I would not consider myself a “good packer”. Despite having backpacked through Europe, South East Asia, and Argentina...despite having lived abroad in Rome and Africa...despite having taken countless vacations from Ibiza to Yellowstone... despite all this - I would still consider myself a terrible packer.
When we were preparing for this trip I did a lot of thinking about what to pack. It was a little trickier for us because we were leaving the Midwest on the brink of winter, so we needed cold weather clothes, but we were headed to the Caribbean, which meant we needed warm (nay, HOT) weather clothes as well. Luckily for us, my parents met us for Thanksgiving in North Carolina and we off-loaded a bunch of bulky winter clothes that we no longer needed with them.
The issue is real estate; on a boat you have very little room for clothes - there are no dressers or closets, no armoires or under bed storage boxes, in fact - each of mine and Scott's wardrobes fit compactly on two shelves that measure six feet long by eleven inches tall that run along either side of our v-berth. Go ahead, measure that out and try to see how much of your closet you fit in that space. Keeping this in mind, clothes should not only serve multiple purposes - but they should be able to pack very small and compact.
If you are preparing for a trip like this, mark my words. You will overpack. I think it might be impossible not to. But, in an effort to help you out - here are some tips from yours truly and what works for me (and may or may not work for you):
1) Say bye bye to cotton - something I read before we set sail told me that “cotton is your friend”. Those people were lying. I am here to tell you that it is NOT your friend. It is, quite possibly, the worst hot weather fabric I have found. Once it’s wet, it stays wet; it’s heavy, hot and - in general - anything that I brought that is 100% cotton is not used. Instead, we love wicking fabrics. Luckily for us - we are both former athletes and yogis who had a ton of this stuff. A few brands I love? Lululemon, Athleta, Moosejaw and Patagonia. I should mention that Scott lives in cotton tee shirts, and I have no idea how.
2) Skirts are better than shorts (for girls, that is). I love, love, LOVE these skirts from Columbia (I have the black and the turquoise). They are comfortable, not restrictive and dry up a bad case of “dinghy butt” really fast. Plus, they look cute and have built-in underwear which means a) no Paris Hilton flashing moments and b) one less piece of laundry you have to do. They can be hand washed and dried in no time and are about as low maintenance as a bikini. I also have a lot of shorts (about 10 pairs in total), I love this particular style from Lululemon and wear them almost daily (I have 4 pairs - they also have built in underwear). I should make note that Scott and I have not worn a single pair of pants since the Bahamas - but you should probably bring a couple of pairs, just in case. When we are sailing overnight I do wear yoga pants or leggings and I have found those to be worth their space on the boat.
3) Shoes. I packed about 10 pairs of shoes from my rubber sailing boots (worn: only on the east coast in winter), to my sailing shoes (worn: never), to fancy flip flops (worn: twice) to my Havaianas (worn: every single day). In the past three months all I have worn are my Havaianas. They are amazing. Not only are they cheap, but they are 100% rubber and do not absorb water (when you are stepping in and out of a wet dinghy, for example) like the foamy Reefs do. When a shoe absorbs water (particularly salt water) it is not good. We learned this lesson when we thought something had died in our boat and learned that it was just Scott’s Reefs. Disgusting. Scott now wears Havaianas. They can be worn every day, day after day, and will never smell. You will also definitely want one pair of (comfortable, broken in) hiking shoes or hiking sandals. I have these Chacos and they work well for me.
4) Bathing suits. We live in these. I brought about 5 and am constantly pining for more. But 5 is probably plenty. I try to wear a different one every day so as to avoid hard-core tan lines. Scott, unfortunately, brought only 2 pairs of board shorts and also wishes he brought a couple more.
5) Foul weather gear. Though we have not used this since the east coast, it’s probably good to have on board. If you plan on staying in the Caribbean, however, I wouldn’t say it is necessary so if you don’t already own it, do not run out and spend $500 on a set*. Instead, invest in a good, light-weight rain parka. You will get MUCH more use out of that. I have this one and it’s great, it folds up, it’s easy to carry and keeps me dry. For really wet days we’ll throw light-weight rain pants on over our shorts as well.
6) Nice outfits. Though it is rare, there has been the occasional time when we need to dress up. Scott and I did not prepare for this before we left and when we were invited to the South Carolina Yacht Club we actually had to go to the Gap outlet and buy khakis. I would have at least 2 easy “nice” outfits on hand for those rare occasions. It also helps to wear a nice outfit when you go to customs to clear in (not fancy, just presentable). For women, a skirt and a nice dress or two, for men, khakis and a couple of polos. That should cover it - unless, of course, you are of the jet-setting variety and plan on wining and dining with the creme de la creme...if that is the case, I cannot help you.
7) Sun protection. While we love the sun and our golden hues, it should be treated with respect. When you see what the sun has done to some of the fabrics/materials on our boat - you’d shudder to think what it is doing to your skin. We cover up every day with SPF 30-50 and wear sunglasses and hats for extra protection. Make sure to bring spares of these as well because you will lose them. Another great piece of clothing? A sarong. It makes a great beach towel (super light, dries fast, doesn't absorb sand), takes up almost no room, and it's great to wrap yourself in post shower to cool down. Scott and I each have one.
8) Work Clothes. As you all know full well by now, cruising is nothing more than "doing boat work in exotic locations" so be sure to have at least one shoddy outfit that you wouldn’t mind getting bleached, stained, caulked and torn.
9) Layers. On the rare occasion that it gets cool in the evening (or, more likely, you are in an uber-air conditioned internet cafe or something) you’ll want a long sleeve shirt. I have about 6. I really love my Lululemon jackets (I have 5 and they were great for the cooler weather in the Bahamas) but they are a little heavier than I’d like down here - so when I just need something light I wear my Nike dry fit shirt. I love it and again, it's self wicking, light, and doesn't stay wet.
10) The magical tank top with built in bra. Luckily for me I am not well endowed. I despise wearing a bra and, when you’re in weather that is pushing 90 degrees with high humidity, they are soooo uncomfortable. TMI? Sorry - but you asked, and I'm telling. Tanks with built in bras are the way to go. Though they do not have the built in bra - I wear these Lululemon tanks pretty much every single day (have about 8 in total, they are amazing) and love them to no end.
In addition, we keep all of our clothes in oversized ziplock bags labeled "tee shirts", "long sleeve shirts", "underwear"...etc. The bags are great because they not only keep clothes dry from dampness and rogue waves, but if you stick a dryer sheet in them, they keep them smelling nice and fresh as well.
In my opinion packing is an art. You have to learn what works for you. It's going to be very hard to take your wardrobe and cut it by 80-90%. You will question every shoe, scarf, tank and tee. I don't know your particular style - but me? I don't wear jewelry and I don't dress up much. I like to look nice, I like flattering, functional clothes and I like bright colors. Your style might (and most likely does) differ from mine. You'll figure it out though. Just lay it out and start making piles.
What do I wish I had more of? Not much - but I am really liking these dresses from Athleta and think I might buy one or two for next season...
Brittany & Scott
*It might be that we haven't used our foul weather gear because we have a totally en-closable cockpit so we are totally out of the elements. If you're cockpit is not 100% protected you might need more gear than we do.
Note: I did not suggest any of these brands based on sponsorship and I have not been compensated in any way for recommending them.