How a Fish Tank Kicked My Ass

On Thursday I left work excited.  I had purchased a bunch of new stuff for my 180 gallon saltwater tank.  Some of it I needed.  Much of it I just wanted.  I knew there would be some challenges, but I also knew I would overcome them.  I invited my children and my oldest daughter’s boyfriend to help out with the project.  I set up the camera to record it.

Then came Friday….

On Friday we began by upgrading the RODI unit while we waited for the kids to arrive.  Sometime early that morning I checked my email to find that the contract I was on had been cancelled.  Meaning, I am about to be unemployed.  So, I looked around my living room at thousands of dollars worth of equipment…and went back to it.

It only now (Monday morning) occurs to me that I could have simply sealed up all those shipping boxes and sent the stuff back.  At that point I hadn’t removed a single rock, fish, or gallon of water from the tank.  But, I have a tendency to focus on an objective, plot a route to achieve it, and move forward.  So the thought of giving up on the project didn’t cross my mind.

I think there is a tendency to reflexively look for an excuse when things go sideways.  It is certainly possible that the news of my pending unemployment, coupled with the fact I had just spent a whole lot of money, affected my thinking.  I know I didn’t sleep well Friday night.  In any event, for whatever reason, I made some mental errors.

I’ll end the suspense.  The tank is back up and running.  But, it was much harder than I thought it would be, and there were a few moments when it seemed uncertain.

On Friday, while I was still in relatively good spirits, I made an effort to capture a lot of the detail.  By Saturday night I was less enthusiastic about it, but I still captured some of the work we were doing.  Sunday….bloody Sunday…I don’t think I recorded a damn thing.

It boils down like this.  We took all the rocks and sand out of the tank and sterilized it with a bleach solution.  We disconnected the sump, removed the skimmer and other equipment, and sterilized all of that stuff as well.  We placed the fish in a 20g tank, and the inverts went in the 10g tank with the corals.

We put the new rock and sand in the tank and I filled it up…at which point I realized that I did not rinse the sand, and now my tank was a giant mud puddle.  I tried adding some clarifier, and we settled in to watch UFC 220.  At 1 am I was draining the tank again…  I got it empty and turned on the RO unit with the hose in the tank.  The next morning I discovered two things.

  1. The tank was only 1/3 full, and that wasn’t going to work.  So I finished filling it with the garden hose
  2. I had left the heater in the sump on all night.  Fortunately it was in the slightest little bit of water and hadn’t burned a hole through the acrylic.

After buying more salt and starting over we got the tank running and it cleared up reasonably.  My daughter and her boyfriend then hooked up all the pumps, dosing units, lights, controller, power bars, etc.  Needless to say the area beside my tank is a jumbled mess of wires and tubes.

Then came all the programming and calibration….

We finally finished at 8 pm Sunday night, and I went to bed exhausted.  This morning the tank is relatively clear, though not crystal clear like the 75g is.  The sump and everything in it is covered by a fine layer of dust.  The lights need to be mounted differently.  The corals need to be placed.  There is a ton of wire management needed.

Bottom line…. my weekend project is likely going to take a lot longer than that.  All the youngins are gone.  It’s just my wife and I.  I will spend days thinking of how I could have done it differently, more efficiently, better.  I will likely swap the rocks around repeatedly, chasing a “perfect” look that I will never find.

Eventually I will find some level of contentment.  There will be an agreement that what could be done, and what I can do, are not the same thing.  I will question for some time whether it was worth the expense, then ultimately conclude that it was.  In the end I will be happy with this tank.

But for right now, this fish tank is kicking my ass…


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