Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend


By Liz Tosoni

Here we are in the boat yard, high and dry, living aboard. People are surprised to hear we enjoy our time on the dirt. Sure, it’s usually dusty, often dirty and messy, and can be chaotic with a million and one things going on all at once. Tom and I have learned, though, that if you make an effort to keep the chaos to a minimum, and if the shower and toilet facilities are reasonable, and not too far away from the boat, doing “hard time” is good.

We’re living aboard while “on the hard,” high and dry, and enjoying it.

You get a tremendous sense of accomplishment from making your boat seaworthy and handsome. It’s a time to fix and maintain things, mend things, replace things, organize and re-organize things, and clean things. Which brings to mind my old friend, a trusty, natural, inexpensive cleaning agent, vinegar, and no boat should be without a large supply of it. It’s HC2H3O2, diluted acetic acid produced by the fermentation of such things as wine, malt, cider, or rice. Bacteria attack the alcohol in the solution, turning it into acetic acid. Vinegar has been used for thousands of years as a preservative, cooking ingredient, condiment, and cleaning solution.

We always carry a supply of a variety of vinegars on board.

The ordinary household type of vinegar is a five-percent solution of acetic acid in water which smells like an acid and will destroy common basic odors as well as aid the boat owner in a multitude of other ways. Let me share some of them with you.

Eliminating Bathroom Odors
REGULAR use of vinegar in your head will eliminate the smell of urine stench. Pour a half to one cup of vinegar into the toilet bowl once a week or so. Use a scrubber to thoroughly remove built-up calcium in the bowl, then dry flush once or twice only, to allow the acidy liquid to remain in the hoses for a while and do its job. The vinegar kills the bad odor, and as well, it keeps bronze parts clean and smooth by cutting the calcium that naturally builds up. It’s like removing plaque from teeth. The amazing result is a sweet-smelling head.

Cleaning Head Hoses
When leaving a boat unattended either in the water or dry storage for a period of time, a 50/50 mix of vinegar and oil, poured into the toilet bowl and dry flushed, will keep head parts lubricated and clean, and will dissolve crystallized salt in the hoses. After adding the mixture and dry flushing, cover the bowl with saran wrap to prevent evaporation. Upon return to your boat, you’ll be delighted to find a sweet-smelling head.

Avoiding “Swimmer’s Ear”
Bacteria will grow in the ear when you doesn't’t dry your ears well enough after a swim, or if you stay in the water too long. If left alone, an infection known as “swimmer’s ear” can develop. It’s an inflammation or infection of the outer-ear canal and is characterized by an uncomfortable, swollen feeling with accompanying “swishing” sound. Tom and I used a mixture of 50/50 vinegar and rubbing alcohol (70-percent isopropyl alcohol) dropped in the ear after prolonged swimming or diving, and then plugged in place with cotton batten, with success, for years, to help avoid “swimmer’s ear.” James Kusick in A Treasury of Natural FIRST AID Remedies from A to Z (Prentice Hall) recommends that “to remove toxins, rinse ears with 10 parts water to 1 part warm apple-cider vinegar, using an ear bulb. Afterwards, place a few diluted drops into ear, plug with cotton, and leave in. Repeat throughout the day or night.”

Removing Mold And Mildew
In a hot and humid climate, especially during the wet season, mold and mildew accumulates on your beautifully varnished furniture, on cupboard doors, in hanging lockers and fridges, and pretty well on any and every flat surface of the boat. To remove this unsightly layer of parasitic fungi, take a clean dry cloth, saturated with vinegar, and wipe it away, as often as necessary.

Mold and mildew are easily removed with a vinegar-soaked cloth.

General Cleaning
Chris and Mandy of the Perry 43 Bedoin, are great vinegar advocates, using it to clean virtually everything, including stainless-steel stanchions and rigging. Chris says he wouldn't’t use anything else to clean his barbeque grill.

First he heats the grill and scrapes off the remains of the previous meal, then he cleans it to a nice finish with vinegar. For clean and clear windows, mirrors, and portholes, use vinegar on a clean, dry cloth and wipe. And if your boat cat or dog has had an “accident” on the carpeting, upholstery or rug, Eileen on Escapee recommends warm water with a half cup of vinegar to remove all smells and stains. She also pours vinegar down her sink drains to eliminate the smells associated with the bacteria that can accumulate in them.

Brightening Laundry
Add half a cup of white vinegar to your laundry and the colors will retain their brightness.

Preserving Cheese
If you love cheese but lack adequate refrigerator space, or don’t have refrigeration aboard your boat, you can keep it for long periods of time by an easy, boat-friendly method. Take cheesecloth and saturate it in vinegar. Wrap blocks of cheese with the cheese cloth and store in a plastic, airtight container.

