Cruising Life

Staying pink in a blue world

Ann, on HanaCrew, made a sad observation as we sat on deck in the marina in La Cruz: “Cruising seems to make men more manly, while women,” she noted, “watch their femininity disappear.

Men become swarthy, they get to grow beards and have an excuse to be unwashed and scruffy.

Unfortunately, what can be dashing for men is not nearly so attractive in women!

The transition from landlubber looks to cruising couture happens quite rapidly.

For ease and convenience (and the preservation of bilge pumps) women often cut their hair shorter; Though in my case it was the result of having my daughter cut my hair while we were on a heel!

Contemporary waitress
with funky tan lines

Their nails end up shorter, whether they plan it or not. For ease of movement they wear shorts or cut-off pants and they watch all their clothes develop rust stains, bleach scars and general rumpled inelegance.

The choice of shoes is confined to “Crocs” or water trekking sandals, both of which have probably made their appearance near the top of a yahoo list for ugliest footwear, and which tan the feet in untidy geometrics.

Women have neither time nor space for cosmetic regimens, and shaving in such a way as to avoid clogging drains is awkward and time consuming.

Jewelry needs to be stowed away, both for safety around moving machines and because it can present a robbery risk (sad personal experience).

Yet despite all these obstacles, women do hold onto their femininity and I asked a number of fellow cruisers what they do to maintain it.

Cruising is certainly not the domain of the diva. One woman I met was used to a maid, and while we would all agree that having one would present the ultimate solution to a host of challenges, we would also conclude that neither she nor her maid are ever likely to leave the dock.

I have made a point of asking friends without maids what life-line connects them to their feminine side and they always seem to have one.

Interestingly, one seems to be all they do need.

  • One cruiser insists on blow drying her hair once a week.
  • Another has chosen Friday as her makeup day (though, mascara running in humid heat put her off even that small indulgence).
  • One even made a New Year’s resolution that she was going to try in general to dress more like a flower.
  • Another credits a daily nap with maintaining her looks, and no doubt, sanity.
  • Other friends paint just their toe nails or make themselves inexpensive jewelry.  Many are the marinas with a busy group of women sharing beads, materials and artistic talent.
No matter how you try to pare down your wardrobe before cruising you will still find yourself wearing only a small portion of it.
With nothing more than a change of “Crocs” and a color co-ordinated cover-up, you can take your bland boat wear to luncheon, window shopping or a dinner out.

The trouble is you still need to have clothes for the extremes of heat and cold just in case. I need to keep revisiting my clothes, packed tightly in geological layers, in order to reacquaint myself with what I have.

I found I actually have some pretty clothes somewhere round the cretaceous period, but the occasions to wear them are so few and far between. And then there’s the risk that the white skirt you do put on will find the one splash of oil that made its way from the oil change in the engine room to the rim of the navigation station (though for that disaster I found that the product “Goop”, by Critzas Industries, was miraculous).

White is, in general, a good color to have a lot of because of its bleachability, and nothing screams “I’m clean and fresh and my life is in order” so well as a white shirt after the first shower on hitting land. Wrinkle proof clothes or ones that are supposed to look wrinkled are good to find.

Remember what’s in your wardrobe when you wander through the craft markets and you end up with outfit-creating accessories

Having one wardrobe item that can dress up your standard live-aboard livery is economical of both space and cost for those times when more glamour is required. A shawl is probably the easiest such item to store, and a stunning variety can be found on all your travels.

Having two pieces or accessories of your outfit match in color is also amazingly powerful at glamorizing and pulling together a look from cheap and cheerful. Keep this in mind when hesitating over dazzling choices in the markets and decision making becomes easier.

While we are on the subject of maintaining looks we cannot overlook the importance of protecting our skin.
Me in a protective hat!

Our clothes might be irredeemably blotchy and wrinkled but our skin should not be. Wind and sun both burn so you need balaclavas and sun hats as well as sunscreen, moisturizer and lip protection.

Prevention and early detection are vital. Skin cancer is no respecter of age, as my 12 year old daughter found out when I insisted that a dermatologist remove a mole that had changed. The doctor suggested we watch it over time but my insistence proved providential when the lab results came back positive and an even wider margin of healthy tissue removal was prescribed.

None of us need to sun bathe in order to get a color, or indeed, to manufacture the vitamin D that we are now told we are short of. We already spend so much of our days outside, and most of us have managed our movements to ensure almost constant summer.

What can I not do without?

During my childhood in Australia there was a television advertisement for “Mum” brand deodorant that consisted of a scantily clad woman coyly enumerating all the things she could do without. These included her bra and her boyfriend, but she insisted she could not do without her “Mum”.

So what, you ask, can I not do without?

Personally I have developed a wardrobe that could be classified as contemporary waitress, which makes mixing and matching decisions obsolete.

I won’t go anywhere without a chapstick. My make-up bag consists of a moisturizer and a lip stick. A good set of cuticle scissors, tweezers a pumice stone and a razor constitute my personal care arsenal. I would also agree emphatically with the advertisement model on the importance of an antiperspirant deodorant. At the end of the ad, however, she confides that she can’t actually do without her boyfriend.

And in the end, for all the cruising women I meet, after all my random sampling and personal experience, what can they not do without? What is the essential solution to the challenge of staying pink in a blue world?

Connections to other women.
Cruising women in Ensenada have been meeting for four years every Friday morning to paint and craft.

However closely bound they are as a cruising team with their husbands, women need the company of other women, even more than they need a maid (OK I might be going out on a limb with that one).

