The other day, while standing on the side of the road outside town, I was picked up by an ex-pat. She had passed me by but then noticed in her review mirror that so had two taxis that were following her. She pulled a U-turn and asked me if I wanted a lift.
I hadn’t flagged down those taxis on purpose. It was Cruise Ship Day and they were actual marked cars, I shudder to think what they would have charged me. I was waiting for a minibus to drive by, that’s how I and the locals get around. They drive everywhere, no route, just where people want to go, and they usually cost a buck fifty. I was happy to wait, but I was happy for the free ride too.
I climbed into the cab to find a friendly 50 something Aussie lady. As we drove down the road she started asking questions; Where was I from? What was I doing in Vanuatu? How long had I been in town? I gave her the general rundown; I was Canadian, we’d just sailed here on our own yacht (boat, confusingly, seems to denote ship in Vanuatu, so although yacht sounds a little snooty, people understand I mean small, private sailing yacht) we’d be around for a couple months.
Then she turned to me and said “Oh, well, you don’t look like a yachtie.” I let the statement hang in the air between us, unsure what to say. My non-reaction seemed to make her uncomfortable.
The thing is, this is not the first time I have had this said to me. And I don’t know why.
It is true that the majority of people out here older than us. Sailing adventures are mostly left until after the 9-5, the office job, the kids, the mortgage and the retirement party. But we are seeing more young people and families afloat. Besides if my greying hair is any indication I am not sure we squeeze into the “young” category anymore, anyway.
On that particular day I was wearing a knee-length jean skirt and long sleeved black top, both second-hand, as most of my wardrobe is. The fact that I find it too cool to wear a tank top shows I am obviously not an Aussie/Kiwi Cruise Ship tourist who are fleeing the chill of winter. I also don’t fit into their blindly white/painfully red skinned colour scheme, yet I use enough sunscreen to avoid that I live on the water, crinkly, leathery look.
I had on sandals and carried a roll top dry bag, my not very glamorous but practical purse for the last decade. Around my neck was piece of fishing line that had been strung with red seeds from a native South Pacific tree. I wore a mans sized dive watch and my sunglasses, which have been crazy glued together three times, had the telltale string on the arms that prevents them from falling overboard when they slip off my face. It had been two months since I had my hair cut, and it was a salty, windy paddle ashore that morning. As always I had a nose ring, six earrings and visible tattoos. It was just after noon and, having been standing in the midday sun, I was starting to feel a little wilted. I wasn’t exactly feeling stylish, or particularly fresh.
I wondered; What should I look like?
When we first bought Kate I found a book that was full of advice about living on board. Under the clothes and laundry section it suggested that our wardrobe should consist of lots of synthetic fabrics in colourful, bold prints. Not only would these clothes dry easy but the bright patterns would hide the stains. I immediately shut the book. I have never been a fan of synthetics (except for those furry giraffe print pants circa 1999, but that is another story) and I had no intention of wearing ugly, stained clothes just because we lived on a sailboat. When I finally traded it at a book exchange I felt guilty for letting this misinformation out into the world.
Now and then we’ve had the misfortune of being downwind from a particularly odorous sailor, oohlala! Perhaps it is for water conservation that regular bathing becomes optional, but I know that just a couple liters of water is enough, to not only bathe, but to wash and condition your hair. I have stood in a bucket with a plastic bottle on several occasions testing this theory myself. In my books bathing every day is not a great strain on the reserves.
It is that same bucket that I use most Sundays to do the laundry in, stamping on our dirty clothes like I am making wine, if only! And yes we have a water maker, but I also collect rain water, ferry it from shore and use it sparingly. So, really, clean clothes are not that hard to come by.
I admit that most days you’ll see me wearing a shimmer of lip gloss, and going out at night I do like to swipe a little eyeshadow across my lids. Every few months I make an effort and paint my toe nails, and then watch as it gets scraped and chipped by the sand when we go ashore the next day. Being a sailor doesn’t mean I have to forfeit being girlie.
Maybe we need to let go of the old “grotty yachtie” stereotype, and instead telling people what they should be, see them for who they really are.
“It’s better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an
imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.” Bhagavad Gita