Living out your sailing fantasies is possible with the proper advance planning

Not long after my husband and I took up sailing, we discovered our love of the sea—a place that combines utter solitude and a chance to explore new territory. Unlike home, where there are appointments to keep, errands to run, and traffic jams to endure, the sea means quiet and seclusion. The Pacific Northwest, where we live, is one of world’s richest wilderness cruising grounds, full of far-off bays and private coves—yet it’s surprising how many boaters stick to well-known anchorages and marinas.  With a little advance planning, and enough time, you can have wildly pristine bays, secret spots, and even beaches to yourself. 

One of our favorite places to get lost is the northern B.C. coast’s Great Bear Wilderness. It’s fantastically remote. The region offers miles and miles of epic wilderness, a far-flung place so far past the end of the road, there are no roads. If you need a spare boat part (or run out of coffee or beer), it’s not like you can simply jump in the car and get it.  So for this kind of wilderness boating, you need to be entirely self-sufficient. Going off-grid takes planning. But it’s worth it when you’re one of the only boats, in one of the last places on earth where wild land still meets wild ocean. 

Here’s how to pull it off in 10 essential steps.

1. Take Provisioning Seriously

One of the most daunting tasks for long-distance boating is figuring out–in advance–what to eat. But as every adventure-boater knows, there’s nothing like enjoying a killer dinner on deck in the middle of nowhere. Since food always tastes better outside, it’s worth planning so you’ll have the right stores (provisions) on hand. For a month-long journey, count how many dinners you’ll need, then plan a rotation. Boneless chicken thighs, fresh fish cut into fillets, and steaks all freeze well. Remove them from their individual packaging, divide them into portions of two, then wrap each in freezer paper. Frozen, your entrees compress, taking up little space in your boat’s ice box. Don’t forget to label what’s what!

Next, stash away pasta, rice, faro and other dry goods.  There are all kinds of affordable, storable provisions to dress these up in a pinch: simmer sauces, canned artichokes, sliceable polenta. If you’re a veggie and lettuce fanatic like I am, you’ll have to be strategic. Sturdier lettuces like romaine keep longer than delicate leaves. A bag or two of frozen tender tiny peas is quite versatile, too.

2. Get Smart About Water

On longer trips to remote locations, water is an ongoing challenge. Many boaters bite the bullet and install a water maker, but they’re expensive and require vigilance. Without a water-maker, you can fill up your tanks at marinas with potable water. When that’s not an option, you must be extra vigilant:  know exactly how many gallons of water your tank carries and watch it like a hawk. By conserving water, using jugs of backup, and catching rainwater you should be able to go three to four weeks without replenishing. Whenever possible, use saltwater for cooking (it works well for veggies but not pasta); boiling-hot, it can also be used for washing dishes, followed by a freshwater rinse.  

3. Fill Your Propane Tanks Before You Set Sail (and Test the Grill)

This might sound obvious, but there’s nothing worse than being anchored in the middle of nowhere, going to fire up the grill and realizing a) you’ve run out of propane or b) your grill needs a new starter. Also, if you have two propane tanks, open only one at a time. This will ensure that you don’t accidentally empty both.

4. Makes Lists and More Lists

This also seems obvious, but it’s the key to being prepared.  We have ten years’ worth of boating lists whittled down to essentials and update them each season: packing lists, provisioning lists, parts lists, boat-project lists. 

5. Pack a Variety of Entertainment 

It takes a few days to decompress.  But once you do, one of the best things about being on the water is how time miraculously expands.  Suddenly, you find your fractured attention deepening. Without distractions, you discover you can not only read that book you keep setting aside–but also lots more books.  Even non-readers have reading superpowers on a sailboat!  Bring more books than you think you’ll need, as well as a small portable speaker for listening to music, a deck of cards for cocktail hour, and any other travel-size games you enjoy.

6. Get the Proper Foul Weather Gear

For stormy, rainy days on deck, you’ll need foul-weather gear.  I like Musto’s sailing bibs and performance jackets. The jackets have cozy fleece-lined pockets, and with your bibs tucked into tall rubber boating boots, you’ll stay toasty and dry.

7. Let Go of Laundry (Just a Little Bit)

While many power boats (and even some sailboats)  have washer/driers aboard, we do not. Laundry seems to be the least of our worries, however. Keep detergent, tote bags, and a stack of Loonies aboard if you’re cruising in Canada. It’s easy to find laundromats in marinas when you need them. Folding t-shirts alongside strangers who have interesting stories to share is part of being a boater.  

8. Stash a Well-Stocked Medical Kit

It’s essential to carry a good first-aid kit. You can buy ready-made nautical kits or assemble your own.  If you choose the latter, be sure to include waterproof bandages, burn relief gel, sterile skin and eye washes, aspirin, Benadryl, and anti-itch creams for bites. Wilderness First Aid by Gilbert Preston is an excellent onboard reference.  

Wilderness First Aid: When You Can't Call 911

9. Know Your Connectivity Options

In my opinion, being out of cell-service range is one of the world’s true luxuries. In the wilderness, there are still places where you’ll be disconnected for days. We do find that we need some connectivity for work at sea however, and for this, we try to plan marina stops. For more long-range connectivity, you can also rig your vessel with a Wi-Fi Ranger or Iridium Go for global SAT voice and data. We opt for single-sideband radio (for the novelty), and periods of less connectivity when we can.  

10. Have an Emergency Plan

While it rarely happens, boats do sink, sometimes very quickly. Our abandon ship plan includes an EPIRB and inflatable life raft that came with our boat. The EPIRB transmits a distress signal with our exact location in the event of a worst-case scenario if we can’t issue a Mayday call.  The inflatable raft has to be serviced annually, is heavy, and tricky to inflate.  It’s our last resort. A better option?  Put together a ditch-kit you can grab in seconds and jump into your dinghy. Store the kit in an obvious place. Ours contains flares, waterproof VHF radio, rations, and water.  And it goes without saying:  be sure you know where your PFDs are at all times. 

Read about Kim Brown Seely’s amazing adventure sailing the Pacific Northwest with her husband in Uncharted: A Couple’s Epic Empty-Nest Adventure Sailing from One Life to Another.