My Boats Bathe

By Tom Neale, 1/21/2011


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Our kayaks are “sit on top” kayaks. We like that kind because it means they don’t fill up with water when we turn them over or when we use them to surf in the ocean. But that means that you have to sit on top in what I call a Butt Basin. It’s a concave basin into which you demurely settle down. Being on top, any wave or splash can fill it up so that you’re sitting in water. But the kayak industry easily took care of this problem. The butt basin has four holes in it for the water to run out—two holes for each cheek. The problem with this is that water also runs up through the holes into the basin. What this all amounts to is that you have a continuous butt bath when you’re kayaking. Which is OK, I guess, except when the water’s really cold.

Gulfstar 41 Had Rivers in Headliner
On my old wooden boats back when I was in my pre- and early teens, I had constant foot baths. These boats were wooden skiffs, cross planked on the bottom and they leaked all the time. There was no fancy floor boarding or grating to keep my feet out of the bilge. The bilge was the bottom of the boat and that’s where you stood. So my feet were always wet, except when I was wearing my boots—which wasn’t often. When I went camping in these boats, I’d have to sleep on an air mattress inflated on the “floor” to stay dry. Of course, this meant that you couldn’t tuck your sheets in under the mattress, but that was OK because I didn’t use sheets anyway except as emergency sails when the motor wouldn’t start, which was not an unusual event.

Seafarer Sedan with oily carpet
In my late teens I graduated to my first fiberglass boat. I’d been hearing about them and lusting after them for some time when, with the help of my father, I finally managed to get one. It was a Glasspar Seafair Sedan, with a nice yachtie little cabin on the bow, bunks that were raised and dry AND a floor over the bilge. Not only did the boat not leak, but if waves or rain came in, the water just rolled aft into a little well where it drained out. I was in heaven. For the first time, I figured that I could be in a boat without washing my feet. Until I spilled the outboard motor oil. Four strokes hadn’t been heard of then and we all mixed oil into the red steel gas tanks. I’d go far and wide in that boat and so I had to carry extra gas in 5 gallon jugs so that I could refill the steel tank when it ran out. This meant pouring in oil too, and doing this in a boat rolling about in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay without spilling it required coordination that my gawky teenaged body never dreamed of. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, you’d think, because one could just wipe it up. Not so on my Glasspar Seafair Sedan because it had a carpet. It wasn’t a cloth carpet; it was a rubber type of carpet with a very irregular surface to keep you from slipping. And it was secured to the boat so that I couldn’t readily take it out. The irregular surface was so very irregular that you really couldn’t wipe it up or wash it. I suppose I could have hosed it down with hot soapy water, but who had any of that out on the Bay. Or the river. Or even at the few docks. It didn’t take long for my oil spills to spread over the entire carpet. This meant that my feet once again were bathed in my boat, only with oil. Whenever I got out on a dock my bare feet left oily footprints. Whenever I waded ashore to a beach my feet left an oil slick. Whenever I went to sleep between the dry sheets that I could now use, my feet left smudges under the covers.

In the 1970’s Mel and I got a brand new Gulfstar 41. It listed a bit, even brand new, but that didn’t matter to me. She was yet another boat of my dreams. But she had a fiberglass headliner over the entire below decks area. I’m not sure why they did this, but it sure caused some problems—like when you had to run a wire or fish a wire or find a leak. Water would invariably come through some deck fitting somewhere, land on the top side of the solid headliner, and start migrating to the lowest place like an underground river except it was over your head. This meant that when you saw water dripping out somewhere in your living quarters you had absolutely no idea where it was coming in. This meant that you had no idea as to what deck fitting to reseal. This meant that deck leaks were simply a fact of life. It also meant that there wasn’t much I could do about one of the favorite deck leak migratory exits: the spot right over my bunk. So any given rainy night meant a slow and steady cold water face washing.

Kayaks for Clean Butts
In 1979 we got another new boat, about as upscale from that 41 footer as is a Cadillac from a little red wagon. It was a Gulfstar 47 and fancy could hardly describe it, at least to my mind. One of the many things I liked was the tough aluminum hatch that opened right over the head of our queen-size bed. You could lie awake at night and look up at the stars. There was just one problem. Some idiot had designed it so that water ran off of the top surface of the hatch into a trough that ran all the way around it, below the surface of the frame. This trough had to drain through a little tube that was attached to a little hole. Anything and everything would stop up that hole, making all the water drain right in my face on the bed. And even if the hole had been recently cleaned, a bit of heeling, like you get with a good gust of wind, would make one side of the trough lower than the hole and that too would set up a waterfall into the bunk below.

This boat also had aluminum portholes. They were very impressive. They were tough and well built and they didn’t leak. But they sweated. On any given cool night they’d sweat and drop rivulets of cold moisture into your face or on top of your head. When the weather was cold enough the condensation on the inside surface of the aluminum frame would actually freeze. I’ll never forget getting into the shower with icicles hanging down next to my already freezing body.

The moral to this story is that if you’re feeling down and dirty, just get a boat. Boats bathe, and whether you’re washing your butt or your hair or your feet, boating is a cleansing experience.

Tom’s Tips

1. When we first began full time cruising we bathed in the ocean using dish washing soap because it would lather even in salt water. We didn’t do this for long.
2. Sea water in anchorages in the Bahamas, Keys and Caribbean isn’t always very clean.

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