Plumbing, Original

The Head, as it appeared during my first visit to Oystercatcher, Aug 2009
All old boats, unless they've been refitted and well-maintained, have plumbing problems, and my Ericson 25, Oystercatcher, was no exception. I knew this before I bought her, but I became acutely aware of the need to address some of these problems from the moment I took possession of her. Under the banner of Plumbing, I am not restricting myself here to problems associated with the marine head. I'm also talking about the bilge pumps and the fresh water supply. When I finally bought the boat and sailed her away for a one-day, two-night transit on the Pamlico Sound in October 2009, I knew that the electric and manual bilge pumps worked. Otherwise, I would not have sailed her. The marine head and the fresh water supply were another story. The pump on the marine head was questionable. And the fresh water supply? Well . . . when the previous owner told me during my visits in August and September of 2009 that it had been years since he had used the fresh water tank, I knew that I didn't want to drink a drop from that tank until I had extracted it from the boat and thoroughly cleaned it. That would have to wait until I got the boat back home to Charleston. Therefore, when my buddy and I arrived for the transit of Oystercatcher in October 2009, I knew that we would be sailing her and spending two nights aboard her without the comfort of the head and without the benefit of a fresh water tank. We planned ahead for the fresh water. As far as the marine head was concerned, let's just say that by the time the transit ended in Oriental, NC, a well-functioning marine sanitation system was at the top of the to-do list.

Back home in Charleston, one of my first tasks, after removing the deck hardware and protecting Oystercatcher with a heavy-duty tarp, was a thorough investigation of the plumbing system, starting with the marine head. In the V-berth of all Ericson 25s there are three lockers - one small one, one medium, and one large. If an Ericson 25 has a marine head, and if it has a holding tank, chances are that the holding tank is located in the large locker of the V-berth. In fact, that's what the original specifications in the Ericson 25 manual called for.


