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Laundromats I Have Known

A Parable of the Cruising Life

Laundry is the great leveler. Everybody has to do it — all-male crews, all-female crews, mixed crews, singlehanders. OK, maybe Laundromat with a view (71K)the America’s Cup Team had someone else to do their laundry for them. But trust me, it was there. The only ones who avoid the issue are those who sail in the nude, and there are many who think that avoiding laundry is one of the main reasons for doing so.

I was thinking about all the different laundromats I’ve used in 30 years of sailing. Now cruiser laundromats are different from your average, everyday go-there-if-the washer-breaks-down kind of place. Usually there are two machines of each persuasion in the marina, and they are pretty well cared for, since they are such a necessity of life on the water. There are always shelves full of books and magazines available to trade. “Take a book, leave a book” is the rule. You find some amazing stuff in these libraries, but I digress. There are always other cruisers to tell their horror stories of engine failure, dense fog, injuries aboard, etc. But these are compensated for by the wonderful recommendations of beautiful anchorages, great boat recipes, or ways of getting turnbuckle grease off of the favorite shorts. You often meet someone who you will enjoy meeting again in another port.

Kona Kai laundromat (48K)How to know if you are ready for the next marina laundromat? How full is the laundry bag? More than one bag is going to mean a verrrry long time at work. The other day, Jan walked up to me dressed in wildly wrinkled shorts and shirt and said, “Remember ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ on PBS? Well, meet ‘Rumple of the Raven’.” Time to get out the Tide!

The other thing that is vastly different about cruiser laundromats is that there is a fabulous view of boats, mountains, or people fishing. Now I don’t know about your laundry room at home, but mine is in the basement without any view at all. I run down, throw a load in the washer and run back up to do something else more meaningful. When you’re cruising, laundry is an excuse to be sociable, to sit quietly with a book, or to enjoy the sunset. It is a quiet moment in the day, a time to contemplate everything that is good about this lifestyle. And then there are all those clean smelling clothes all folded and neat, when things on the boat may not be: a) smelling all that nice, or b) folded and neat. If you plan it right, those left on the boat may take pity and whip up some gourmet treat for dinner – or at least beanie wienies.

I’ve been in lots of laundromats in thirty years. There was a big one in Port McNeill, British Columbia, with five women boaters all jostling for the next available machine in competition with the fishermen doing a 24-hour turnaround between fishing openings to clean up their very smelly possessions. It was one of the few times I thought twice about using a laundromat and contemplated a big bucket on deck.

There was a terrific laundromat on a float in Greenway Sound, B.C. It had window boxes planted with hot pink petunias. For a gardener missing her garden during a cruising summer, this was a big plus. You had to sign up on a clipboard when you wanted to do your laundry. Then when you were finished, you would walk to the boat of the next person on the list to tell them it was their turn. Very civilized.

There were all the Fluff ‘n Fold Laundries in Alaska. Yes, they were efficient, but they didn’t have quite the same spirit. I’d leave great bags of wet stuff and come back to find it all fresh and new. But I didn’t make any fast friends into the bargain, or hear about the next anchorage up the chart, or score any new magazines. There was the Sausalito Fluff ‘n Fold where the woman in charge said she loved my linens, especially my “fish” sheets.

Here in San Diego I sat on a lovely teak bench, drinking a big bottle of apple juice, watching the boats in the harbor and the ducks investigating the mud left by the low tide. People staying in the adjacent hotel would walk by and look at me with pity that they were out holidaying while I was doing laundry. But they didn’t see the sun covered up by a big royal purple cloud or the white seagulls flying across it, or read another chapter in the book I’ve been enjoying this week. And, of course, they aren’t cruising and I am.

Sometimes I choose to do laundry in the washer and dryer aboard Raven, a luxury I’ve never had before. This works quite well for the washing part, but the drying part consists of 120 minutes of ridding the load of a small percentage of moisture and then hanging it all in the aft head and cabins. Unless there is a hot breeze blowing off the Mojave Desert, this process takes several days of climbing under and around our “smalls” as the Brits call them . Very unseemly for such a nice boat! And it’s definitely not done to hang out the washing on the lifelines!

Well, save your quarters because some cruiser in search of the next load of clean clothes may ask you if you have any change for the laundry.



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