scooping sand on the beach for litter box on a sailboat

Cat Litter Conundrum & The Beach Sand Experiment

I’ve had nightmares about this day.  Most sailors’ night terrors consist of the perfect storm filled with skyscraper high seas, crew being flung overboard and clogged heads.  But not mine.

No, mine reek of nostril stinging cat purrfume.

And if you think the standard household cat urine scent is memorable, add some salt water and boat must for a stick-with-you-for-life effect.

Yes, my dear friends, we have run out of cat litter aboard sailing vessel Curiosity.

I wanted to dash for the radio and give my rehearsed Pan-Pan call.  “Pan-Pan, Pan-Pan, Pan-Pan.  All stations, All stations, All stations.  This is sailing vessel Curiosity.  We are out of litter.  I repeat, we are out of cat litter.  Requesting immediate support in the form of wood pellets, shavings, shredded paper or any brand of cat litter.  I will be monitoring Channel 16 on the quarter-hour.”

But, I refrained and shoved my panic down to the pit of my stomach while repeating the phrase, “its going to be fine, everything will be just fine.”

We left Ecuador with a solid two-month supply, enough for crossing the Pacific Ocean and a month in the remote parts of the Marquesas.  We thought for sure we could find some sort of cat litter or a litter substitute upon arrival.  I mean, even the tiniest villages in Panama and Ecuador had cat litter.  Surely, they have pet cats in the Marquesas.

Wrong!  They have cats alright, but they’re outside, free roaming cats.  What were we thinking?!?  This is the most remote island chain in the world!  Many of the homes don’t even bother with putting glass in the windows, much less a litter box for the cat.

And here we are, walking around town, surprised by the questionable reaction we get when we ask for cat litter.  But, none the less…it is a conundrum.  The video below is the story of what happened next.

So, if you are on a remote island and run out of cat litter, tiny rocks or sand will work.

Cats have been passengers on boats dating back to the early 1600’s.  They were considered good luck and excellent rodent prevention (we concur on both accounts).  And, while we can find all sorts of feline sailing tales, none of them discuss the infamous litter box.  Which leaves me wondering, what did they do about cat excrement?  Or, did they do anything at all?  My guess is sailors of old probably did nothing with all that kitty waste.

scooping sand on the beach for litter box on a sailboat


scooping sand on the beach for litter box on a sailboat


traveling cats on a sailboat

Now, you might also be wondering…

What is the cats favorite cat litter?

Back in the good ol’ USA we always purchased Worlds Best.  It was the cats fave.  All natural, clumped great, smelled like lavender, could be flushed and in combination with a litter rug, it tracked the least of any litter we’d previously purchased.  At first we didn’t like the name, thought it was a little boastful…but after a few months we were believers.

What is the cats favorite food?

Our cats, like all cats, are picky little creatures.  Finding a food that is well balanced, not filled with chemicals or fillers, and one that both cats enjoy eating is a challenge.  But, they both love Taste of the Wild.  We always stock up on the dry and wet versions when we find it.  It’s all they’ve ever eaten since Singa was a little bengal baby (that is until we run out of that as well).

Why not take the cats to the beach?

The cats are still in quarantine and not legal to take to shore yet.  Even still, there are dogs running around everywhere (there aren’t leash laws here in French Polynesia).  No doubt if we brought the cats to land they would get attacked, or worse.

Why not use the fine sand?

Sand is like the gift that just keeps giving.  It never goes away and would be tracked everywhere.  Plus, there are lots of creatures that live in sand and we don’t want to bring those onto the boat.

Why not just get new sand/rocks every day?

It is a time-consuming process to find the perfect litter sized rocks, and either way we would need to wash, rinse and dry.  It just made more sense to reuse the same rocks.  Plus, its what we’ll have to do for the passage to the Tuamotus and Tahiti anyway.

Why not use the coco coir that we use in the composting toilets?

We did consider this, but the coco coir we use in our composting toilet is like dirt or earth…it’s not something we want tracked all over the boat or stuck to their paws.  There would be dirt smudges everywhere in no time.  However, it is a viable back up and we would if we had to.

Why not use dirt?

Because its dirt and home to many critters that do not belong on a boat.


Camera Gear: All Our Camera/Computer Gear is Listed Here:

AWESOME tunes for vids: Artists Used In This Video:  Rex Banner, Eill


To see our full map with interactive pins, click here:

map of sailing adventures in Nuku Hiva

  • Dates: June 5 – 12, 2018
  • Island: Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia
  • Anchorage: Bay de Taiohae

Thanks for being a part of the journey!

Sharing our lives and what we learn along the way is possible because of viewers like you.



Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (64)

  • Mary Grace Stich

    Hi Y’all,
    I have really enjoyed following you. We are also living on a boat and I can only watch the videos when we have connection…. I know you get it.
    We also lived in Dallas for almost 30 years before taking off in our boat. We sailed the Caribbean and East Coast of the U.S. for 3+ years and are now in Mexico. We plan on leaving for French Polynesia in about a year.
    I was just wondering if you have posted any information about getting your cats into French Polynesia. I would love some insight – as I would like to bring a dog with me and I keep hearing nightmares about getting them into FP from the U.S. or Mexico.
    If you have any firsthand suggestions about how to get you pet into FP without quarantine, I would love to hear it. I have received conflicting information.
    Thanks in advance.
    Wishing you fair winds and excellent adventures,
    Mary Grace

