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Sailing in the BVIs – Day 2: Check Out, Poop Out, and Sad Willys

We woke up to the sound of the marina roosters. The crew immediately got to work by heading to the store to get last minute items, while we attended the boat and chart briefing. Since it was our first time charting, a portion of the briefing was done by a “check out” skipper who came sailing with us for the part of the day to make sure that the likelihood that we would sink the million dollar boat was low enough to pass insurance. At least that’s our theory.


Above: Nestor after picking up a mooring at Norman Island

The pre-departure brief was going well until the briefing guy reminded us that we needed to keep the holding tanks of the heads closed while on anchor or at marina.

— OK, warning for those not familiar with the less glamorous side of sailing, what comes next is some poop talk and some tech talk about how marine toilets work. If this grosses you out, skip to the next day —

On boats, bathrooms are called heads. The toilet (that is, the head) works by sending waste (aka poop and pee) either into a holding tank or into the ocean. Whether the waste goes to the tank or the ocean is determined by a valve.   When the valve is closed and you flush the head, the contents go into the holding tank. When the valve is open, the contents of the tank (and whatever you flush) go straight into the ocean. You want to keep the valve closed when you are at a marina or at anchor, otherwise you will risk swimming with floaters near by. Heads are also very sensitive and clog easily. If clogged, the process of fixing it is so nasty that TMM charges $150 fine if you clog the head. The assumption is that you put things in it that you shouldn’t have or that your poop is too big, which it will cost you a fine.  So usually, you do not put anything in the head that you haven’t eaten first, although in some cases it may be ok to put marine (super thin) toilet paper, as long as you use very little (as if there were only 3 squares left!).

So back to the story. Nestor had already briefed the crew about the dangers of clogging a head. They were also attentive to the briefing, specially when the TMM staffer told us that the valves needed to be closed at marinas. So the proactive crew immediately ran to the heads to make sure they were closed (we were at a marina after all). They then came up happy to report that the heads were left open by someone but that they were now closed, as “they should be”.

Soon after this happened, here comes one of our crew members mortified that the head in their room was clogged already! She tried to flush but nothing happened. I could feel the eyes rolling of the staff when hearing that we already clogged a head and we had not even left the marina yet! “It’s a $150 fine you know”, they made sure to remind us twice, So we had to wait for the head fixing guy to come and fix the problem, which further delayed our departure.


Above: Captain Nestor waiting for the crew to finish snorkeling at The Indians.

By the time the head got “fixed”  the “check out” skipper was a bit annoyed that he had to wait for the head drama to settle. He had that type of anxiety-producing disposition that is often found among sailing instructors who have the patience of a two year old. So the delay was not making his disposition any better. So we finally left the marina in a hurry and quickly went through the motions of practicing picking up a mooring, anchoring, and docking, all punctuated by him telling Nestor “let me show you what you are doing wrong”. Thankfully, however, we passed. We dropped him off at a near by marina and then got on our way to Norman Island where we would be anchoring for the night.

Back to the poop drama. On our way to Norman Island our crew member came up from her room saying that the head was still clogged! We began trouble shooting and Yolanda decided to read the boat manual (Lesson #3: Read the Boat manual before departing).  She soon found out the answer, which perplexed us to this day. The head in the suspect bathroom did not have a holding tank! It was connected directly through the hull of the boat so that all waste goes directly to the ocean every time you flush it. Yes, you heard that correctly. It even said it explicitly in the boat manual.  We had a head with no holding tank! This is beyond stupid since it means that the head would be useless when on anchor because you are not supposed to discharge poop into the water when close to shore (meaning that 2 couples had to share a bathroom most of the time, no big deal, but definitely not what we expected when we purposely picked a boat with a private head for each couple!). That is not only bad manners, it is also illegal in many places!

So the head was never clogged! When our crew closed the valves at the marina and then tried to flush the head, there was no tank for the contents to go to. So the head simply didn’t flush. Once the valve was open, the head flused perfectly.  We called TMM to explain the situation so we didn’t get charged the $150 fine. To their credit, they understood what happened and did not charge us.


Above: Yolanda swimming after anchoring at Norman Island

So finally we got to The Blight at Norman Island and quickly picked up a mooring at the south west corner. We were originally concerned about mooring at that area of the bay due to the proximity to Willy Ts (see below) but it was actually perfect. We barely heard the partying and were more secluded than most of the boats that anchored at the northern east corner by the restaurants.

We then began deciding whether we had the energy to go to the infamous floating bar where middle aged dudes and gals relive their spring break days. From the distance it looked sad, and after a couple of drunk dinghies flew by on their way over to Willy Ts we decided that listening to drunk guys yell “shot, shot, shot, shot” was just not what we wanted that night. So we stayed on our boat playing UNO and enjoying our first night on the water.


Above: The crew at Norman Island playing UNO and drinking Caribs.

Coming up on Day 3: Mayday, we lost steering!

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