Friday, March 20, 2015

Blue Toenails (On Becoming "Seaspray")

Toenails the exact color of the Caribbean Sea

I haven't painted my toenails for at least 25 years, back when the only color choices were red and pink, but I've been admiring my toes lately.  My blue-painted-toenail toes. Let me back up a minute and tell you why this is so meaningful.

It's tough to be girly on a boat, as several bloggers have described.  Long fingernails get wet and soft and break while grinding winches; and jewelry is impractical when working with your hands or swimming.  Long hair uses too much water to wash, and a blow dryer uses too much power to make sense, and the humidity and salt spray and wind would destroy any perfect coif even if swimming weren't on the agenda.  Skirts would blow in the wind revealing more than intended, or tangle with your feet and trip you up in a dinghy or climbing aboard, and fancy shoes are out of the question on irregular docks.  I've always been more of a tomboy than a girl-girl in any case, so I didn't find the boat restrictions very limiting.  Even at the marina, where the option of shoreside bathroom facilities (lots of hot water, brightly-lit mirrors, and plug-ins for that hair dryer) made it possible, it's still inconvenient. No biggie, I was delighted to have a practical reason to dispense with the time and money and energy spent on appearances.

On top of that, there's my "job."  Three days a week, I'm my maritime-history alter-ego, a character named Seaspray, or a variant of her, as a tour guide on the Spanish tall ship El Galeon, or a Spanish soldado (soldier) at the Castillo.  My work means that even on the off days I can't ever (for example) get a manicure, because painted fingernails would just totally ruin the historically accurate image.

Seaspray, aboard the nao Victoria (photo by Fer Iglesias)
When I designed the character of Seaspray, I explained that she had "disguised herself as a common [male] sailor, because that was the only way for a woman to live a life of freedom and adventure that would otherwise be denied to her sex in those days.  Though she appears a young man to the world, she's still definitely a girl, and is drawn to sparkly things.  While she is careful not to blow her cover and ruin her piratey career, sometimes she slips up a bit ..." I've always felt good about the character description, but until recently, it was just words.

Lately, I've been feeling frustrated, restless.  It might have started with the haircut.  I have found the best-ever stylist, Sheri, who understands curly hair. I have to rent a car and drive about an hour each way to get to her salon, but it's okay because she's that good.  When I told her we were going on a vacation that involved beaches and diving, she suggested a really short cut.  "We're going for something of an elfin look here," she explained as she clipped.  "And, well, there's just nothing sexier than supershort hair, if you pair it with the right earrings and more feminine clothing styles."  Sheri probably wasn't thinking about my shapeless black tee shirt, or Seaspray's white linen shirt when she said that.

Or maybe it started with the nail polish.  I had had a random conversation with my BFF Karen about young people dyeing their hair and painting their nails fun colors like teal or magenta, and a few weeks later in response she mailed me a surprise care package, a pedicure in a box, including nail polish in a rich shade of clear deep blue.  I was touched that she had remembered our conversation, but I was disappointed to have wasted her money -- I couldn't use the pretty polish she'd selected, because of my "job."

As I packed for vacation, I realized that I had selected jewelry and my most feminine shirts, unusual for practical me, because Sheri's description of how to work my new haircut sounded exciting and fun.  I looked at Karen's "pedicure in a box" and the lightbulb went off.  Whenever that restless feeling had started, I was both stunned and fascinated to learn that at some level, just like Seaspray, I must have been chafing under the gender-hiding restriction of the job and my practical interpretation of life afloat without even realizing it.  On a gut level, I finally understood, really, this Seaspray character I had created.  Understood?  Heck, I was living her.  So I packed the blue nail polish.  It was going to be warm, I was going to be barefoot a lot, and I wouldn't need to be historically-correct for months.  I was going to be living on land, with infinite hot water and power.  Time to play "girl."


  1. Good stuff. I didn't know Seaspray's name. Last year I didn't paint my toenails at all. I missed it. This year I am and I like having the color on my toes peeking up through the water or through the sand. I currently have on a robin egg blue color. Yes, sometimes the polish gets chipped but so what. At this point in life, everything is a little "chipped". Fingernail polish? No way. Starts chipping off in a day.