Cruising as a Woman


What it is really like to live on a sailboat as a womanWarning: This is a girly post and men should probably go ahead and tune out.

My life pre-sailing and pre-Bahamas looked nothing like it does now. I worked at a company that owned some of the top fashion and beauty brands in the world. Getting ready for work was a process and what I wore to work and how I presented myself was almost as important as the work I was doing. On any given day I had freshly washed hair, manicured nails and sky-high heels on. And, I loved it. I even developed and wrote for an fashion/beauty/DIY blog for the company’s top subscribers. The Allure beauty sale and the Vogue sale were my favorite days at the office (I managed to score 3 really expensive bathing suits during my last week of work for $5 each at a Vogue sale. Woop! All proceeds went towards the victims of Hurricane Sandy, so really I did it because I care.). My best friends work for fashion designers that I just happened to love and I frequently shopped at their sample sales or used their employee discounts. In short, my friends back in New York City would hardly recognize me today.

Today I can’t even remember how long it has been since I’ve washed my hair and the only manicure I’ve had since moving aboard is what my friend Sandy calls the “5200 manicure.” To say my life has taken a 180 is an understatement. While my beauty routine is nothing like it was pre-sailing, it hasn’t completely disappeared. Below are some of the ways I try to preserve just a bit of girliness in a world where function definitely prevails over fashion.

Hair: Before I left NYC I started to train my hair to not be washed every day. At first I would wash it every other day supplementing with dry shampoo when needed. My fine and super straight hair typically showed signs of grease half way through the first morning so day two usually meant that my hair was in a top knot or a braid. Despite the rough start I knew it would eventually get better. And it did. I moved to washing every third day and now I can stretch it even further (whether or not I really should). Eventually I was able to wear my hair down on the second and third days without it looking terrible. I’ve even come to prefer it on these days when it has a bit more texture to it. My biggest problem now is that my ends are much drier and I find myself using a leave-in conditioner every few days. I’m sure a haircut would fix a lot of my dry end issues, but I’ll wait until I can get back to my good friend and stylist Marissa at Jem Hair Studio in Orlando, FL. She is amazing. She also used to highlight my hair so that my blonde hair appeared kissed by the sun. But, now that my hair is kissed by the sun, I’ve been going all natural in that department. I do regularly make use of hair ties, bobby pins and headbands when the going gets really tough. I do occasionally dye my eyebrows when I remember which is really easy to do on the boat. Otherwise my white blonde eyebrows seem to disappear and I look pretty weird.

Skincare: My facial routine has always been pretty simple so not much has changed in that department. I wash my face twice a day with Biore Ice Cleanser. In the mornings I follow it with Nuetrogena’s Clear Faces Broad Spectrum SPF 55 sunscreen. At night I slather on Aveeno’s Positively Radiant moisturizer with SPF 15. During the day I wear a chapstick with sunscreen in it and at night I slather on some rosebud salve to rehydrate my lips a bit. I also keep a couple face masks on board that I use occasionally when I’m feeling extra girly (and usually when Jason isn’t on the boat).

Makeup: I love makeup. I love playing and trying new things. I could spend hours in a Sephora and am almost sick to my stomach that I haven’t picked up my birthday gift from them in 2 years. This new lifestyle rarely gives me an opportunity to wear it. I am constantly in and out of the water or I’m hot and sweaty so it just isn’t practical. I think since we’ve been in the Bahamas I’ve worn makeup one time when we went out for happy hour with some friends. If I do find a chance to sneak some in I wear very little – just some under eye concealer, some powder and mascara. A fully made up face would look very out of place and I honestly don’t think I’ve seen one person wearing eye shadow or lipstick the entire time we’ve been here. Despite the rare opportunity to wear it, I do keep a full arsenal of tools aboard just in case.

Grooming: Man do I wish I had bought one of those Groupons for laser hair removal before I left! That would make cruising as a woman SO MUCH EASIER. When it comes to shaving I usually take a cup of water, my razor and a bar of Dove to the cockpit and shave my legs and armpits as needed. I wet my legs down, cover in soap and shake the razor around in the cup of water after each stroke. Luckily I have blonde hair so if I forget to shave my legs for a day or two it isn’t the end of the world. My bikini zone is another story. I personally prefer to wax and have always used a combination of running to a salon and doing it myself. I find that the Sally Hansen Brazillian Wax works well for me. We don’t have a microwave so I boil some salt water and place the container in it until its ready to use. I haven’t had any issue with this method.

