shave
–in that order.
I know where Jim’s fear comes from, as the second worst thing you can do at sea is to block the head. Counter to this, the very best thing you can do at sea is to block the head and un-block it yourself-whilst at sea. For you, a large halo will forever hover over your head and as you walk down the gangway, sailors will stop in their tracks and give imperceptible nods of their heads which translates to ‘Respect’. Counter to this again, the absolute worst thing you can do at sea is to block the heads and not confess. And if you’re found out, then a giant shit will float over your head for ever more and as you walk down the gangway, sailors will also stop in their tracks and give imperceptible nods of their heads which translates to ‘stay the fuck off my boat’.
At the start of my offshore sailing I did a 10 day trip on a sail training tall ship, along with 19 other trainees, all in our teens. The heads on board were conveniently located at the top of the mess table, which was also where we slept, so we could see all the comings and goings. One particular morning I saw a farmer skulking out of the heads with his head down-this set alarm bells off for me as the previous night I watched him take in no less than 7 pints of Guinness. ‘This is going to be
trouble’, says I.
Sure enough, after we had all got stuck into our cleaning duties, there was a cry from the head as a young innocent girl found the head was blocked. The bosun thought this was perfect opportunity to demonstrate to our watch how to unblock heads and all 6 of us had to gather around.
The farmer, of course, wasn’t on our watch, and had put as much distance between himself and his produce as was physically possible on a 100 foot boat (I think he was out on a yard). There was an inspection hatch located at eye level which the bosun opened to reveal the farmer’s log in all its glory. How to describe it? It was black as hell, it had wings and I swore it winked at me. Eyes dilated and skin went pale as us sweet innocent trainees realised that we were not gazing upon the
ingredients for a rich Nigella Lawson chocolate cheese cake, we were gazing upon the real thing, and if dealing with it was what it meant to be sailors,…….then maybe we weren’t sailors. The bosun nonchanlantly blathered on that with the liberal application of some fairy liquid and a stick (literally, a shit stirrer), then said log could be dealt with and we could all get back to having a cup of tea and a biscuit. Some of us were never quite the same again. Lesson learnt? Don’t sail with farmers.
I have a strategy for dealing with blockages and this may be anathema for middle age men that like nothing better than to retire to the bathroom on a Saturday morning with the entire sports section and repose for a good half hour (Have some sympathy-this may be the only break they get all week from work, wife and children-their last refuge you might say). Next time you do this, stop and  have a look at the diameter of the outfall pipe from the toilet and compare it to the plastic pipe on
the head.
Now imagine what you are producing and, well, you should get the picture. What I am suggesting is that you break up your dump into a series of smaller dumps –or ‘dump and pump’ (as most heads will be pump operated). ‘Heresy’ says you?? It works-I’ve done it. I once sailed on a boat in Sydney that had one of those warning notices above the head. It said ‘Do not place anything into this toilet that you have not personally consumed’. Now this goes without saying, but I would go one step further and add ‘and break up what you are producing, for the love of God!!’n my power to stop your out of control dog.
If you must, read on.