Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Replacing a holding tank on an Island Packet Cat

Fall is finally here which means I can now emerge from the sweaty coma that I sink into every summer and get some projects done. 

So anyway, we are currently in the middle of some boat projects but I'm only going to address one at a time or else this could easily become a twenty page post.
Something I haven't quite figured out though is why the smelly business of our holding tank has become my pet project, and just because my dad was a plumber doesn't mean that I inherited some sort of plumbing talent gene from him.
Yes folks, we're talking about the holding tank on our boat, which on land would be called a septic tank. 
I blogged about my first experience with clogged hoses on this post so needless to say I really didn't want to go there again.

But I did.

Back when we bought the Knotty Cat we were led to believe she was trained and knew how to use a litter box properly so as not to stink things up for her new owners. And we were thankful for that because it soon became apparent that the Knotty Cat loves attention. In short order we replaced leaky drain hoses, bought her new batteries (twice), replaced her water pump (twice), had her bottom cleaned and painted (she looooves that process as it means getting hauled out and paraded about the boat yard which makes her feel like a princess), installed drip-less shaft seals along with balancing her engines (that time she tried to shed a propeller and sooo not cheap), sailed her to the Bahamas where she took up smoking (we put a quick end to that), gave her some solar panels, and a new main sail and wind generator are in the works! 


So back to the holding tank.  We first got wind that something was up a few years ago when some charterers who were using our boat complained of odor. When we got back on board everything seemed okay. Then we had company for a long weekend and shortly after we noticed some head odor, but it quickly disappeared.  Of course the day we really noticed it was when got married out in the bay on the boat with family and friends along and it was obvious that the Knotty Cat wasn't playing fair. Oh, it was bad.

Why couldn't we figure out what was wrong? Because our holding tank is glassed in, that's why.
Honest to God! What were the people at Island Packet thinking when they put this boat together?  We love our boat; it's solid and has a ton of space and storage, but no access to the holding tank? 

CRAP! And that's not a pun!

I tried all kinds of things.  I had the tank filled with soapy water and then pumped it out, I poured expensive products from West Marine into it and had it pumped out. And just when we thought everything was okay, Wham! there was that smell again. 

We decided our tank had a leak. Where? Who knows because it's GLASSED IN!! The decision was then made to be extra careful about what went into the tank. That meant that the bath house was to be used for number two, and when flushing pee into the tank to try to use fresh water and not marina water which I think is smelly. 

Many times we discussed replacing the tank but after a trip into the engine room and seeing what all would be involved we fled back into the salon where I would have a Wilbur Wow Wow and try to forget about it. 

But we want to go cruising again and we don't want to be the stinky ones in the anchorage. 

So here's the deal.
Our holding tank is long and flat like a safe deposit box and holds 40 gallons. It's length runs from port to starboard, aft of our companionway and directly under our cockpit. Unfortunately that means it is just feet away from my galley (separated by a wall of course) where you can really smell it when it acts up. 
In the engine room, tons of hoses and electrical lines are mounted onto the fiberglass that covers it. Even if you were to remove all those things (and you just know something would be sure to break or rupture), you would then be faced with getting the tank out. Since it's so long it can't be pulled out because it would run into the engine room wall, therefor it would need to be cut out. 

I googled forever trying to find if anyone on an Island Packet Cat had ever done this but came up empty. Hans lucked into finding a boat yard that had actually worked on two of them. The mechanic said he cut out and replaced the first tank he worked on and swore he'd never do it again. On the second one he merely abandoned the existing tank and installed a new one in an empty space behind the starboard engine. This is what we had considered doing and his story confirmed for us that that was the way to go. It would have been nice if we could have installed it on the port side where the pump out fitting is but our automatic pilot would be in the way.

Let me say we are very lucky to have so much room and I'm glad we never bought a diesel generator for that spot! 

"This post isn't about me? How boring, I guess I'll just take a nap."

Disconnected pump out hose. The small hose on the left is the over flow for our fuel tank.
New pump out hose in place. The old hose hasn't been removed yet.

The new hose has to go from the port side to the new tank on the starboard side via a tunnel between the hulls. Those hoses to the left are attached to the fiberglass surrounding the old tank. Our hot water tank is on the right.

The new hose stuck between the hulls. 

I was working by myself on this so I used our boat hook to pull the hose through.

Looking straight down. The new pump out hose is attached to the new tank.

The old hose that empties out the starboard head to the holding tank. Trying to remove those old hoses is a real treat! They've been in place for nearly twenty years and felt like cement filled tubes. I used a heat gun for the first time and it's now my best friend.

New hose in place.

And now attached to the new tank. The fitting on the right will be for the port side head hose.

A before picture of the pump out hose hanging free.

An after picture with the new pump out hose zip tied in place.

This is what the tank looks like (sitting so elegantly in our berth). Two fittings at the top for the heads to pump into and the bottom fitting for the pump out. It will hold 32 gallons.

Starboard engine room. The tank went in the space behind the engine. 

We placed cleats fore and aft that we'll use to help strap the tank in place. We had to make sure the tank wouldn't be so big as to run into that drain hose you can see on the left.

The bottom where the tank will sit is very rough and uneven so we bought a piece of starboard for it to sit on. We also screwed some treated wood to it as a frame to keep the tank from sliding.

A close up of the cleats. There is an identical set on the opposite wall.

Here I am sitting on the new tank.  I think I should have a tiara and a sash announcing me as Miss Terlet Queen! Getting that sucker in there was pretty interesting. Just a few inches bigger and we'd have had a problem.

One of the old hoses after being cut off.  I used our emergency plugs to keep the yucky stuff inside.  But only after gushing a bunch of the yucky stuff all over my feet!

We had our final pump out last week and I made sure it was full of clean water and vinegar since it's being left in place. The holes will be plugged but still....

Tomorrow will be our first pump out for the new tank. I'm not too worried about it and even if it needs some tweaking the rules for using the first tank still hold until we know everything's A-OK!

Pssst.  Did you really think I could write a post without including the Little Man?

"Does I haz sumfing in my teef?"


  1. Laura and Hans,

    I know that was a big project. Luckily for us, the previous owners of our Packet Cat had already replaced the holding tank. They went through the effort to cut out the old tank and put the new one back in the original location.

    1. That would be fabulous!!! I really hated having to go this route but we've spent so money on things we never expected to go wrong. We're just really lucky that we have the space, and with this tank we can see exactly how full it is just by taking a peek behind our engine.

    2. I meant to say so 'much' money. I would love to hear how much fun it was for the poor people who replaced yours. Oh, another reason for us doing it this way was the cost of having her hauled out yet once again! But we do love our girl none the less,

  2. How long have you owned Knotty Cat? We have had Island Time for just two years. We are preparing to retire in two more years and plan to sail the East coast of the US and the Bahamas.

    1. We bought her in 2008 and moved her from Mass. to Annapolis until 2010. Down the coast we went and then over to the Bahamas for a couple of months. We've been in FL for 2 years now since