Good thing we used two anchors. The rode was crossed in the morning, meaning that the boat had turned 360 degrees in the night, obviously pulling on the stern anchor for a while when the tide ebbed.
I retrieved the anchors, bow first then stern. It took some thought: do I have enough rode on the stern anchor to motor forward and pick up the bow? Turns out I did. Before we did anything, I made fast the bitter end of the stern anchor rode to the bow cleat, and piled all the line onto the foredeck, making sure it would run free. I then provided tension on the line with my foot. As I had hoped, it stayed taut and visible so that Ruth would know if and when to take the engine out of gear to avoid fouling the prop. We broke loose the bow hook with no problem, then motored 100+ feet to pick up the stern hook. By the time we were over the anchor, the depth sounder was reading 3.5 feet – short a foot, due to the fact that it is mounted 12 inches below the water line. But that was close enough – we broke out the hook and picked it up, then backed away, not risking anymore skinny water on a falling tide.
While I stowed the anchors and rodes, Ruth piloted us out of the river, back through the hundreds of crab pots, and towards the channel entrance where the water was rushing to join the rest of the bay flowing south.
We made east about 1.5 miles before turning north to cross the Potomac. We were able to sail some for a while until the wind fell off, then switched to engine. Finally across the Potomac after several hours, we settled in for the next 15 miles or so up to Solomon’s. A little while later Ruth informed me that the marine head wasn’t working. Bummer. 45 minutes later, I had determined that our problem wasn’t going to be resolved by clearing a clog. So as we approached Solomon’s, I telephoned the West Marine at Solomon’s Island and inquired about an overhaul kit – which they had. We took a slip in a marina, walked to West Marine, bought the kit, and I rebuilt the toilet. I’m sure you will thank me for not providing photos of this. Another time I’ll do a how-to on rebuilding a marine toilet – when I’ve had the chance to make sure all the photos will be “sanitized.”
Now here’s some information everyone who has a marine toilet should read: There is a simple way to prevent this event: Rebuild your marine toilet every year. Yes, rebuild it every year as planned spring maintenance. It’s just not that hard, and the parts kit costs about $70. In fact, you don’t have to replace every part – just the valves and piston seal. Why rebuild it every year? So you won’t have to do it in the middle of nowhere when you’re not expecting to. I just learned that this year. . .
My marine toilet was new 18 months ago, and I certainly expected the valves and seals to last longer than that. But I’ve found that those parts – which are mostly made of rubber – don’t last long when exposed to many different kinds of chemicals. Household cleaning chemicals degrade them, especially bleach and Pine Sol. Winterizing chemicals – anything with alcohol – will degrade them quickly. There is a solution, of course: don’t use these chemicals. I plan to experiment with that this year. I will be very careful with the cleaning products I use, and I will not pour winterizing fluid in the head this year – instead, I’ll ensure that it’s drained and pumped dry. But I’ll still have it apart next spring for inspection. I just don’t want to do another emergency head rebuild.
If you are really interested in the subject of what chemicals do to marine heads, you can follow Drew Frye’s blog Sail Delmarva. Drew is a contributor to Practical Sailor magazine, and testing these chemicals is one of his ongoing projects.