#6 – Laundry Day

Laundry dayYou won’t believe how much of your time is spent just getting done the basic chores of everyday living!” These words stood out in bold print from a letter we received from Liz, Admiral of Isis, a sistership that headed to the Pacific a few years before us. We’ve since learned the farther your boat sails from first-world services the more challenging the simplest things become.

Laundry, a practical thing lots of women heading to sea ask about, is an excellent example. Ashore you likely had your own washer/drier, and you took clean laundry for granted. But upon moving aboard and going cruising, laundry becomes an event… if not an outright adventure. Every Admiral afloat has laundry tales to tell!

The first choice of most cruisers is the coin-operated machine. This, in theory, keeps control of your clothes in your hands, although, as Mary of I Wanda says, “you often throw your clothes into a mystery machine and hope your predecessor wasn’t dying rugs!” Marina laundry rooms, when available, are usually preferred for being closest to the boat and a good place to meet friends, exchange books, share cruising info, and read local notice boards, although sometimes they are in horrific shape. Mary tells of standing on boards to prevent shock and filling machines with a garden hose! Even in the best ones, there is often a scramble for enough machines to handle your two or three-weeks-worth, so it’s not unusual to find cruisers haunting laundry rooms in the wee hours! Where there is no marina, using a town Laundromat is the next choice. Although the schlep quotient goes up (conscript your other half!), since you’re more likely to meet local people, so does the adventure quotient. Either way, Mary advises, “Bring a good book, waterproof bags to keep things dry on the return trip, LOTS of change, and decant the detergent you need into smaller containers.”

As coin-operated machines thin out, cruisers turn to services that charge by the kilo to do it for you. “I’ve learned to feel good about supporting the local economy,” says Ellen of Cayenne III, a perspective echoed by most Admirals. Favorites are anchorage entrepreneurs who come by boat to pick up! Farther afield, the “service” may simply be a local lady who hand washes in a tub and dries your personals on a bush. Although this usually works out well, there are always risks: your favorite shirt disappears, your whites come back dyed pink, your shorts shrink a size, or the whole load looks worse than when you sent it in. Friends once picked up their laundry in the Marquesas to find it all mildewed from being hung to dry in an attic!

You know you are really out there when you find yourself with a bar of laundry soap, a plunger and your own bucket. …Or stomping on a load in your dinghy the morning after a heavy rain. …Or up the river with the local ladies. Camryka’s Mary says, “It’s never my first choice, but I feel ever-so-saintly when I’ve hung hand-washed duds on the lifelines to dry!” Judy, now cruising aboard Ursa Minor, remembers doing laundry on a remote island in Fiji. “Several young girls came to help us as we stood in the river with our clothes. They used pieces of plywood to scrub the clothes on, and, as they taught us the knack, it became a real team effort. They clearly got a kick out helping us!

Some cruisers find gadgets to help with onboard laundry. There’s the little hand-cranked washer that looks like “Sputnik” and old-fashioned wringers your grandmother might recognize. If your boat’s big enough and you have a watermaker, you can install a regular washing machine like the popular front-loader from Splendide™. Cayenne III used to raft up to friends who had one. They made the water and filled the other boat’s tank, while their friends did the wash for both!

I guess I must confess that we put one of these on Tackless II during our Trinidad refit six years ago. It was not originally on our project list, but my husband’s drinking buddies put him up to it. “My Admiral,” said Bill, “put her foot down and said she wouldn’t go to sea without it!” We’d recently had a bad laundry experience, so the next thing you know we’re enlarging a locker, putting in some new hoses and through-hulls, and swaying up a 168lb white box to finagle through the hatch. I won’t lie and tell you that it hasn’t been a joy: doing a load in an uninhabited bay and hanging it over the foredeck to dry.

But then again, look at all the fun I’m missing!

Contributing Admirals: Mary Verlaque, I Wanda; Mary Heckrotte, Camryka; Judy Knape, Ursa Minor; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III; and others

This article was published in the January 2007 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

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