The Stewart family buy a boat, jack it all in and go sailing!

Boat Puzzles (or Getting Ahead)

Life on board can be cramped, uncomfortable and inconvenient.  Despite this, I still LOVE it.  To be fair, we’ve only been on board Iron Will a few weeks, but over the years I’ve lived on many boats full time while employed as crew in various guises – deckie, cook, stewie and even skipper – so I do have a good idea of the vagaries of boatlife.

One of the things I really enjoy about it, is the same thing that I know drives many people mad.  I enjoy the constant puzzles that you have to solve.  There are always things to work out; where to stow this new bit of kit, how to adjust that item on deck or down below that is chafing/banging, how to produce a satisfying meal from 3 potatoes and a bag of lentils, why is that pump running, where is that water coming from and why is the loo blocked again?!

Marina toilets are delicate creatures and require constant love and care to stay operational.

Especially on older boats like s/v Iron Will, with ageing plumbing and a backlist of various owners who have all added their own special touches.  I have taken apart various marine toilets in the past and it’s one of those jobs that is so unremittingly horrifying that the glow you get from completing the job would rival a supernova.


We don’t use the heads onboard at the moment, as we’re in the marina.  There are swanky marble-swathed bathrooms with en-suite loos that are 50metres away (that we have to pay extra for, grrr).  We’ll use our onboard toilet for the occasional wee, and paper goes in the bin that is emptied daily.

That’s the theory anyway … however, with small children, things can change.

As most parents do, I sometimes end up in a public toilet with our tween kids.  One of our children (who shall remain nameless) has a habit I noticed recently, of taking off reams of toilet paper and scrunching it into a ball the size of, roughly, a small grapefruit before use.  I was horrified.  “You’re not supposed to use that much!” I hissed, at the time, before demonstrating a restrained 4-sheet-fold technique.  I thought that was the end of it.

Until yesterday, when I noticed the water/wee level in our onboard loo was a bit high.  Flushing just made the level rise alarmingly.  “Matt!” I yelled out.  Oh the relief of having a competent hands-on partner.

I wont say I passed the buck, but he is the captain.  Grimly resolute, he rolled up his sleeves and set to work.

Fora while, I was his plumbers mate, folded up in the little space with him, handing him screwdrivers and wrangling one end of hoses while he wrangled the other.  Oh, the smell.  Oh, the stuff coming out of the ends of hoses.  It was all quite gag-worthy.  The culprit eventually revealed itself: an elderly anti-siphon hose that was jam-packed with … yup, scrunched up loo paper.  Lots of it.  

Around this point, after endless games of cards and some drawing, the kids ran out of ideas to occupy themselves and needed adult input.  Guiltily (but with great relief), I abandoned Matt and took the kids to MakerSpace at our fabulous local library for a few hours.

I timed our return perfectly: Matt was emerging from the companionway, hands aloft and using his elbows like a surgeon, and grinning.  He’d not only got the whole thing fixed but had streamlined the system.  So all the jobs on the list that we had to get through that day, didn’t of course get done.  But we had a fabulous new working loo.  And we finished off the day (after Matt had showered) by having an intensive toilet-paper folding lesson en famille.