Whenever someone learns I’m going on a nude cruise — not to mention making TreeSpirit photographs on them, I usually have to clarify two points. First, that a nude cruise is a special cruise ship vacation chartered for nudists and naturists, and second, that I don’t take photos on board the ship, but at our island destinations.
And then I get the same next 2 Questions:
1) “Are you, is everyone, nude the whole time?” and
2) “Are you nude when you take the TreeSpirit photos?”
To the first question I love to answer: Yes – at the start of the cruise, called embarkation in the cruise world, when you reach the top of the ship’s gangplank, a nude “welcoming committee” tackles you, tears off all your clothing and hides it until the cruise is over, aka, disembarkation. Because on a nude cruise you must be naked everywhere on the ship, at all times. They check everyone regularly, and nudity enforcement with scissors is swift and merciless for any “textiles,” what naturists call the poor fools who wear clothing. To which almost everyone, astonished, gasps, “Really?!”
To which of course my answer is, “Of course not – don’t be ridiculous!” (The original 2nd question has long been forgotten.) The truth isn’t as funny (to me), although more interesting. In fact these are, technically speaking, “clothing-optional” cruises. You can wear clothes the entire time if you choose. A few people seem to, but you’d have to track them to confirm this, and no one does, and no one cares. Many nude cruisers seem to wear at least some clothing much of the time. And some folks seem to wear as little clothing as possible most of the time.
Here I quote Abraham Lincoln, America’s most famous nudist President, aka, “Naked Abe” (not the other nudist President, Richard Nixon and how “Tricky Dick” came to be): “You can be somewhat nude all of the time; you can be all nude some of the time, but you can’t be all nude all of the time in the ship’s formal dining rooms.” Because in the cruise ship’s formal dining rooms, clothing is required, much to the irritation of the nude-all-of-the-time contingent. Passengers are required to cover what the social commentators of Monty Python’s Flying Circus called “our naughty bits.” And no bare feet, either. Ship-wide rules, as well as rules at most nudist resorts, also require fabric (e.g., towel, sarong) between seat bottom and human bottom. These last two rules are about cleanliness, not Godliness.
Inevitably, some nude cruisers (and I), feel restrained by so many rules, disallowing being all nude all the time, everywhere. E.g., another rule requires people not to be naked on the balconies while the ship is in port, lest locals, and then maybe authorities, be they Floridian or Fijian, complain about naked people on display. Not challenging the logic of the rule, but the cultural norms we all are pressured to adhere to, I wonder, what exactly is the big deal? What harm is done, by seeing naked people, and at a distance? Will children be immediately corrupted seeing naked bodies standing around — but not harmed by omnipresent, titillating billboards? And what about ubiquitous PG-rated movies and TV shows depicting people murdering each other? And now, of course, we’re off to the races.
I consider myself an open-minded man; fairly, if not totally, comfortable both being nude myself, and being around others who are nude. Turns out this isn’t quite true; I’m relaxed for an average person, but not accustomed to nudist resort life. I’m fine swimming naked in the ocean, or in ship swimming pools, and of course in ship hot tubs, or hot tubs anywhere. I’ve lived almost twenty years in California, been in many a naked pool and hot tub. It’s kinda the culture out here, meaning out West, more so than back (North) East where I’m from. And not for nuthin’, being nude in these various watery environments feels great and liberating and natural, which is really the whole point.
But I’m simply not used to being clothing-free in an air-conditioned cafeteria, or carpeted hotel hallway or elevator, which in effect is what cruise ships are: giant 50-100-story hotels toppled onto their sides and set adrift at sea. But how cool to learn there is a large community of people who are comfortable being naked anywhere. I couldn’t stop thinking to myself; I can’t stop thinking it now: “More power to ‘em.” Ordering french fries at the lunch counter while wearing only Birkies and a backpack is new to me. They’re walking my talk of individuality and personal freedom and joie de vivre. Seeing this degree of freedom of body expression makes me ask, “Why are the rest of us trained to ALWAYS wear clothing in public? Why must we hide our breasts, genitals and behinds almost all of the time?”
Once you’re past all the jokes —and this takes time for us non-nudists who can’t resist some clever cracks (insert double-entendres) here — the myriad reasons for our cultural shyness are obvious. We Americans are conditioned to be ashamed of our bodies if they’re not “perfect” by pop culture standards. And increasingly these standards are the result of extensive photo retouching (aka, Photoshop). And then there’s the sinkhole of sexuality in our culture, a cauldron of big, contradictory messages concerning love, fear, colored by our Puritan roots, the Bible, God and the Devil. It’s a mess of issues and cultural cross-currents, ripe for future blogging.
