A reader on a women’s sailing group I’m part of asked if it was possible to sail the South Pacific without washing laundry in a bucket. Laundry was much harder for me than being on a boat for 24 days straight, cooking underway, or seasickness, and something I stressed out about far more than the weather, ships, or squalls. I got over my stress about laundry by finding other people, and sometimes machines, to do my washing for me. It was expensive and it was worth it.
Laundry in Mexico, though not especially gentle on the clothes, was inexpensive and fast. We dropped off all of our clothes, towels, and sheets often and rarely paid more than $15 or $17. Setting off into the Pacific I was prepared to wash laundry by hand, in a bucket, or so I thought.
As we sailed from Mexico to the Marquesas I knew I needed to keep up with the wash, otherwise we’d surely run out of undies. So nearly daily I filled my bucket with the clothes and towels of the day and plunged away in the cockpit, quickly grabbing the bucket out of the way of the tiller if the seas weren’t perfectly steady. I wrung and rinsed and wrung some more, tethering myself in and hanging laundry on the upwind lifelines and on makeshift lines around the cockpit. We knew we’d be out at sea for around three weeks and I couldn’t let the smelly, salty, and often wet washing pile up.
JOURNAL ENTRY: UNDERWAY TO THE MARQUESAS
The tears first came after the tiller lifted and hit my chin. I was leaning over my laundry bucket, plunging the grime out of the rags and wash cloths. Tucker asked me if I put in enough detergent. The water was incredibly grey and I felt unable to do a decent job. Convivia was sailing along in twenty knot winds rolling up and down the four meter swells and rocking from side to side from the wind waves. And here I was, nine days into my three week passage, a thousand miles from land, crying about the laundry.
Tucker reminded me that some things haven’t changed. Since Ruby was born it’s always been hard for me to keep up with the laundry. There were nights when we lived in a house that he’d be begging me to come to bed and instead I’d insist on folding just one more load. On the boat, every advantage was gone. I have no washing machine and little water. I needed that perspective. Here I was, in my own boat, sailing across the Pacific Ocean with my family, worried about the laundry again. I always have to do the laundry, I suppose, except for those glorious months with Mexican Lavenderias, I may as well be doing something absolutely awesome at the same time.
I was sitting back in the cockpit later, wearing just a tank top, undies and finally, a smile, wringing out the rinse water. He looked at me again. He was watching me do my work and I was obviously happy and enjoying my rolly ride to French Polynesia. He told me that I was sexier then than I’d ever been.
ATUONA, HIVA OA, FRENCH POLYNESIA
We checked into Atuona, Hiva Oa and immediately found a laundry service. In Hiva Oa, Sandra, the woman we used as an agent for clearance also did our laundry. She brought it to her house and did load after load, hanging it to dry in her beautiful yard. Not only did she do our laundry, she gave us rides, let us use her Internet and gave us nice cold drinks. Our washing came to about $85 and I was fine with that. Fresh sheets!
Alternately in Hiva Oa there is a faucet near the dinghy dock with water. Many people handwashed there. It’s much easier to be successful at handwashing when you can rinse properly.
FATU HIVA, FRENCH POLYNESIA
I did daily laundry in a bucket with the most amazing view I’ve ever seen.
JOURNAL ENTRY: VAIUTU, TAUATA, FRENCH POLYNESIA
The quai at Resolution Harbor, Vaiutu, Tahuata, had an amazing surge. Tucker stern anchored the dinghy and inched it in towards the jetty and I hopped off grabbing my bucket and Ruby. A huge wave splashed as I hauled Miles out of the boat. I asked the kids to run away from the water. They kept their lifejackets on and Ruby ran my soap and plunger and big bag of laundry to dry land. It was too rough by then for Tucker to tie up the dinghy.
The kids and I walked to the faucet, fifteen feet above sea level and began to add fresh water and detergent to the bucket and plunge the dirt out of our clothes. A huge wave crashed over us and as it retreated the kids gathered runaway undies and tees. The kids decided to play near the trees while I re washed that bucket load. And so it went, me plunging and rinsing and wringing and never turning my back on the ocean.
