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Saving Money by Doing Laundry on Board

"It's laundry day," my wife announces at seven in the morning. "Strip your bunks. Get your laundry bags into the cockpit." We are at anchor in Five Islands Bay on Antigua. Life goes on upon this floating home of ours and laundry is one thing that is a weekly requirement of living this life of freedom.

Laundry at home is easy and not too costly. There's the washer and dryer and unlimited water and electricity. But in the islands a boat load of sheets, towels and clothing done ashore can cost $50 to $80 US. The only way we found to reduce the cost of laundry is to wear few clothes, if any, or do it ourselves on board.

Going ashore to do the laundry is always a possibility, of course, and you can catch up on e-mail, if there is WiFi, or read a novel – as long as you don't mind the interruptions.

Julie, my English wife is compulsive about her laundry, so she did her homework before leaving Maine. The cost of installing a washer and drier on our 57 foot ketch, Searcher, was prohibitive. For example, Triton makes a Combo Washer Dryer for $999. It weighs 167 pounds, and has a capacity of just under two cubic feet. Add in the cost of installation, plumbing, wiring and cabinetry and you could hire someone else to do your your laundry … for years.

Julie read the cruising books and explored websites. She tried buckets, pails, hand scrubbing, wash boards, bathroom plumbers, kids' wading pools as well as going ashore. She Googled the camping outfitting websites where there is a wealth of information and options. We now have our own laundry on board and it cost us less than $200.

R2D2 Now Does our Laundry

Julie found a portable, manual, non-electric washing machine online. It looks like R2D2 from "Star Wars," white, with a removable top, attached to a frame that sits on the cockpit seat. It has a hand crank at the side, but it's flimsy, so we just spin the machine by hand. R2D2 cost around $50 and accepts small batches of towels, sheets, shorts, T-shirts, undies, hats, pants and anything else that needs a good wash. A gallon or two of hot water and a small amount of detergent are added, the top screwed back in place, and 120 revolutions are enough to satisfy the discerning eye of my fastidious English wife.

Rinse Cycle

The freshly washed load is transferred into series of two rinse tubs, those plastic tubs with rope handles you buy at stores like WalMart in the U.S. These are filled half full of fresh cool water, the clothes hand squeezed between tubs.

Wringer 'Em Out
Getting the wash water out of wet clothes is the key to clean clothes. Hand wringing leaves behind rinse water which is full of residual dirt, dissolved salt and soap. When the water evaporates on the life lines, the dirt, salt and soap remain behind, so good wring is essential. Julie found a Mini Counter-top Spin Dryer at www.Laundry-Alternative.com, a glorified, electric salad spinner. The unit cost $75, uses 110 AC current, which our generator provides, and takes about one minute to extract a gallon of rinse water from a single beach towel, or a bin full of clothing.

The machine is about two feet tall and made of plastic, with a see-through chamber so you can watch the basket inside spinning around at a great rate of knots. The water flows into the cockpit where it drains into the scuppers, rinsing out the cockpit floor in the process. This salad spinner extracts about 90% of the rinse water which also cuts drying time in half.

The kids help out on laundry day too and the work is done in a little over two hours. By breakfast time, the life lines are festooned with colorful fabric, drying in the tropical sun. My wife feels rather good about the whole process. She feels it is more ecologically sound than going to the laundromat, costs less, and puts the process under our control.

David Lyman, who holds a U.S. Coast Guard master license, is a photographer, writer and former president of Rockport College in Maine. www.kidsonboats.com

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