Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We Stink.

We stink. No really we do. It's not a body odor, it's a boat odor. When you live aboard a boat, you tend to acquire it's smell. There is no avoiding it. You ever cook Mexican at home and forget that you left your jacket on the back of the kitchen chair? Next day you're a walking Chimichanga. The smell just clings to you. Well, we have something clinging to us, and it's not pleasant.

 I wanted to write about this part of living aboard in my previous post, but there was enough material that it deserved a post all it's own. Annette at Seamless Sailor beat me to it, but I'll carry on as I tend to write with a lot less class on subject matter, so I know I will not be stealing her material.

I was reminded of a few instances where I was aware of the unique smell of boat on my person. Maybe we have all experienced this? You don't have to be a liveaboard to take on the vessel's halo. Just spend a weekend on your boat, and it sticks to you like glue. After a weekend on the boat one summer, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some things. While standing in line at the cash register I noticed a woman and daughter with curled noses behind me. My hearing is excellent, and teens tend to speak a tad loud so I heard someone comment about a smell. In my defense, I pretty much smelled like sunscreen, as I was in a swimsuit all day, but the clothes I grabbed for the ride home were tucked away in the aft berth of our old Hunter 34. They were my backup t-shirt and shorts, and had probably been laying in there for a few weeks at least. I'm pretty sure that if a fellow sailor was behind me, he would ask how I like sailing a Hunter. They were that bad.

Boat fragrance is the combination of old fiberglass, diesel, bilge, salty air, mold, mildew, and holding tank all mixed together. Lovely. If you are like us, you try to combat this by using Febreze. We go through quite a bit of the stuff. The other method we employ is to keep some clothes in our cars after we do laundry. Especially if we have special events to attend, where we do not want to offend, like meeting new non-boating people, or a job interview, etc. With old friends and fellow boaters we don't bother. We assume they are used to it by now. You guys are OK with it, Right?

I recall reading a blog post some time ago, where the store clerk at a checkout asked the couple if they were cruisers. They answered yes, but did not ask how she knew. I'm guessing it was either the Crocs, faded T-shirts, unshaven face, gray hair, small clown bikes, backpacks, fanny packs, silly hats, or Boat Stink. 

There was a woman I worked with who heard I was moving onto the boat for the summer. She asked what I would do about boat smell. I mentioned Febreze, but she frowned and said it doesn't really work all that well. Everyday she would drift by and let me know if I stunk like boat. She was a boat owner herself and was well aware of the aura you can have after too much time living aboard. A few times her nose crinkled and she just laughed out loud. She told me one Friday morning that I was a combination of boat and beer. Well, it was Thirsty Thursday last night. She thought I should start hanging my work clothes in my van, with a car air freshener. Rumors started at work, as she would hop on by to get a sniff, which looked more like a hug from a distance. One day she backed away with an awful look on her face, and I had to tell her we stayed at the apartment instead of the boat, but it was Curry night. She hates Indian food.

We stayed at my daughters place one recent weekend, and she came into our room to chat a bit. At once she said, "Ugh, it smells like boat in here." The way she said it, and the look on her face meant it was not pleasant. When she was a teen, we would haul her and her sister off on three week cruises to Canada. Being a teen, trapped in a boat with your parents, with nothing to look at but water and rocks with pine trees growing out of them would get a bit boring. So, I was thinking that the smell just brings back bad memories for her, but she assured me that no, it just stinks.

Do we go through the rest of our boating lives smelling different from land dwellers, feeling insecure as we travel among them? Will we always get seated at the table by the restrooms? Will we always have to talk into the wind? Be one of the Smells, instead of the Swells? I think so, unless Febreze comes out with a line of clothing. On the plus side, eventually there is plenty of room at the bar, and dogs tend to like us.

Is there anything you can do about boat stink? Are you just masking it, or perfuming over it, making it worse? We are trying a few things to improve our scent. We'll let you know what our daughter thinks of these new remedies in a few weeks. The Seamless Sailor has some excellent ideas on ways to make your boats fragrance more pleasurable. We are doing our best to keep it at bay, but I may just have to handle it the old fashioned way.



  1. ....and no matter how many times you wash your clothes, they still smell. After 7 months of living on the boat, the good thing for me is that I can no longer smell the boat; too bad for everyone else :)

  2. Keep your shore clothes in one of these:


    They work remarkably well and keep both odor and moisture out of them. You can also toss a dryer sheet in the bag with the clothes, press the air out and seal it up. We even keep our life jackets in one so they don't blow up by accident in the moisture.

    S/V Kintala

    1. Wow. Didn't know they made them that big. It would be nice to have some shore clothes handy that didn't smell. Great idea. Thanks Deb.

  3. Gee, I never thought UNABATED smelled bad, Actually I never gave it any thought at all.
    I used to leave an opened bottle of Clorax under the sink.
    Glad to see you guys are doing well. Another month or two and it might be the start of sailing season up here.

    1. Not necessarily a bad smell, just a boat smell. Maybe yours doesn't stink! Maybe the open clorox bottle is the secret. I'll give it a try.

      Alan, good to hear from you. Hope all is well. We have to get through another wedding and some boat outfitting before we head out again. Jax is a nice area to be in. A little too cold at times.

  4. Your post totally cracked me up!

    Reminds me of a time I worked for Yosemite Conservation Corps. Me and my colleagues got on a bus.... One of the them said, "What's that horrible smell?" Dial, I answered. We all realized we smelled it so keenly because with limited showers and hard labor, we didn't smell of... deodorant.

    One of classic writer EM Forster's best comebacks was to a woman who wrinkled her nose at his legendary bad hygiene. She informed him, "You smell!" "No, Madam," he corrected her. "You smell. I stink."

    We are lucky. I haven't noticed any landlubbers edging away or making faces -- at least not so far -- and it's been 7 months with no nights off the boat (Pearson 365, 36.5'). We take busses a lot so we'd have lots of opportunity to notice.

    We seem to have chased off that boaty mildew scent thanks to tons of bleach and vinegar. We do now wash our clothes with a scented fabric softener make sure the towels get machine washed periodically.

    One thing I do like is using the positive power of osmosis & difusion using essential oils, especially in the head. That helps. And I can tell when we're overdue to do laundry, as the hamper scent outlasts the essential oils. Unpleasant!

    Of course, if we weren't in the tropics with the boat open a lot, I'm not so sure we'd be this successful.

    Dana aka Galley Wench Tales www.GalleyWenchTales.com on s/v Journey