Ship Shape: The Unbrave Girl’s Boat-building Workout

July 25, 2010

One of my big concerns before starting my new volunteer boat-building gig two weeks ago (aside from the more obvious concerns like sawing off one of my fingers or tipping over the dinghy or, say, coming down with a bad case of scurvy) was how I’d be able to stay in shape while on the ship. Granted, this worry never entered my head while I was working on the rice farm; I figured all those hours in the rice paddy rigorously pulling out weeds would burn enough calories to keep any pesky extra pounds at bay. Sadly, weeding tons of rice was no match for eating tons of rice, and I ended up leaving the farm chubbier (and, of course, muddier) than when I arrived.

Maybe you, too, would like to pursue your dreams of becoming a volunteer boat builder but are worried about annoying, on-board weight gain. (Come on, after filling you in last week about all the details of my glamorous new assignment, don’t say you weren’t tempted to up and leave a job that pays you money for a job like mine that pays you in, ummm, sanding wounds and varnish fumes!). Or maybe you’ve gained a little weight lately (hey, it happens to all of us… don’t put yourself down… but you might want to put that candy bar down), and you’re looking for a nice, low-impact workout which will allow you to learn new skills (or revisit old ones should you already be a varnishing guru). Or maybe, just maybe, you already are a volunteer boat builder (hey, I can’t be the only one!), and you would like to convince yourself that this fancy new job that you’ve got is a good way to work out… and not just a good way to kill off your brain cells after breathing in too many varnish fumes!

No matter who you are, I have the workout for you! I have spent the past two weeks devising a fitness plan guaranteed to keep you fit while on the ship (and, here, you probably thought I spent the last two weeks sanding and varnishing boat bathrooms and then whining about it on Twitter… okay, so maybe I did a lot of that, too).

So, friends, are you ready to sand… err, sweat those pounds off?! Here, I share with you my body building tips for the volunteer boat builder:

What to Wear

As with any workout, you’re going to want to make sure you have the right attire. You’ve probably read a few exercise magazines and been to a few gyms and have seen people working out, so you know that there is a dazzling array of workout fashion available in a variety of spandexes offering everything from “muscle compression” to “moisture management” (Along with a few options that only seem to offer “minimum butt coverage” and “instant embarrassment”). But, unlike other workouts (you know, those workouts devised by trained professionals… or people who actually like to exercise), you won’t need so much as a stitch of spandex for this workout!

This has been particularly convenient for me since at the very last minute as I was packing for this trip, I decided to ditch all my workout gear in favor of twenty packs of antibacterial hand wipes. (Yes, I do actually own workout gear. And, yes, I do actually workout. But, as I was packing and debating between the pile of hand wipes and my pile of running spandex, I chose the hand wipes — after all, I was going on vacation. Who, in their right mind, goes running while on vacation?! Granted, one could argue that not too many people in their right minds weed rice paddies or sand boat bathrooms while on vacation, too… but, uh, I’m still kind of getting the hang of this whole vacation thing, okay?!)

All you will need for my boat-building workout is an old t-shirt and pants. I usually wear the same mud-speckled khakis I spent the last two months weeding rice paddies in and a paint splattered t-shirt that I found on the deck of the boat one morning (It was left there, I’m sure, by the Free-Clothing Fairies… or maybe by one of the workmen who was using it to wash the deck the day before. I’m really not sure why it was there, but who am I to question free workout wear?!). So, there’s really no need to rush out to your local sports store and drop a wad of cash on the latest in moisture-wicking, muscle-compressing fashion. Instead, you can pick up everything you need at a used clothing shop… or maybe out of a dumpster… or, heck, why not ask your friendly, neighborhood hobo if he has some extra clothing he could spare?!

In addition to the t-shirt and khakis, I like to go old school with my exercise attire and wrap a bandana around my head. Not only does this make me look sporty in a Eighties kind of way, it keeps the sweat out of my eyes and keeps any pesky varnish or paint from getting into my hair. Likewise, it keeps my hair from getting into any of the paint and varnish. Sanding stray bits of your hair out of the varnished woodwork may help you work up a sweat and burn some extra calories, but these are what I like to call “empty calories” (Named such because they make you realize your life is empty and useless because you can’t-even-varnish-the-freaking-woodwork-without-getting-your-hair-stuck-in-it-so-it’s-no-wonder-you-just-gained-ten-pounds-while-working-on-a-rice-farm-and-now-that-you’re-fat-how-are-you-ever-going-to-find-anyone-to-love-you. And, really, who needs that kind of workout?! If you want to feel fat and unlovable, you can just go to the gym and join one of those hip-hop dance classes full of skinny, perky people who actually look good in spandex… and know how to dance… and get asked out on dates).

Now, let’s talk footwear for your workout… which, in fact, is no footwear at all! (I have a feeling your hobo friend would really approve of this new look!). You see, nobody wears shoes on the boat. This is partly because shoes can leave marks on the light-colored boards of the deck. This is also because your toes really come in handy to help you climb around the deck… and to help you scale up the sides of the bathroom wall in order to reach that little bit of ceiling that you still need to varnish.

To top off your new workout look, I recommend wearing a nice, heavy duty ventilation mask. A mask not only keeps the noxious varnish and paint fumes at bay, it also updates your look, lending it a certain futuristic feel. Nothing says “I’m ready for the future — especially if that future involves a nuclear holocaust” like a huge plastic ventilation mask strapped over your face!

