Outdoor showers

Buck’s Harbor Marina atop the Eggemoggin Reach in Maine. No shower has a better view. Sun streams in directly upon you. The author always brings his hat. Photo by Christopher Birch

By Christopher Birch

Outdoor showers for the N.E. sailorSeveral years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I made a resolution: For the 12 months ahead, I would never shower without a beer. There’s something about the yin and yang of hot water and cold beer that just works. I like drinking beer in the shower. And I thought keeping this resolution would make me happy, and that a happier me would be good for America.

Now, I should quickly point out that I’m one of those people who showers in the evening instead of the morning. I should also mention that I’m one of those people who showers infrequently. So, this resolution wasn’t necessarily a sure path to a 12-step program. Lastly, I must confess, like most of my resolutions, things fell apart quickly.

In January of that year we were enjoying a thaw, and I decided to venture out into the boatyard in East Boston to get some fresh air and tackle a sanitation hose project. I run my own marine repair business, and I had many winter projects lined up on the boats that sat out there on the hard. On this day, I decided to swap out a broken holding tank discharge macerator pump on a Freedom 30 named Sundown.

I quickly found myself in my usual position: upside-down and backwards with my feet hanging out the top of a cockpit locker. One of the two hoses on this pump was putting up a fight. In this case, it was the big one that comes from the bottom of the holding tank. Channeling my inner Hulk, I eventually won the battle – but lost the war – with this particular hose. The holding tank, which I understood to be empty, was instead quite full. The hose suddenly broke free at an angle pointing directly at my nose, and thanks to the great pressure in the overfull tank, the top half of me rapidly became covered in the bottom half of with what usually lives in a toilet holding tank. It’s important to note here that when you find yourself inverted in such a situation, things that usually run down your nose, run upstream instead. It’s also worth pointing out that when both your hands are frantically working to extract yourself from a cockpit locker, they are not available to wipe your eyes.

After an uncomfortable trip across Boston Harbor back to my shop on Long Wharf, and an equally uncomfortable trip on the subway back to my house on the outskirts of Boston (sorry about that fellow T riders), I arrived at the threshold of my home shower. While in it, I realized that sailing and showering are close cousins. Water is an obvious common denominator, but the similarities don’t end there. Tight quarters, wet curtains and slick decks can be found in both locations. A cold-water shower is quite a lot like a storm at sea. Ample hot water dumping down on your head in the shower and a warm, pulling breeze abaft the beam on the boat both spell relaxation in an intoxicating sort of way. To paraphrase Stephen Markley, life isn’t about where you start and where you end up, it’s about the sailing and showers in between. (The exact quote is “sex and sandwiches”; I dialed it up a notch to “sailing and showers” for the purposes of this discussion.)

The house I grew up in as a child had a solar hot water system. This sort of childhood was excellent training for my boating life. A hot, fresh-water shower has not always been readily available on the boats that I’ve sailed. I could write a love song about all the solar bag showers I’ve known. With a lifetime of experience, I consider myself a master at orienting these plastic sacks to the sun and patiently waiting.

After several days of salt and sun, however, what a sailor really wants is a long shower ashore. When arriving in a harbor where showering is known to be available, the first thing most sailors do is pack a bag with towel and soap and go search it out. An indoor shower in a marina is a fine thing. Some showers are better than others, though. A proper outdoor shower in summer is the best of them all. Luckily for the Points East reader, these outdoor showers are only a short row away in several of our favorite ports of call.

These are the top 10 places in New England where you can enjoy an outdoor shower – and possibly even a cold beer while doing so – after arriving by boat:

#1: The Mattapoisett Boatyard in Buzzards Bay. This is a gem. Outdoor bathing at its best. Featuring a natural woodsy vibe and plenty of hot water. Like the town’s slogan, “It’s Special.”

#2. The Coveside Bar in Christmas Cove, Maine. OK, this isn’t really an outdoor shower. But it’s a shower IN a bar, and that’s pretty cool. And you can take your dog. Nice.

#3: Any hose on any dock in Long Island Sound. Because it’s HOT down there. Also, it’s fun to “accidently” soak people wearing Yankees hats as they waddle past wrestling rods and reels on their way to their overpowered fishing boats, the Bronx Belle and the A-Scrod. (I’d do it again in a heartbeat.)

#4. Provincetown Marina. What an odd situation; Provincetown Marina is the only marina in New England where you have to pay for water on top of your dockage fee. What a deal! Like visiting the developing world without leaving Massachusetts! And yet at this very same facility, you can wash as many dogs as you want for as long as you want, using as much water as you want in their nifty outdoor dog shower for no charge at all. Go figure.

#5. Buck’s Harbor Marina atop the Eggemoggin Reach, in Maine. No shower has a better view. Sun streams in directly upon you. I always bring my hat. I take it off when I’m washing my head and then I put it right back on because otherwise I get too much sun. Imagine that! Too much sun in a shower! Heaven. Also, it’s worth pointing out, the same ledge that you rest your hat on while washing your head is perfectly capable of also supporting a beer. And would you believe it, they actually sell beer in the marina office only 10 yards away!

#6-10. I’m still searching. Guidance from the Points East community is welcome. Email the editor – bob@pointseast.com – with your suggestions.

Frequent contributor and friend of the magazine Christopher Birch is the proprietor of Birch Marine Inc., on Long Wharf, in Boston, where he has been building, restoring and maintaining boats for the past 33 years.