On many boats, the toilet- or marine head, to be technical- empties into a holding tank which eventually fills up and must be emptied, but NOT into the bay. There are pump-out stations for this purpose but they are few and far between. So a few entrepreneurs offer mobile pump-outs. They bring their boat with a big tank and vacuum hose to your marina slip or mooring and empty your tank for a fee. If you want to talk about dirty jobs or even shit work, this has to be right down there. But most people, including live-aboards, want to keep the bay clean while keeping their boats sanitary and odor-free. I've used several pump-out services during the past eight years and I can guarantee that A Royal Flush is the best. Their pump-out boat is new, spotless, and odor-free. Alan, the owner-operator is reliable, responsible, and respectful of other people's boats. A boat owner himself, he saw the need for a pump-out service that was operated properly, and, knowing that the only way to get a job done right is to do it yourself, he went into business. Don't be surprised if the other pump-out services in town dry up and float away. As any gambler knows, A Royal Flush is the best.
Alan Jobe's 25-foot pump-out boat glides around Embarcadero Marina Park into the Marriott Marina and up to the dock at Gate 4 where I'm waiting. Jobe, a stocky man of 42 years with brown beard and blue eyes, dressed in blue shorts and a white T-shirt, runs up the ramp to open the gate. "Come on aboard," he invites me in a warm Texas accent.
Jobe's craft is a pontoon boat- a platform sitting on two pontoons- with a canopy from stern to midships. Under the canopy on the starboard side sits the steering-wheel console. On the port, a little table with two built-in stools serves as Jobe's desk. A long blue plastic hose lies uncoiled on the bow, attached at one end to a gas-powered pump.
Jobe, sitting at the console, spins the boat around and steers it toward the west end of the marina. "What I do," he explains, "is I pump all of these yachts all over San Diego Harbor from Chula Vista to Shelter Island in an effort to keep San Diego bay clean. There are 14 or 15 pump-out stations where all of these boats can go and pump for free. But they're just too lazy... well, not lazy... well I guess they are lazy. They won't take the time to untie and go do it because it's a hassle. And, it costs them money every time they use their boars. There are some people who just pump overboard, and that's about a $2000 fine. But they do it at nighttime when nobody's around. Jobe, who used to own a construction company in his hometown of Austin, Texas, says the pump-out work is "pretty easy, but, you know you're messing with human waste. The smell is pretty terrible sometimes. Sometimes it sprays on you. It's a pretty dirty job no matter how you look at it.
How does it work?
“I’ve got 50 foot of hose,” he explains, “and I’ve got a diaphragm pump with a five-horsepower Honda engine. What I do is I pull up behind the boats on whichever side the fitting is on and I pump it out. I’ll show you.”
He heads the boat down a channel in the middle of the marina, turns right until the bow gently bumps the end of a dock between two slips. In the slip to the right, a 30-foot sailboat bobs gently in the wake of the pontoon boat. Jobe revs the motor to pin the boat to the dock. Exchanging greetings with a couple of nearby boat owners, he grabs the two-inch hose and drags it down the dock to the middle of the port side of the sailboat. Using a fiat metal tool, he unscrews a stainless steel cap from a fitting on the sailboat’s deck. “This fitting is where I pump it out,” he says, sticking the translucent, hard plastic end of the hose in the fitting.
“Sometimes, if the tank is real full, it creates a pressure, and when I take the cap off, it starts spurting up like a fire hydrant.”
How often does that happen?
“Oh, four or five times a week. It’s no fun.”
Walking back to the pontoon boat, he flips a switch on the pump, which fires up and makes a swish, swish sound as the waste is sucked out of the sailboat’s tank and into the tank on Jobe’s boat. The pump running, he returns to the fitting and points to the translucent hose end stuck in it. “You can see here when it’s empty. It’s not coming out anymore."
After two minutes, Jobe pulls the hose out of the fitting and the odor of excrement fills the air. He tightens the cap back on, drags the hose back to the boat, and turns off the pump. Once the suction of the pump stops, the smell comes out of the hose. “Whew,” Jobe waves a hand in front of his nose, “smells like money to me.”
Before leaving, he attaches a Royal Flush business card to the rail of the sailboat. The sailboat owner will be billed $14. “He’s on every other week," Jobe explains, “so it’s $14 per pump-out. If it’s every week, it’s $13 a pump-out. If it’s a one-time shot, it’s $18. I’ve got quite a few once-a-week customers because if you live aboard, you fill your tank in about a week. But this is a no-live-aboard marina.”
At the end of the day, Jobe will take his boat to the Harbor Island West Marina fuel dock where he’ll pump out his tank directly into the city sewer line and tie up for the night. “That’s basically what I do,” he says. “I run up and down the bay all day long. It’s not bad, but you have to deal with the fact that there’s a chance that you’re going to get human feces on you on a daily basis.” Jobe likes being on the water and business is good, and, with around 27,000 boats moored on San Diego Bay and only two competitors, it can only get better. “Oh yeah,” he says, “I’m going to stick with it. It’s easy work and I don’t have a weak stomach. A lot of people can’t do this because they can’t stand the smell and I know they can’t stand getting it on them.”