Cleanliness is next to….impossible!

I get a chuckle out of people who think of us sailors as “haughty yachties”. I love Spartan, but I’d say she comes by her name honestly. She’s an excellent sailboat, but as a place to live, she is more a glorified camper on a keel!

The Facilities

There is a composting toilet in the bathroom (known in boatspeak as “the head”). I empty the “liquids” every couple days, and the “solids” every three weeks. Toilet paper goes into a small bag clipped with a clothespin to a towel rack. These are the same bags dog owners use to pick up after their pets. (If you are picturing paw prints or Dalmatian spots, you are on the right track!)


Spartan carries 66 gallons of water – 60 for bathing, cooking and cleaning, and 6 for drinking. As we never know when we are going to run into potable water again, conservation rules the day.

We try to use as little water as possible for dishes. This generally means using cold water (because too much goes through the tap while waiting for the water to heat up).

Among sailors, dishwashing is practically an Olympic sport. I have literally heard people humblebragging in pubs: “I bet I can do dishes in less water than you can!”


We have a shower onboard, but the shower stall is lined with teak, so we have never used it. That’s because any shower would have to be followed by half an hour of squeegeeing and towelling to get the wood drier than ourselves! (If not, we’d eventually have to sand the whole stall down and refinish it. ) Lately, we have begun to think we will chance it!

Our mostly teak shower stall.

When it gets warmer again, we can run the shower hose out the window to the deck and use it without having to dry the shower stall. We also have a solar shower we can hang up from the mast. And in the Bahamas, we’ll be able to bathe by just jumping over board. Seems hard to believe from here. But until then, we are dependent on marinas for showers. And here’s the thing – marina showers are not spas!

Some of them look like gulags, others have no locks, broken locks, or passcodes that are freely available to everyone within a 10 mile radius. I can’t shower in those ones, try as I may! Cold sponge baths with blue shop towels tide us over between acceptable marinas.


And then there is laundry. On a good day, I jump off the boat onto a dock and walk to a laundromat. On more challenging days, doing the laundry also involves a couple of dinghy rides. I bring along garbage bags to protect our clean, dry clothes on the return voyage back to the big boat. The best laundry experiences are when there’s a town laundromat near the dock, so we can do several loads at once. But more commonly, the only laundry facility nearby is the one provided by whatever marina we are in. And, while “free laundry” looks good in the marina guide book, it almost inevitably translates to “very limited laundry” capabilities that are quickly overwhelmed by our fleet of 10 or so boats.

By the numbers

No word of a lie – because of the cold snap, I have been wearing the same fleece pants and long underwear, day and night, for the last week. Optimistically, I only packed one pair of long underwear for a trip to the Bahamas. My kingdom for polar fleece pyjamas!

Today is day 116 of living aboard, and I have had 26 showers, and done laundry 11 times. Clearly, my standards have plummeted. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, unless it is next to impossible!


  1. As always, a treat to read about what you two are up to! I complained about the low flow of water in my bathroom tap and shower to my super a few days ago but this blog puts things in perspective!


  2. At the lake during the summer we manage to do all our cleaning, bathing,flushing with around 3 buckets a day. When I return to the city I am stunned at how much we use just because it is convenient.


  3. Thom, I’m loving the posts, even the ones about the grubby realities. It’s sounds like life on a long canoe trip and I take similar pride in high-efficiency dish washing. A paper towel pre-clean is our technique. Wishing you good wind and warm water.


  4. We buy baby wipes to use in between “real” showers. When it’s cold, “real” showers only happen at marinas. There’s no way I’m taking a cockpit shower when it’s under 75 degrees! I absolutely loved showering in the Bahamas by throwing myself into the water and following with a quick fresh water rinse. Can’t wait to do it again! Kimberly


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