by Erik Dolson
The trip to Victoria started twice. I left on Wednesday, just as Irish got a call from one of her docs in Portland. They wanted her to come in for an injection of corticosteroids behind her remaining eye. I asked if she wanted me to stay, and after a short laugh that was not funny, she told me to go, she’d be okay.
So I headed over the Cascade mountains. Two hours later I arrived at my favorite pit stop, oatmeal cookie and cup of coffee at Rosie’s Mountain House Cafe. I’d already decided I needed to go back. I could have turned around sooner but I’d invested myself pretty heavily in this trip. There was a to-do list for the boat. It took a while for the needed-to-do to break through the wanted-to-do.
The boom vang and backstay ram, hydraulic pieces that push and pull to move the sail, had to be sent off for rebuild. The toilet had to come out and get replaced. The batteries needed to be checked and the charger sorted out. In the blink of an eye it will be spring and too late to get these done before sailing season.
Part of my brain said these were what I needed to do, but it was lying to me, as it often does. Two or three days would not matter. What I needed to do was get back to Sisters so Irish wouldn’t feel so alone with the prospect of someone slipping a needle into the back of her good eye, a procedure they don’t do unless necessary and the fact that it was necessary carries its own set of terrors.
So I drove back over the mountain to Sisters and we left on Friday for Portland where she had the procedure. Of course she withstood it well, and was kind of funny on Xanax. I drove on toward Victoria after it was done, and two days later one of her sons drove Irish part way back to Sisters and a friend from there drove her the rest of the way.
I’d not yet completely realized that vangs and toilets and batteries were only part of the reason for my trip to the boat in Victoria. I also needed the break. I didn’t really realize that until I was standing on the dock a week later with friends Irish and I up here in Canada. I’d just put Christmas lights on Foxy. It was almost exactly one year after Irish fell on the boat, crushed her face and lost her right eye.
“This year has been very hard for you, too,” said Joan.
“I don’t talk about that,” I replied almost before I knew it. “If I think about it, I feel either sad or selfish.” I was shocked that came out as quickly as it did, stopping only to throw a pinch of pepper into my eyes on the way. I swallowed hard, pulled it together, hoped thy didn’t notice.
“Of course,” she replied and let it drop because she and her husband are sensitive and sweet and have the wonderful manners we enjoy so much being around Canadians.
I pulled the hydraulic pieces off the boom and back stay, but couldn’t remove the hydraulic pump or tachometer without another pair of hands. I was only an assistant for removal of the nasty old toilet and install of the new one. That job required someone who had the tools and knowledge to cut fiberglass without it looking like a seven-year-old tried it for the first time, which sometimes happens with my projects.
Some changes to the boat seem small. Toilet is a toilet, right? No, not right. Most marine toilets are complicated double action pumps with rods that leak saltwater or worse and flapper valves that allow black water back into the bowl and two-piece bowls that have to be occasionally retightened which you only find out when they get nasty. Saltwater also stinks when it sits in the supply lines for any length of time.
Irish takes care of every other inch of the boat, but the bathroom is mine to clean. Fair trade off, it seems, especially with floor drains. Just like a guy would, I spray soap everywhere with a squeeze bottle, scrub it with a deck brush and hose it out with the shower wand.
But salt water and urine together form crystals that clog the hose to the holding tank unless you take the hose out and bang it on the deck or a dock or a rock or whatever is handy. Or run powerful muriatic acid through the line regularly and hope it doesn’t dissolve anything important on the way. Taking the hose out of this boat is guaranteed to spill foul contents somewhere impossible to clean.
So I bought a Levac, a toilet one third as complicated and three times more expensive. One big pump, a little vacuum, and off the black water goes to the holding tank. I took the old toilet to a recycling center where I paid $25 for them to take it off my hands.
Somewhere in there I also decided the banging of hoses or splashing of acid weren’t the best alternatives, either. Some boats use freshwater to flush, but fresh water is precious on a boat without a water maker. So I designed a little system to use gray water from the shower and sink to flush the toilet. No salt, no crystals.
Gray water also has the little bit of soap the toilet maker says to run through their system once in a while, and the water goes overboard, anyway. Why not use it twice?
It took a couple of tries, but the system came together and works pretty well. I’ll have to get used to seeing gray soapy water in the toilet bowl, but after all, it is a toilet bowl. Maybe I’ll get one of those little floral tablets that turns the water blue. Or not. If I’ve overlooked an obvious design flaw, the saltwater supply sits capped next to all the new piping.
Work like that takes me out of myself. I’m focused on the project, solving problems, putting puzzles pieces together. Problems and puzzles that don’t hurt, that actually have solutions.
When not working on the boat, finishing up the new novel Indecent Exposure, I run to the gym to lift weights. After three weeks I’m back to eating yoghurt and oats in the morning and one other meal mostly of meat in the evening, which seems to work for my metabolism because my weight is down and acid reflux much improved.
Irish needs to eat about six times a day because of complications from her Parkinson’s disease. She can’t eat the protein and fat I thrive on, but needs the carbs that can kill me.
Tomorrow I take the ferry from Victoria back to the states. Irish has asked if I’m ready to come back, if I want to come back. Yes. She’s going back to the doctor on tomorrow and I’ll be there for this visit, too, maybe for another injection into the back of her good eye in the attempt to save it, and save Irish from going blind.
The answer isn’t that simple, but it still boils down to yes. That’s one other reason I needed this trip, besides working on toilets and hydraulics. In the time away and the doing of that work, I got to do a little work on me, too. It’s more than just a boat, now.