How To Cross an Ocean: Fresh Water

Food is a "Nice to Have", but you don't need it to survive for a short period of time. Fresh water is mandatory!  On average, the human body can survive about three weeks without food, but only a few days without water!

Fresh water in your possession is mandatory, hypothetical and potential fresh water is not a replacement. Water in your tanks that you have on board is what counts, not water that your watermaker could produce or water that your rain collector could collect.  

Think about it this way, would you go on a hike through the dessert with a bottle of water, or a rain collecting system with a straw on one end? What if it doesn't rain? Water that you could have is water that you could also not have. 

A good rule of thumb for calculating water needs is to plan on 2L per person per day. If you are a crew of two, it would then be 4L of water per day. If you prefer gallons, 3.8L is roughly one gallon, so you can just plan 0.5 gallons per person per day, or for a crew of 2, 1 gallon per day.

But how many days will you be at sea? A good rule of thumb is to plan on sailing 100 miles per day, so the distance you want to cover should be divided by 100 to tell you roughly how many days to plan for. If you are sailing 1000 miles, it would be 10 days, 1800 miles would be 18 days, and so on. 

Now it's time for reality to show its face. You won't always sail 100 miles per day, and you won't always sail the shortest and most direct route. When we sailed from Bermuda to the Azores, our route was 1800 miles, which should take 18 days. We ended up sailing 2,200 miles and it took 24 days.  

It is always good to carry enough water for the journey and half as much again. This means that the number of days you calculate should be multiplied by 1.5 to give you a safer option. 

in our example of 1800 miles taking 18 days, 18 x 1.5 = 27 days. As you can see, we came in under that mark, but still close to it. It is wise to not carry the minimum water you need, but rather make sure that the water you carry is enough for the journey and more. 

What I mean is, say you can hold 100 gallons of water, don't fill them up only to 18 or 27 gallons for the journey. Instead, fill them full and know you will be arriving at your destination with plenty of water to spare.  

Water is the most valuable item you carry on your boat, and should be treated as such. It should never be wasted, and it should never be lost. The condition of the tanks needs to be monitored and the use of this resource needs to be closely observed.  

You might be thinking "Why not just carry an infinite amount of water?" The answer is water is heavy. Water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon, so every 100 gallons of water you add to your boat adds 800 pounds to it as well. The more water you carry, the heavier your weight penalty will be. 

On Wisdom, we carry 200 gallons of water which tallies up to be 1,600 pounds or 727 kilograms. This is quite the weight penalty, and this is only the water in the tanks. We then carry another 40 days supply of water in plastic bottles, adding another 42 gallons of water and 336 pounds to the boat. This brings our total water weight up to 1,936 pounds when full!  

Why carry so much extra weight? Why not just have a watermaker or a rain collector? The answer is simple, rain doesn't always come and watermakers break. When we sailed from the Bahamas to the Azores, we were unable to collect any water. In the first three weeks from the Bahamas to Bermuda, we had no wind and the 700 mile journey took 20 days. When it rained, the waves would pick up as well and the deck remained salty. Opening up the rain collector to let in rain water would also let in sea water. When we left Bermuda for the Azores, we had no rain for the entire 24 day journey.  

Rain collectors are convenient when you are anchored in a remote location and protected from the seas brought up by the storm.  In these conditions, we were able to stay away from civilization for longer, but not as a reliable enough method to depend on it to survive an ocean crossing.


Beer, it's cheaper than water!

In the Bahamas, drinkable water is a premium! At a restaurant, a single tall glass of water (1L) can cost as much as $10! Local beer, on the other hand, costs $4 for a draft glass. In other words, drinking water costs about $37.85 per gallon, at a time when fuel (which is considered very expensive here) can be purchased for arou $4.80 to $6.50 per gallon. Water costs more than gasoline!!


Before you head to shore to get your meal, drink a lot of water on the boat where it is cheaper, then go to the restaurant and have yourself a Kalik. This beer is practically water, but at a fraction of the price!  

Fresh Water

Fresh water is quite the commodity when you are cruising. All the water around you is salt and unprintable! Some islands will charge you for fresh water. In the Bahamas, you can expect to pay $0.50 per gallon of potable water and $0.15 per gallon of non-potable water. 


While fresh water is expensive, there are other ways to get it. We collect rain water, and it has been raining almost every day for the past few weeks. We collect between 20-40 gallons of water each day!

This keeps all our water tanks full, and when they are completely full, we begin to do chores that are water intensive. Our first order of business when we have too much fresh water is a daily shower!  

We usually shower once a week, but with this much fresh water we can shower every day! That makes us smell much better and feel much better too.  

The next order of business is laundry. Laundry on the boat consumes a lot of fresh water. The washing phase with all the soap uses a few gallons, and the rinsing phase can take even more water to get all the soap out! Having all this rain makes us feel confident in washing our clothes as we replenish our fresh water supply. 