Manis & Pedis: While I certainly miss having pretty colors on my nails it doesn’t make sense on a sailboat for me. It just wouldn’t last! The first time I went to tack or drop the anchor they are sure to chip. Sailing is just too physical for nail polish. I keep my nails short and filed so they don’t catch on anything or bend backwards. However it is incredibly rare to find my toes without any polish on them. I try to give myself little pedicures here and there as walking around in sandals can be really hard on your feet. And, bright colored toes just make me feel good.

Lotion: The salt water and sun suck every bit of moisture out of your skin that you have. I am constantly slathering on lotion. I would love to try and make my own like Behan aboard SV Totem.

Clothing: Before I left I got rid of so. many. clothes. So many in fact that I may have cried at the pile I wasn’t allowed to keep anymore (don’t even get me started on the sobbing for my shoes that definitely happened). I got rid of anything that didn’t breathe. My entire closet and dresser were whittled down to what can fit on one shelf in our closet. I have dresses, skirts, shorts, shirts, pants, and workout clothes. I really don’t wear the dresses and skirts too often (unless over a bathing suit) because it can be a challenge getting in and out of the dinghy while trying not to flash everyone around. If it is a windy night it can be extra challenging. My typical uniform is a swim suit under lightweight shorts and a tank of some sort. Some pieces of clothing I’ve found particularly helpful to have on board include a very lightweight windbreaker and quick-dry shorts (tennis shorts, hiking shorts, etc.). I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of all my crappy work clothes back in NY because once I started working on the boat most of my good clothes were quickly turned into work clothes and I had to re-buy a lot. Now I have dedicated shorts and shirts for boat work. I do wish I had a couple pair of flowy, lightweight pants that I could wear once the sun goes down and it gets a little cooler or buggy.

Shoes: I have 14 pairs of shoes on board which is way more than is absolutely necessary. However I have a shoe addiction and this is the best I could do. I have a pair of running shoes, water hiking shoes (which double as my sailing shoe), cheap water shoes, boat shoes (which are actually uncomfortable and hardly ever worn), flip-flops, flip-flop spares, 3 pairs of sandals, black heels (which I have yet to wear), espadrilles, camel flats and a pair of toms. I would estimate that 75% of the time I wear my flip-flops, 10% I wear my hiking shoes, 10% I wear sandals and 5% of the time I get off my butt and go for a run.

Anything else I forgot to cover that you are wondering about? How have you adjusted to life aboard? Is your girliness still alive?

Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /home/customer/www/ on line 353


  1. LOVE this post! We haven’t moved on the boat yet, but I already know I won’t be wearing makeup or washing my hair nearly as often .. and I can’t wait to have a good excuse not to! I also use Neutrogena on my face and love it.

    Being frugal, I’ve only had a manicure/pedicure like twice in my 47 years and I’ve been fortunate enough not to have to dye my hair .. yet.

    Thanks for posting this!

  2. Love love your post! You wrote about only keeping clothes that “breathe”, could you specify what you mean by that? I appreciate your input on what it’s like…I completely understand! I have a small Lock&LOCK box of cosmetics that I have yet to crack open since we’ve been on the boat. As for clothes, I’ve been told “Synthetic, synthetic, synthetic”! So I have been slowly building a yogawear wardrobe. However, I realize I wear the same outfit in and out (well except for the intimates…) Do you ever get the feeling that any fashionable sense goes out the window with sailing? Thanks again so much for your post!

    • Hey Joanna,

      Synthetics definitely keep,their shape and color better with the abuse they get aboard and air drying in the sun. I personally got rid of anything that made me feel like any sweat was getting trapped inside as I wore it and didn’t let in any air. I personally love loose cotton tanks despite what most people recommend. Just do whatever will make you comfortable. These are just what worked for me. I dont really wear yoga type clothes unless I’m working out. They are too tight for me. I really like my prana shorts and capris. They are light weight, breathable and dry really fast if they get wet. That being said I have a few pairs of cute shorts I wear purely because I like them. Every now and again I try to look presentable and somewhat put together 🙂

  3. OMG I can totally relate to crying at the shoes. I have been trying hard to part with mine. It is hard. But the life I am trading them in for is much more important to me now so parting and pairing down is part of the process. I just started calling things that I’m selling or consigning different ports so it makes me feel better. Thanks for this post!
    Sail Away Girl

  4. Love this Kelley! I’m not a very girly girl I guess, so a lot of the transition to cruising was a relief (e.g., it’s “normal” not to wear makeup- thank god! I hate it, but pretty much had to wear it in a professional / client service environment pre-cruising). On the other hand, after 3 years out- I glommed onto the first good Groupon for laser hair removal when we got to Australia. I like keeping the fuzz down and that made it a lot easier! My girly side probably comes out in the fact that I love skirts and dresses, and lightweight floaty ones are more of a ‘uniform’ for me than shorts/ts. They’re great in the tropics for staying cool!

