Living on a sailboat can pose some interesting challenges to the land-accustomed newcomer. As a sailor, whether you have a water maker or not, fresh water is a precious commodity, and it must therefore be conserved. Sometimes this means washing dishes in saltwater, and many times it means showering only every third day.

Either way, keeping yourself, and your things, clean, can turn out to be a whole different ball game on the water than off. Fresh water = $$$ on board, whether it’s for fuel to run the motors or generator in order to make water, or it’s for buying water from a marina onshore for $2 per gallon—sometimes more, sometimes less.

The majority of small cruising boats today are equipped with a “telephone-style” faucet in the bathroom (or head, in nautical terms), which is attached to a hose and can be pulled out and used as a shower head. Some larger, newer boats have dedicated shower stalls, and some smaller boats have only an outside shower or do not have a shower on board at all. We’ve seen all kinds on this trip, even bath tubs, though those have proven to be pretty rare. It’s the combination of these facilities, combined with your water-making and storage accommodations, that determine the comfort and availability of shower time on board.

Here on Tahina, Jason and I hit the showers every 48-72 hours. It’s way less than at home, and there have been times, especially on rough passages where it’s hard to go down below for any amount of time, that we’ve both smelled pretty rank. However, we do spend a lot of time in the water, and on passage we don’t do much other than sit, so this schedule had been pretty manageable overall. In the forward cabin we have a shower stall, and when we were staying in the aft cabin while guests were aboard, we had a telephone-style shower sprayer with a drain in the bathroom floor.

Showers, Kijro style

Showers, Kijro style

On Kijro, there was no shower, so shower time involved sending everyone off the boat or enclosing them down below, then stripping in the cockpit and pouring buckets of saltwater over our heads. Sometimes we were at anchor, and then it was easier to just go swimming with shower supplies on the dinghy. For a final rinse, we had several 2-liter bottles filled with fresh water that we used to very sparingly sprinkle a freshwater rinse on our bodies. There were only 3-4 of these, so we had to make them last. Kijro only carried 40 gallons of fresh water in her tanks at the time, but now she has a water maker, so the freshwater rinses may be a bit more liberal.

After showers also come laundry, dishes, and even such things as haircuts. Cruisers end up in faraway places and the available of laundromats and barbers can be unpredictable. By far in the minority, Tahina is equipped with an all-in-one washer/dryer, but it isn’t terribly efficient with water or electricity, so compromises are made to use it. We’ve mostly stuck to doing $8 a load laundry in port and drying articles on the lifelines on the boat. This leads to the occasional rust stain or soured towel when it won’t stop raining, but in a pinch we’ve been able to rush back to shore or use the on-board washer/dryer to do small loads and make fixes to pieces that are especially in need. Laundry has been a significant enough expense since February to make me wish I’d made it a line item and not an incidental in my budget planning. Other long distance cruisers will also resort to washing in a modified bucket or using a washboard, and even washing in salt, then rinsing in fresh. It’s mostly free, but in my experience the clothes hasn’t turned out nearly as clean.

As far as haircuts go, it’s been challenging. Many of the men you see either buzz it with clippers or let their wives handle the cutting on board. Still others do like Jason and just let it grow wild. Lots of cruising women have very short hair, and after 6 months with very little maintenance, I’m starting to understand why. I have so many split and broken ends that it’s becoming hard to get a brush through my hair, even with heaps of leave-in conditioner in place. I had Jason do a trim for me in Huahine, which I joked was the longest haircut duration for the least amount of hair I’ve ever seen. I have to hand it to him though, it’s straight across and he didn’t botch my bangs. Only problem is, there’s so much damage I think I’m going to have to do something more dramatic to get it back to manageable. If we ever become full-time liveaboards, I may have to rely on Jason completely for regular maintenance.

Haircut on Tahina

Haircut on Tahina

Makeup is rarely if ever seen in the cruising set, and blowdryers are unheard of. The upside is that no one is judging you for not having shaved, and so long as you have soap on board and you’re in the tropics, your saltwater rinsing resources are unlimited, so really there’s no excuse for stinking out your neighbor at the cruiser’s potluck on shore. It’s all about what you make with the tools you have available out here.

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