Oystercatcher was not fitted with a legitimate holding tank. No, the previous owner had rigged her up with a phony. The thing in the picture that appears to be a white box is in fact a plastic cooler. The guy used this cooler to house the square-shaped plastic container. It appears that there is a tight-fitting gasket between the hose and this container. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The hose was simply shoved down into a jagged, hastily-cut hole with lots of gaps here and there around it. I guess this guy's thinking was that if he happened to get boarded by the Coast Guard, this contraption would pass muster as a holding tank. I had this thing out of the boat and in the garbage with no uncertain speed.
The marine head itself appeared to be a fine specimen of porcelain engineering, and it was - in its own day. This was a Raritan, PH, sometimes called the PH I, because it was replaced by the model known as the PH II. Initially, I thought I would simply replace the gaskets and have this toilet back up to working order in no time. As it turned out, though, this toilet was just as useless as many of the other pieces of equipment on this boat. It had been out of production since the late 1980s or early 90s. Rebuild kits were available in limited quantities from Raritan Engineering, but given their cost, it made more sense to consign this marine head to the dumpster and buy a brand new PH II.
The hoses were ancient and the clamps insufficient in quality and number. No anti-siphon loops were in place. This marine head was there just for looks. It had no value whatsoever.
The seacock for the water intake hose looked like it was original to the boat. The plywood backer was rotten and easily flaked and disintegrated when I poked it and pried on it with a screwdriver.
The discharge hose seacock and backer were no less pitiful than the others.
Given the condition of the seacocks and the rest of the marine sanitation system, I eventually decided that the smartest thing to do was to pull the through-hulls to determine whether or not they were salvageable. Fortunately, the bunk of the trailer did not obstruct me in the removal of the water intake through-hull.
The same held true for the waste discharge through-hull. If I hadn't been able to pull the through-hulls with the boat sitting on the trailer, I would have had to do this job with the boat propped up by jack stands in a yard. That would have been expensive.
Both of the through-hulls for the head were flush-mounted. Here you can see the tapered flanges that Ericson built into the hull to accommodate this type of through-hull.
While I was pulling the through-hulls for the marine head, I couldn't neglect the through-hull for the galley sink.
Beneath the sink there ran a thoroughly disgusting clear plastic, or I should say brown plastic, hose to an old-style gate valve with an orange knob not unlike those found on garden hose spigots on the exterior of your typical American house.
In the picture below my young helper demonstrates the opening-and-closing action of the gate valve.
Here's the tool I used to pull the through-hulls from the boat. If you're interested in knowing exactly how this cheap, homemade gizmo works, check out Don Casey's This Old Boat, 2nd Edition. I just had to label this thing as if it were some high-priced product on the shelves of West Marine. In case your wondering, this tool worked like a charm. The through-hulls came right out as I spun the wrench.
Here's a shot of the through-hull recess for the galley sink. This one was very close to the bunk.
The through-hulls had a lot of bottom paint accumulated on them. The large one is missing part of its bottom paint, but only because I had just scraped it off to assess the condition of the bronze.
They didn't look so bad to me, just a little dirty. A little cleaning would bring them up to speed, or so I thought.
Yes, it appeared, at first, that I could just get away with cleaning up the bronze and putting the through-hulls back into place.
With a Dremel, I removed more and more of the patina. I was looking to see if the bronze had taken on a pinkish hue - the sign of corrosion. I never could get it polished to the point where it looked like new bronze. Therefore, I could only assume that this was the pinkish color that would mark the end of these through-hull's service aboard this boat. Nevertheless, I held out hope and kept hitting the bronze with the Dremel.
I kept discovering pits in the bronze, and finally I decided that these through-hulls were toast.
When I turned my attention to the bilge, it seemed my bad luck would only get worse. I knew this was a dank and ugly hole before I ever bought the boat. One of the problems was that the owner was in the habit of using the starboard cockpit locker to store his portable fuel tank for the outboard motor. This was an un-vented compartment. As a result, the vapor from the gasoline would descend into the bilge. There, it would remain, having transformed itself into an oily residue. The picture below shows the bilge as it appeared in August 2009 during my first visit to Oystercatcher. Most of the liquid in the picture is just water - water that had leaked into the boat from portlights and the deck - but it wasn't the sort of water you'd want to put on your garden, like the kind from a rain barrel. No this stuff was thick and nasty. It had me wishing I carried a can of GoJo with me on this visit.
When I returned for the survey in Sept 2009, I discovered that the mess had miraculously disappeared. Despite its absence, the evidence of its long habitation was everywhere. The surveyor remarked on the gasoline smell within the main salon. He said that if I bought the boat, I had to get the gas tank out of the cockpit locker. He added that he couldn't believe this guy hadn't blow himself up.
