Get a new head-Kuching, Malaysia

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Wed 10 Jul 2013 01:36
04:23.1N    113:58.3E

                        GET A NEW HEAD

Cruising around the world on a 47 foot sailboat as a couple requires that a man listen carefully when his wife talks…since no one else is there to listen.

Often, I listen without hearing but this has proven to have its downside in the past.
So, this time, when she told me to “get a new head” I knew that I should listen and, actually, think about what I was hearing.

Now, Margie frequently tells me things like, “You are out of your head” or “Your head is not screwed on right” or inquires sweetly,  “Hmmmm, what is going on in your head?”  But, this time I was off the hook…Margie was talking about our bathroom which is known as the “head.”

Many people ask why sailors cannot use the same names as landlubbers for everything.  Why does there have to be a separate nomenclature making sailing almost like studying a foreign language?  Why do we have to say:  galley (kitchen), berth (bed), starboard (right side), port (left side), bow (front), stern (back) and tack (turn) etc, etc?  It does seem a bit silly to me but, believe it or not, there is a history to each word... a nautical etymology. 

So, to answer your rising inquisitiveness, let’s find out where the word “head” comes from.  Well, back in the days of the old sailing ships, when the majority of the crew worked “before the mast” these able-bodied seamen would go to the head of the boat to go to the toilet. This was because at the very head of the boat there were holes on either side of the bowsprit where the sailors could do their business. Since the holes emptied directly into the sea, it was hoped that large waves would keep everything nice and sanitary.  So, the term for a bathroom became the "head."

Fast forward to modern times and it gets even more complicated. As you know, on land, there is a bathroom and, within the bathroom, a toilet. However, on a boat the bathroom is ALSO called the "head" so when someone tells you that they are going to the "head” they could be going to brush their teeth or drop their pants!
Margie told me to “get a new head” because the floor of our bathroom (Stay up with me, readers … I mean the floor in the head!)  had been on the famous Peregrina “to-do” list for a LONG time!!!

This “to do” list was created the day we bought the boat.  It’s an excel spreadsheet that is constantly updated with projects, each of which has a numerical rating in a column next to it. I rate a #10 as the highest priority and a #1 as the lowest priority.  Repairing the head was entered on this list in November of 2009.   It was given a #7 in terms of importance and was included in the ones that I “…absolutely will not fail to do before we leave on our circumnavigation.”

So now, it was June of 2013 and it was time to “get a new head.”

Part of this decision was also stimulated by being berthed next to a Master Shipbuilder, Geoff Gentil from New Zealand, who hand-built his beautiful wooden boat, Arnak, seen below.

The problem with New Zealanders is that they are REAL men.  New Zealanders can build everything; they can repair everything; they can DO everything!  This is so emasculating for American men, like me, since we all grew up with the phrase “Don’t worry, honey…I going to jump in the car and go buy a new one.” 

Whenever I tell Margie that I may not be able to handle a task alone, she says, “Go find a man from New Zealand!”

Since I knew that building a new head floor would require wood-working skills outside of my Fortune 500 consumer product marketing and branding background, I approached Jeff.  He told me that I would need to rip out the existing floor and that then he would help me with the installation. 

Oh, I forgot to mention why we needed a new head floor in the first place! The reason is that the floor was sagging dramatically from water damage and there was the possibility that someone could fall through.  Now, if that person was Margie, the downside of telling fellow cruisers that “Margie walked into the head and the floor collapsed” was some short-term laughs and many lonely nights in bed for me!

Therefore, when Margie left for the states, to visit our two daughters, my marching orders were clear….”a new head by the time I return or YOUR head will roll!”  Now, I am just guessing that this _expression_ is derived from the French Guillotine?  Margie always liked the French!

Anyway, the rule of thumb in boat repair is to take a careful look at the project, outline the steps to be taken, identify the cost of materials, assign a timeline and create a budget to cover the project.  Then do what all sailors do which is triple the time and the budget and hope that it is ever completed at all!
So I began to rip the floor out to get a look at what lay beneath...

As with many sailboat projects, this one seemed doomed to failure from the
“get-go.”  I was still at the “outline the steps to be taken” stage and, once I took up the floor, I discovered rot, rot and more rot.

The project timetable went to “hell in a handbasket!” (Will someone look up where that _expression_ came from and email me?)  Instead of just ripping up the head floor, I had to rebuild the rotten bulkhead, the cabinet support under the sink, the sub-floor framing and, even the head support!  Now we are talking about the possibility of the toilet literally falling over while you sit on it!  Imagine the “Sundowners” jokes on that one!
The project began with me pulling out the rotten wood and throwing it in a waste basket which soon overflowed out the door into the aft sleeping cabin, then traveled to the main salon before ending up in the forward berth and work area. Please notice in the third picture that the actual head - toilet..for those of  you who are still confused - is now in the main salon (a.k.a. living room)  with a big sign to visitors…”Please do not use!”


Once the floor was ripped out and I had rebuilt the bulkheads and sub-flooring support, I went looking for my New Zealander….Geoff.  An additional reason that I needed Geoff was that I was fed up with boats that have floors than are almost impossible to be removed or which have no access panels. That is to say, if you cannot get under a floor, you cannot install replacement hoses, check lubber holes that drain water to the bilge (Readers … you will just have to start looking up, on your own, any nautical words you don’t understand from now on) or check for rot.
Therefore, I was adamant that this new floor be easily removable which required very precise measurement.

Geoff came in with a measurement tool that he handmade for this job to fit in the confined space. (Remember what I said about how New Zealanders can make anything…blah, blah, blah).  Anyway, he used it to mark lots of angles on a central board and the measurements were transferred to the new subfloor which was a large piece of plywood.  When I asked him how it worked, I got the standard  Secret Service-style reply of “If I told you I would have to kill you.”  These Master Craftsmen must protect their trade secrets too!!!]


One of the reasons that this job exceeded my skill sets was that the floor had to be built …little piece by little piece. In the USA, I would go into a marine wood store and buy a pre-made teak sailboat floorboard with all the little strips of wood already attached. Here we had to find a lumber yard with aged hardwood, get it cut and then milled down to our specifications (OK, you caught me….Geoff’s specifications).

 The wood was assembled piece by piece on the plywood subfloor, glued in place and weighted down with dive weights, zincs, then and then cut to the final dimensions, sanded and coated

The final product looks great doesn’t it

OMG!!! (Teen text talk for “Oh My God”)

Now, I have to clean the boat up before Margie returns!

Peter Benziger