DIY on board: making instead of buying

double reefed under blue skies

There are a host of reasons why it makes sense for cruisers to make things that are normally purchased in a store. The most obvious is that you might be out in the middle of a big piece of water, double reefed under blue skies- but no option for a store.

Or maybe you’ve made landfall. Beautiful island, but no store!

Fun with Panoramas!

Or maybe there IS a store, but supplies are limited, and may not have anything like what you’re seeking…
the "everything" store

…or it might not have labels or ingredients that you can understand (or want to!).

You could have other reasons, too. I simply like to know what goes into a product, so that I know I’m doing the best I can for my body and the environment. That excludes unpronounceables (and a lot of ill-sourced more readily pronounced stuff: try finding lotion without palm oil).

There are a lot of things we make, for all these reasons. We’ve made beer, and ginger ale. I make yogurt- lately, a LOT of yogurt, as it’s a choice breakfast or snack for the kids. I make kombucha, too, although I don’t have a lot of competition for drinking it (only Siobhan shares my taste!). I make other random personal care goops and cleaning aids (nice to know what’s in them, and what’s not). There’s a new jar of kefir percolating at the moment, and sourdough in the root cellar.

It’s a gentle, creamy lotion that I’ve been making the longest. When you’ve gotten drenched and dried in several rounds of _________ (fill in the blank: wet dinghy rides, snorkeling, boat washdown), a little simple lotion feels so good getting clean. It’s nice to know you meet a need if/when you have it, wherever you are. It’s easy to keep the base ingredients around: they typically have multiple uses.

Making lotion on Totem


Combine in a small saucepan, and heat just enough to melt together:

  • 3/4 c gentle base oil: I use olive or grapeseed most of the time, since they’re easier to find, but apricot and almond would be great as well
  • 1/3 c coconut oil. Love being in the tropics, where it’s easy to get.
  • 1/4 t lanolin. A small tub of this has lasted me for many years. When Jamie’s eczema used to flare up (back in colder climates), more lanolin helped
  • 1/2-1 oz beeswax. More give you thicker lotion; less give you runnier lotion.
measuring the oils

Remove to a large bowl to cool slightly.

Combine in a small bowl:

  • 2/3 c water (it should be distilled, which means watermaker product water is perfect)
  • 1/3 c aloe gel

A few drops of essential oil (optional; I adore the sent rose geranium with a hint of lavender.. tea tree adds antiseptic properties- another boon for Jamie’s eczema)

When I made this lotion while lived in a house, I used a blender. No blender on Totem, but that’s no problem. You’re making an emulsion, like salad dressing, suspending the water in the oil at a microscopic level- either method gets the job done.

I put the oils into a bowl, and one of the kids helps drizzle the mix of water, aloe, etc. while I whisk furiously. It’s important to add the water mixture in really, really slowly in the beginning! Once about half of the water/aloe mix is incorporated, you can speed it up a little. The key is to drizzle the waters into the oil, not the other way around; that’s more likely to separate.

Then, put it aside to set. As it cools, it will go from runny liquid to creamy goodness.

Making lotion on Totem

Bonus: upper arm workout.

What do you make on board? What do you wish you made?

Lubed up readers know it greases the Totem skids when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

25 Responses

  1. Happy Valentine’s Day! We are not on a boat but we are often remote in our travels through Europe. I just posted on our blog about how many different uses we have found for olive oil in the past 6 months. For anyone who may be interested, the link to the post is It may seem so obvious to some, but walking in the Target superstore aisles of my US life, it never dawned on me that it could be so simple and so pure! Can’t wait to try Totem’s lotion! I already made my shopping list! Ciao!

    1. Colleen I love that! We have used straight olive oil to moisturize to bridge to a new batch when the lotion runs out, but find it pretty “oily” and less comfortable in the tropics than a prepared lotion. Awesome in cooler/more temperate climes. Unfortunately it’s also really costly here- as you can imagine, since olives aren’t local to SE Asia! We use it to polish our unfinished teak/juniper cabin sole as well.

  2. I’m not on board either, just stuck in Texas wishing. I make laundry detergent that’s creamy like a paste. It ‘travels’ well, doesn’t spill. I also make yogurt and Water Kefir. Water kefir is like soda but has the good for you properties like kumbucha. I don’t like the looks of kumbucha, reminds me of jelly fish, I’ve never tasted it…. too scared. I’m going to try your lotion, I love anything that I can scent my own way. BTW, when my son was born 3 weeks early he had a bunch of white stuff all over his body. The delivery nurses immediately began cleaning him off and rubbing their arms and hands with the stuff. They say it’s one of the best skin softeners! Maybe that’s why your lotion in the bottle says “Placenta”, could be just a comparison.

