December 2010 Cruising Tips

Waiting to Inhale

A decade ago, while thumbing through a cooking magazine, a photo of a bicycle pump caught my eye. It turned out to be a vacuum pump that could do the same thing as a big, boxy kitchen vacuum sealer costing more than $100. But it was small, hand-operated and cost just $20. I researched the Pump-N-Seal food saver online and then ordered one. It has been an inspired addition to our cruising galley.


Here’s how it works. First, use a push-pin (one is supplied with the pump) to puncture the center of the lid of any sealing jar; empty pickle jars are ideal. Next, cover the hole with a tiny Band-Aid-like seal (also supplied) to create a multi-use check valve. Positioning the suction-cup base of the pump over the tab, you push down on the spring-loaded plunger a few times to pump the air out of the closed jar. Simple as that.

Before the Pump-N-Seal, opening a container of nuts onboard committed us to gorging on them before they went stale. Now we eat or serve just what we like. As long as they’re stored in a metal-lid jar, we can simply close the lid and pump the air out when putting them away. Our boat spends hurricane season on the hard in the tropics, and we often leave “opened” cans of nuts in the galley while we’re away. We return to find them as fresh as ever.

Coffee lovers can also benefit by storing their ground coffee in a vacuum-sealed jar. Likewise, expensive spices maintain their potency when stored in a vacuum. Vacuum-packing flour, beans and pasta protects them from weevils and other insects. It protects meats and poultry from freezer burn, and keeps crackers, cookies and chips nice and crisp.

The Pump-N-Seal also comes with a skinny tube attachment that lets you create a vacuum in ziplock storage bags, so there are no additional supply costs even for bagged items. The price today is up to around $30 (, but the value of the food saved has also increased. The Pump-N-Seal requires no power and takes up little storage space, making it as convenient to use as a saltshaker. After 10 years in our galley, it still gets two thumbs up. -Don Casey

Hatch Screens


If you cruise where there are mosquitoes, you need to get serious about keeping them out of the boat. On our boat the hatches had wire-mesh screens that were too porous to be effective, and two of these were directly over our bed, so we knew we needed something better. Specifically, we needed an effective screen that wouldn’t interfere if we had to shut the hatches quickly in a sudden downpour. We also wanted devices that would stay put in a breeze when we were anchored and would be easy to stow when it was time for us to head to sea.

All our hatches open to a 45-degree angle, so we figured a set of wedge-shaped “tents” of screening would do the job nicely. We bought some mosquito netting (originally part of a hammock) and measured and cut the material so each tent fit rather loosely. We made the two seams that come down from the upper corner of each tent using sewn-on tape.

After that we sewed a sausage-like hem of marine canvas around the bottom of the netting to hold each tent in place once it was draped over the hatch. Using a funnel, we filled the hem with clean sand we had rinsed in fresh water.

It took us about an hour to make each hatch net, and they have worked out very well. The ventilation is first rate, the tents look smart, and they have done an excellent job of keeping insects out of our lives. -J. Duncan Gould

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