There are a lot of key pieces of equipment involved in a successful Volvo Ocean Race campaign. Most of them will come as no surprise. One particular item, however, did catch me off guard when PUMA Ocean Racing skipper Ken Read mentioned it during one of the many debriefs he did the team’s second-place finish in the 2008-’09 Volvo: wet wipes.
Read was speaking about the importance of personal hygiene, how a thorough wet-wipe wipedown (say that three times fast) every few days while at sea minimized the skin infections and other nasty complications that can arise from living in a soaking wet carbon hull, getting regularly drenched with salt water, and rarely changing clothes. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, trying walking around in damp, salty shorts and underwear for a few days, then report back.
Regardless, Read’s words echoed through my mind the other day as I read a new product press release for something called a Paper Shower. The name doesn’t quite give you the full picture. The Paper Shower was created by Dr. Jim Bahcall, a Marquette University dental professor. The idea came to Bahcall, who describes himself as an avid cyclist, one morning when he stopped mid-ride at a Starbucks for a cold drink. PaperShower.com picks up the story:
“He took out a moist towelette from his bike pack and proceeded to wipe his face, hands, arms and legs. Although the moist towelette was alcohol based, Dr. Bahcall felt like he had just walked out of a shower without a towel to dry off. It was at that moment the thought came to him, why not include a dry towelette in combination with the moist towelette pack!”
So the Paper Shower includes an oversized moist towelette for the clean up and a dry towelette—in a separate compartment—to mop up any excess moisture. OK, now the name makes more sense.
Bahcall is targeting his product, according to his website, at cyclists, runners, campers, travelers, and hikers. However, his PR team thought sailors might be interested—hence my receiving the release—and I heartily agreed. Very few of us will every do anything close to the 40-day, 12,300-mile Leg 5 of the last VOR. But anyone who’s been offshore for more than 24 hours knows how nice it is to quickly freshen up before going on watch. So I asked for a few samples.
I don’t have any distance races in the near future so I decided to run a test after one of my mid-day bike rides. At 9 by 12 inches, the wet towelette is approximately three times the size of a normal wet wipe (5 by 7.5 or so). It has a pleasant fresh scent and was more than adequate for wiping down my body. Afterwards, I felt passably clean. And I can only imagine how much difference it would make after two or three hot days offshore, when you’re body feels like it’s encased in a thick amalgam of sweat, spent sunscreen, and salt.
After the wipedown, I pulled out the dry towelette and discovered that, well, my body was fairly dry already. The caveat here is that it’s still fairly cool in Rhode Island, and my office is nicely climate controlled. In a more humid, and non-air conditioned, environment, a dry towelette will be much more useful, even if it’s to dry some of the perspiration before employing the wet towelette.
My final verdict on the package, however, has more to do with the price. At $1 or so (you get a quantity discount at PaperShower.com, 6 for $7.50, but 54 for $45.90, shipping is free) it’s not cheap. For a bike commuter or someone on a multi-day hiking trip it is a great, space-efficient solution. For an offshore boat, where space is restricted but hardly minimal, a bag of 84 5 by 7.5-inch wet wipes ($5.39 at CVS.com) and a roll of paper towels is a much more efficient way to go, both in terms of cost and space. On the other hand, were I heading offshore next week, I would slip a few Paper Shower packets into my seabag just in case. You never know which crazy boat captain will evict the wet wipes in the interest of saving a few grams. At the least, I would ensure myself of a nice wipedown once I reached port, which would in turn allow me to head to the bar for a celebratory Dark N’ Stormy while everyone else fights over the shower.