For the last month or so, I have been aware of an awful smell, whenever Al started pumping the head, even if just for water. As well, while sitting at the fore, I saw that refuse was coming out of a discharge hole above water. When I mentioned it, of course Al did not believe me, how is that possible? The discharge for head is under water. Well, I saw what I saw, and then, he saw it too! Odd, is it not?
It took us almost two months to put two and two together. First day free of commitments, Al sat on the toilet and started gazing at the system of valves which connect the discharge. The main discharge valve, which allows the flow from the head as well as from the holding tank through the sea-cock, was closed and stuck; that is to say, the pipe connecting it to the tank was full of refuse.
Last year, when Al opened that valve after the summer season, he had indicated that it was only half opened, but he had been afraid to force it open, lest he would brake the through hull fitting. This year, he said that he had no problem opening it, it was even too easy, and he thought it odd. Apparently he had not opened the valve, he just broke the handle and jammed the valve on that first day. After that, unbenownst to us, every time we used the toilet, we were pumping the discharge into the tank, without ever emptying it. When the poor thing was full, the refuse was over-flowing out through the aspiration line, the bulk of it getting concentrated in the holding tank.
First thing to be done was to empty the tank. So we looke in the Ti' Ponton (the register of all cruser related businesses in Martinique for easy access to sailors). Nothing about sanitation, pump out even no mention of plumbing. The only mention was of plumbing parts sale at Le Ship ( a chandlery in Le Marin). Even Doyle does not mention a plumber. However, a pump out station in St Lucia is advertised in his guide.
We discovered the problem late on Friday, and had to endure the week end contemplating and speculating. Should we buy a pump and long hoses, to clear the tank? They usually priced around 250.- to 300.- Euros. Go to St Lucia to use the pump out facility in Rodney Bay?
It was a long two days. Lucky we have another toilet on board. Early in the Monday morning, we set out to Le Marin from St Anne. First we took water from the fuel dock, and anchored at our usual place. Al started with Le Ship, and Marianne (the nice sales attendant who can speak English) who suggested that we should contact Le Marin marina. After a couple of calls, we were told to speak with the marina dock master through VHF, channel 9 (they do not bother with listening to channel 16).
The dock master told us to stand by, they were to get back to us as soon as they were able. Listening to channel 9 for two hours showed that they were really busy, so we waited patiently. Around 11:30, Al tried again, and was told to come to the fuel dock at 12:00. We did, and told to get tied to the slip at the back of the dock and wait. There was hope, so we sat there, looking around at the activity.
It took them two hours to get organized to operate the pump-out, which had been installed new during the extention of the fuel dock this year. Now four yachts can get tied at the same time, a big improvement, because the dock is always busy (except when the oil/gas workers are on strike, a few time as year).
Anyway, Al helped the agent, to use it the fist time. The twenty meter long hose, and it connectors were brand new, so Al had no scuples to assist. After waiting so long, the actual pumping out took ten minutes, the vacuum system being quite powerful. We pumped in some water, and were confident that it would be possible to dismantle the stuck valve without having a black shower in the bilge.
Next step to find a plumber. Our advisor in Le Marin, Levent the kebab man, asked around, and found out that there was one nautical plumber, Jean Claud, but he decided to hang his hat lately, and refused to work.
We went to the Carenage boat yard, thinking that they should have some technicians handy for the boats stored there. We talked to some people, and learned that only Caraibe Marine would have access to the repair guys. Caraibe Marine it is.
The attendant there, whom we know from our constant visits, indicated that he knew one plumber, and he called him. It turned out to be Jean Claud, who still refused to work.
What to do? I suggested Le Ship, since they sell plumbing parts. Lo and behold, Marianne listened to our plight, and declared that she knew one guy, who might help, but he was always very busy. When I asked if his name was Jean Claud, she said no, just Jean. Oh good, another plumber exists in Martinique!
Marianne called him, and indicated that he might pass by the shop the next afternoon, and she would call us as soon as he showed up. She reiterated that he was extremely busy, and did not speak any English. We assured her that we could manage to understand him, being armed with our reference book " French for Sailors". It is a must have for everybody.
Another day to wait, but we had other errands to run, and our place at the anchorage was not too bad. What else do we have to do. By the way, did I mention that the lock for the second head door was broken? It locks from the inside, but does not keep the door closed. Al dismantled it, and saw that one of the springs was broken. We had to order it on line.
The next afternoon, Marianne declared that Jean was not coming that day, but was going to come to the boat 8:00 am the next morning, and asked about the location of the boat. Had she mentioned how busy he is? It seems that one has to beg for service.
We had little hope that he would show up, but started to be on the look out around 7:30 am. He did come almost on the dot, he was a small but very intense man, and very agile. He took a look, and declared that the job was not easy. Thank you, as if we did not know.
The first thing to do was to clog the discharge hole, which was under water. He jumped into his dinghy, and tried the multitude of wooden clogs that came with the boat. He found the one that almost fit, and used a piece of "chiffon" (cloth) to make it tight.
Then he tried to unscrew the valve. No can do. He said that he needed electricity to cut the outer ring, and hopped into his dinghy to bring a portable generator, which he borrowed from a friend.
Since the work area is too tight, by the time he finished, he looked like a veteran of combat. He had multilple cuts on his forehead and arms, his white t-shirt had blood stains and black marks. It was a good thing that Al had the foresight of placing a garbage bag under the connection to the valve. As soon as the valve was dismantled, the refuse in the pipe came wooshing down (some of it to the bilge, but not much). Al used the other head to get rid of it, which had half filled the bag.
Al told him to close his eyes, and covered his face with antiseptic spray. But he refused to apply bandage to his cuts. He was a very humble and nice man, and lived through a tragedy in his life. Ten years previsously, he was a father of two, living as a jeweler in Bordeaux, France. Then his son died, and he, not abe to continue the status quo, started a new life in Martinique. He also mentioned that he was generally working as an electrician (much cleaner work), but since there were no plumbers available, he was taking that on as well. Well I tell you, it is a much needed service, and we were grateful.
Poor Jean fought for 4 hours, and asked for 160.- Euros. With some parts that he had to buy in the meantime, Al gave him 200.-. I think he deserved much more, doing such a dirty job, so we did not grudge him for it. God bless him.
Jean gave us his telephone number for any problems, but did not want us to advertise for him. He did not even made any business cards, fearing about more calls. He also made it plain that he would never work for the charter companies (who would need his services regularly).