  5. OH and thanks for the lotion link. Give it a try! Definitely let me know if you have any questions about it. I’d love to convert someone to DIY lotion, which I think is kind of fabulous. 😉

  6. Our sailing adventure starts this summer. Every book and article at home is about the mechanics of sailing, engines, weather, etc… Sure – that’s pretty important. 🙂 But what I have really wanted to know is what do I have to prepare for as a woman who washes, dries with a blow drier and curls hair with a curling iron every day. Thanks for tackling this topic! I am growing out my hair in hopes of being able to rock a pony tail from now on.
    And now I am looking into laser hair removal!!

    • Look into hats and headbands too 🙂 You become so immersed in nature that you’ll quickly learn to embrace your natural self as well. Good luck!

  7. I love this, and I love that there are other girly-girl cruisers out there like me. My vanity has taken a little dip since moving aboard, but it’s not completely gone, and it’s nice to know that someone out there would probably drool over a hair dryer as much as I would. I’m writing an article on cosmetics that stand up to tropical heat, now that you’ve published this, I’ll have to get my butt working on it to follow this up with! 🙂

  8. Thank you for the post – I am so happy to know that I am not the only one out there with a ridiculous amount of shoes! 🙂
    This, by far, has been my biggest battle with my husband as we have recently sold our house and are moving aboard. At least flip flops are light and do not take up too much space!

  9. ahh…ummmm…I got here by accident, and read the post inspite of the warning…many many thanks Joanna. Too few sites discuss the trials/tribulations of the fairer sex at sea and those of us who wish to sail with their spouse this is a help. I will save this link for her and share when the time is right. First I have to get her to learn how to swim.

    Hearty Sailor Man has his work cut out for him. 🙂

    • Calvin – There are so many things to love about sailing as a woman as well! But, learning to swim would be a good start 🙂

  10. I loved your article about girlyness and a boat! We haven’t started our sailing adventure yet but doing lots of research. We’re in the house selling phase right now! I am no where near the fashionista you were in your working days but I do like to wear my danglely earrings, get my hair colored and low lights and polish my toenails 🙂 I bet I’ll be slathering on the lotions too. I am a little bit concerned about speeding up the aging process to my skin and hair with all the sun, wind and saltwater exposure. Plus I really don’t want to give up hiding the gray hair! You look too young to be concerned with that yet but have you heard any tips for taking care of the gray while a sailor?

    • I have heard people having success putting the dye in and jumping in the water to rinse it out and then following up with a fresh water rinse when out at anchor. If you are at a marina just use their facilities 🙂

  11. Kelly, this is just the blog I needed to read! We are started our cruising life next year as we just sold our house and waiting for our new sailboat! I am a girly girl I guess you could say who loves her makeup and as I am older I am not looking forward to wearing less! Ugh. Also, we have a doggie (a Lab). I noticed you have 2 dogs appearing to be lab size! Do you ever blog about their lives on board??? I am nervous about getting her aboard and boating life! Thanks!!

    • We do write about the dogs! They have been a key part to our happiness aboard. We also share a lot of pics/snippets/etc on all our social channels.

  12. So I realize its years later, but I really appreciated this post! My husband and I are in the planning stage with our best guy friend for 2021 and I feel like the considerations as a female are defiantly more. Anyone have tips recommendations for hair? I have curly/frizzy hair and typically have a TON of hair products… which is not sustainable or feasible with space. I may just chop it short and call it a day. Thanks for all the info!!

    • Hi Rebekah – glad you found us! My hair is the exact opposite of yours (flat & lifeless) so I don’t have a ton of advice for you. A lot of women I met in your situation did end up cutting their hair, or wearing it back. Depending on where you cruise it may be too hot with your hair down. I would work on minimizing products now and see what you can survive off of and go from there. Maybe try cutting products one by one? Its really the storage space and access to exact products that I imagine will be your biggest challenge. Good luck!