Clog-Free Nation

When the chips are down, sometimes an old-fashioned course is best.
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I’ve recently been dealing with a biggie—the renewal of the Betty Jane II’s sanitary system. I’m doing this—and trust me, it ain’t exactly a choice project—because I discovered during a pre-purchase survey that her holding tank was cracked, a problem somebody tried to fix with some form of goop. Additional detective work, fueled by my hostility towards goop, revealed that the MSD, hoses, three-way valves, sanitary pump, and vented loops were also in bad shape.

Getting the old stuff out was a horror show, of the Ridley Scott variety. I’ll spare you an exegesis. I tried to remain reasonably clean during the ordeal. And I tried to contain the old hoses (and their contents) in big plastic bags. I failed on both counts. Horrifically.

But hey, putting the new stuff in was no cakewalk either. In fact, installing what seemed like 10 fathoms of pricey OdorSafe Plus hose (which is about as bend-friendly as a propshaft), and then, on top of that, having to deal with about 80 hose clamps, a new sanitary pump and MSD, as well as new valves and loops, engendered more than a little gloom at times, although my favorite pick-me-up (Sugar Babies and Red Bull) always pulled me back.

Now—thank heavens—I am at the tail end of the extravaganza. And all has gone pretty well, except that just this past weekend I ran into a bitter, bitter pill.

Get this: If you buy a new holding tank from a manufacturer these days, you’ll probably have to buy some fittings from another manufacturer to screw into the top of the tank. One fitting serves as an inlet, where content enters, and the other serves as an outlet, where content exits. There’s a third fitting, too—for the holding tank’s vent hose—but that little jewel does not concern us here, and, as a matter of fact, neither does the inlet fitting.

What’s critical to this tale of woe (which will eventually turn inspirational, I hope) is the outlet fitting. In order to function, it must be fitted with a “dip tube,” a cheap (under $10) piece of plastic pipe that descends from the underside of the fitting to the bottom of the tank, so what’s inside can be removed via suction.

“You don’t sell a dip tube?” I asked a “technical expert” I’d dug up on my smartphone. He represented a major supplier of sanitary fittings. “What good is an outlet fitting without a dip tube?”

“I don’t know,” he replied, “All I can tell you is we don’t sell those … what do you call it?”

My luck with other supply houses pulled from my smartphone, as well as with Home Depot (two trips) and every marine store in town, was the same. If folks even understood what a dip tube was—and most didn’t—they didn’t sell any. And they were not especially apologetic about it.

Finally, a rep for a holding-tank manufacturer I managed to track down, again via my smartphone, delivered the coup de grâce.

“Yeah,” he said, “I know what you mean—we got ’em. But you need to buy a new holding tank to get one. I can’t sell just a dip tube.”

“Ridiculous,” I groused that afternoon, as I sat in Betty’s much disrupted V-berth area, staring at my new holding tank, with its new mahogany battens, shiny brass screws, and no dip tube!

“Hey, Bill,” came a voice from out on the dock. It was a boat-nut buddy who’d heard me complaining earlier. He’s about my age, meaning he’s old and well remembers a kinder, gentler and, in many ways, more efficient America. “Try Darsco Plumbing Supply on Stockton Street. Been around for years.”

I tracked Darsco down. And when I opened the door, my heart skipped a beat. There, right in front of me, was a guy behind a counter with gleaming, wire-rimmed glasses and a faint but promising smile. And over the guy’s left shoulder was a giant poster, showing a majestic plumber standing tall amid a throng of equally majestic plumbers, the whole bunch with pipe wrenches on high, proclaiming: “Working Towards A Clog-Free Nation.”

Wow!

“I need a pickup tube or pipe that comes down from the bottom of something like this, for a boat’s holding tank,” I said, handing over my outlet fitting.

“Yup—a dip tube,” the guy said, vanishing through a nearby door.

He was back in a jiffy. “This oughta work,” he said, handing over my fitting, albeit with a long piece of plastic pipe attached. “Cut the bottom off to get the right length—a handsaw should do it.”

Ah, America—you still can’t beat it sometimes!

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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