1 LiveBloggin' the ICW: Vinegar is your friend!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Vinegar is your friend!

And muriatic acid is your enforcer! Trust me on this one.
Ok, you’re thinking, Wally’s lost his mind. He’s gone over the edge and now I have to find another sailing blog that’s written by someone rational...and good luck on that, boat owners are, by definition, not rational. What were you thinking?
So just why is vinegar your friend? 
It’s like this - yesterday afternoon, I was pumping the head, and nothing was happening. The head wasn’t emptying like it’s supposed to. The stuff in the bowl was not going away. Yuck.
If this has ever happened to you, I don’t have to say another thing. You understand. For those to whom this has never happened, allow me to explain - it’s bad, it’s evil, it’s the END TIMES! The Book of Revelations should be as terrifying - (I’m writing this on Easter Sunday for those who are wondering).
Cripes, it’s enough to make me want to put a for sale sign on the boat, swim to shore and buy an RV. Yes, it’s THAT bad.
Unfortunately, that’s not an option, because that means anchoring - er, parking - in Wal Mart lots. If you’ve ever seen those Wal Mart sites showing how people dress in Wal Marts, you know why I don’t want to wake up in a Wal Mart lot. Much more fun to wake up in the South Beach anchorage with a bunch of gals in their early 20s doing yoga - on their stand up paddleboards, in bikinis. Oh yes....they do that, about three mornings a week. You wondered why I stayed there?
So, to get back to my question about why vinegar is your friend...
Boat heads are typically flushed with salt water, which reacts with the acids in urine, forming salt crystals, which slowly accumulate in the outlet hose of your head system. Given enough time, they constrict the hose until you can no longer flush it. This is not good. Think ‘sclerosis of the head hose’. 
One way to prevent this happening - or to extend the time until it does - is to flush a couple of cups of vinegar through your head and let it sit overnight in the hoses. The vinegar dissolves those crystals. And silly you thought vinegar was just for french fries?
But what if you haven’t done the vinegar thing often enough, and you clog up anyway? That’s where muriatic acid (essentially, hydrochloric acid) comes in. If vinegar is your friend, muriatic acid is the big brother who whomped the crap out of the bullies who picked on you in school as a kid. 
Muriatic acid is mean, nasty, evil stuff that devours urea acid crystals the way that big brother of yours threw those bullies around the schoolyard. You just KNEW that at the end of it all, your troubles would be over. I bet you’re grinning, remembering the evil pleasure of it...that’s where I was at now. I was bringing in the big guns and enjoying the thought of it. Gonna getcha! Oh yes!
What you have to understand is that if the muriatic acid didn’t solve the problem, it meant removing the outlet hose, sneaking over to the dock well after dark, and whanging the hose on the dock to dislodge those crystals and free up the hose. 
You think I’m joking? Oh no, I wish I were. This is not a job for the light of day, this is something you do in the dark of night and pray that no one sees you. That’s because, along with the salt crystals, all that OTHER accumulated ‘stuff’ that is clogging the hose is going to come out. All over the place. It’s messy, it’s ugly, it’s NASTY, it’s not fun. You want a firehose handy to clean yourself up with, and NO witnesses.
Please don’t ask my how I know this, ok? Believe me, I WOULD have to kill you if I told you. And I like you, so don’t make me do that!
So, I tried the easy way first, pumping the acid through the head to the hose. Lots of fizzing and bubbling, lots of really nasty looking foam bubbling into the head, but....no flow through. The clog was still there.
Again...and again, and still again. Even let it sit overnight....no luck. That was one determined clog!
Ok - get out the rubber gloves, it’s time to get in close. Some people are ok with this sort of thing - I’m not. 
I whine, I whimper, I beg for sympathy for what I’m about to endure (sorry about the dinner conversation last night John, Linda, Sue, Richard...)
I unhooked the hose clamps and raised the hose up to pour straight acid into it...(and by the way, be sure you wear eye protection, gloves and long pants, this really is nasty stuff, you don’t want to splash it on yourself, ok?)
FIZZ, BUBBLE, oh my god, YUCKY!....but still, no luck. Just more loathsome stuff coming out the end of the hose as it foamed over. Lots more. I eventually used just short of a gallon of acid before the hose finally ran clear while wondering if I’d need the second gallon I deliberately chose not to buy yesterday at Home Depot. God, I’m really sorry I didn’t go to church this morning, PLEASE, give me a pass on this one?
I reassembled the hose, tightened down the clamp, said a small prayer, ok, it was a BIG prayer (hey, it IS Easter Sunday!) and pumped the head.
Success! Yes, yahoo, whooo hooo, wheeee! Wonderful. I don’t have to do a midnight sneak to the dock and ruin whatever clothes I’m wearing as I whang that mile long hose on the dock. Life is good again.
Now, one last item...add vinegar to the shopping list. About five gallons I’d say. For this week.

(p.s. according to my Jabsco head manual, seven pumps moves whatever is in the hose about a yard. Yours is likely similar. My outlet hose is about eight feet, so 2076 pumps ought to be good? If you make sure you pump out whatever is in the hose each and every time, and use vinegar frequently, you’ll reduce the frequency of the ‘events’ I’ve just described. You’ll also end up with biceps like Hulk Hogan on at least one arm, but you won’t need them to wrestle with a hose at midnight! Life is about compromise, right?)