The Back Story

August 1, 2012

Through the Wringer

Okay—so that title could be a reflection about life on Ceilydh for the past few weeks (between bad bouts of the flu for all and a few too many deadlines life’s been busy…) but actually this post is about laundry. August’s raft-up topic is about clothing management on board.

Right now life is a bit unusual, we have access to almost affordable laundry machines on shore. I say almost affordable because at $4 per wash and $4 per dry they are about midrange in cost. The cheapest machines were in the USA where we occasionally found ones for $2 per wash and $2 per dry while the most expensive were in Tahiti where we plugged a very small machine with $8 and never dared check to see what the drier wanted.

The other element of the almost affordable is its winter. So rather than our normal wardrobe which consists of, well, not much, we’re wearing long pants, warm shirts and socks.

Washing machines, or sending our laundry out to be done (bliss!), are great. They are larbour saving and boat-water saving options that we use:
a) when they are affordable (we only did that one load in Tahiti…) and
b) when they are available (sadly that was one of the only machines we encountered in the South Pacific…) and
c) when water is scarce (we make water but have a low output water maker)
What this means is, for us, machines are a luxury and finding a workable way to do laundry aboard was essential.
laundry is a family affair--we crank the music and take turns plunging
 On our first boat we had a scrub board and a bucket. The scrub board was pretty useless but the bucket and a plunger did the job. Wringing the clothes out was another matter—small items were wrung by hand while bigger things were wrapped around a shroud then twisted. The process was tedious and killed my hands.
our fabulous wringer--it almost makes laundry fun!
 Then a friend showed me how well her wringer worked (something we had initially looked at and decided was too expensive). When it came time to outfit boat #2 a wringer like this one was one of our first purchases. It’s a bit expensive (the aluminum/bronze combo is essential on a boat-so skip the steel one) but if you consider we do 2-3 loads of laundry a week at >$4 a load the wringer paid itself off pretty quickly. And three years in, our wringer is still operating like new.

The wringer is also a water saver. After washing we use it before putting the clothes in the rinse water, then again after rinsing. If it’s not too dodgy we reuse the rinse water for the next wash load and use the wash water to scrub down the decks…

The next thing we discovered is not all clothes pins are created equal (the things you learn whilst cruising…) Keep in mind if something gets blown off the ‘line’ on a boat it may never find its way back to you. And, because we drop a lot of clothes pins overboard, wood is preferable to plastic. Locating sturdy wooden clothes pins takes some searching. And when I find them I buy double, no make that triple, what I think I need (even if we use a washing machine we almost always line dry).

What we wash is just as important as how we wash. When we moved aboard the first thing to go were all my lovely fluffy towels. It turns out you can dry yourself just as well with a scruffy beach towel. Heavy jeans and bulky button shirts also were liberated from our wardrobe. They take up too much space—and they don’t go through the wringer very well.

While we did get rid of our bulky stuff and our least favourite work clothes, I actually kept many of my dressy things. Part of it is I still work—which means I occasionally head off to a posh resort and try to pass and a gainfully employed person on holiday. The other part is I learned a few things on our first trip:

1) Just because I’m in a tropical country it doesn’t mean it’s always going to be warm. So while I don’t need my winter boots and parka (though I did pack them…) I have worn heavy sweaters, cosy socks, warm trousers and toques.

2) One cute outfit isn’t enough. Going out for dinner, with the same people, while wearing your one dress over and over makes you feel like you’re stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day loop. And for the record—sport sandals aren’t really very dressy. No matter which colour you choose.

3) Stuff starts to look ratty really fast on the boat. It could be our laundry methods, or the fact I tend to alternate between three outfits, but it’s easy to look bad pretty quickly. Having a larger number of cloths to rotate through can help. Once something is nasty enough it gets downgraded to a ‘work on the boat’ outfit or a rag.

4) Don’t keep everything out. I actually have three duffels tucked away—one has summer clothes and shoes suitable for civilization and another has winter clothes and shoes. I’ve broken into them on occasion when something particularly formal has come up—yes it can happen. The third has daily wear stuff for rotation. Nothing more exciting than breaking out a new/old t-shirt…

Despite having a few options mostly I wear the same stuff. Because we travelled through a bunch of more modest countries I have shorts/skirts that hit below the knee, t-shirts or blouses that cover my shoulders for daytime and sun dresses for evening/going out. I mix and match. Occasionally I wear yoga pants.

