There are very few things that I have done to the boat that I did not regret in some way. This installation of the Nature’s Head, I am happy to say, is one few that has worked out beyond my expectations in every respect. The installation was straight forward enough; the only difficulty was removing the old holding tank and hoses that seemed particularly determined to stay on the boat.
The old head came out without much fuss by loosening 4 bolts and simply cutting the two hoses. Given the ease of the work so far, I moved to the forward locker determined to remove the stinky holding tank once and for all in short order. After initially trying to remove the step above the holding tank so that it would stay in reusable condition, I resorted to the “larger hammer” solution and broke the thing into pieces. Even in small pieces the 5200 adhesive sealant that they had used to great excess to install it held tenaciously. Bit by bit the remains of the step and the clear Plexiglas window that made of the forward vertical portion came out of the boat. This process took over three hours and being mid-day was particularly painful being down in a hot forward locker yet still in direct sunlight and out of the breeze.
Hours later finally having the step fully removed, I though the worst was over; however, the hoses that lead to the valves and the head itself were the next challenge to remove. After giving my best effort to take the clamps off and then remove the hose; out came the knife and with great difficulty and much cursing the hose was cut in two. Even cutting it up as far as I could reach from the inside failed to free the tank from its location. The remains of the tank continued to run out of the hoses into the bilge despite our best efforts to capture it in buckets. Given the tank had not been used for a while, thankfully the muck that came out of the tank had fully lost its smell although it was still not pleasant to work with. With my son pulling from inside the forward locker and me pushing on the hose connection from the inside somehow we finally managed to get the tank out of the boat.
Once the tank was out of the boat sitting on the dock, we noted with great disgust that the inspection port was loose on the top of the tank. It was clearly visible from the old dry stains around the port that the tank was leaking it each time it filled anywhere near the top. There are few things I could imagine to be worse than having an inspection port on the top of a tank in a completely inaccessible sealed compartment. To compound this with the fact that the boat manufacturer did not bother to somehow seal it (knowing that it was in an inaccessible location) is inexcusable in this sailor’s view. The smells coming from this pitifully small 18 gallon tank (that would fill in less than a couple days of use) are so offensive that I am surprised that we lived with it for so long.
To clean out the bilge area first we mopped up any slug with a sponge and bucket and then ran the hose into the bilge area letting the bilge pump take the water out of the boat. Once the smell in the port hull was sweet and clean which took about an hour we shut off the water and finished removing any water from the bilge with the sponge. My son and I both smiled at each other for a moment realizing that we could not remember the last time the boat smelled so pleasant.
Next we mounted the stainless mushroom vent in the location where the pump out was. This was simple enough and did not require making the hole any larger. It is much smaller and more pleasing to the eye than using a larger solar fan vent which many people choose. My experience with the solar vents in the past has not been positive. They seem to work only a short time (only a year or two) and seem to move little air to warrant their great cost and large profile on the deck. Add to this the issue of not being able to easily seal them off in rough weather, makes them unsuitable for placing on the deck of a boat near the bow.
Next came the running of the 12 volt DC power wire for the small fan for the Nature’s head. We feed it forward along the side of the hull running it back to the secondary DC distribution panel which is above the chart table. The wire had to be run all the way back to the hanging locker in the aft bedroom and then up to a hole to leading to the panel. I already had a spare switch waiting for it on the panel.
Next I connected the vent hose to the head and feed it through the hole to the forward locker to determine how best to run it behind the head so that the air flow would not be restricted by any sharp bends. The last step we to mark and drill holes for the two mounting brackets to hole the head down. Once the brackets were bolted down it was easy enough to set the head in place and put the two mounting bolts (one on each side) in place to lock it in position. Seated on the head I confirmed that it was stable enough without adding any additional mounting shelf for it to sit on as other had done on older Gems.
The last two steps were to cut off the agitator handle so it could make a full revolution and to seal the forward sail locker compartment so that water could not come aft through the large hole left behind by the holding tank. A hack saw make quick work of the handle and a file smoothed the edges enough to make it useable to turn.
To seal of the forward locker took considerably more work than expected given the gaps are so many. First I made some pieces to cover as much of the opening around the vent hose as possible out of some spare G10 fiberboard I had. Next I used another G10 piece to cover the other old hose opening in the locker floor. Securing these pieces in place with 4200 and a couple screws I was confident they were not going to leak. The area around the vent hose I sealed with expansion foam.
Above this area was a large nest of hoses and wires which run to the head area which I stuffed with some packing EVA foam I had and then foamed in place. Given the areas height above the water line I was not too concerned about water coming in this way; but other critters such as spiders, hornets or whatever were likely to hide up in there if it were not closed off completely. It took a full can of expansion sealant to fill the void even with considerable amount of EVA packing foam stuffed everywhere I could. Once I was done I was happy with the result as I could no longer feel any air coming into the forward locker from the stiff breeze blowing into the cabin indicating an air tight seal.
This install ended up taking much longer than I thought possible. Basically one full 8 hour day to remove the old head, one half day to install the new one, and then a third day to close off and seal everything once all the materials had been acquired.
Nature’s Head in Use
I explained how to use the head to my 14 year old daughter and she became the trainer for everyone else on our maiden voyage with the new head.
Here are the instructions given to each guest before use:
Everyone sits down to use it (this instruction is intended for the male users of coarse.)
The urine goes in the forward tank and the handle to open the compost tank door only should be opened for doing number 2. Please demonstrate the door opening and closing.
No paper goes in the head (this is the same as with the old head; so no real change.)
Doggy bags are hung next to the toilet for the paper and a garbage can for the doggy bags is next to the head.
A spray bottle is there to clean the toilet after use; just a couple sprays to rinse it down (mostly for the urine); paper should be used to clean any thing sticking to minimize the water wasted or going into the compost tank.
Peat moss is in a container in front of the head (next to the spray bottle) and one handful should be added to the compost tank after doing number 2.
Close the compost tank door and the toilet lid when finished to keep the smells in the toilet.
The head was easy enough to use that we simply had no issues at all; and people from age of 10 to 60 used it without complaint. The smell while not fantastic was much better than the old head. The only time the smell was noticeable was when one of the kids would use the head and forget to close the lid.
Overall I have to give new Nature’s Head a “two thumbs up” or “5 out of 5” stars rating; whatever suits you. The longest stay we made this summer of three days (two nights) with 7 people (4 kids, 3 adults) aboard it easily handled without any capacity problem. The old holding tank would have been full by the end of the first day based on our past experiences and we would be looking for a pump out location…..
In retrospect, why they do not make these composting heads mandatory on boats operating in coastal waters is beyond me. The pitiful small holding tanks that come standard on most boats make it all but impossible for the stuff to go anywhere but overboard after a day or two of cruising. So given that we all want to be able to safely swim in the water we anchor in, the current status quo is really not desirable for any of us boaters regardless of how you feel about regulation. When you take into account impact on the environment and the reduction of use of water on board, I would say that this is one of the few situations where it would be a good move for everyone involved.
Certainly the first upgrade I would make to any boat I purchase in the future will be one of these composting heads.