Mandy cleans her barbeque grill with vinegar

Pickling Fish
Vinegar is a great preserver of fish, so if you catch a fish that’s too big to eat all at once and you don’t have the refrigerator capacity, try a pickling recipe, of which there are many. The fish will keep for a couple of weeks and impart a unique, spicy flavor, depending on the spices and herbs you choose to use.

The cleaning never ends onboard, but vinegar makes things easier.

Make Long-Lasting Cole Slaw For Passages
Following is a recipe from Kottie of Skye II. It can be kept for three weeks and is perfect for the long, boisterous passages when it’s not easy to make elaborate, nutritious meals to keep the crew well fed. I make up a batch before every long passage.

Bilge Slaw Skye
Mix one large head of cabbage (shredded), one onion (chopped) and four carrots (grated). Bring to a boil, then add a half cup of sugar, a cup of vinegar, and a half cup of oil. Then add dry mustard, garlic, and dill according to taste. Pour over the veggies, mix, and let stand at least overnight. Can be drained and added to tuna and mayonnaise for sandwiches as well.

Relief Of General Ailments
Apple-cider vinegar performs as an antiseptic and can fight infection. According to James Kusick, apple cider vinegar can work as a first aid “kitchen remedy” for such ailments as bed sores, bites and stings, blisters, bruises and boils, colds and flu, coughing, fever, rashes and vaginitis, just to name a few.

For Coughing, He Recommends:
Mix one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in four-to-six ounces of warm water and drink it all down at one time and cover up. You may add one-to-two tablespoons of honey to the apple-cider vinegar, sipping throughout the day for coughing.

A cruiser we met in Mexico swears by apple-cider vinegar as a tonic for general good health, and uses it with his breakfast every morning — a couple of tablespoons, straight down the hatch, and for a sore throat, he gargles with it. Ralph aboard Escapee says that vinegar will cure (some forms of) diarrhea — “just drink as much of it as you can manage to swallow, and your problem will disappear.”

One great thing about vinegar is that you can see it work before your eyes — very satisfying indeed.

Eggless Baking
If you’ve run out of eggs and you’re hankering for muffins or a cake, use vinegar instead. Roz on Lady Marion explains that the vinegar replaces the egg white and in combination with bicarbonate of soda, acts as a leavening agent. Here’s a favorite family recipe my mother in Canada has used for years for birthday cakes.

Wacky Cake
1 ½ Cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
3 Tbsp. cocoa
½ tsp. salt
Sift into 8-inch pan all of the above. Into three wells, put 1 tsp. vanilla, 1Tbsp. vinegar, and 5 Tbsp. melted butter. Pour 1 cup of water over all. Mix well. Bake in greased pan for 35 min. at 350 F.

Tom puts icing on a “wacky cake” he made for Liz’s birthday one year.

Hand And Body Cleanser
When doing a blister repair job on Feel Free’s bottom in Mexico, Tom and I were using thinner to remove the nasty epoxy resins from our skin. We soon learned that this is a definite “no-no” as the solvent will help drive the hazardous ingredients into the body. Fellow cruisers told us that vinegar would do the same job and is safer. We followed their advice along with soap and water and it worked.

Gourmet Dining
Artisanal balsamic vinegar is a sublime condiment made from a concentrate of wine grape must (crushed fruit), fermented and mellowed for years in progressively smaller barrels of wood — chestnut, oak, cherry, ash, mulberry, juniper, chestnut (hence, the high price) — each of which imparts its own flavor. It’s so rich, you can simply pour a few drops of it on grilled or fried fish and veggies, beans, polenta, roasted meats, tomatoes, even strawberries, pears, or ice cream for a transcendent taste sensation. Here’s a recipe to make your mouth water:

Red Fruit Salad
1 cup raspberries
1 dozen large ripe strawberries
1 cup blueberries
¼ cup sparkling red wine
4 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
Gently wash fruit, drain, and pat dry. Set in serving bowl. Add wine, sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Stir, cover, and refrigerate two to three hours before serving.

Lastly, Tom just reminded me that back in 1986, when we were in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, we had an old British-built 2½-HP Seagull outboard. This thing was a fossil even then. When the cooling water port clogged because of calcification, he simply inverted the outboard and poured warm vinegar into the exhaust port. The vinegar dissolved the calcified obstructions in the port and the old Seagull was back in business.

You really can’t go wrong with vinegar. Its uses are many and varied, plus it’s economical, natural, safe, and easy to find regardless of the country. The more you use it, the more you realize the value of vinegar on board your boat. Try it, you’ll love it.