I’m not going to lie. This all started with wine. I wanted (needed?) to find more space on the boat where we could stow the stuff, especially what we call “cruiser’s wine”—bagged wine, which is the tipple of choice on Plaintiff’s Rest. Thankfully, this fruitful endeavor ended with some new, creative storage in a space that had been completely unusable and offered us something any cruiser would kill for: a cruiser’s wine cellar! Go on. Ask me how many bags of wine I can carry in my bilge.
When you lift the floorboards in the saloon on our 1985 Niagara 35, the first thing you’ll notice is our house battery bank. Our previous owner moved our four wet-cell batteries from under the aft berth down to the bilge in the center of the saloon. Yes, he lowered them. Gasp! That wild man. Over the years, my boyfriend, Phillip, and I have had many cruisers tell us this was a terrible move because the batteries are now susceptible to ruin should water rise in the bilge and submerge them. However, Phillip figures that if we ever get water that high, we will have much bigger problems than dead batteries to deal with. What’s more, checking and refilling our wet-cells—which we do roughly once a month—requires the mere lifting of the center floorboard. In our six years of cruising, our batteries have remained both conveniently easy to access and “high and dry” nestled right under the floorboard.
That said, this high-and-dry situation is probably because our boat has a deep bilge. The 3in-deep, skillet-sized bilges I see on newer boats still stun me. That’s it? That’s your bilge? On our Niagara, the depth from the cabin sole down to the bottom of our bilge is exactly one inch longer than an over-stretched Annie arm (verified often). It’s roughly 2ft to 2ft 6in deep, which sets the batteries a good foot and a half above the bottom. Another benefit of having the battery bank there is that the custom box that houses the batteries forms some natural cubbies between it and the ribs to starboard. Phillip and I use these spaces to stow larger, less frequently used tools, like our heat gun, hacksaw, extension cords and so on. Not only that, when we saw how well this worked during our last voyage to the Abacos in 2017, I started to see potential in the next two rib spaces going forward. “If the battery bank could shore up two storage cubbies here, maybe we could…” I started to wonder, and the next thing I knew, that little lightbulb flicker had developed into our fantastic new cruiser’s wine cellar!
I don’t know about your boat, but ours has no right angles. None, anywhere. It’s all curves and dips and odd angles. Knowing this, I usually template any walls, shelves or other structures we intend to add using cardboard first to create a custom fit. In the case of our wine cellar, we used my cardboard templates to cut the necessary pieces from Starboard, which we then secured between the ribs with L-brackets. Voila! We now have a wine cellar on Plaintiff’s Rest. We first tested them with water bottles but quickly appreciated the benefits of stowing wine here. The bilge is perfect because it’s secure and as stable as any space can be on the boat underway. It’s also low and close to the center, which is good for weight distribution. Plus, it’s cool, which helps preserve the wine.
Speaking of preservation, I do have one additional lesson to share, which we learned after we lost a terribly good bagged rosé to chafe. When stowing bagged wine, remove all bags from their cardboard boxes (but save one box for dispensing!), tape some bubble wrap around the spout so it cannot chafe through itself or another bag, and place the bagged wines in a heavy-duty contractor’s bag to catch any spills. I’m thrilled to say we didn’t lose a single drop to the bilge this last voyage. Wine to (bilge) water would be a sad transformation.
The number, by the way, is 13, a buzzed baker’s dozen, with 13 bags of wine riding happily and securely in our bilge during our last extended cruise. Six weeks into the Bahamas, we still had plenty of fresh, cool cruiser’s wine! Where’s your cruiser’s wine cellar?
The crew of Plaintiff’s Rest will be spending the winter cruising the Caribbean—with wine.