Pump up the Music… or the Electric Saw

As this workout consists of a number of tasks that could take hours to complete (usually while being shut away in a tiny airless bathroom by yourself), it really helps if you have something to listen to to help take your mind off of things… like the fact that you just spent two hours sanding the bathroom door and you’re nowhere near being finished… or the fact that you’re spending your vacation sanding a bathroom door.

If you have an iPod or MP3 player, I suggest stocking it with fun, upbeat songs that help make your workout go faster and can drone out the voice in your head that says, “Umm, excuse me, aren’t you on vacation? Shouldn’t you sitting on a beach or hanging out in a nice air-conditioned hotel room eating room service cheeseburgers and watching pay-per-view movies?! You really need to work on your definition of vacation… oh, and you might want to work on not gaining ten pounds this month… and finding someone to love you. Just saying.”

Unfortunately, my iPod broke right before I got to Malaysia. Maybe it had heard about my plans to spend two months working on the rice farm, and it decided that it wanted no part of that. Ever since I set foot on Malaysian soil, it has refused to charge and just stares at me blankly (in about the same way the skinny, perky people might stare at you should you ever take up hip-hop classes… at least I should be happy the iPod doesn’t laugh at me… or “forget” to invite me to post-hip-hop-class happy hour). So, instead of letting Justin Timberlake and Rihanna rock me through my workout, I get to listen to a steady soundtrack of sanding, sawing and, if I’m lucky, the occasional passing fishing boat… and, of course, the voices in my head.

Strike a Pose

Before getting into the really sweat-inducing part of your workout, you’re going to want to work in a few, light stretches. This will help loosen up your body and get your muscles ready for the rigorous varnishing… err, exercise that you are about to do.

Even though I’ve never been into yoga (I am blessed with a remarkable lack of flexibility and a stern believe that if my knee was supposed to be up near my ear, I would have been born that way), I’ve developed my own form of yoga to help me warm up for each long day of sanding… err, working out that I have in store.

My new style of yoga (or Bob Villa Yoga, as I like to call it) includes a number of easy poses including the Salutation to the Sandpaper and Downward Facing Varnish. These poses involve contorting your body in a way that will allow you access to the dark corners or crannies of a tiny boat bathroom (usually while wielding sandpaper or a brush full of varnish). I can’t say that this form of yoga will bring you any kind of inner peace… but who needs inner peace when you have bathroom walls as slick and glossy as glass?!

Sand On, Sand Off

The bulk of my boat-building, body-building workout consists of arm strengthening exercises. This is good for people like me who, up until this point in time, showed absolutely no proof of upper body strength. Of course, I always believed I had arm muscles; I just could never see them. They were like Santa Claus and Free-Clothing Fairies; something you just have to have faith in even though there was very little evidence to support their existence (aside from, you know, a free t-shirt or two). But after two weeks of sanding… err, pumping iron I am proud to say that I can actually see the muscles in my arms (if I’m standing in the right light… and I’m flexing my arm… and I’m staring intently at the flexed arm). Sure, I don’t have Michelle Obama arms yet, but who knows what a few more weeks of varnishing… err, exercising will yield!

One of the best upper arm workouts on the boat is sanding off the varnish that you just applied the day before. Yes, that’s right… you’re going to want to scratch up all that shiny, pretty varnish that you just spent six hours applying yesterday. I was told that by roughing up the varnish you just applied, this provides a slightly jagged surface so the new coat of varnish will adhere better to the wood. But you don’t want to rough up the varnish too much and sand it off completely (that would just be silly!), so instead of using sand paper for this job, I have to use a scouring pad — just like the one you might use to scrap leftover food off of your pots and pans. Should you think it’s tricky to scrub overcooked lasagna out of a pan, just imagine how difficult it is to scrub varnish off of a bathroom door!

In fact, if you are itching to get in a nice boat-building workout and lack the essential boat needed for such a routine, you can try this at home! Grab that scouring pad you keep by your kitchen sink and have a go at your coffee table! Once you’ve finished up with the coffee table, why not move on to kitchen table or that antique grandfather clock that’s been in your family for two hundred years? Keep at this for about five to eight hours a day and you, too, will be sporting toned arms in no time! (Granted, no one in your family will talk to you after that whole grandfather clock incident… but who needs family when you look super hot in a tank top?!).

Get Physical

Of course, no good workout is complete without a little cardiovascular activity. It’s a bit difficult to work in a run while on the boat (although I have been known to break into a jog should I suddenly spot a cockroach coming in my direction), so for this you’ll have to head off the boat.

I suggest walking or jogging a couple laps around the marina each day to check out all the other boats… all the finished boats… the boats where the occupants aren’t scrubbing varnish off their bathroom door with a scouring pad. Instead, they’re lounging lazily on the deck or doing other fun boat-y things (To be honest, I really have no idea what this might be. My only knowledge of boating culture comes from the Land’s End catalog, so as far as I know all people do on boats is wear polo shirts and smile).

Cool It

Finally, you’ll want to work in a proper cool down period at the end of your long day of sanding… err, physical exertion. First start by stretching out your arms and legs. They’re going to feel cramped after all those yoga poses and, ummm, arm sanding curls. You’ll want to take a few deep breaths to clear out any varnish fumes in your lungs and inspect your feet for splinters.

Before hopping into the shower, you should dose yourself with a little paint thinner. Not only will this help you remove any varnish or paint that got on your skin, it should also do a good job of working off at least one layer of skin — giving you a rosy hue. Hopefully most people will mistake for this for a post-workout glow… or maybe they’ll think you just got back from a nice, sun-kissed beach vacation (Apparently, that’s how people in their right mind spend their vacation).


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!


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