September 19, 2013

Lessons in female delicacy

ONE THING I LEARNED about cruising under sail is that women are especially sensitive about doors on toilets. When I decided to take a six-month cruise aboard my 30-foot sloop with my wife and teenage son, it became clear that certain compromises would have to be made.

Now let me say at the outset that I favor simple, robust fittings on a sailboat. I don’t think fancy gadgets make good shipmates. I can get along very well without the trappings of luxury on a small boat.

Nevertheless, when one is planning to live in close confinement with one’s wife and 17-year-old son for a long period of time, certain adjustments, certain fancy gadgets, are called for. Certain standards prevail below which a wife, at least, will not sink, it seems.

One such adjustment concerned our toilet arrangements. The matter first came to light during a weekend afloat, a practice run for Freelance’s 7,000-mile cruise from Africa to America, and this “adjustment” was of such a serious nature that my wife made me record it in the ship’s log, from which I take the following extract:

A special meeting was held in the main saloon of the yacht Freelance at 2000 on Friday.

The business on the agenda was a proposal by the Ship’s Mate “That urgent consideration be given to providing a solid wooden door for the toilet.”

The Skipper pointed out (very reasonably, he thought) that a door was a fancy gadget that would be difficult — nay, almost impossible — to provide.

The Mate said she didn’t care, she wasn’t going cruising with two males without a door on the head.

The Skipper then proposed an amendment, saying that male members of the crew would be prepared to make a solemn promise to repair to the cockpit each and every time the Mate needed to use the ship’s head.

The Mate expressed dissatisfaction with this arrangement, saying she feared it would be impractical on a dark rainy night, for instance, when said male members would be loath to leave a warm and comfortable saloon to stand around in a cold and dripping cockpit.

The Skipper then offered to provide a curtain that would slide across the entrance to the head, thus ensuring the privacy the Mate seemed to require.

The Mate, on a point of explanation, then asked the Skipper for his definition of “privacy.”

The Skipper said privacy was patently present when the occupant of the toilet was invisible to others in the near vicinity.

The Mate said that in her humble opinion, which she knew didn’t count for much, “privacy” also constituted an element of noise-proofing.

The Skipper expressed surprise that ladies made noises in the loo, saying he thought only men did that sort of thing.

The Mate said with some asperity that it was none of his business what ladies did in the loo and would he kindly get on with the meeting?

The Skipper then pointed out that, of the seven yachts of the same class as Freelance with which he was acquainted, not one possessed a door to the toilet. In the confined space of the head, he said, a door could not swing without hitting the bowl, the wash-basin, the towel rail, the toilet-paper holder and the gadget that held the baby-wipe dispenser.

The Mate said she did not care, she wanted a proper door on the loo.

The Skipper, visibly roused, said he thought it a luxury even to have a toilet on a 30-footer, let alone one with a door. Good grief, woman, he could list any number of 35-footers that still cling to the good old bucket-and-chuck-it system. It was just a matter of getting used to it, that was all.

The Mate then called for a vote.

When all those in favor of the Mate’s motion were asked to say “Aye,” the Mate said “Aye.”

When all those against the motion were asked to say “Nay,” the Skipper said “Nay.”

This stalemate was eventually resolved by the Mate, who repeated her earlier threat not to go cruising under any circumstances without a solid wooden toilet door.

The Skipper then declared the meeting closed, and the Mate said if he was planning to have a nightcap at the yacht club, as usual, he had better come back with a concrete plan for a loo door.

*    *    *

Well, the writing was on the wall, of course, as well as in the log. So, with grave misgivings, I set out to design a door for the head. After lots of head-scratching and sketches on the back of yacht-club menus, I managed to make an odd-shaped piece of half-inch marine plywood fit the cut-out in the main bulkhead in the saloon.

I hinged it on one side and cut a small notch so it cleared the bowl of the Lavac toilet. The seat and the lid of the Lavac protruded farther than the bowl, but rather than end up with a door looking like a piece of cheese the rats had nibbled, I opted for the simpler arrangement of lifting the two lids when the door needed to be opened or closed.

When it was finished, the door simply separated the saloon from the forward half of the boat, which included the head, sandwiched between two bulkheads, and the fo’c’s’le.

It was just what the Mate wanted, apparently. “It’s lovely,” she exclaimed — and promptly jammed it against the toilet seat.

“Bit awkward to use,” I pointed out.

“Don’t care,” she said. “It’s lovely.”

Over the months we became accustomed to our eccentric loo door, but we did find it necessary to write out a detailed instruction list for passengers on day-sails. They went like this:

To Close Toilet Door

(1) First move right out of toilet area and stand in FORWARD cabin.

(2) Reach into toilet area and unlatch door from bulkhead.

(3) Lift lid and seat of toilet into upright position.

(4) Remove portable wash basin from drop-down flap. Empty contents (if any) into toilet bowl. Raise drop-down flap to upright position.

(5) Close door and latch against main bulkhead to starboard.

(6) Move into toilet area and read list of instructions for use of toilet.

(7) Use toilet.

(8) When finished, close seacock marked “A.”

To Open toilet door

(1) Move yourself into forward cabin.

(2) Reach into toilet area and unlatch door from main bulkhead.

(3) Wait 30 seconds, or until hissing noise from toilet has ceased, after which toilet seat should be raised.

(4) Check that portable wash basin and flap, if used, are not obstructing movement of door.

(5) Close door and latch against bulkhead to port.

Even after it was sanded and varnished, only a mother could truly have loved our loo door. And yet, after having shared with it some of my most intimate moments, I had to confess a growing affection for it. When you got everything right first time, and it swung closed without knocking anything over or jamming on the seat, you experienced a wonderful glow of satisfaction.

And when you did make the odd mistake, and it stuck fast half-way open, it taught you humility and patience, two qualities much to be admired in sea-going people.

And then there was the fact that it saved our cruise and our marriage. The Mate liked it. That was really all that mattered.

There came a time, in fact, when the Mate gave ladies from other boats in our class guided tours of our loo. They were very envious. Their unthoughtful husbands made them use curtains. I, on the other hand, was much admired for my sensitivity and understanding of the feminine nature, and I naturally took all the credit for thinking of the idea in the first place.

Today’s Thought
An occasional lucky guess as to what makes a wife tick is the best a man can hope for.
Even then, no sooner has he learned how to cope with the tick than she tocks.
— Ogden Nash, Marriage Lines

A news item in the Walnut Street Gazeout (should be Gazette) says:
“Next Friday night’s concert in the main cell block will be performed by the pop group Heavy Lift, and their supporting group, The Truss.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


biglilwave said...

Nice post! You got to keep the wife happy, especially when she's your first mate and willing to work to the foredeck.
I kept my first mate happy with a flush toilet. I already had a door on the head, but the porta potty just didn't work for her.
Now, after a freshly painted hull, newly varnished teak, a new main, a new main sheet traveler and so forth, all she can see that's wonderful about our boat is the flush toilet. Go figure!

Jack said...

Amusing post John! Strange how the human species find other folks woes funny!
Maybe the "old salts" knew something when they viewed a female on board with suspicion.

Bill said...

It had been my original plan to gradually introduce my wife to sailing by buying a small day-sailer.

I would up with a 19' pocket cruiser. Why?

"If you're expecting me to spend eight hours in that, I'm going to need a place to pee in private."