Martha’s Vineyard Doesn’t Stink

Herman Melville entered Edgartown Harbor in 1841, after a long voyage aboard the whaling ship Acushnet. Moby Dick was later published in 1851. I’ll bet you think this post is about the island southeast of Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts. Or maybe from the first sentence perhaps a brief discourse of Herman Melville? Of course, I’d be honored to discuss our sloop’s namesake’s creator. However, I’ll warn you now that this post includes only a reference to the attractive island, and is not about how quaint and picturesque is the island, nor about a favorite 19th century author, but something else regarding motivation to follow US Coast Guard rules.

Fayaway was purchased in early 2017 with a circa 1984 Nauta bladder tank for use as a “waste” holding tank. According to some chandleries, this is common practice, as these tanks will fit into unusual spaces.

Nauta bladder tank

 Our “flexible” tank appeared to be lightly used, except for some evidence of “seasoning” in and around the old valves and hoses (noted upon disassembly… very careful disassembly). Even though we were told by the selling broker it was fully functional, we were afraid to use a tank of questionable integrity – considering a leak would end up with nasty stuff running down through the center of the boat, into the bilge. We are proud of our squeaky clean bilge so couldn’t tolerate this thought! Considering this concern, one might say, “what did you do for the first two cruising seasons of ownership?” And , “why did you want to change it now?”.

Original holding tank in v-berth – quite dank and dusty! (note cut hose upper right, and then decided to take “before” photo)

To answer these questions, we segue into a brief discussion of the first boat project tackled since leaving “gainful” employment. This year’s upgrade projects were organized so to start at the bow, and move aft. The original holding tank was located in the bow, under the v-berth, and we saw no better location. At this time of the year, the days were still getting light at 7am, and it was often cold enough for a small electric heater on-board. Artificial lighting was essential. Layers of sweatshirts and jackets were normal. Seemed like a good time to get started!

We added this project because we knew our old system was of questionable integrity. What put us over the decision point, was this: while planning for cruising in 2017 we read in our New England Coast cruising guide that we would be at “great risk” of fines if we had anchored in Edgartown, and authorities discovered that discharge of sewage waste occurred. (“No way that was us, Officer!”) So, onto the list it went, but didn’t get off the drawing board until this year.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Volume 40 part 140.1-3 and CFR 33 159 are the U.S. Federal sanitation laws for privately owned recreational vessels. Therein are the definitions for sewage and sewage receptacles. Don’t worry, I’m not going into this aspect, but I want to make it clear that Fayaway was in compliance (technically). However, our related practices aboard (or should we say overboard) may have been a bit out of practice due to fear of leakage. We simply “flushed” overboard when appropriate. We were not ready for Martha’s Vineyard. Waaaah… we wanted to sail there, and to many other “protected” anchorages! So, the decision was made, that we would likely run into this issue more often than not. Raw sewage in higher concentrations wreaks havoc with fragile marine life – not to mention concern for water cleanliness. It just makes sense to keep the sewage to ourselves until we get to a place with hundreds of feet of water can offer adequate dilution. After a bit of research we designed a new holding tank system, purchased the pieces and rolled up our sleeves.

I won’t go into depth about this design, but the upgraded design provides more flexibility in terms of selecting the mode of operation. We added a deck-accessible pump-out, 25 gallon polyethylene tank, two 3-way valves, and all new sanitary hoses (@$12/ft, the hose alone was more than the cost of the new tank and valves). Anyway, we are very well set now with this system. Martha’s Vineyard, here we come!

Oh, one last thing, why not re-build the whale pump while we’re at it? (allows manually pumping out the tank after going at least 3 miles offshore). So, we added that final task to complete the project – making us not only 100% compliant to CFR, but more importantly, likely to participate as well.

The following gallery illustrates some of the work involved:

If you’re fascinated about our project and want to read more about MSD’s and the related Code of Federal Regulations, find it here.

3 thoughts on “Martha’s Vineyard Doesn’t Stink

  1. William Root

    Chris, this was a great posting and the pictures truly were worth a thousand words. Obviously not a pleasant job to tackle, but one of the most important aspects of long range cruising where you will need to be compliant with not only US regulations, but also international rules which may be strictly enforced. An aspect of the Vineyard’s new rules you did not comment on is gray water discharge. I have been told (not verified) that MV is now requiring all gray water to be held on board and not discharged until out to sea. Virtually all older boats have no provision for holding gray water and adding storage tanks or bladders for sinks, showers and possibly washing machines on bigger boats, is not an easy retrofit. Have you encountered any gray water discharge restrictions in MA or elsewhere?

    Thanks for the informative posting.



    1. Bill, thanks for the comment. Good point about international rules on gray water. No, we haven’t heard of anyone running into this restriction yet, but I suppose it would be possible to re-route our gray water into the holding tank, or just shut off the through-hull valves if the officials make a big deal (and use marina showers). Not so simple to re-route, but possible.
      I should have credited a couple additional references (again, US-specific). 1. Peggy Hall’s book: “Get Rid of Marine Odors”. Peggy does mention protected only certain inland waters of Florida being restricted for gray water. And 2. BoatUS Foundation’s web site on MSD’s. BoatUS does mention gray water, but are only hinting about inland waters and Canada having potentially additional restrictions.


  2. Jonathan L Maddock

    Great job! Let me tell you something you already know….make sure all those fittings are torqued to factory spec!!


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