Cruising Tips: Two Tricks for Homesteading on Your Boat

Sailors have always been a self-reliant bunch. Now, here are two tips for producing and preserving your own provisions on board
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Sailors have always been a self-reliant bunch. Now, here are two tips for producing and preserving your own provisions on board.

1. A Little Culture

Live cultured foods taste good and are good for you. From sourdough to yogurt to mozzarella cheese, these foods are low tech and easily made again and again—even on your sailboat.

Yogurt has become one of our favorite homemade foods on board because it’s difficult to get in remote areas and can be used as a base for so many recipes. All you need to make yogurt is powdered milk, a live yogurt culture, warmth (a good thermos will do) and patience.

“The Boat Galley” (theboatgalley.com) contains some excellent yogurt-making recipes, with easy step-by-step instructions. Author Carolyn Shearlock says, “The most common mistake is guessing at the milk temperature. Too hot kills the culture, and too cool won’t let it grow.” She emphasizes that if you’re serious about making yogurt and cheese, you should spend a few dollars on a thermometer.

Probiotic drinks, like kombucha, are another excellent make-on-board item. Cruiser Behan Gifford (follow her on Sailfeed.com) and her family have cruised from Seattle to the Indian Ocean and tried to make as much as possible from scratch along the way—kombucha, they say, is their special treat. “We brew it first and foremost because it’s yummy. Of course, it’s also ascribed with a pile of health benefits,” she says.

The recipe is as easy as pouring water or tea in a glass jar, adding culture and some sugar, and letting it sit in a secure place for 7-10 days. Behan keeps her kombucha on the cabin sole in the center of her Stevens 47 just forward of the mast. “If things get really boisterous, we tie it to the mast with webbing,” Behan says.

2. Let it Grow

Living on board with my family, I’ve begun to experiment with a new sort of self-reliance: onboard agriculture. Herbs in little pots are just the beginning when it comes to what can be grown on your boat. Tomatoes, peas, spinach and even strawberries are all easily grown in small pots of soil, which can be kept on deck in a calm and sunny area. Planning to be on the move? Cruiser Laureen Hudson showed me an ingenious growing system for butter lettuce aboard her Lagoon 48 catamaran. She combined a basic door shoe rack, some empty Vitamin Water plastic bottles, and handfuls of fertilized potting soil to create a vertical hanging garden in her cockpit.

“When we were underway, we took the plants from outside, put them in the shoe rack, and hung it in the head to protect the plants from the salt water. Once we were anchored again, we moved it back out to the cockpit.”

In addition, green onions, celery and Romaine lettuce can be grown hydroponically by cutting the root end and simply sitting the plants in a small cup of fresh water; no soil required.

Keep in mind that gardening on board isn’t always practical when cruising from country to country, as many customs agents tend to frown upon bringing live plants in from outside their borders. Be sure to check regulations before crossing borders with your floating garden.

Photos by Laureen Hudson

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