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Renovating the Galley

Poor lighting, lack of storage, and a dirty stove don't inspire gourmet meals.
It's obvious that most sailboat designers are men—just look at the galley. Sailboat galleys have been notorious over the years for being small, dark, and frustratingly difficult places to work in. The good news is that they don't have to be. With a little bit of work, you can transform your dungeon of a galley into a pleasant and functional space.

Larry and I recently renovated the galley on Serengeti, incorporating many elements to insure that the cook (whoever's turn it is) doesn't feel like he or she is doing penance when it's his or her turn to produce the next meal.

Functional Aesthetics    We share the desire to make any space we live in look pleasing and work efficiently. The galley we inherited on Serengeti was just kind of drab and not especially well thought out. The counter tops were old and stained, there were no doors on the cabinets above the counters, the sink was a joke, and the lighting was terrible. But we knew it would only take a few easy decorator touches, along with some functional additions, to make this a beautiful space that would be a joy to work in.

We chose to tile our countertops and back splashes. The hundreds of beautiful designs and colors of tiles available today make it easy to immediately transform the galley area to a thing of beauty, and achieve a very expensive look for a little bit of money. Predominantly white tiles helped brighten this fairly dark, teak-clad area. A real brightener for us was tiling over two walls of teak paneling behind the sink. By using a number of colored accent tiles for contrast, and even some all white tiles with unique raised designs of turtles and stars, we were able to achieve a truly custom look.

Once the grout has been sealed, tile gives you a virtually water-tight surface, and one that is suitable for placing hot pans directly off the stove. Using a colored grout will help hide stains and lengthen the good looks of your tile.

Solid-surface countertops, such as Corian, are also popular with boaters rejuvenating their galleys. Although a very expensive addition in a big kitchen, the relatively small galley counters make this easier to take financially. For this kind of surface, you must have a professional measure your area and custom make each top. The least expensive option for freshening up your countertops is to put new Formica down.

Double sinks with a high faucet make cleaning up easier.
We're not sure how our boat lasted 22 years with no doors on the upper galley cabinets, but it did. There were some canvas pieces fabricated to stretch across the openings to contain items during passages, but these seemed like a cheap fix. We wanted to know everything was safely stowed and easy to access when underway, and I definitely wanted a more "formal" look to complete the galley transformation.

To achieve this, we needed solid doors that matched the rest of the boat. White doors would have brightened our area even further, but this was not the look we wanted. We found some wood that matched our interior and fashioned two sets of doors—sliding doors on the wall of the galley above the stove (hinged doors would have been impossible to open with pots on the stove) and hinged doors for the other wall. The result was very satisfactory.

Lighting and Electrical    When compared to today's standard, older boats fail dismally in the area of providing task lighting for the galley. There's nothing more frustrating than working in low light. Fortunately, halogen light fixtures can be easily added by almost anyone who can competently twist a couple of wires together. The brilliant white light provided by halogen bulbs helps transform those dark and difficult spaces into sparkling gems.

We recessed halogen light fixtures into the new white headliner that covers the area immediately above the countertops. One light centered over the sink, another over the icebox, and a third just to the right of the stove provide ample lighting for virtually any cooking task. Surface mounted lights are also available.

Our choice of a predominately white counter top, back splash, and head-liner act as great reflectors of light. They make the overall area brighter, allowing us to use lower wattage light bulbs, thereby saving battery power and generating less heat.

Like many sailors today, we carry a few 110-volt appliances on board to help out in the galley. A small food processor and a compact mixer/blender often come in handy. This meant adding an outlet in the galley to enable us to use them conveniently. When powering an appliance by a generator or, in our case an inverter, the risk of electrical shock is the same as when you're at home. Any outlets you may add, and especially ones in the galley and heads, should be GFI (ground-fault interrupt) type.

Every sailboat with propane aboard should have a solenoid valve wired back to a panel in a highly visible area of the galley to insure that the gas is always turned off when the stove is not in use. The solenoid valve mounts by the propane tank and opens to allow gas to flow through when 12-volt current is supplied. When you've finished cooking, turn off the switch, and the valve at the tank closes and stops the flow of gas. We used an existing solenoid, but mounted a new switch and panel with an indicator "on" light conveniently within arm's reach of the stove.

Faucets and Sink    Many boats are originally equipped with ridiculously shallow sinks and cheap little faucets that make cleaning up a most difficult task. An easy way to dress up the galley while adding to its functionality is by adding a new sink and faucet. A deep sink allows for easier clean up and is a better "storer" of dirty dishes while under way. We replaced our shallow model with a polished stainless steel double sink by Scandvik.