Of all the hideous things in the bilge, it would seem that the bronze strum box would have been the least worthy candidate for redemption. After all, the guy had used a metal pipe fitting to join the strum box to the cheap bilge hose. You can see the dark rust on this pipe fitting in the picture. When I got home with the boat and began this inspection of the old plumbing, I took a wrench to this fitting in an effort to separate it from the bronze. Not surprisingly, it crumbled. It was, by this point, nothing but a crusty shell. The problem, though, was that the threaded portion of this pipe fitting did not crumble. It, of course, remained firmly in place within the female portion of the strum box.
It took a lot of careful work with a cutting wheel on the Dremel to remove that threaded ring from strum box. Even after I had removed the ring, there were rusty remnants embedded in the bronze threads. I had to doctor each thread of the bronze to bring this piece of hardware back to good health.
A sanding wheel on the Dremel took care of the surface blemishes. Before long, this old Wilcox Crittenden strum box was looking pretty dang good.
I was even able to get the bottom of the strum box cleaned up. It wasn't easy getting all that grease and grime out of those holes.
The next task was an inspection of the water tank in the lazarette. I couldn't begin this task without removing the mahogany door and its frame. The space is just too small to get your shoulders through there without these two pieces of woodwork gone.
The water tank itself was inaccessible without removing the small battery box in front of it. The only problem was that the sides of the box were glassed to the hull with cloth tape. Accordingly, I delayed the inspection until I had done some electrical research and determined that this original battery box was not large enough for the bank that I planned to add to the boat. Once I had made this decision on the future electrical system, I took my Dremel into the lazarette and with a fiberglass cutting bit attached to it, I delicately sliced the small space in the glass tape between the box and the hull. With the box out of the way, it was simply a matter of removing the old water in-fill hose and unscrewing the board from the cleats on either side of the tank.
The picture below shows everything that I extracted from the lazarette. You can see the ragged pieces of the glass tape on the forward side of the box.
Below there are two different hoses. One of them was for the galley sink; the other was for the water tank vent. The masking tape was used to hold the vent hose to the hull in the aftmost starboard side portion of the lazarette. Masking tape. I'm not kidding. The vent hose did not lead anywhere outside of the lazarette. It simply terminated in that space. Do you see how black these hoses are? They were completely coated in an oily residue that smelled like gasoline.
The holding tank had splotches and stains on its exterior and some sort of hard, brown sediment along the bottom of the interior. At first I tried washing this stuff out. That's didn't work one bit. Then I decided to give it a rinse with a water-and-Clorox solution - about 90% water, 10% bleach. This did nothing. I kept upping the amount of Clorox until I finally had reached 100%. This still had no impact on this tough crust. Then I copped an attitude. I said to myself that this thing just wasn't going to win this fight. I took a jug of bleach and dumped it into that hole and let it sit for about a week. When I came back to check on it, I discovered that the spot where the bleach had sat for a week was almost pure white. Grabbing the tank in my arms, I took it to the Admiral, proud of my progress in this battle. She took one look at that thing and said she'd never put a single drop of water from that tank to her lips, no matter how much I cleaned it. With that, I surrendered the fight, and reluctantly added "get new holding tank" to the to-do list.
The last order of business was to assess the condition of the Whale brand manual bilge pump. Below is the way the portside cockpit locker appeared when I first visited Oystercatcher in August 2009. The bilge pump is just visible in the left of the picture.
Here it is close up. It was covered with debris from dirt dobbers. The same thing could be said about many of the other concealed spaces on the boat. At any rate, one glaring omission in this picture is a hose leading from the pump to the through-hull. Yes, that's water you see through that hole. It was only about a foot or two beneath this hole, and it was just dying to come in and stay for a while when the weather got up.
When I returned for the survey in September 2009, the bilge pump and the locker in general were quite spiffy. Moreover, the owner had added a piece of household PVC pipe to the setup. This thing was functional, but it wasn't the sort of equipment to which I'd want to give my unconditional faith.
When I got back home to Charleston, after the transit and the trailering, I looked at the pump more thoroughly and decided that the smartest thing to do would be to dismantle it and rebuild it. After all, the Whale company was still in business and going strong, and rebuild kits were readily available. I'll cover that little project in another posting, but suffice it to say that my decision to do this was a sound one. The pump was encrusted with salt on the interior, and certainly hadn't been living up to its full potential for some time.

As a finale to this plumbing inspection, I examined the through-hulls to which the bilge pumps had been connected. The picture below I snapped when the boat was in the process of being hauled out. It's difficult to tell from this photo, but these pieces of plastic were a chalky white.
Back at home, I poked around on these plastic through-hulls with a screwdriver. I had no idea they were so brittle. Otherwise, I would have taken a few pictures before the fact. They snapped and crumbled to pieces with little more than a twist of the wrist.
With this lengthy assessment of the plumbing system at last complete, I came to the unpleasant realization that almost all of the pieces of this system would have to be replaced. Even more unpleasant was the cost, but then again, that goes hand in hand with boat ownership, doesn't it? This is especially the case when it comes to an old sailboat - especially a beauty such as the Ericson 25, a beauty that's just too good to fade away.

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