#20 – Beauty & da Boat

It has been said that cruising is doing boat maintenances in exotic places. Well, the same can pretty much be said for the ladies of the fleet. Like the boats we sail on, some of us spend more time on “bright work” than others, but most of us spend less time than we used to. It’s simply a matter of differing priorities. Still, I don’t think any of us X-chromosome types ever give up wanting to look good. It’s just that our standards of looking good become shaped by the lifestyle and the opportunities we have to attend to them. When electricity, water and beauty salons run short, we must choose either compromise, self-sufficiency…. or a really big generator.

Generally speaking, most full-time cruisers adopt a practical “au naturel” look of wash and wear hair, sensible nails, and sun-blushed skin. No muss, no fuss. These choices allow us to not only be in and out of the water multiple times a day but to lend our hands to whatever needs doing, from line-handling to oil changing to varnishing to dinner dishes.

As for that “sun-blushed skin,” notice I say “blushed” and not “tanned.” Just the other day, a dermatologist chided me for allowing even “a little color.” Well, for twenty years now I have been using a daily moisturizer with SPF 15, bolstering it with serious sunblock when out from under the bimini for long periods, and this has worked well for my skin against the wind and sun. But, more than most, we cruisers should take dermatologists’ warnings to heart and, before leaving port, arm ourselves with good products we will use daily along with an effective hat.

Makeup, on the other hand, seems a highly individual choice. While few cruisers seem to wear makeup on a daily basis, I’m surprised how much mascara, shadow and lipstick still pop up at evening potlucks. Maribel of Paper Moon rationalizes a little lipstick, “to keep lips moisturized”, but beware how you store it. Mine melted.

Hair maintenance is the area that preoccupies women most both pre-cruise and as the months unfold. I remember the day when Lucy, the first woman I knew to ready herself for a circumnavigation, chopped off her thick blonde braid. I don’t know what shocked me more: the fact she felt it necessary or the fact she looked unexpectedly great in her new short do. She considered short hair more practical, because it uses less water to wash and dries more quickly than long hair. Lucy’s decision haunted me for months prior to our own departure. Secretly vain about my long, youthful, sun-bleached mane, I’d gone ten years living and working aboard on the pony-tail plan. In the end, persuaded by convenience, I did chop it off.

And launched myself on the cruising woman’s never-ending adventure of trying to get a decent haircut. At first I was nervous about seeking out local hair salons, so initially I put myself only in the hands of cruising hairdressers getting cuts on back decks, beaches and even boatyards. Also, with little experience, I had trouble describing what I wanted – in English let alone other languages. Debbie of Illusions has both issues solved. “I carry a picture of my favorite haircut, and I’ve had good success getting that cut in most places. As for not knowing where to go, when I was in Martinique I asked an English-speaking waitress in a restaurant I’d been to a few times. She directed me across the street and said, if I had problems, just bring the stylist to her and she would help translate! Women everywhere love sharing their favorite places, plus you can get lots of local information while getting a haircut. It’s a great way to get into the local culture.”

Of course, there are potential pitfalls. “My latest was my first hair cut in Turkey,” recounts Bev of Cloverleaf. “I had a hair cut I really liked, but after six weeks, it needed a little trim. In sign language I thought we’d reached an understanding to cut just a little bit, expressed by holding thumb and index finger a short distance apart. After my ‘shearing’, I realized she must have translated that into ‘leave just a little’, instead of ‘take off just a little.’ Thank goodness I had over three months for it to grow back.”

B.C. (Before Cayenne), I wore my baby-fine hair short and permed,” says Ellen of Cayenne III,but when I told my hairdresser I was leaving he said, ‘no more perm; the sun will ruin your hair.’ My hair grew out very wavy, and all I’ve needed to do is keep it short and clean.& I’ve also learned that the difference between a bad haircut and a good one is about two weeks, and I’ve found okay haircuts almost everywhere.”

Many cruisers try to avoid surprise and suspense by taking charge of their own hair-cutting. “Before we set off cruising,” says Jane of Lionheart, “I took my husband to my hairdresser for his first and only lesson in cutting my short cropped hair. Little did I know the man I married had a hidden split personality with Vidal Sassoon. During the next six months he took his task extremely seriously ….any opinion or direction on my part was not received kindly. Having said that, all his cuts have been fabulous! Alas he does not do color, and so now back in New Zealand I have my first appointment with a hairdresser who has trained for longer than 30 minutes!!! I just hope my onboard artist comes along for lesson #2 and doesn’t take my land-based hairdresser’s decisions too much to heart!”

Judy of Ursa Minor has given up. “My solution has been to grow my hair long enough to pull it back into a pony tail, since I can’t stand hair on my neck in the tropics. I trim my bangs myself, but let the rest of it grow until I run across someone who can trim it properly.”


Like the ladies with their haircuts, I have both taken charge and indulged in adventures ashore in another area of beauty care: waxing. Living in bathing suits 24/7 these last twenty years, I don’t consider waxing a luxury. Uncertain as to whether waxing would be available and unwilling to start shaving again, I got myself a machine, a stock of wax and strips, and, like Jane, got my husband a lesson or two. Waxing in the cockpit (which does require the generator) goes pretty well except on days of high humidity. But unexpectedly I have also found waxing available in nearly every country I have been in, usually at half the US price!

In fact all this beauty stuff – whether necessary maintenance or the little luxuries like pedicures (painted toenails go so nicely with sandals and bare feet!), facials and massages, even coloring gray – turns out to be surprisingly available in ports of any size (usually at much lower prices than North America), or wherever you stumble upon a resort. And of course the best pedicure in the world is walking barefoot in the sand!

Surprisingly, one of the biggest handicaps to beauty cruising women must cope with is the lack of a decent mirror, (not to mention a creeping disinclination to look into it.) Our sense of fashion is idiosyncratic in its own right and often it is ornamented by rust, oil and bleach spots we’ve failed to notice. Of course, there’s always someone in every anchorage who looks totally put together. You know really NICE. Never fear, 99.9% of the time they’ll turn out to be visitors, tourists, bareboaters, …or cruising some cushy poweryacht!

Contributing Admirals: Debbie Leisure, Illusions; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III; Judy Knape, Ursa Minor; Kathy Parsons, Hale Kai; Bev Feiges, Cloverleaf; Jane Hockley, Lionheart; Maribel Penichet, Paper Moon; Cindi Blondin, Tashmoo; and others.

This article was published in the March 2008 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

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