7/6/2012 – A confession

Gather round everyone.  Lulu and I have something to tell you.  It’s going to be painful but it needs to be said.  The fact is, we’ve fallen out of love.  Fallen out of love with our composting toilet, that is. Psych!

Seiously, after over 2 years of more or less continuous use, we’ve decided to give up on the composting head.  I know I’ve given glowing reviews in the past but the last year has been a lot shakier.  I don’t think I posted about it but last summer, just before we reached Puerto Escondido, we had an infestation of tiny little flies in the poop.  They were about the size of fruit flies.  The flies weren’t bad enough.  We also found their larvae (maggots) crawling around.  Now if they’d just stay in the poop it wouldn’t be that bad, but the flies insist on flying and the maggots seem to want to crawl out of the bowl.  We kept them somewhat subdued with RAID but it didn’t really do the trick as they had all these little hard chrysalises that were impervious to the spray and were just waiting to hatch.  Eventually, we had to dump the compost (which was definitely NOT compost at that point.  We then found an out of the way spot way in the back of Puerto Escondido where we could dismantle the toilet and soak every part in salt water.  This helpd get rid of the flies and maggots but the chrysalises were still there.  And they were everywhere.  They were inside tubes, under gaskets, behind folds in the plastic.  EVERYWHERE!  But, eventually, we think we finally got them.  Since we were going to be heading to the States for about 3 weeks, we reassembled the head and sprayed the holy living crap out of it with RAID, sealed it up and left it for the time we were gone.

When we got back, the fly problem seemed to be under control so we put the head back in operation.

I’ve reported before on how unobjectionable the head was, both odor-wise and gross-factor-wise when emptying.  And I wasn’t lying.  However, over the course of the last year, we seem to have no luck getting any composting action going.  Takes us a bout 3 weeks to fill the tank when we’re using it full-time.  And, after repeated attempts, we’re still not having much luck.  So, rather than the “earthy” smell I’ve reported before, our head smells like an outhouse at a public campground.  Not good.  Not sure what we’re doing different.  I’m sure we’re still treating it the same way we always have but now it doesn’t want to compost.

But the final straw was that on our way down from Puerto Peñasco, we discovered we’d been invaded by the flies again.  YEESH!  We tried to keep it under control by using lots of insecticide. This could possible affect the composting action but, since it’s not composting anyway, death to flies became the priority.  I emptied the head the other day and then Lulu vigorously cleaned every nook and cranny to get rid of every last vestige of fly evidence.  Now the head is sealed up in the boat where it can bake in 90-95 degree weather for the next 6 weeks while we’re back in the States.

We’re pretty discouraged by this turn of events.  We’ve decided to return to the original set-up: a standard marine head with a small holding tank.  Got to be easier and it can’t possibly smell any worse.  Not looking forward to the hose-bending installation but that’s just the price I have to pay.

Having had success in the past, I know that composting heads can work.  It’s pretty much a function of how you operate them as there isn’t really anything that can go wrong mechanically. We just know that it’s been quite awhile since we’ve been able to operate ours correctly.  And we still don’t know where the flies are coming from. The inlet and outlet air circulation ports are both screened.  I suppose they could squeeze through a small gap between the trap door and the tank.  Just don’t know.  And we’re tired of fighting it.

So, on that stellar recommendation, if anyone is in the market for a used Airhead composting toilet and can come to San Carlos to get it, we’ll make you a hell of a deal.

About sryoder

Steve & Lulu... retired. Had enough of the cold wet dreary fall/winter/spring in the Pacific Northwest. Bought a boat, fixed it up, sold our home and sailed to Mexico in November, 2010. Been here ever since except for occasional forays to the States (summer only, thank you) to visit the kids, parents and siblings. If you're looking for a sailing blog, this is the wrong place. This is a traveling, hunkering in, eating blog. Sailing is just how we get from place to place when we can't walk.
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18 Responses to 7/6/2012 – A confession

  1. sryoder says:

    This is a test to see if my Mom is trippin’. If this comment appears, she is, indeed, trippin’.

  2. John says:

    Best bet is a Lavac. Uses a bilge pump. 30 years in use almost full time and only replaced the lid seals 1 once in 30 years!!. About every 1-2 years we rebuild the bilge pump. Expensive but almost totally maintenance free…. well ok you have to clean the hoses every couple years.