No, we don't have a water-maker. We never had to go through the expense of purchasing one, nor the headache of maintaining and operating one. Instead, we just taste the deck water during the rain and when it tastes fresh, we open the tanks up and let the water pour in! 

Preparations to go Cruising

If you are thinking of going cruising and want to begin preparing your yacht for the journey, the first and most important thing to do is to stop what you are doing and re-evaluate what you really need to bring with you.

First and foremost, you will need solid rigging and good sails. A sailboat sails, and your yacht needs to have this area covered with a sound setup. This means good upwind sails, good downwind sails, good heavy weather sails, and good light air sails.

The second thing you need is a solid steering system. Be it tiller or wheel, make sure that everything is up to snuff and familiarize yourself with your system to the point that you can maintain it and repair it yourself with the tools and materials you carry on board.

Lastly, you need clothes for your trip. The obvious clothes are things you like to wear on a daily basis that are comfortable. You also need some heavy weather clothes, such as a good set of foulies, and some cold weather clothes (because it does get cold in the tropics and you want to stay comfortable). 

Notice how in this list, there is nothing about food and provisions before you cast off. The reason is, when you are tied to shore, you will over-plan your provisions and bring way too much food along for the ride! This will weigh down your yacht and cause you to sail slower as you voyage.

You might think that all this food is necessary, but when you get going, you will find that you like to eat the local food instead of canned food. Yes, canned food keeps for years, but a grocery store is never further than a week away! 

Now, even if you plan to do an ocean crossing, don't buy your food before you leave, because you will overbuy. At the begging of your cruise, you will be coastal hopping as you get all the bugs out of the systems (a shakedown cruise) and this is when you will realize that you can get food everywhere you go.

When we lived aboard, we had 1 locker dedicated to canned food. When we decided to go cruising (which will involve a trans-atlantic) we decided to increase our canned food supply from 1 locker to 7 lockers! This added a ton of weight, literally, to our boat. Our designed waterline (DWL) is currently 4 inches underwater, letting us know that our heavy displacement boat is a "heavily loaded" heavy displacement boat. This has greatly reduced our performance to windward, which has made our voyage proceed a lot slower.

Now, if you are planning to head out and go far, fast, and therefore you will need all your canned foods before you go, give yourself a month of cruising coastally before you actually shoot far away. This will let you figure out how much food you really need to carry on board before you make the leap. 

You might also find that your plans change and you won't end up going across an ocean when you thought you would, meaning that all that added weight is not that necessary! We left in July 2017 with plans to cross the Atlantic during August or September. Due to a very active hurricane season, followed by a series of powerful gales, we ended up heading South towards the Bahamas to let the winter pass and plan to cross in May 2018. Now, 6 months after we left from Baltimore, Maryland, planning on being in the Azores by November 2017, we are sitting in Cape Fear, North Carolina (three states away) in January 2018. 

We have been cruising for 6 months and still have almost all our canned food that is weighing our boat down considerably, all because we bought the food before we untied the lines. In hindsight, we would have been better off to just head out. As we made our way down the Chesapeake Bay, we would have realized that the weather was not conducive to a winter ocean crossing of the North Atlantic, and would have put off buying all those canned foods. Then when we were getting near our departure date, we could have stocked up on the foods that we did need for the actual ocean crossing.

Now we know, and we won't buy a ton of food beforehand. We will go eating this canned food for the next several years and not go replenishing it as we go, to lighten the load and hopefully raise up our waterline once again!

Slowing Down

In the universe, particles with no mass are able to travel at the speed of light! They can travel at speeds we will never comprehend, speeds that we will never be able to attain with our current technology.

Particles with mass are not able to reach these speeds, but they are able to sit still! Mass-less particles can never stop and rest, but we with mass have the luxury to stop; a luxury that we should all take advantage of.

When moving, it is hard to evaluate what is going on around you. Picture yourself driving down the highway on your morning commute. Can you tell if the leaves are being blown in the trees? The trees look still and lifeless on the side of the highway as they stand there motionless, but if you stood under the tree even a subtle breeze would make the entire tree come to life as the leaves rustle in the wind!

You are only able to appreciate this by stopping, and if you pass on by, you will miss all the spectacles before you. 

When cruising, the same holds true. If you are moving, you will pass on by wonders that would be overlooked. When you stop and anchor, you can then appreciate what is really going on around you. The current becomes more apparent, as does the life in the water you are floating in!

Cruising is a wonderful opportunity that many dream of and few are able to make a reality. If you have the opportunity to go cruising, don't let the wonders around you pass on by. Be sure to stop and appreciate the world around you as you are being gifted a unique vantage of the world around you.