Header image: Henri Lloyd in St Katharine Docks before the race start

How to not empty the bilges!

When we arrived our skipper allocated us into two watches of five people each – during the race the 20 of us will be divided into two watches in a similar way.

Then the jobs that needed to be done during each day were divided up into a rota so that we all got a turn at doing each job.

The roles:

  • Navigator – filling in the log book, fixing our position on the chart (map, but at sea it is known as a chart), recording weather forecasts;
  • Mother – during the race this will last for 24 hours and entail preparing the day’s food for the whole crew and a full night’s sleep; for this training course we had to do one meal and take part in the normal four hour on four off watch system so that we did not miss too much;
  • Chosen ones – generally those who had done mother duty for breakfast, one wore the “pants of power”, a harness to assist in man overboard drills or going aloft as needed at sea;
  • Engineer – engine and generator checks and maintenance;
  • Deckhand – there were two deckhands per watch who had lots of tasks:
    • filling the water tanks
    • emptying the bilges
    • cleaning the heads
    • cleaning below decks
    • emptying the bin
    • pumping empty the waste water tanks

Below decks, above the bilges

Below decks, above the bilges

The bilges, well, the bilges are the bottom of the boat – below the deckboards and they get water in them. Apart from needing to empty them, you need to keep an eye on the level to make sure there’s not suddenly more water than expected and that the water is just water – not seawater and not diesel or oil as well. Emptying them involves moving the sails, raising the deckboards and then a balancing act with a stirrup pump, bucket and dirty water. Necessary but not a pleasant task.

How did I get out of this task when I was deckhand? Volunteered to clean the heads!

This is not just a simple case of squirting toilet cleaner and then brushing the bowl round. Though this is the easy part of it. From the ceiling and the walls, every surface that may have been touched or used as a handhold when the boat is at an acute angle to the outside of the toilet bowl and all its pipes, all these have to be wiped down with antibacterial cleaner. Not forgetting the washbasin and the floor.

Others apparently thought cleaning the toilets was worse than emptying the bilges so I encountered no objections.

One of the heads

One of the heads

  1. David T on 3 August 2013 at 13:56

    Nice picture of a pristine head. Can’t see the heated toilet seat – do you each take your own in with you?

    • bbllr87 on 14 August 2013 at 15:44

      With a strictly enforced weight limit of 20kg for our kit excluding boots and foulies, but INCLUDING the sleeping bag, we just have to make do without a seat. We started our last course with a toilet seat but it lasted about two days!