The Working Waterfront

To pee (or not to pee) at sea

When natural forces, global and personal, collide

Test Journo
Posted 2020-01-22
Last Modified 2020-01-22

By Nancy Hauswald

Thursday, June 4, 1987

Approx. 75 miles off the coast of the Carolinas

The storm drags on, unrelenting in its pummeling of Merry Yarn and us. Jon is down below, glued to the nav station, poring over the chart, plotting our location, getting constant fixes, and keeping a very close eye on Merry Yarn’s structural integrity as she’s being battered and beaten.

I’m topsides, keeping a vise-like grip on the wheel, doing my best to keep us on course. When not staring at the compass, I keep my eyes focused on a distant, imaginary point on the horizon, trying to trick my inner ear and brain into thinking that this pitching, rolling, and yawing aren’t upsetting my equilibrium in the slightest.

Keeping the horizon in sight, however, is not easy in these conditions. It’s pretty much totally obscured by salt spray that’s flying off the tops of the waves, rain that’s coming down sideways, and stinging hail that’s splatting against my face. God help me if I have to go down below for any reason—I’ll be throwing up within seconds. Nope. I am not going down below. Forget that.

Uh oh. I have to pee. I think through the steps involved in emptying my bladder. I’ll have to climb down the companionway ladder and grab the overhead handrails to keep my balance as I stagger forward toward the head, alternately grabbing the rails, hand-over-hand, one step at a time. I’ll be doing this dance while breathing fetid air (engine exhaust fumes permeate the cabin because all the ports and vents have been shut down tight for hours) and, because Merry Yarn is more like a bouncy ball than a boat, I’m pretty sure I’ll be choking back vomit before I reach the head.

Once at my destination, I’ll need to coordinate opening and shutting the door to the head with our sideways rolling. If I open the door while a wave is tossing us onto our starboard side, I’ll be slammed into the hanging locker. If I open it while we’re being smashed onto our port side, I risk falling headfirst into the, um, head, and onto the toilet.

So. I’m going to have to stand outside the head and continue holding onto the handrails until I’m able to time opening the door during the five-to-seven seconds that Merry Yarn is able to right herself in between crashing waves.

Once inside the head, I’ll hold onto the counter with my left hand while using my right hand to squiggle my wet, salt-encrusted foul weather pants down far enough to then pull down my sweat pants and underpants. If I sit on the toilet for more than a few seconds while we’re being chucked about, I’m going to throw up.

Decision made. I’m staying here at the helm. I’ll just pee in my pants. Because, what the hell. As I give free rein to my sphincter muscles, I feel my pee dribble through my undies and down my inner thighs, while simultaneously seeping into my sweat pants before forming puddles of pee around my ankles. (I’m wearing my knee-high foul weather boots so there’s no way I can release the pee puddles.)

That’s when I recall the classic “Chuckles the Clown” episode on the Mary Tyler Moore show. Chuckles, who had dressed up as a peanut for a circus parade and was stomped to death by an elephant, lived by the philosophy:

A little song,

A little dance,

A little seltzer down your pants.

I could do with a little seltzer down my pants right now.

Nancy and her late husband, Jon Cheston, lived and cruised aboard Merry Yarn for almost six years in the mid-1980s. Today, Nancy is the manager/publicist at Left Bank Books in Belfast.