Laundry Living Aboard a Boat

Airing Our Dirty Laundry

Monday, July 03, 2017S.V. CAMBRIA

I spend a lot of time looking at narrowboats for sale online. Too much time considering we have no idea when we’ll be ready to buy one ourselves. But I want to get a feel for what’s on the market and how that compares to what I’m looking for in our next boat. I’m sure David has ideas of his own, but he’s entirely too practical to be trusted with choosing our next home. Besides, I’m nosy and like looking around other people’s boats.

I don’t mind telling tales on myself, and the truth is I can be lazy. Very lazy. I always have been and probably always will be. It’s part of my DNA. I’m okay with that and so is David, but he might be losing patience with me thanks to my latest encounter with slothfulness and the ensuing pile of dirty clothes that’s taking over the v-berth (the cabin at the front of a sailboat).

The thing is, I hate doing laundry*. I’m not exactly sure why. It’s not difficult and I like wearing clean clothes, but I tend to put the job off whenever I can. I appreciate being able to do more than one load at the time, so it’s not going to a Laundromat that I find so offensive. I think it has more to do with sorting smelly clothes, packing them up, lugging them off the boat, dragging them into the dinghy, and shuttling them to shore only to wait around all day for the spin cycle to end that rubs me the wrong way me – even writing about it is exhausting.

My record for not doing laundry is eight weeks, something I’m pretty proud of. We were transitioning from summer to winter at the time and I have four sets of sheets, three duvet covers, countless undergarments, piles of towels, and heaps of socks stored all over the place so it wasn’t difficult. But I took a lot of our personal items off the boat over the winter, including a significant portion of our clothes. And that’s turning out to be a problem.

We left Kingston with an empty hamper five weeks ago and things are starting to look grim. I only have one clean bra left and two pairs of underpants. I’m completely out of socks and wearing my last pair of shorts. I have one pair of jeans hanging in my wardrobe, but I’ve worn them a couple of times over the last three weeks and they’re ready for the hamper as well (if only there was room!).

David’s situation is slightly better. He still has a healthy pile of socks and underwear to choose from, but he’s out of clean sweatpants and jeans. He has several pairs of shorts, but doesn’t like to wear them because he thinks his legs resemble a chicken’s (they don’t) and are ghostly white (they are). But, hey, at least his feet aren’t cold (like mine).

Despite my laziness, the problem usually boils down to logistics. We like to cruise in remote wilderness areas where it could be days before you see another person, let alone a Laundromat. I’ve tried the “chuck it in a bucket” method to keep on top of things but that doesn’t work very well in a temperate rainforest.

Which finally brings me to the point of this blog: Our next boat has to have a washer and dryer. They’re truly the only things I’ve missed in all of the years we’ve lived-aboard and cruised (that would be 16). And if the boat we ultimately choose doesn’t already have a unit, (at the very least) it has to have a place to put one (as challenging as that might be). Because, after 16 years, I’m finished with Laundromats . . . or I will be once the hamper is empty.

*Why not have David do the laundry? Good question. For the same reason I don’t change the engine oil and filters: I’m perfectly capable. I know how to do it. But I make one hell of a mess in the process and so does he (i.e. my shirts usually come back bleached). 

If you were in the market for a new (to you) boat, what are some of the things you wouldn’t want to live without?

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  1. You have me beat by 15 years and 5 months. I'm already missing the washer/dryer at home because I hate laundromats. I'm not sure why, but I think it has something to do with no knowing who else has had their clothes in them. Yeah, not logical, but doing laundry feels so personal somehow. Today we go to the house to hang with kids and I'm taking the laundry with me. I've done laundry aboard using the bucket in the cockpit method and its romance is gone after the first 5 minutes. And, as you say, the weather makes things take a very long time to dry. We'll see how I feel about it when we are in warmer climes. Also, I think we wear our clothes way longer than you do. You've worn those jeans a couple of times? Try every day for two weeks before I even think to look and see if they are dirty. You deserve a washer/dryer on that next boat.

