On-board hygiene

29th of October 2014
On-board hygiene
On-board hygiene

Providing systems for compact away-from-home washrooms or catering kitchens can be a challenge. But how much harder would this be on a 65 square metre yacht?

Jenny Turner from Tork manufacturer SCA – a company fielding a team in this year’s Volvo Ocean Race – talks to Team SCA boat captain Liz Wardley about the difficulties that she and her team mates can expect when they set sail in October.

Equipping any public-use washroom or kitchen where space is at a premium can be a major challenge. Facilities managers in such environments have to consider issues such as cross-contamination risks plus ease of maintenance along with the possibility that the supply of consumables – already limited due to space restrictions - will run out between maintenance checks.

So imagine the cleaning and hygiene challenges that are likely to be faced on board a 65 square metre racing yacht where there is no facilities manager, no designated cleaner and where everything on board – even toilet paper – constitutes surplus weight.

And if that same yacht were to spend the best part of nine months at sea there would be other cleaning and hygiene issues to consider, not least of which would be the limited availability of
fresh water.

These are among the many difficulties that are likely to be faced by crews taking part in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race. We at SCA are fielding a team in the race for the first time this year. Team SCA comprises 13 crew members – all women - who come from all over the world including the UK, US, Australia, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The nine-leg race begins in Alicante on October 4 and will cover more than 38,000 miles before ending in Gothenburg on June 27 next year. The course will take in some of the world’s most taxing oceans and conditions, and the longest leg - from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil – will take 31 days. During this time the crew will reach the most inaccessible spot on the planet where the closest humans will be the astronauts at the international space station.

The hard work, isolation, range of temperatures likely to be encountered and the navigation difficulties involved make the Volvo Ocean Race the toughest open ocean sailing regatta in the world. But there are other, day-to-day concerns that are likely to occupy the yacht’s crew as well. None of us likes to neglect our personal hygiene, but how is one expected to keep clean on a 65 square metre racing yacht where the toilet and washing facilities are rudimentary at best, and where there are limited supplies of fresh water to boot?

“We try not to make hygiene too much of a challenge on board,” says Team SCA captain Liz Wardley. “Although we won’t have the luxury of a hot soapy shower every day, there are other things we can do to make us feel good. SCA supplies us with intimate wipes, wash gloves and three-in-one wipes which we will use most days. And of course we’ll look forward to having that shower at the end of each leg.”

Personal hygiene crucial

Personal hygiene will be facilitated with the aid of non-water soap and non-water shampoo hair-caps, though any rainfall during the journey will be a huge bonus. This will allow the entire crew to head up on deck to strip off and wash away the salt water from their skins.

Weight on board is critical since it directly impacts on the performance and speed of the boat. For this reason, all products are packed in waterproof vacuum packaging to keep them dry and to help to reduce weight. And everything – including toilet tissue – is rationed.

“We have shifted from counting rolls of toilet paper to sheets of toilet paper in terms of what to bring on board,” said Wardley. “We know how much paper we have in each day bag, so if we are nearing the end of a leg and we seem to be running low we’ll know we need to ration.

“But there are plenty of other paper products on board to use if necessary, so this would hardly ever become an issue.”

These other paper products will include industrial wipes which are being taken along for maintenance purposes. The crew needs to ensure that everything on the yacht is functioning at all times, since any breakdown could be disastrous.

“We have all been trained in boat maintenance to some degree and each of us has an area of responsibility for maintenance on board,” said Wardley. “This means we are all trained specifically in one area whether it is winches, rigging, boat-building or sail-making and depending on any breakage that occurs, that person will be in charge.”

She says industrial wipes are highly useful when any maintenance issue arises – but these too must be kept to a minimum and any contamination by salt water needs to be prevented.
“We vacuum-pack our wipes in fives to make them easier to use and to keep them dry,” said Wardley. “In fact all our maintenance bags for winches etc includes its own packet of wipes.”

Surface cleaning on board - both in general areas of the yacht and in the galley – will be important in order to keep the crew in optimum health. But time, resources and facilities will again be severely limited. “Cleaning tasks will be shared between the team and everyone will make an effort to keep the boat as clean, hygienic and tidy as possible,” said Wardley.

Freeze-dried meals

The crew will live on a diet of four freeze-dried meals per day plus additional snacks such as energy bars, chocolate, dried meats, protein drinks and tea and coffee. Food is taken on at every leg of the journey with two team members being responsible for ordering, packing and preparing the food for each leg.

Fresh water for cooking, cleaning and drinking will be provided with the aid of a desalinator. This can produce up to 25 litres of fresh water per hour by forcing seawater through a fine membrane that filters out the salt molecules.

“We also carry a hand desalinator on board in case the main desalinator stops working,” said Wardley.

Every crew member needs to pull her own weight which means that any illnesses on board would be a major problem. “For this reason, galley hygiene needs to be maintained at all times,“ she said.

“It would be very damaging for the team if even one person came down with a food-related bug, since that would lead to fewer people on deck helping to sail the boat. Everyone else would have to compensate and work even harder.

“For this reason we have a system on board for galley hygiene. There is always hand soap and sanitiser available and we try to be very efficient about washing bowls, spoons and mugs systematically after use – particularly since there is only six of each item and we have to share utensils. We use an antibacterial spray to clean galley surfaces, and industrial paper towels to wipe down after cooking.”

However, Wardley considers the chances of a crew member contracting a food-related illness to be fairly slim. “We have no contact with any outside viruses or other bugs that could get into the food or water,” she said. “Also, all our food is vacuum packed in separate bags for
each day.”

Sleeping will be another challenge for the women since the crew works in four-hour watches, 24 hours a day. They will sleep in bunks made from carbon fibre to save weight, and each will aim to average eight hours’ sleep in the form of naps.

The prospect of the journey may seem daunting, but Wardley at least has some idea of what to expect since she has already competed in a Volvo Ocean Race – again with an all-female crew.
“Ever since crossing the finish line in the 2001-2002 race I have wanted to go back and do it all again, and to do it better than before,” she said. “So here is my chance.”

So, what will be the hardest challenges she will expect to face during the nine-month journey?

“I think the most concerning aspects are those things over which we have no control,” said Wardley.  “You can be the most prepared team in the race and have the best support - and the best boat - but in any race there are always situations that one cannot predict.”

Nevertheless, she is excited about the challenges to come. “It is all coming together and the Volvo Ocean race is becoming very real for the team,” said Wardley. “We are in race mode and are all working hard.”

For more information and regular updates about Team SCA in the Volvo Ocean Race, visit: www.teamsca.com


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