    1. Judith, I’d love to know what you do for laundry. Our problem now is that we may have trouble locally sourcing the ingredients. The detergents here, aside from having completely unintelligible labels, are clearly full of junk (the smell alone gives me sneezing fits)- and we’re almost out of Dr Bronners! Also, do you flavor your kefir water? This is my first batch, I’m going with some ginger since that’s generally a favorite on board. I am kind of cracking up about the vermix on your son. Kinda forward of those nurses?!

  3. Hola! We try making yogurt all the time, a million different ways, and it often has a mucus-y texture that turns us all off (except Frances). Have you experienced this problem, and solved it?

  4. I think that’s just the whey that hasn’t yet separated out completely. Just stir it back in. Have you tried straining your yogurt through cheesecloth? By straining it for a few hours you’ll get Greek Yogurt. It’s thicker and more solid. You can also strain it in the fridge over night and it will be like cream cheese, the longer you strain the whey out the more solid it gets. This is called Yogurt Cheese and can be used in place of cream cheese. It’s REALLY good. Don’t throw the whey out either! It’s really good in smoothies and you can even use it in fermenting other things like vegetables. (just Google – uses for whey)

    1. I usually just pour the whey in a glass and drink it, but I’ve been meaning to look into lacto-fermenting uses as well. The milk here is UHT and doesn’t make very good yogurt, powdered works much better, but I can’t find it in Thailand… will be happy to get to Malaysia so we can end our yogurt drought.

  5. Sorry Behan, just saw your reply… email order. RE the forward nurses, that was over 28 years ago, I’m sure they don’t do that anymore, (I also had a nurse with 6 inch nails. Yeah, literally, 6 curling inches! Po-dunk hospital out in the Texas badlands.)

    I think I’d go nuts without Dr. B! This is the site where I got my recipe for laundry soap:

    You do have to use a blender 🙁 And I’m trying to think of a way to mail you one along with a couple of boxes of Washing Soda, Borax and soap. In the website above, they use Fels Naptha soap. I don’t like the smell of Fels. I use a bar and a half of Ivory soap (it’s cheaper too.) I scent mine with Pink Grapefruit Essential Oil.

    I gave some to our son who also has eczema issues and he said it works just as well as the “free” types of laundry detergent made for skin allergies. Our daughter comes into town on the bus and loves that I give her a jar to throw into her bags to take back to Austin. She says one jar will last her almost 9 months. That’s another thing about it. I started making it this way back in November and I just finished off my first quart jar last weekend. I generally wash 5-6 loads of laundry a week. Jolea said, “this would have been awesome when I was on the boats! Takes so little space to store and it would have been easy to carry to the Shore Head.”

    1. The laundry “recipe” looks really great! Funny about Fels Naptha: the smell reminds me of childhood encounters with poison ivy… I’d probably have to use something else too. Our issue is sourcing the other ingredients. I still have enough borax on board to make a batch, but washing soda… hmm, that could take some hunting. Or a visitor with space in their luggage. 🙂

  6. Now for kefir water. I don’t think I could drink it without flavoring it. I use grape juice or cherry juice. I’ve used vanilla, ginger, lemon but my favorite is Cream de Coco! Yeah, the same thick gooey stuff they put in Pina Coladas. I just put a couple of tablespoons per bottle on the 2nd ferment and it tastes like a Pina Colada! Warning: Water Kefir does have a tiny bit of alcohol. If I were to drink a whole quart in one setting I’d probably have a buzz. But the WK is like dark chocolate, it only takes a little to satisfy your craving. I usually never drink more than 8oz. So much better than a 12oz soda or energy drink. It’s fine for kids. There are so many recipes out there. I could also send WK grains with the laundry stuff, lol!

  7. Something that is very worthwhile learning before you leave to cruise is the art of making fishing lures. And I don’t mean those silly store bought lures, rather the ones that actually catch fish large enough to eat. Learning to make proper lures didn’t happen for me until Tahiti, and by then I had lost many-o-fish that would have been wonderful to have boated.

    There are some really large fish out there with sharp teeth and the proper use of the steel leader is essential. I just wish I had known before Tahiti 😉

  8. I make my own deodorant using just coconut oil, arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) and baking soda, mashing it together with a fork. I’ll also add a drop or two of essential oil if I feel like a scent. I was amazed years ago when I used it for the first time at how well it worked when all my experience with commercial brands had been met with disappointment. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment when I can make something as opposed to buying it!

    Thanks for sharing the laundry soap recipe… can’t wait to try it out!

    1. That sounds great, too! It’s something else I’ve been meaning to try, although I’ve got a salt stick that’s been working for almost five years now, so l’m a little less motivated there. I agree, it’s a great sense of accomplishment (and freedom) to be able to make it yourself.

    2. Kelley and Judith- my friend, Rebecca, uses straight baking powder + a bit of essential oil. She’s got a nice writeup here. See the comments for info on using coconut oil also- sounds like that can sometimes leave a greasy stain?

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