December 15, 2013

I smell -- therefore I am

OF ALL THE HUMAN COMFORTS I can think of, a long hot shower must rank among the most satisfying. So it’s rather unfortunate that on any boat I’ve ever been able to afford there has never been a reasonable shower arrangement.

Few boats of modest size have showers, in fact.  We seem to have been able to drag most of the other human comforts aboard, including fridges, indoor toilets, space heaters, music centers, stoves, bright lights, comfortable beds, hot water, and warm women; but warm showers have always been lacking.

I won’t go into the reasons for this.  Anyone who has used a shower on a small boat will know the problems. And there are substitutes if the weather is warm and you can carry enough fresh water.  You can create quite a lot of comfort in the cockpit with a pump-up garden spray and a pan of water heated on the stove.

Eventually, however, it occurs to most sailors that despite your suspicions it is possible for the human body to exist for quite long periods without a shower.  It is not as essential to life as we might have supposed. In fact, I would guess that there are millions of people in the world who don’t shower every day, or even every week.

If you’re on a boat you do, of course, have the option of jumping overboard for a swim.  Most of us who live where the water is perilously close to freezing don’t choose to exercise this option often, if at all.  We have come to realize that most people who shower every day do so to avoid being accused of smelling foul. Now, you would think that it would be only normal to smell like a human if you are a human.  Why would you want to smell like a rose or a twig of lavender when you’re actually a man or a woman?  Who are you trying to fool? What, in short, is wrong with smelling like a human?

That’s how our reasoning goes. And we know something else. We know that when several of us are cooped up on a yacht without a shower, and we all start smelling like humans together, there IS no smell; at least nobody notices any bad smell.

I think the longest I ever went without a shower was close on three months, when my friend Bob Stephen and I were sailing the canals of France, Belgium and Holland in a 17-foot open-cockpit centerboarder we sailed across the English Channel. We both smoked then, and Bob indulged in the occasional cigar as well, and we made other human smells I’m sure, but neither of us complained about body odor.  And neither did any of the other friendly people we met along the way. Perhaps it is a modern fad, probably engineered by the manufacturers of cologne and deodorants, that we worry too much about how we smell to others.

In the old days, a basin of warm water and a soapy washcloth applied to all the vital  areas once a week, made a small-boat sailor feel like a million bucks. Today we have disposable baby wipes, for which may the Lord be praised. But I still think we all worry too much about smelling like humans. Nothing could be more natural.  We have been brainwashed by people whose motives and morals don’t stand up to close scrutiny. 

Lift your arm. Sniff deeply and repeat after me: “To heck with it. Stinko — ergo sum.”

Today’s Thought
Look not for musk in a dog kennel
— H. G. Bohn, Hand-Book of Proverbs        

“Young lady, wouldn’t your mother be angry if she saw you in that skimpy swimsuit?”
“Yeah, I guess so. It’s hers.”

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

1 comment:

Jack said...

John, I don't wish to stereo-type a nation but, could this be why our French cousins excel in sailing competition?
The Gauls were never known for their plumbing, which as a young lad I can attest to.
Long distance sailors and circumnavigators alike will tell you tales of these fine mariners being away at sea for months on end and once firmly on dry land, their first requirement isn't a long hot bath. No sir! Locate the nearest bar and that's where you will find them, and sometimes for several days!
post script: I, as a much older man now I have to add my recent forays into La Belle France's harbours and ports, the sanitation facilities have vastly improved! Hurrah