Nudists, or naturists (there are distinctions, also for another blog entry), hang out naked more often than us non-nudists. And the cool thing is: they — and you, too, while among them for a time — get used to being, and seeing, naked. For us folks conditioned to hide our bodies, the sexual charge around nudity diminishes. Of course this is another big topic; actually, it’s many more big topics rolled together, including how much our culture sends multiple and contradictory messages, including “show off your body to get a mate” but also “be ashamed of your less than perfect body.” This latter message is often coupled with “Buy this product or service to improve your imperfect body.” Then add more messages about sex: “You want it, it’s great;” but, “Sex is dirty and addictive and hidden from public view, and you should be ashamed” — but here’s a tittilating peek right now! Sex is simultaneously nowhere and everywhere in public view, dangled in small doses in front of our faces via mass media to keep us forever wanting more, yet never fully sated.
Ah, sex. It goes against our cultural conditioning to separate sex from nudity. So it’s delightful to spend time in a nudist gatherings, let alone on cruise ships, where sex is largely, intentionally, removed form the nude equation. There are of course nudist communities where sex is more permitted and encouraged. One is called “lifestyle” in the nudist world, and similar to what used to be called swinging.
But on these cruises, created, by the way, by Bare Necessities Tour & Travel, a nude travel specialist, sex is not the focus of the experience. TreeSpirit is invited aboard to make presentations and, along the way, new TreeSpirit photos on land. Instead, the emphasis is on being relaxed, once stripped of many of the social and class delineations clothing creates. Also, safe from harassment, the unique setting enhances the simple, sensual (not sexual) pleasures of being unrestricted by or hidden by clothing. Bare Necessities takes seriously the safety and comfort of passengers and reacts swiftly to the rare complaint. Same as at the California retreat centers I know, like Harbin and Sierra Hot Springs,The Esalen Institute, and other non-nudist facilities with clothing-optional areas.
Question #2: “Aren’t YOU, Jack, naked while taking the photos?” Typically, the answer is no, I’m not, and for several reasons.
First, almost always, there’s a chance a TreeSpirit photo will be interrupted by an authority figure (i.e. park ranger, police, security guard). In my considerable experience in this arena, I’m more effective explaining the situation to someone in uniform if I’m clothed too. Although, one of the many joys of making TreeSpirit photos on a nude cruise is not having to worry (as much) about authorities since we usually have permission, or a specific island or beach all to our nudist selves.
Second, I’m a light-skinned man of Russian and German descent, over 50, who no longer tries to tan, especially in the tropics. I think of short-order griddles and skin cancer. So I choose shirt, shorts and hat over sunblock #30 on every curve and crevice, which then inevitably smears onto my camera gear, too.
Third, there is the convenience of pockets. Knick-knacks photographic, iPhones and walkie-talkies, go where, exactly, if not into pockets?
Finally, I’m simply used to being clothed while wearing and working with camera and tripod. It’s what I’ve done for over 25 years professionally. (I used to feel naked without my photo vest and its 18 pockets; I’ve gotten past that sports photographer’s attachment, mostly because I no longer shoot while in-line skating.)
Having said all that — hey, I’m not being defensive! — my familiar habit was about to be challenged. This cruise to the South Pacific’s island nations of Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia, was my second-ever cruise of any kind. (My first was a nude cruise to the Caribbean in February, 2014; my third will be in February of 2015).
I walked down the beach of Amedee Lighthouse Island, hiding from the sun beneath clothes and sunglasses, announcing to the mostly nude sunbathers that the scheduled TreeSpirit photo was happening now, and to come along if interested. But then a naked guy about my age yells back, “How come YOU’RE not naked?; what are you, a pervert?!”
Uh…uh…a one-second delay while my brain decides the best response… is to…ignore the accusation, concede the point, and give up my pockets. Off come my clothes, and on to a TreeSpirit photo, naked on both sides of the camera!
Once at the tree, a giant banyan, participants were, as always with nudists, completely comfortable in only their skin, and, even better, around each other. It also turned out there were plenty of exuberant tree lovers who leapt at the chance to climb — so many, I had to ask some to come down to make the composition work aesthetically (too many people on one side). See “Amedee Islanders” photo excerpt at bottom of page.
I also gotta say about the nude/naturist community, at least the one I’ve been in for a total of 3 weeks at sea during two Bare Necessities-chartered nude cruises, is a super-friendly, playful, and welcoming group of people. From all walks of life, from different continents and cultures, a broad range of professions include doctors and lawyers, naked people are everywhere. They walk among us! Enough to fill a 2,000-passenger cruise ship! In other words, nudists are just like everyone else, with only one predilection binding them together: they enjoy being naked, even without trees around.
• Learn more about upcoming nude cruises (TreeSpirit will be on “The Big Nude Boat, Part Deux” to islands in the French Caribbean, February 2015) at Bare Necessities Tour & Travel.
• Photographs of Jack courtesy of fine travel photographer and all-around good guy, Eric Hayes, http://www.EricHayes.ca