Hello from the Maunie crew on Sunday, with 820 miles covered so far. All is well here – we have bright sunshine and a great Force 6 wind behind us so are making good progress. The SSB Radio Net was quite a chatty affair at lunchtime – Graham was duty net controller so injected a bit of enthusiasm into event and it was good to hear how other boats are getting on. One had heard from home via email that all the race boats that started two days ahead of us have hit a patch of relatively light wind so the rest of the fleet is closing in on them at the moment.
Non-sailing readers have commented that the sailing jargon (which we try to avoid as much as possible) can be a little confusing so today's blog will try to address the second most common question asked by non-sailors (after "how do boats sail towards the wind exactly?") which is "how do you go to the loo at sea?".
With some difficulty at times, is the quick answer. Old sailing ships used to have a special cut-out on the aft rail so that crew members could perch there, watching the ship forge ahead whilst leaving what we, for the sake of modesty and decorum, will call turtles floating in the wake behind. With the passage of time and increasing standards of decorum required (heavens, there might even be ladies aboard!) basic toilets (again of the long-drop variety), were fitted in the bow or head of the ship, flushed with a bucket of sea water, and so to this day a ship's toilet is known as the heads, wherever it is installed aboard.
On Maunie, we have the luxury of two heads, one up forward on the port side and the other back aft on starboard which allows the user to choose the best according to the weather conditions; more of this later. Of course, gentlemen could always stand on deck and widdle over the side but this is Strictly Forbidden; every year coroners in coastal towns add the initials FOO to the post mortem records of drowned yachtsmen and fishermen. FOO stands for Flies Open on Arrival. On a rolling boat you need both hands to steady yourself on deck so if one is holding something else then it all gets a bit risky.
Holding on in the heads compartments below deck is just as important, particularly as the motion of the boat is unpredictable just as you're trying to go through a few private motions of your own. Fundamentally you really need three arms as you try to brace yourself whilst removing the relevant (and often many-layered) sailing garments and placing your derriere on the loo seat. Oh, I should mention that the loo's a lot smaller than the household variety, just to add further challenge to the activity. Once installed, the process that you intend to complete (releasing the aforementioned turtles to the wild) requires a degree of bodily relaxation that is completely at odds with the limpet-like grip that you are forced to apply to all available hand-holds and foot braces. If the boat rolls heavily at the wrong moment there is a serious risk of being propelled out through the door, trousers around ankles, to the great amusement of your crew mates.
Further challenges still await the unfortunate sailor. Assuming that he or she is successful in the turtle emancipation, the level of the water (and other constituents) in the toilet bowl will rise and then swirl dangerously with the boat's every move. At this point the user requires a third or possibly fourth hand to pump the handle beside them to begin the process of delivering the turtles to their natural environment. Yes, dear reader, it all goes into the sea (though a perilously small-diameter pipe); whilst we have a holding tank for use in harbour, the best solution to pollution is dilution so we're not taking our turtles with us. This, by the way, is a good reason not to go snorkelling for turtles in crowded yacht anchorages.
We're now onto the final stage of this frankly stressful process where the the amount of toilet paper used must be commensurate with the task in hand (sorry) but not sufficient to block the narrow pipe to the sea. Finished and exhausted, the weary sailor will dress, whilst using both hands to steady himself, wash his hands in a stream of water which oddly falls at 45 degrees from the tap and emerge from the heads safe in the knowledge that the process will need to be repeated all too soon.
Bet you thought sailing was just fun, fun, fun.