Getting Ready to Sail: Stowing for Sea

With two free days and a reasonable forecast, we made plans for our first overnight sail of the season. The official mission of the voyage was to sail to Cousins Island to retrieve a dinghy gifted to us by my grandparents. They purchased it over thirty years ago and as they prepare to sell their house have no place to store it as a backup dinghy.  After picking it up we would continue to a family mooring at The Goslings, a snug anchorage in Harpswell.

To make the transfer we tied up to their dock, which has enough water for us only at high tide. This land has been in my family for the better part of a century, so bringing the boat in to the dock was very special. As a child I always dreamed of having a boat of my own that I could sail from that cove. This may have been the only time I will ever get to bring Polynya to that dock, and I’m so glad I had the chance. It was the perfect way to start our summer of sailing.

Polynya at Cornfield Point

Polynya at Cornfield Point

Before we could leave for our weekend getaway we had to set into motion a series of preparations mariners refer to as “stowing for sea.” Anytime a boat sits at a dock or mooring for a period of time things tend to accumulate in places that are only viable when the boat sits perfectly level. As you sail, or pitch and roll, items that are not securely stowed will fall off shelves, roll across countertops, fly out of cabinets…create a mess. “A place for everything and everything in it’s place,” has never rung more true than aboard a moving boat.

For the typical sailor, this is a simple process as the majority of the items aboard are strictly related to sailing. There is ample storage aboard most cruising boats and you simply put everything into a cabinet or locker, secure all the door latches, and off you go. However, as a liveaboard it is often more involved.

Just like in a house, as we live our daily lives aboard Polynya, things collect on the flat surfaces. Mail, coffee mugs, books, and widgets scattered around the boat are waiting to fly across the cabin with the first lobster boat wake as we make our way out of the harbor. As the summer sailing season goes on this process becomes less involved as we get back into the routine of putting everything away after using it, as if we were underway at all times. But coming out of winter hibernation and six months of sitting at the dock, we were not yet into the routine.

Polynya at The Goslings

Polynya at The Goslings

When walking through your boat, imagine how each item you see would react should the boat suddenly lay on its side. That coffee mug on the counter would likely fall straight across the cabin and shatter on the navigation desk. That mail would spread like confetti as it flew from the shelf. Everything can, and will, become a projectile should the weather turn bad. And if you are on a sailboat, even in perfectly normal sailing weather, your boat will be heeled over enough to reposition every loose item aboard into a pile on the cabin sole.

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Bungies, nets, baskets and locking cabinetry will all be helpful in securing everything below. It is better to overly secure things than to spend your evening at anchor cleaning up from the days mess. There’s no way around it, you won’t think of everything. After your first heavy roll you will likely hear a loud crash as something falls below. Over the years, and with experience, the best methods for stowing on your boat will become evident. It’s an evolution that continuously improves.

An often overlooked place to check for loose gear is in the engine room. If there are any toolboxes, jugs of oil or spare parts kept in the engine room they must be securely stowed. Such gear could easily damage your engine, electrical connections or plumbing creating a plethora of further issues. We make a habit of checking the engine space thoroughly before every trip. Before starting the engine we check that the raw water intake seacock is open, the belts are clear, and that all gear is secured.

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Our vee berth had to be completely emptied and cleaned so that we could begin stowing things more efficiently there.

As time goes on you will learn what needs to be stowed and what doesn’t. You will decide which trips warrant relaxed stowage and which require more stringent methods. After preparing for our first trip of the year we were reminded that it’s easier to keep things stowed, than to stow them all before departure. We decided to live aboard a boat so that we could sail as often as possible. Far too many liveaboards fall into the trap of turning their boat into a house. If the goal is to sail, the boat must be kept ready at all times.

As it stands we are not perfectly organized on Polynya. We still have a long way to go in discovering the most efficient way to store things and the best way to secure them. But we are constantly improving, and we are ready to sail. Disconnect the shore power, check all mechanical items, and throw off the lines. We’ll see you on the bay!

Matt Garand

About Matt Garand

Lifelong Mainer, and professional mariner, Matt Garand is the creator of A Life Aboard, a look at year-round living on a sailboat in Maine. Matt and his wife, Skye, live aboard in South Portland and use every available chance to throw off the lines and explore the coast.