I also own several sarongs/pareus/sulus//tupenus/laplaps/lavalavas. The reason every country has a name for these bright strips of cloth is because they are incredibly handy; slipped over your shorts or shoulders and you’re fit for church or visiting an official; they also work as a bathing suit cover up or a towel; and in wintertime Australia I use them as a scarf.

So—if you were fascinated by our laundry methods be sure to checkout the rest of the raft-up for more tips. I doubt you’ll learn how to make your whites brighter (most of us avoid white) but you may learn something new:

Click on the monkey's fist to read others bloggers on this topic.

The Monkey's Fist


  1. I've always been super jealous of you wringer! Know where we can pick one up for Britannia II? We're in Musket Cove, Fiji, at $12 a load, so it's affordable, but just barely. The only thing I find to be more labor-intensive than laundry is provisioning. (Yeah, that's right, sailing the boat is way easier!)
    See you guys this fall!

  2. Thanks for the great information. We'll be moving onto our boat in the coming weeks (finally) and I've been wondering how the laundry bit was going to work out. Stupid question, I'm sure, but does it just take forever to dry if you don't wring the clothes out really well? I hadn't even considered a wringer... Thanks!

    Katie and Mark

  3. The wringer looks amazing. I did a load of towels the other day and just about killed my arms hand twisting. We're considering the 1 cubic ft washing machine that does 6 lbs in a load to run with our generator. Do y'all have any experience with those?

  4. Hey Amanda--Southern hempishere=Spring:)
    Katie--everything dries instantly in the Sea but once you hit tropic poisture you need all the help you can get. We have friends who swear their hand wrung stuff never dried.
    No experience with the washing machine--we know some people with big water makers and generators that loved theirs plus and equal number who got rid of theirs. It seems at every book exchange type place there is also an old compact washer sitting around.

  5. You just helped me justify many of my new purchases :).

  6. The clothes pegs - how true! I also look for ones with a small hole as well as a big one so that they fit on the line better! How sad!!!!!!

  7. I am definitely going to buy that wringer. That's for sharing the link and all of your great information!

  8. Thanks - good to know if we venture southbound!


  9. Monica--anything I can do to help;) Steph--so funny isn't it. I was in one shop that had six different types of clothes pins, I think the guy thought I was nuts when I told him none of them were right:) Carla--the wringer is wonderful, well worth the money. You do need a place to mount it-though we know people who mounted one right on the bucket which is clever. Katie--yup on the Baja side of the Sea stuff dries pretty instantly so heavy wringing is less of an issue--though the water saving is good..

  10. Great tips! The bucket and plunger will be our friend (or enemy) when we start cruising! We may just have to think about that wringer too.

    Love your tip about keeping duffel bags full of other clothes. That made me think of perhaps using pretty pillow cases too!

    We won't start cruising until next year, so this is great info!

  11. WOW! Terrific posting, great hints and tips. I started shopping for our wringer today!

    Fair Winds
    Sabrina & Tom
    s/v Honey Ryder Caliber 40 LRC East Coast

  12. Your wringer is a great idea as clothes never seem to dry properly when you hand wring them.
    Re: the clothes pegs - there is a clothes line made in Australia called Ezyline (I have no affiliation with the company, just love the product) which I have replaced my normal line with. You slide the clothes into it. My clothes never blow away and it is wonderful not having to worry about any pegs. I have attached a link but not sure if it is allowed :)

  13. Have you considered a large salad spinner. Pull slowly it agitates. Pull with vigor and Extracts water.

    One garment at a time. Reuse the wash water, Whites 1st, Colored and an extra drop of soap as the wash progresses.

    One bucket to save wash water and two buckets for progressive rinse water.

    I've modified my spinner with a drain hose. Up for wash rins e, and drain to bucket for water extraction. It's amazing how many clothes you can wash and rinse in three gallons of water.