The therapeutic benefits of a long hot soak have been known ever since man discovered his first hot spring. If you suffer aches and pains after a day of physical work on your boat, there is nothing finer than to immerse yourself in a nice hot bath, and if this happens to also have invigorating massaging jets, so much the better.
My American built Down East 15 metre schooner Britannia already had a built-in bathtub of sorts in the owner’s aft cabin head. But it was only a three quarters bath with a tapered end, so for a six footer it was an uncomfortably tight squeeze.
My wife and I didn’t like the layout of the bathroom even when we bought the boat. Principally, and for some inexplicable reason, the washbasin and taps had been installed in the bedroom, not the bathroom. There was also a half bulkhead which obstructed getting in and out of the bed on the port side. This layout completely mystified me. I have never seen an aft cabin with en-suite bathroom, where the washbasin was in the bedroom, not the bathroom?
The actual head was a leaky manual contraption well past it’s sell-by date, and no amount of sealing would stop it leaking. I decided, if I was going to install a posh new bath and washbasin I might as well completely remodel the whole compartment.
I first needed to find a better sized bath. I went to see a local spa manufacturer and asked if they had ever fitted a hot-tub in a boat. The salesman’s blank expression gave me my answer, but after explaining what I wanted, they agreed to fit jets into one of their standard baths. I chose a beautiful dark blue acrylic molding with a sloping back, and had ten adjustable polished brass jets installed exactly where I wanted them directed on my back, legs and side.
I made a lot of detailed measurements and sketches, then set about dismantling the cupboard and washbasin in the bedroom. My plan was to reposition the complete bulkhead at an angle, so a wash basin could be installed inside the bathroom area, like any normal head.
Next I removed the pint sized leaky old toilet with its exposed pipework, and actually threw it away. This just left the bath to be removed, which turned out to be much easier said than done. I thought it would be a matter of just cutting it out. Au contraire! it was an unbelievable structure of two thicknesses of 3/4” inch marine plywood sandwiched between glass and resin, all moulded into the side of the hull and even the forward bulkhead! It had to be chopped and prized out, bit by bit, with a reciprocating electric saw, a large crow-bar and a big hammer! The whole lot must have weighed something like 200 Lbs and I imagined the boat coming up three inches on her marks! I wore out five heavy duty saw blades—and myself! After three days and a lot of sweat and swearing the bath was finally gone, and the complete room bare down to the floorboards.
While the door and bulkhead was out of the way there was plenty of room to bring the new bath into the room. But I still had to saw 1½” inches off the side flange to get it through the companionway doors into the saloon. Once in the bathroom it plonked down exactly where I planned it, even allowing for the 4” inches extra length I pinched out of the adjacent engine room, and built a neat little alcove. The sloping back of the bath enabled it to fit close up to the turn of the hull. I plumbed the drain into an automatic shower drain sump in the engine room, below the level of the bath, so even though the actual bath was below waterline the water self-drained from the bath to be automatically pumped out through a vented loop in the hull side. At the same time I plumbed in the bath taps, which also had a shower outlet to a flexible wand and shower head.
Along with buying a new bath I had to solve how to get a hot water supply to it. Normal domestic house baths are filled from the house hot and cold water tanks, but the boat’s eleven gallon hot water tank was not enough to fill a 55 gallon bath with hot water maintained at 38.8C, so a separate heater was necessary. The boat’s American AC power was 120 volts but a heater of this capacity needed to be 240 volts. I therefore had to install a second shore power line, then, by combining two 120 volt inputs through a double pole contact breaker I obtained a 240 volt supply. I then bought a 5.5kw 240 volt hot-tub heater with a built-in circulatory pump, which I installed in the engine room and plumbed into the bath pipes. This heats water from cold to 38.8C in less than an hour, and a separate pump shoots water through the massage jets with invigorating pressure.
Britannia has two heads, one in the owner’s bathroom and another forward and I planned on having the same type of toilet in both, so I would then only need one repair kit. I considered all types and makes of heads, both manual and electric operation, finally deciding to ‘go electric.’ These have come a long way since the first electrification of marine toilets, which were simply motors operating the handle.
I choose the ‘Elegance’ model from Raritan Engineering of Virginia, USA. This has a strong built-in internal macerator, a full size seat and fully automatic controls, and a good reputation for reliability. I installed this next to the bath in such a way that no pipes are visible. I personally hate to see marine heads with exposed pipes and valves, when with a bit more effort they can usually be enclosed. It also makes the head easier to clean.
With the two major items in place I re-installed the door and bulkhead, but at an angle, to enable me to fit a washbasin in the bathroom and permit complete access to the bed on the port side. The plywood bulkhead needed extending four inches to be able to glass it to the hull side, which then made it just as strong as before.
I modified the original cupboard and mirror and rebuilt it into the bathroom. I didn’t want to reuse the old “unstainless” washbasin and found a beautiful blue tempered glass vessel bowl on the web, along with some polished brass taps. These type of bowls mount directly on top of counter tops, which allows for a larger than normal washbasin. However, because the basin was above the countertop level I had to make a second level to mount the water faucet. I had a local kitchen renovator make two granite countertops, which I fastened to the top of the cupboard and a second level above. The washbasin was well above the waterline, so the sink outlet self-drained through the original sink sea-cock.
With the three main items now installed it then took just as long to ‘finish off’ the bathroom. The sides and ceiling still had the original vinyl material which probably looked very smart when the boat was new, but it was now a faded dirty brown colour. I stripped it all out with a Stanley knife and removed the port light, then I re-covered the side with thin plastic sheeting. I first made paper templates using art board and glued the plastic sheet to the cabin sides with contact glue, then I replaced and re-caulked the port light.
I glued blue vinyl tiles all round the bath and alcove to form a splashproof wall for the shower. A rail and shower curtain completed this ensemble.
Before cladding the ceiling I re-wired the lighting to include a second dome light and a light behind an oval glass picture of a square-rigger I installed in the bath alcove. . I also wired two attractive sconce lights into the boats 120 volt ring-main on a separate switch, to be used when on shore power.
I clad the ceiling with PVC tongue and groove panels used as wainscote planking in houses. Each panel had to be carefully measured and cut to fit the unevenness of the ceiling and walls. They were then screwed and pinned to the existing wooden cross battens. The ceiling now offers much better insulation from a warm deck, which the old vinyl material never did.
The finished result is a beautiful and functional bathroom, reminiscent of some elegant Victorian era yacht. It is also a great relief to slip into this steaming hot bath after a hard days work on the boat. I even mounted a holder to carry my pint of Boddingtons Pub Ale. Yes, it’s decadent, but absolutely fabulous!
I don’t expect to be able to use the tub anywhere other than in a marina where the boat hardly moves. Trying to have a bath at anchor could be interesting, when a passing motor boat causes their usual massive wake...
Okay, so you don’t have room for a bath in your small head compartment, but what about beneath a bunk, which could then be used as storage?