I like to think my life is a lot about the sea and chasing sunshine and endless summer, but if someone were to make a true-life movie about my life, it would be fiction to omit me doing lots of laundry. When the sea calmed a bit Tucker came in and took the kids home for a while. I finished up and I was satisfied. I may always have to do laundry but it now means I collect rainwater or dodge rogue waves making even my laundry an everyday adventure.
UA POU, FRENCH POLYNESIA
In Ua Pou I was back to laundry in a bucket. The board and wringer were clamped onto the cockpit combing and the lines were filled every day. I found I needed to wash a bucket or two every day or I’d get overwhelmingly behind. At least in Ua Pou I had constant entertainment in the form of a friendly French guy who would swim around the boat with a dingy old kick-board while I washed.
TAOIHOE, NUKA HIVA
Next stop was Nuka Hiva. Not only were there vegetables there, if you got up at 3:30 in the morning, but in Taoihae, there was a sort of cruisers services place that would do laundry. We dropped some off and left it there while we sailed to Anaho Bay. A few days later we returned to pick it up. Again it was expensive, much like in Atuona. There may have been another option for them to wash and you pick it up wet and bring it home to hang on the boat.
On our way out of the Marquesas we stopped for a few days in the fabulous Daniel’s Bay. This is where I lost my wringer overboard. This is an actual email (sent over SSB Radio) that I sent to the manufacturer.
LETTER TO LEHMAN’S REGARDING THE WRINGER:
I’m writing to express my disappointment with my Good Hand Wringer. I bought it last fall before sailing from California to Mexico and stashed it safely in my boat. We used the Mexican laundry services for several months and so I only took it out to use it after our Pacific crossing in April. I scrubbed rust off for hours and finally got it working after hiring a woodworker to make a mount that clamps on our boat where I could use it. I was happy. My water use went down, my laundry was faster and easier, and I could usually get it dried before the next rain squall. Unfortunately it only lasted a couple weeks (a bucket of laundry a day). When I was anchored in Daniel’s Bay in Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas, French Polynesia, my daughter and I were running clothes through the wringer and the top roller popped off and promptly sunk to the bottom of the sea. A friend of mine offered to scuba dive and search for it, but changed his mind when he heard that a woman had been attacked by a shark the week before. So now I’m wringer-less and sad. I read that there was a one year warranty on your wringer and that you ship internationally. I’m hoping you are able to replace my wringer or at least the top roller, or possibly refund my money so that I can look for an alternative. We’ll be sailing to Tahiti in June (leaving from there on June 22). Thanks very much.
Lehman’s did send me a new roller, but because of (predictable) shipping delays, we didn’t receive it until just before we left Bora Bora. Ruby thought the package was her (also) long lost birthday present. That package still hasn’t arrived, so I consider myself fortunate.
FAKARAVA, TUOMOTOS, FRENCH POLYNESIA
We sailed off to the Tuamotos after the Marquesas. We found that in the town of Rotoava (on the north end of Fakarava) there is a hotel that rents bikes and does laundry. We brought everything we had to them and rented bikes for the day. They had kid seats! Our range was so much further! We explored, got ice cream and our laundry was done before sunset. I believe it was something like $15 a load. The bikes cost less for the day.
TOAU, TUOMOTOS, FRENCH POLYNESIA
We sailed to Toau next. I did our daily bucket load there, however Valentine and Gaston had a washing machine. I bet an arrangement could be made in trade for laundry.
ANCHORAGE NEAR MARINA TAINA, TAHITI, FRENCH POLYNESIA
We found washing machines for the first time at the marina for $8 a load. We had plenty of sunshine and wind to hang everything all over the boat. There were also dryers, probably for the same amount.
THE QUAI, PAPEETE, TAHITI, FRENCH POLYNESIA
I found a laundry service in town. Find it by walking first, then walk back with your laundry. I believe it was about $19 a load for wash, dry, and fold. I sent them only our sheets. We stayed at the dock there for at least a week and I was able to handwash easily on our foredeck using our hose. Not lugging, plus seeing the rinse water actually go clear made it a much easier project. We also got great showers in the cockpit with the hose as a shower head!
