Beauty & the Boat

These gentle suggestions from an experienced female sailor can help blunt the severe toll that weathering takes on a cruising diva's skin and hair and generally fabulous appearance. "Onboard Living" from our December 2009 issue

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Crossing the equator off Ecuador, Peter and Antonia Murphy¿she¿s sporting Pippi Longstocking braids¿prepare to raise a toast to King Neptune. Courtesy Of Antonia Murphy

It’s a little-acknowledged fact that without a fair amount of effort, women can be transformed into snaggletoothed gorgons at sea. If we allow nature to run its course, we’ll devolve into savages, our hair matted and caked with salt, our skin the texture of a well-worn catcher’s mitt, our yellow toenails as curled as talons. The same things happen to men, of course, but they’re subsequently described as “rugged good looks.”

So with this basic sexist premise in mind, allow me, ladies, to suggest a selection of salutary practices.
Wash: This may sound obvious, but believe me when I tell you that your priorities change quickly at sea. After spending the night worrying about Somali pirates, then brewing coffee and cooking eggs at a 20-degree angle while your stomach’s heaving, you may not feel like having a proper shower. And I don’t blame you. But do us all a favor and treat yourself to a bowl of fresh water and a washcloth. You will feel (and smell!) better for it. And when you’re done with the washing of your face . . .

Wear sunscreen: Of course, if you were a sensible person, you wouldn’t be cruising in the first place-you’d be home behind a desk with the shades on the windows drawn while watching your 401(k) disappear. But at sea, the sun is so powerful that you aren’t so much sunbathing as roasting yourself like a chicken on a spit. Wear the highest SPF you can find. You’ll still tan. You just won’t molt like a snake.


Braid your hair: Unless you accept Haile Selassie as your personal savior, consider putting your hair into a pair of braided pigtails before a passage. Otherwise, you’ll soon learn that salt water, sweat, and infrequent brushing results in some truly magnificent dreadlocks. Braids, however, can be left in place for days, create few tangles, and when you take them out, you’ll have long and wavy ringlets as beautiful and bountiful as those gracing the Little Mermaid.

And speaking of hair: I don’t know why everyone says cruising is relaxing and carefree. Cruising means spending the majority of your time in a bathing suit, a prospect that can horrify many land-based women because of the peculiarly sexist requirement that women in bikinis must remove all their body hair until they’re as smooth and pink as day-old mice. Just remember: passion fruit, mangoes, and staph infections all flourish in the tropics. Be scrupulously careful to disinfect your razor before and after shaving, and consider using a girlie aftershave such as Tend Skin (, which protects your skin from razor burn and ingrown hairs.

Don’t neglect your feet: You need the calluses on your feet for walking across white-hot decks without searing the flesh from your bones. But please, keep those toenails neat and trimmed. Pull out the pedicure kit before the nail begins curling under the toe and turning a terrifying shade of yellow.


Be wary of tradition: I was once presented with a jar labeled “Traditional Tahitian Beauty Treatment.” Concocted from coconut oil, basil, sandalwood, and tropical flowers, the contents looked altogether like green slime but smelled delicious. So I rubbed it all over my body. I then proceeded to leave a glistening snail trail everywhere I went, staining the deck, the cabin sole, and all our bed linens with a fluorescent green smear. Next time, I’ll stick to moisturizer.

Put a little something on: In the tropics, the temptation is to take off all your clothes and keep them off. We all do it. No harm done, as long as you’re wearing lots of sunscreen. But many sailing couples report that the thrill of all that bare skin soon wears off, until being naked is just as ordinary as jeans and a T-shirt. So to all you gorgeous sailing lasses, I submit: wear something. Even if it’s just a sarong. Or your pearls. Or a smile. Sometimes a bit of modesty is the sexiest thing of all.

Preserve your yachting whites: Sometimes being on a boat just feels like work: There’s deck work, galley work, sail changes, navigating, and watches to keep. But there’s one more responsibility you can’t neglect: being glamorous. Aboard Sereia, our 36-foot Mariner ketch, Peter, my husband, and I keep one immaculate change of clothes vacuum-sealed in plastic. Why bother? So that at the end of a long and difficult passage, we can change into our yachting whites, dinghy to shore, and sip cocktails at the best restaurant in town while gazing into each other’s eyes.


Because if you can’t be beautiful and glamorous while cruising aboard your own yacht, when else are you ever going to do it?

Sereia is presently sailing in New Zealand waters. Go to for updates.