    1. I know what you mean about the machines in laundromats, especially in places where a lot of fishing boats stop over. You never really know what you're going to find in them. When we lived in New Zealand and Tonga, I washed shorts and tee-shirts in a bucket. It helped get us through, but I never really felt like the clothes were clean. And I may have been too generous when I said the jeans hanging in my locker had been worn a couple of times -- at the very least, I dripped pizza grease on one of the legs which hastened their trip to the hamper.:-)

  2. If only the weather would be better to do laundry by hand on the boat. You could keep up with it a little bit at a time. I actually preferred that method (when we had enough rainwater collected) than going through the hassle and time to do it on shore. And, I had a sense of accomplishment by the end of the day, when the clothes were dry and put away. We would have to wash more often, because we certainly don't have as many clothes as you two!!!

    Maybe your next boat could just have a washing machine and you can still hang the laundry to dry outside? That would be a good compromise. At least, you could wait for a sunny day to do the laundry, since with a machine is doesn't take as long as by hand, which means it will be dry sooner in the day. :-)

    If I were to ever own a boat again, I think I would like to have bigger tanks for fresh water. And, a comfortable sofa is something I missed as well during our eight years of cruising. But, the biggest improvement would be an enclosed cockpit with a hard cover. :-)

    1. One of the biggest problems we're going to have the next time around that I didn't mention in the blog post is that there don't seem to be a lot of laundromats along the canal system. But honestly, I just don't want to fool with it anymore. It's not so bad in the tropics, but we wear layers year-round here (the evenings and mornings are still cool even in the height of summer).

      Bigger water tanks would be good! We have a watermaker but don't like to run it unless we have to (it's engine-driven rather than 12 volt). The good news is that there are plenty of water taps placed along the canals by the Canal & River Trust that boaters can use (it's paid for by a licensing fee). They also provide dumping stations for cassette toilets (definitely do NOT want one of those!) and trash.

      We would be lost up here without an enclosed cockpit. It gives us another room, keeps us warm and dry when we're underway (and it's pouring down rain), and it's a great mudroom. Funnily enough, I don't want one on the narrowboat. David will disagree, I'm sure, because I imagine he'll be the one driving the boat (I plan on walking with me dogs!), but I just don't like the way they look and think part of the experience of narrowboat is being outside.


    2. I don't think an enclosed cockpit is as important on the canals as sailing out in the elements in the ocean. :-) Good to know about the water spigots, and so much easier to just pull up to them in a narrowboat on flat water than dealing with hauling jugs in a dinghy as we did for many years.

      It looks like we disagree on the cassette toilet, something we would prefer in a camper now, as opposed to having to drive to dump stations and deal with hoses to pump out... We rented a camper with one in New Zealand and found it easy (and clean, not smelly at all) to deal with - more of a European thing for sure.

    3. I'm going to write a blog post about the options for a toilet aboard a narrowboat (there are 3). I was dead set against the cassette option but from all of my research, it's probably a better choice on the canals than a holding tank because pumping stations are confined to the marinas and there's a charge to use them (it can run around $20 to $40 a month -- no charge for cassettes). I'm leaning towards the third option, a composting toilet. David's not as convinced as I am but something tells me he will be after a couple of months on cassette duty!

    4. Good idea about the toilet blog post. We love the idea of a composting toilet, but fear they are too smelly. For a while we kept an eye on a woman who was developing a self-contained toilet that bagged your stuff in a nice package that would be biodegradable and ready for the normal trash. It had the greatest potential. It was called the "dungeridoo" or something like that. But, unfortunately, she could not get the funds together and the plan is on hold. I'm staying tuned to see what you come up with.

  3. We HAVE a washer/dryer, but I have a love/hate relationship with it. It's small, and it just bakes in wrinkles. But it does beat schlepping loads up ramps and hanging out at grungy laundromats! (Al refuses to hang laundry from the rails. He says we already look enough like hillbillies.)

    1. That's funny. Yes, you can always tell the long-time cruisers by the laundry hanging on the rails. I don't like the look either, so I started to put our wet clothes on hangers and hang them in the cockpit to dry -- as if nobody can see them there. Ha!

    2. BTW, a washer/dryer would have come in handy at Swantown. The only reason things got so piled up is because the laundry was near the marina office and I wasn't about to lug a bag that far!