Some boat projects come only at the cost of elbow grease—witness Sue with her stove.
The faucet should incorporate a tall spout into its design. Galley sinks are small enough without having to deal with a short faucet that doesn't allow you to get a good-sized pot under it. A single lever control for hot and cold water is also desirable. One lever allows you to obtain the right water temperature mix quicker and with less wasted water than by turning two separate taps. And since it's controlled by just one hand, you're always able to hold on while heeled. We added a spray nozzle on a hose (like on a normal kitchen sink) that is great for rinsing, and especially good for washing your hair when you don't want to have a full shower. A flush-mounted soap dispenser for dishwashing detergent is a timesaving, clutter-reducing addition.

Serengeti's galley already had foot pumps for both salt and fresh water. We polished them up, and re-installed them with our new sink and regular faucet. These foot pumps help reduce our fresh water usage and, if needed, minimize the drain on our batteries. We would have added foot pumps had they not already been in place.

The Stove/Oven    With a simple, small propane stove and oven, you can prepare even the most elaborate meals, and bake the most delicious breads. If you don't have one of these in your galley already, it's a wonderful investment.

When we first saw the dowdy old propane stove on our new boat, we figured we were going to have to add a new stove to our shopping list. It just looked awful and it only had two burners. But after using it for a while we found that it worked great. And, when we really thought about our last boat, we never could fit three pans on that small surface area of the three burner stove anyway, so two burners were just fine.

We ended up taking the old stove off the boat and invested a couple of hours of elbow grease in cleaning it up. Oven cleaner worked like magic on both the inside and outside of the stove and oven, and in no time, I had it shining like new. Larry ordered a couple of new parts from Force 10, including a new faceplate for the burner controls, to complete the transition. Now, when people come aboard Serengeti, they regularly remark, "Oh, you got a new stove!"

Incidentally, although we had a microwave on our last boat, we found that it got used primarily as a bread storage box. We opted not to add one to Serengeti's galley.

Storage    Our goal in the new galley was to minimize the effort required to retrieve any ingredient or utensil necessary to produce a gourmet meal. Nothing dampens a cook's spirits quicker than spending 15 minutes searching for that one ingredient.

For food items that we use several times a day, we built in a canister holder behind the new sink. Here we keep coffee, sugar, flour, and dry cat food. In the upper cabinets, we have additional food canisters, designed especially to best fit the individual spaces and thus maximize use of the space. These canisters are refilled from larger quantities that are stored throughout the boat in spaces harder to access.

"The less time you have the icebox door open, the less of your valuable cold air you lose."

In the larger spaces below the counters, we store things together in baskets that stack on top of each other. This allows an item at the bottom of the area to be retrieved by simply removing the top basket, and not needing to move lots of small items individually. This is an especially good practice to employ in the refrigerator. The less time you have that door open the more valuable cold air you keep.

We were fortunate that there was already a great stack of drawers built in. Even though you lose a little bit of overall storage space with drawers and their sliding hardware, the benefits of easy access far outweigh any loss. The drawers took care of storing cutlery, kitchen tools, freezer bags, and other often used items. In our last boat there were no drawers, so we permanently affixed tall, open containers at the back of the counter to hold our cutlery and kitchen tools. These worked very well, even in rough seas.

There is often dead space on the inside of cabinet doors that can be transformed into some of your best accessible storage. We buy the plastic coated wire shelves, available in all sizes, that best fit each of these areas and can store spices, cans, and cleaning products.

Refrigeration    While analyzing our refrigeration, we had two primary concerns. Is our icebox adequately insulated, and is our system properly sized for the cubic footage of our box? The answer was yes to both of these, so we made no changes. (Insulation guidelines of four inches minimum for refrigerators and six inches minimum for freezers.)

Ventilation    When cooking up a storm, it can get really hot down below in the galley. Good ventilation is essential. Serengeti already had in place two opening ports in the galley area and an opening hatch directly above the stove. To this we added a new 12-volt fan to provide good air movement on demand.

The finished product—a clean, functional galley!
No matter how big your boat is, the galley is going to be tiny when you compare it to a house. But out of this tiny space, without all the fancy kitchen gadgets and with minimal pots and pans, you can create the best tasting meals of your life. With just a little effort (for us this was about five days of work) and not a whole lot of cost, you can make your galley space more beautiful and make it easier to produce those great meals to be enjoyed in the most wonderful settings in the world.

Galley Renovation Costs

Description Cost
Skandvik s/s double sink$225
Faucet, mixer, sprayer, soap dispenser$187
Tile, adhesive, grout, sealer$200
Halogen recessed lighting (three fixtures)$25
New galley doors & aluminum track $75
Stove repair—flame spreader & faceplate$55
Storage containers$28
Wire storage racks$20
Propane solenoid control panel $25
Hella Turbo fan$55
Headliner $30

Total $925


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