Bathe elsewhere

Who needs showers when you have warm crystal-clear water like this just over the rail? Photo by Christopher Birch

June 2023

By Christopher Birch
The key to liveaboard life? Follow the “Rule of Elsewhere”: Store your stuff elsewhere, have your mail delivered elsewhere, house your overnight guests elsewhere and bathe elsewhere. A simple, small, clutter-free boat works best for housing a liveaboard sailor, and the Rule of Elsewhere makes small work.
Bathe elsewhere is an interesting part of the rule. The goal is to eliminate the need for an expensive and complex hot and cold pressure water system, while at the same time ensuring that your boat’s cabin doesn’t turn into a wet, moldy shower stall.
Some marinas have excellent shower facilities. But, if you’re a liveaboard who doesn’t regularly find yourself tied up to such a place, here are three smart ways to still adhere to the “bathe elsewhere” rule:
Option #1: Maintain relations with a lover ashore who has a shower or tub.
Option #2: Bathe in the sea. This is best suited for the cruising liveaboard who can migrate north/south to maintain comfortable sea temps for bathing.
Option #3: Join a gym. An excellent interim step for anyone waiting for the timing on options #1 or #2.
Option #3 was the choice for me when I was a young, single liveaboard in Boston Harbor years ago. The finest health club in the city happened to be located right next to where my Tartan 30 and I lived on a mooring ball. It’s called the Rowes Wharf Health Club and Spa, and it’s posh. I’m pretty sure I was the only club member who arrived by rowboat. The monthly fee was high compared to other health clubs, but I got my money’s worth – and then some. The place still exists, but to gain access now, you have to be a hotel guest or a condo owner in the complex. People like me are no longer welcome. I wonder why?
I would breakfast daily on the complimentary coffee, bagels and fruit salad while reading their newspapers. I usually returned for a lunch consisting of the same offerings. My boat had no TV, but the gym did, and oftentimes, after bathing in the evening, I would lounge poolside in a plush club-provided robe, and watch a few innings of the Red Sox game.
I also took full advantage of the complimentary shaving cream, disposable razors, soap, towels, and toilet paper. The club even provided an unlimited supply of shorts, T-shirts, and socks along with a bin to drop off the dirty items for laundering. This feature eliminated my need for a summer wardrobe entirely that year, and saved me a bundle in laundry quarters. (The T-shirts, I came to learn, also worked well as boat-waxing rags.) I was bathing in benefits and I felt like a king.
The club was mostly populated by titans of finance who always seemed to be fretting about life more than your average person. My chosen profession had me cleaning, waxing and painting boats owned by others, and I often wandered into the club looking like a Smurf after a long day of pressing a palm sander against a blue boat bottom. My fellow club members gave me a wide berth as if I was infectious. I tried to meet them where they were at, saying things like, “Buy low and sell high, guys.” And, “More LIBOR!” But I never felt like I really connected.
Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 91 stipulates that a marine business cannot be forced off the waterfront to make room for development. I knew I was living into the spirit of that law every time I tossed my filthy T-shirt, shorts and socks into the laundry bin and helped myself to a clean set. The Rowes Wharf Health Club and Spa may be posh, but it’s still on the Boston waterfront and I belonged there.
Every month the gym would host an event they called the “White-Collar Olympics,” where bankers would get red in the face racing each other on the treadmills. I’m not antisocial by nature, but I knew this event was outside my zone of influence and I steered clear of it. Instead, I would usually just settle into the jacuzzi with another bagel. As it worked out, I didn’t make many lifelong friends at the club that year, but I did keep clean, clothed and well-fed.
It was a cost-effective solution, too. My inexpensive mooring ball, coupled with the health-club membership, was quite a bit less expensive than a slip in a proper marina with showers. The complimentary food, clothing and laundry service was icing on the cake. Best of all, I looked and felt high-class: marching through the boatyard with my clean socks and the fancy club logo emblazoned on my chest.
Making a small boat work is where the adventure of liveaboard life is hidden. The Rule of Elsewhere is a prompt to help a sailor brainstorm creative solutions. Adhering to the rule kept me from trying to cram a shower into my little boat and instead led me down the entertaining and rewarding path of learning to cram myself into other people’s showers.
After my stint of bathing with the bankers, I decided the time had come to sail to the Bahamas for the winter to try out option #2 – “bathe in the sea.”  More excellent results there helped form me into an ardent disciple of the Rule of Elsewhere.
Christopher Birch is the founder of Birch Marine Inc. on Long Wharf, Boston. He is now out cruising full-time with his wife, Alex, and his standard poodle, Bill, aboard their 36-foot Morris Justine. Follow their voyage at