    • sryoder says:

      Here’s the chronology of our toilet training: The boat came with a W- C Headmate. It was OK but the holding tank and hoses were fubar. Plus the head itself stank after so many years of close association with the hoses. So we dumped it and bought a Lavac. Since the Lavac is capable of all kinds of stuff (pumping the bilge for instance) depending on how the pump is plumbed, I wanted it all. Unfortunately there was absolutely NO way to fit all those hoses and fittings into our little head. And there was no good place to mount the pump. Ultimately I got totally frustrated and yanked it out and sold it for about half what I paid for it. Understand it had never been used. Installed a port-pottie as an interim and then got sold on the AirHead. No plumbing? No separate holding tank? That’s for me. We were very happy with the Airhead until we weren’t. Now I’m planning on putting in a Raritan PHII.

      Same thing with the dinghy. We had a Walker Bay 8. Decided we wanted a bigger dinghy and got the 10′ PortaBote. We love the PortaBote but now we’re thinking it’s be nice to have a hard dinghy on deck that doesn’t need to be assembled. Guess what fits? That’s right, a Walker Bay 8. Guess what I did with our old one? That’s right, sold it for about half what I paid for it.


  3. sailmama says:

    We are as disappointed as you to learn of the demise of your beloved Airhead composting toilet as we were planning to install one in our aft cabin. Your integrity is refreshing, and we are in mourning along with you! Assume you contacted Airhead about this?

    Hope all is well and that you’ll soon be up in Oregon.

    • sryoder says:

      I suspect we are just bozos as no one else seems to have these issues. And, when they do get flies or gnats, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. But you know how you just get tired of trying after awhile? That’s where we’re at. Go to the Westsail OwnersAssociation site and check out my add and the thread in the For Sale section of the forum. I think we’ve just forgotten how to operate it. I didn’t contact AirHead as, in reading some of the sites that I link to in the forum, I see that he recommends wetting the coir before initial use (we didn’t) to control odors and thus, flies/gnats. So I have a pretty good idea what he’d tell me. I’m just ready to pass this on to someone else. Should we leave it on Chamisa? It’s totally bargain- priced.


      • Dani says:

        I know the Controlled Jibe folks were planning on getting an Airhead. I think they would definitely be interested and in your area.

        So sorry you having trouble. I hope we don’t have issues like that. Did you keep the lid closed? Did you check for a hole in the screen?

        back and forth, back and forth..the life of a sailor.

      • sryoder says:

        We just had dinner with them. They’re kicking themselves for hauling their new Nature’s Head all the way down here. Of course, when they bought it we didn’t know we were going to pull the plug on the Airhead.

      • Dani says:

        Oh yeah in fact I just checked their blog and they are in San Carlos right now.

  4. dee says:

    Interesting reading as I have a new Airhead I plan to install after I finish refitting my boat.

    I did some quick research online and found this info:
    In order to prevent introduction of a fungus gnat population, specific moisture guidelines should be followed. If the composting toilet is too dry (which is most frequently the case), fungus gnats will populate like mad. If you up the moisture level to where it should be for an ideal compost, which is between 40 and 60 percent, you will be far less likely to have a fungus gnat population.
    using diatomaceous earth seems to be one trick to keep the bug problem in check
    screen the air inlet with very fine (noseeum) screen. Evidently the nats are very small.

    • sryoder says:

      Good info. Our compost was undoubtedly too dry. That may be the whole of our problems. Of course, now that we grossed ourselves out with the flies a couple times the Airhead will always have the taint on it no matter how well it works. At this point we’ve geared ourselves towards a standard head. I’ve already ripped the floor extension that we needed for the Airhead out and given away most of our coir to s/v Selkie. We are trying to be able to take showers in our head and the regained floor space will help a lot. We actually discussed giving the Airhead another try but decided we were both actually looking forward to having more floor space in the head.

  5. bud elkin says:

    To get by all of the conventional wisdom of composting, buckets, and pump outs, I vied for the more “home like principal” of using an electric flush head along with a Purasan treatment unit. I used regular PVC pipe, which does not stink, does not crack or break while flexing, and is better all around then the recommended waste flex hose that ALWAYS ends up stinking. I hooked up the electric flush head to my Purasan three years ago, and have had NO problems at all. It does not stink, it does not need rebuilding.

    I do read many sailing blogs, and have yet found one that doesn’t have a rebuilding the head, or problems with the head, section in it. I wrote a magazine article about my unconventional ways to make a boat a home. I think I will attach it here, so you can re-think the conventional sailor way of doing things, and maybe get a prodding from LuLu to change a few things!