Hands of friendship transferring skills
in a jewelry workshop

Women are extraordinarily rapid at forming deep supportive friendships and it is these bonds, formed in the challenging, changing situations that cruising women find themselves, that I believe are more crucial than any beauty regimen.

The value of those beading groups is not so much in the baubles created but in the bonds cemented. Clearly it is important to maintain at least one link to the pink pursuits of a former existence, but more than anything, just being able to spend time with women in non boating chores is what helps the most.

About Clare Collins

Clare and her family have made their home on one of the BT Challenge race boats.  They are currently stationary as they work to revive the kitty before continuing home to Australia.

Clare has a passion for textiles and seeks out embroidered or appliqué work and fabric dolls made by the indigenous people of the places she visits.

Her family’s adventures are documented at The account of her family’s quest to fulfill their dream of sailing can be found on this website: “Taking the Plunge”.

Read also on this website


How do you maintain your femininity aboard?

Email or leave a comment below.


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8 comments to Staying pink in a blue world

  • Margaret

    For me, it’s a simple matter of occasionally wearing a sundress and dangly earrings to an off the boat gathering, in place of the standard shorts/capris. I don’t think I’ve yet to do this without my husband saying “you look pretty”. I’m still “girl enough” to like hearing that.

  • Great piece. Wish I’d written it! Some cruising women really have the knack for maintaining their femininity, like the one woman I knew who had several great hats which she accessorized with scarves.

    Frankly, I never have had a real knack for femininity, ashore or afloat. The cruising style was a real relief for me, to get out where such stuff didn’t count for much. I was who I was.

    However….in my early years in boating, I did have long sun-bleached hair that I see in hindsight was my badge of femininity. I did not like losing it, and I only cut it because it began to get wavy and that was harder to manage. About that time I began painting my toes, the perfect expression of femininity for the barefoot/sand lifestyle, so perhaps that was my “one thing” substitution.

  • LOVE this! Especially the part about creating strong bonds with other women. And those opportunities don’t always come about so readily, so grab them while you can!

    I don’t live on a boat (in fact, I’m landlocked in MN), but it’s a dream of mine. Some day….

  • Great article! I think that a little lip gloss, dangly earrings and a whispy sundress make me feel feminine. A touch of coral-colored nail polish on my toes helps too!

  • Sporty skorts, Mary Jane or ballet flat crocs, and pretty sun shirts (my favorite sources are title9 and REI) make a big difference. We don’t need to wear enormous sailing rally tee shirts! But really what is beautiful is your big smile, standing up straight and wearing your two piece even if your belly isn’t as flat as it used to be. What is sexy is your competence-your ability to go ahead and set the spinnaker, and your willingness to go back out and tighten down a halyard when you’re both about to fall asleep. What is appreciated is when you trust him enough to let him give you your haircut.
    There are as many women as men out here cruising so I can’t imagine why the sailing world is a blue world.

  • Expressing femininity, and what’s needed to be/feel feminine, is highly subject to interpretation. I disagree with the basic premise that cruising is a blue world which takes your femininity away. It’s just not my experience, although it’s clearly Clare’s: we are just coming at it from different points of view.

    From my perspective, I think what is taken away (happily) is the artificial demand to use the stuff that our culture and media want us to believe we need in order be feminine: like the makeup, or styled/blown dry hair. These aren’t needed to be feminine… that comes from the inside, not from accessories or paint.

    For my own perspective on femininity, Victoria’s comment above nails how to keep and express it.

    One part of this article that does really resonate for me is the importance of the company of women. As much as I relish being part of the rainbow of cruising world experiences, blue/pink/purple/whatever, there’s just no substitute for girlfriend time!

  • Thank you for this article; I feel like I got some good girlfriend time in just by reading it! Being a feminine woman in the cruising/sailing/boating lifestyle can be a challenge. Each of the points made in the piece, as well as in the comments, have buoyed my spirits today!

    When we moved aboard I cheerfully took on all the trade-offs I knew I was making. One of them included the exchange of my well-stocked, large walk-in closet, for 30mm of rod space in a hanging locker and three shallow shelves. Another was having girlfriends available anytime, for making new friends along this challenging and rewarding journey.

    I did not trade-off being feminine though! Skirts (patterned to camouflage those inevitable rust and oil spots), colorful scarves and sarongs, sturdy accessories, waterproof mascara, Burt’s Bees lip balm, toenail polish, and good hygiene certainly help. Access to the internet and social sites also helps to fill in the gaps between anchorages with other cruising females.

    I have learned a few tricks from other cruising women. The sarong is a feminine powerhouse in the boating wardrobe with all the possible uses. A small spray bottle of water and a quick tug takes most outfits from locker wrinkled to land wearable. Baby wipes are great for us grown-ups too–from the quick freshen-up to spot treating clothes and lots of other uses in-between. A forward invitation for girl time off the boat–for exercising, crafting, shopping, laundry runs, or anything–is a fantastic ice-breaker for approaching other cruising females and has provided me with some of my best memories as a woman living aboard.

    Thanks again!

  • Behan and Victoria, I agree 100% with you! Personally, I feel we need to broaden our understanding of what is feminine. Because in my opinion, being sporty or able to fix a boat engine does not necessarily make you “unfeminine” – I know my husband finds a woman who is confident and can use her hands and her brain to live, work and sail on a boat is pretty damn sexy…
    I will say though, there’s nothing like female camaraderie… I certainly appreciate it.

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