FARE, HUAHINI, FRENCH POLYNESIA
There is a drop off service close to the dinghy dock/happy hour bar.
BORA BORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA
The Bora Bora Yacht Club has a laundry service available near the moorings. You can either have them just wash or wash, dry, and fold. Again, it was expensive as all of the other services. We had a lot of rain in Bora Bora so we were glad they could hang the laundry under their shed. There is also a laundry closer to the Malakai Yacht Club that I believe can either be DIY or drop off. We didn’t try that service.
SUWARROW, COOK ISLANDS
Everything about Suwarrow was awesome. We stayed for 11 days and I did lots of loads in buckets. Fortunately it was probably one of the hottest places we stopped so there were fewer clothes worn during that time. We had perfect sunshine and breeze to dry it.
APIA, UPOLU, SAMOA
We stayed in Apia at a dock (same price as anchoring in their harbor) with access to inexpensive cab rides and inexpensive and excellent laundry service! We brought our normal loads and thought that quality was so good that we washed nearly every piece of fabric on the boat.
NIEAFU, VAVAU GROUP, TONGA
We sailed around and stayed at many anchorages, but three times we went back to Nieafu for veggies and laundry. We used two different services in town, and they were both fine, moderately expensive, but nowhere near French Polynesian prices. Usually the turn around is 24 hours or so, and it could be more if it’s really rainy since everything is dried outside.
We didn’t find laundry service in the city of Lautoka, but we had good luck in two places, and terrible luck in another. We anchored outside of Muscat Cove Resort where there was a nice big clean laundry room with at least three washers and dryers. I don’t recall it being expensive, maybe $2 a load, however I did need to go into the little store each time to collect the special coin and have them start the load. It was a busy and friendly place. We went into the marina at Vuda Point for a few days and found the laundry room there to be even more convenient (no dinghy ride!) and inexpensive. I never had to wait for a machine. It was the easiest laundry in two years and counting.
We also anchored out in a long shallow bay near a resort called Saweni Beach resort. I’m not sure anyone ever goes there. I had them wash a couple loads for about $12 a load, but the laundry came back with pink soap, dirt, plus the original grime that was on our clothes when we sent it in. It was as if they didn’t use water. So ridiculously gross. I handwashed those loads and hung them to dry outside of Lautoka. Sadly the sugar cane mills were working and the soot in the air covered the boat and the laundry with black dust.
PORT VILA, EFATE, VANUATU
In the harbor at Port Vila where we picked up a mooring ball there was a laundry service that was adequate. After the awful Saweni beach experience it was a great improvement. We had access to water at the dinghy dock there so perhaps handwashing wouldn’t have been so terrible, but we had a serious stomach bug going around and I was glad to send the dirty sheets and towels away!
My experience may be different from other families. On land (as in living aboard but not cruising) I tend to do about six to eight loads of laundry a week. We hang our towels carefully in the sun after showers and re-wear our clothes as much as possible but it does seem to be a lot. We have three beds of sheets and duvet covers to wash, piles of dish towels and cleaning rags, and clothes for four people. When cruising I spent at least an hour a day handwashing and hanging laundry. I felt like I often had to make the choice to keep up with the laundry or go for a hike. When the laundry brought me to tears far too often, Tucker demanded that I go all in and hire laundry whenever possible.
I suspect that the amount that I paid overall was more than an onboard washer and I’d gladly give up our aft head to make that happen. In Tonga Tucker installed a pressure hose in the cockpit. It made it a lot easier to fill buckets and rinse from the cockpit than before when I was carrying water from the galley, through the aft cabin, and up the companionway ladder each time. Some people sail from marina to marina and have everything (including laundry) done for them. I’ll still seek out the off-the-beaten-track spots, even if it means bringing out that bucket.
When we arrived in Australia I got caught up, even washing things like our settee cushion covers. And finally, after many years, I don’t get overwhelmed by the laundry anymore. And there it is, the truth about cruising with a family. It’s not all sunsets and margaritas, but once the washing is done, it’s close!