    “To keep a wife on a boat: give her the Comforts of home” by Bud Elkin
    I have read many sailing blogs about a man and his wife/significant other selling out and going cruising. Some do not completely sell everything, but going cruising is there goal. I’m not sure that anyone has the perfect formula to make the jump from modern society to the cruising life, but there is no lack of articles from those who have done it. When I was young, the minimalist idea was never a bother. Since I am older now I can see the choice is still clear, but the methods have changed. When I was young, I would take a 19’ boat out off shore for days and think nothing of it. I intentionally sailed out into a hurricane on the east coasts of Florida just for the rush of it. So, I do qualify as being crazy enough to try anything. But, to keep a wife/significant other on a boat for any length of time, and especially keep her happy, you might consider the Comforts of Home. I have a wife that I have been with for 41 years, and two daughters who love to sail as well. My daughters are tough, love to sail, and have traveled the world. They have hiked the Andes, ran on the Great Wall of China, been to Antarctica, rowed down the Amazon in a dugout canoe, and have eaten piranha for lunch. They are planning to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro within the next couple of years. I taught them both to work on cars, built houses, and my wife taught them to cook, clean, sew, and any other aspect of keeping a house. I did not want to make them boys, but I never wanted them to be at the mercy of one either. Knowledge is everything. If you want to make a boat more female compatible, you might think about doing what I did. Although the minimalist will cringe at my ideas of comfort, I feel that cruising does not have to be a camping adventure. There is enough adventure in cruising without the need to rough it. This is not to say that some women do not like roughing it, but that they are more able to make a home out of their surroundings. I have an Aloha 28 with lots of storage. The Aloha was built in Canada and is more than adequate to handle the Florida waters and the Caribbean let alone tropical storms and at least one hurricane I can personally vouch for. I like the molded in keel because if I had a bolt on keel it would probably leak from all of the sandbars I tend to find. We have a Yanmar 2GM20FC diesel engine to power us, which can go forever on a gallon of fuel. I would prefer a larger boat, but due to my heart health, and the mobility of the A28, I am content with “FREE WILLY.” I didn’t name the boat!

    Some of our comforts are granite counter-tops, two burner propane stove, microwave, electric refrigerator, running water, electric flush head with a Purasan waste treatment, memory foam mattress, matching dishes and napkins with gold trimmed silverware, color coordinated boat interior, 1350 AH battery bank, 1000 WH inverter, air conditioning, solar panels, wind and water generator, autopilot, radar and more. I do not use the gas-powered generator I bought because I do not need it, I think gasoline is dangerous on the boat, the gas fumes give me chest pains, and it looks great sitting in storage. My current system keeps up with our electrical needs.

    There are more items, but my point is that your wife will stay longer if she has the comforts of home. The investment was not much. I have little to no failures after three years, and my wife has not jumped ship. I believe women are capable of much more than man thinks. For example: I have had several heart attacks, which were painful, but I could not imagine how painful childbirth is. I am not a minimalist as you can tell, and I anchor out. The boat takes care of its self very well while we sit back and enjoy the sunsets. I say if you are going to go for it, you might consider making it comfortable enough that you do not feel as if you are on a constant survivalist camp out. You save tons of money by not having to go to marinas for decent comforts. A block of ice is camping not cruising.

    • Jay Bietz says:

      Bud: Well stated – can you add the size/model of your Raritan Purasan Waste Water Treatment System and toilet model — I’m in the what will fit in my W32

      • bud elkin says:

        I talked to one of the Raritan engineers about the difference between the Purasan and Electrasan because I am in saltwater all of the time, and he said the only difference is the electrical drain on your batteries. I bought the Purasan, and as I quoted above, it has work flawlessly for 3 years. One work of advise would be to try and position the unit so it can get air circulation around it in order to keep the electronic board from being exposed to too much moisture. Below in the link to the manual which has all the info in it. I’m certain Steve and LuLu would be happier with one.

  6. Pingback: Composting Head? - Page 2 - SailNet Community

  7. Matt says:

    Hey guys I’m sure it’s too late for you but I bet the Raid spray was inhibiting your composting. Don’t put anything in there but water moss excrement and a little camping TP if you want nature to do its job.

    • sryoder says:

      We pretty much knew that, Matt. We only resorted to the RAID after the infestation began and we did not want to see it get as bad as it had the first time. Letting things go long enough to re-establish composting would have meant that the whole system would be completely choked with maggots before temperatures got high enough to kill them. And by that time, the pot would be ready to dump, we’d have every nook and cranny filled with their eggs and we’d have another hatch ready to go unless we manage to find and eliminate every egg. No, we know how composting is supposed to work and we also knew that by the time we resorted to bug spray, any hope of actually composting was probably past.

  8. Capt. Peter Wilcox says:

    We actually recently bought our 2nd AirHead! Re. the gnats, we just hang a small sticky fly strip up high in the corner of our head during the sunny months when we have had the problem. Keeping things moist has also been effective, and when we are cruising and can do this regularly we have no problems at all.

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