Tag 101 on boating holidays

If you’ve never taken a boating vacation, you’re in for a treat. There is something magical the first time your sails are filled with wind and you find yourself gliding through the turquoise waters of the Sir Francis Drake Channel off the coast of Tortola, BVI ..

There is nothing more peaceful or relaxing than sailing in the British Virgin Islands. I first experienced this thrill about six years ago when I joined my husband’s passion for sailing. I have learned a lot from your patient guidance, but there are still some things that baffle me. For example, why can’t I seem to tie a noose, why is a rope called a line unless it is a mainsheet or a halyard, or why is the bath called a head.

Despite this, more than a mistake than a test, I quickly learned some life lessons on board before taking my first Caribbean boat vacation.

To make sure you have a great trip, you need to remember that you are not at home. Rather, you live aboard a sailboat and daily tasks are performed differently.

By following these simple rules of etiquette, life on board will be as easy as sunbathing on the magnificent azure blue waters or the fabulous white sand beaches of the British Virgin Islands.

Lessons for using the head (aka the bathroom)

Lessons for the head involve brushing your teeth, showering, and using the bathroom. The main thing to understand is that fresh water is kept in tanks below deck. Therefore, there are limited gallons of water that can be carried on your boating vacation.

Refilling tanks takes time away from fun and can be expensive, as fresh water availability is limited on the islands as well. Therefore, “less is better” applies to the use of fresh water.

As for brushing your teeth, you can’t run the tap while brushing your teeth. It just wastes too much water. Simply wet your brush, turn off the water, brush, and then turn the water back on to rinse. Easy!

If you’re like me, I enjoy long, hot showers when I’m at home. You’ll have hot showers on board, but not long, unless you want to freak out the rest of your group when there’s no water left.

The water heats up every time the engine runs, so if you’ve been boating all day you may need to run the engine for about an hour if you want a hot shower.

On some sailing boats, there will actually be a walk-in shower, but usually the shower is just a removable extension hose at the water faucet. You will find a button on the faucet that will turn the constant flow from the faucet into a shower head.

Make sure the front door is closed before starting the shower or it will soak your stall. Like brushing your teeth, you can’t let the water run. Turn on the water and wet, then turn off the water. Lather up with your soap or shampoo and then turn the water back on just to rinse.

There will be a puddle of water at your feet, but the rental company, where you pick up your sailboat, will show you how to operate the shower pump before your departure. All you really need to do is make sure the shower bilge pump is turned on at the navigation station. Then somewhere on the head you will find a button to press that will drain the water from the floor. Keep holding it until you hear the drain begin to suck in air. Alternatively, you can take what is known as a “Shower of Joy”.

My husband and nephew prefer this method when on a boat vacation because they find it very refreshing in the warm waters of the Caribbean. All you do is jump into the sea. When you’re done splashing around, get on the ladder or sit on the platform at the back of the boat. Apply Joy dish soap. (Most sailing boats have a bottle on board when you pick up the boat.) Joy actually soaps up very well in salt water without harming marine life.

Return to remove the soap and then rinse with the fresh water shower located at the rear of your sailboat. For something no bigger than an airline toilet, the marine head can be somewhat intimidating for the first time on a cruise on a sailing vacation.

The first time I went sailing, I was determined to wait until I made landfall to “go”, but as the saying goes, “the best laid plans …” An important rule of thumb is that only two things get thrown away: 1) toilet paper: small amounts at a time, and 2) the one that has already been eaten. Anything else can clog it, and the only way to remedy it is to disassemble the toilet, which is not a pleasant job!

Before using the head, pull the lever on the side of the toilet to the water symbol and pump some clean water into the bowl. After use, pump the lever until the bowl is clean.

Sometimes the pump works a lot. A couple of drops of vegetable oil in the bowl can help with the action. Keep pumping the lever 10-15 more times to flush the wastewater through the system.

Although this can be a touchy subject, the reality is that, on occasion, there may be some waste that is hard or is what the kids call, “a log.” If you have a waste that you don’t want to fall down, pull the hose off the sink faucet and run some hot water into the container. This usually breaks or melts large / hard pieces enough to be able to rinse. Next, move the lever to the dry side and pump the bowl to dry or nearly dry.

Wastewater is expelled through the hull or into holding tanks. This leads to the most important etiquette tip: before flushing, always make sure no one in your group is swimming around or near the boat because, as my 8-year-old niece so eloquently said, “Floats are nasty!” Occasionally, during a boat vacation, there may be a small leak in the head seals. This allows the seawater to return to the main container. Not really a problem, except sometimes it seems like someone forgot to flush. Just pump.

Lessons for Garbage Storage / Disposal

The beauty of the BVI is the pristine condition of the water and the beaches that surround the islands. Imagine what it would look like if every boat vacation cruise threw their trash overboard. Storing and disposing of garbage is relatively straightforward. First, in terms of storage, any plastic grocery bag can be used to store small amounts of trash. This includes cans, bottles, and assorted food scraps, as there are no garbage disposals on board. When full, these small plastic bags can be placed in larger plastic kitchen garbage bags.

These garbage bags can be stored inside a storage locker until you are ready to dispose of them. There are two ways to get rid of your trash. One way is to throw the bag in the trash and take it ashore to be disposed of in a garbage container. Many anchorages have trash containers specifically designed for cruise ship garbage. Another way is that there are often garbage collections at the various anchorages. A local will stop by your boat and for a couple of dollars will take your trash ashore for you.

Lessons for using the refrigerator

All charter boats have refrigerators that cool down when the engine is running. Therefore, it is important to run the engine for at least half an hour twice a day. At other times, the refrigerator basically functions as a large refrigerator. It is kept cold by placing blocks or bags of ice on the bottom and then placing food on top. Therefore, unlike at home, you cannot stay with the hatch door open and decide what you want to eat because too much cold air will escape.

Therefore, you need to know what is in the refrigerator and what you want to eat. It is also a good habit to ask anyone else in your group if they want something to eat to prevent excess cold air from escaping. As a bonus, we’ve found that during the day, you fill a Styrofoam cooler with drinks and ice. This also helps keep cool air in the refrigerator during your boating vacation.

Lessons to keep the boat clean

Since you share a relatively small living space with others, during your boat holidays, it is very important to be considerate of the common areas.

First, do not place wet towels or clothing on interior cushions or floors. It makes sitting unpleasant and can be dangerous if the floors are slippery.

Second, if your shoes are sandy from trips to land, leave them in the cabin instead of leaving sand tracks all over the deck or in the cabins. One of the tasks I do first thing in the morning is grab a bucket of seawater and wash the cabin floor to remove any dirt / sand.

Third, if you hang clothes or towels on the rails to dry, remove them once they are dry. It’s kind of an eyesore to stop at a postcard-perfect anchor only to find the “Beverly Hillbillies” and their dirty clothes ruining your view.

Lastly, be sure to store any loose items when not in use. This prevents items from blowing away when your sails fill with wind and prevents the cabins and saloon from being too crowded.

Following these simple lessons will make your life on board safe, easy and fun. The most important thing is to enjoy the sun, the sea and the exciting adventure of taking a sailing holiday in the BVI!