‘Arts and crafts. NOT what I expected on a luxury nudist cruise.’

People have been getting naked in public for reasons other than sex for centuries. But as novelist and  journalist Mark Haskell Smith shows in his new book Naked at Lunch, being a nudist is more complicated than simply dropping your trousers. In this extract, he describes in hilarious detail the day he found himself on a nudist cruise.

I am not a sea-going individual. I will never be confused with preternaturally adventurous globe-circumnavigating sailors like Jessica Watson.

I grew up in Kansas, which, translated into Australian, is like growing up in Alice Springs; smack in the middle of the continent, as far away from the ocean as you can get. And even though I now live in Los Angeles – only 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean – I don’t go very often. When I do find myself at the beach, I don’t surf or swim or parasail or cling to a catamaran, I bring a picnic basket and sit under an umbrella drinking beer. I like to look at the water, just don’t ask me to engage with it in a physical way.

So it was unusual in more ways than one when I found myself booked on a Holland America cruise ship destined to ply the waters of the Caribbean. A quick internet search of cruise ship disasters presented a catalog of Somali pirates, septic system failures, Norovirus outbreaks, and photos of the Costa Concordia laying on its side off the Italian coast.

Why, I wondered, do people go on these things? What’s the appeal?

Would you go on a nudist cruise? Image via The Big Nude Boat.

There are lots of people who cruise. According to the Cruise Line industry report The State of the Cruise Line Industry 2014 there were “21.7 million worldwide guests” sailing on 63 different cruise lines.

And while the ships just seem like big bobbing resort hotels, it turns out that they have themes, there are all kinds of cruises. If you’re the kind of person who regrets not seeing Flock of Seagulls, Wang Chung, and Kool & the Gang in their heyday, well, welcome aboard! There’s an 80s-themed ship setting sail in early 2016. If that’s not your style, you can go on “Motöhead’s Motörboat” or the “Monsters of Rock: Poseidon’s Revenge” cruise.

There are jazz cruises, country music cruises, floating financial seminars, “Ink or Swim” tattoo cruises, Star Trek-themed voyages, J.R.R. Tolkien cruises, a “Premium Chocolate Experience,” and numerous religious excursions like the “Book of Mormon Lands” vacation package. There is, essentially, a cruise for every lifestyle, along with review sites, chatrooms, and Instagram feeds that chronicle and debate every single aspect of the experience.

NSFW. Check out the nude cruise review here:

Would you be surprised to learn that posting photos of stateroom toilets seems popular?

Because I was researching a book on nudism, I chose to go on what was called “The Big Nude Boat.” It was exactly as advertised. Two thousand nudists running amok on a luxury liner. They were everywhere. In the elevators, on the decks, in the shops, playing ping pong, grazing the all-you-can-eat buffets. There was no where where you could not see a naked person. Except my cabin, where my wife lounged wrapped in a sarong.

All the usual activities you might find on a cruise ship - the cooking classes, the fitness center, the casino, the movie theater, the discos and dance halls and bars - were filled with naked people. Even the dining room where dinner attire was required, had a few naked people who stubbornly refused to put on clothes. And, before you freak out, I should note that people sat on towels. There were stacks of fresh towels provided throughout the ship. That topless woman playing black jack in the casino, the older man drinking a cappuccino in the espresso bar, that young couple sharing popcorn in the movie theater, they’re sitting on towels.

A nude cruise is a skidmark free zone.

Image via The Big Nude Boat.

While you might think that a bunch of nudists being naked with each other while consuming large quantities of alcohol might lead to some kind of sexual encounters, nudists are somewhat fanatical about creating what they call a “nonsexual” environment. To a large extent, they succeeded. You could be naked in a group of naked people, drink a margarita, and not worry about someone hitting on you. It was, as nudists like to proclaim, relaxing. Even my wife, a decidedly non-nudist individual, ended up sampling the nudist lifestyle after a few days at sea.

Besides all the exposed flesh, what makes a nude cruise any different from your typical ride on a boat? Well, there was a surprising arts and crafts component onboard. There were photography classes where you could learn the finer points of photographing a nude model, and there were a large number of people who wanted their bodies smeared with bright swathes of paint and, naturally, the artists who wanted to smear the paint on their bodies. How this was a nonsexual activity, I cannot say.

But perhaps the most surprising craft activity was the fabrication of macramé cock rings. These were not the kind of artistic macramé statement someone like Sarah Parkes of Smalltown in Melbourne might make, these were simple braided bands designed to nestle at the base of your penis and scrotum to give your package a little more lift, a bit more protuberance, an enhanced presentation. Apparently the act of trying on a macramé cock ring caused a few men to get erections which, just keeping it real, is the point of a cock ring, but not really appropriate for a nonsexual cruise. When a priapism does occur, men are advised to “cover up with a towel” or “jump in the pool.”

While I can’t say I’m planning to go on any cruises in the near future, I did enjoy my first sea-going adventure.

There was no plague or pirates, no rogue waves or freak Caribbean icebergs, nothing to cause alarm other than a few random erections.

Mark Haskell Smith is the author of Naked at Lunch: Adventures of a Reluctant Nudist published by Nero on June 1 and can be purchased here.

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