    • Curious Minion

      Hi Mary Grace. Nikki may chime in on this shortly, but they’ve gotten this question before. They are currently trying to get the cat paperwork straight for taking them to Australia and New Zealand, which have extremely strict (more than FP) quarantine regs. Nikki has said that they’ll do a cat paperwork video when they’ve completed the Aus/NZ paperwork.
      Curious Minion

      • MaryGrace Stich

        Thank you for answering. I am sure many people would be interested to hear how they managed to get the cats into FP.
        BTW, I thought it was easier to get your pet into Australia after being in FP for six months…. but I could be wrong.
        Thank you for the excellent videos and blog.
        Mary Grace

        • Curious Minion

          I think you’re correct. Australia isn’t too bad but NZ has extremely strict cat regs. Stay tuned!
          Curious Minion

  • Love outdoors

    I hope that I am not repeating. Heard of a pet rescue that used stove pellets. They last longer, give a nice fragrance and 1 50 lb bag is very cheap. I mention it because some ships use this type of heat. Any pet bedding (wood chip type) also works. Possibly native dried husks, rushes, or shavings?

  • Kristi Black

    I know this is an older post, but we are picking up our Bengal kitty in May (I am sooooo excited!) and I am looking at litter solutions and food options for our future Boat Kitty. Our kitty will also be a full-time liveaboard voyager. I appreciate all the helpful solutions in the comments! I was seriously considering training our kitty to use the toilet (we do not have a composting toilet), but he likely would not be able to use it in rough seas, especially when we should have the lid closed while underway anyway. I will definitely be checking out the reusable litter options. NIkki, are you still feeding the cats Taste of the Wild cat food? What type of treats do you give them, other than fresh fish? My husband and I adore you guys. He is a big bourbon drinker so if we ever meet up, we will have plenty of bourbon to share! Happy Sailing!

    • Curious Minion

      There were lots of helpful suggestions after the kitty litter episode! Nikki and Jason are sailing and don’t have web access for a few days so I’ll try to answer. Yes you’re correct: the toilet system would definitely be a problem on a pitching boat, not only for the kitty to balance on the seat, but for contents sloshing out. Ick! After all of the litter suggestions, Nikki did mention that the TidyCat Breeze system looked like the best option for them. Other cruisers commented that they compact size of the pellet bags, combined with how long a bag of pellets lasts, meant that they could stockpile a LOT of litter onboard.

      They ran out of their supply of Taste of the Wild food somewhere in Panama if I recall and so they were using the highest quality food they could find available in stores, but they still have Taste of the Wild in the Gear Store and would still feed it if they could. In Ecuador, they found out that Cleo now has kidney disease, which requires a special diet. Since they can’t reliably find special kidney diet food, Nikki worked with the vet to develop a few recipes and is now making homemade food for both kitties. They both love the homemade goodies and Cleo is doing very well. I’m not sure about treats. Singa loves fresh fish bits, and Cleo loves to nibble greens like lettuce so they give her veggie nibbles. Cleo can’t have commercial kitty treats on her special diet, so I’m guessing they don’t keep them onboard anymore but that’s just a guess. Maybe she’ll see this & answer when they reach internet service again.
      Hope this helps and cheers!
      Curious Minion

  • Shy

    JIC you are ever in another pinch. I would highly recommend Breeze pellets. We use it and love it! I’ve also heard of people using pinto beans in the Breeze box or a homemade litter pan. If you don’t have access to the pads use a thick cloth in the bottom tray and sprinkle with baking soda. You can wash (use vinegar) and reuse the cloth… Not ideal… but might work?? The things we do for our kitties! 😻

  • Tro

    In parts of the video, your Web browser is showing and giant banner ads are visible on the screen. It’s worth installing uBlock Origin, a free, open-source, fantastic ad blocker that’s used by tens of millions of people. has more. is the version for Google Chrome.

    Basically all of the visible ads will go away, and the page layout is otherwise unaffected. Aside from saving bandwidth so the pages load faster (especially on your Internet connections), the browsing experience is simply much more pleasant when 1/3rd of the screen isn’t screaming at you.

    (Sorry if two copies of this comment appear – I believe one was lost in a moderation “purgatory” during GWTW’s recent Web site CMS change)

  • John

    What is the latest on the litter issue?

    • Curious Minion

      Once they made it to Tahiti they were able to stock up on regular litter. They are also looking for some sort of reusable, washable litter granule to either use as a primary system or keep on hand for another emergency. I don’t think they liked the rock system much at all & I’ll bet Jason never skimps on buying litter again!

      • Deb Northern Regius

        I posted this on FB but check it out. It’s what we use for our two Savannah cats. The litter is washable and lasts a freakishly long time (especially if you opt to scoop the poop). Hopefully this helps.

  • Kathy (Kat) Jura

    My (admittedly untried) idea: Buy two sifting litter boxes. Gather beach rocks to put into sifting pans. Buy metal screening to cut and put in screening pans over the larger holes in pans. This will keep finer beach rocks from going down into bottom pans. Or, use larger beach rocks that won’t go through sifting pans. When cleaning, pull out sifting pan with rocks, remove poo and set aside. Rinse pee out of lower pan and fill with sea water. Put sifting pan with rocks back in, with soap, and swish around to clean rocks. Rinse everything, put back together and set aside to dry. Use other sifting litter box with same setup while first one dries. Rotate as needed. Voila! Actually this was an interesting topic as I’m living on a catamaran in Port of the Islands Marina in the Florida Everglades. Hubby Michael and I are fixing her up to go cruising, hopefully in a year or so. We have one kitten child, Adso, and I was wondering about running out of litter when traveling. I’m thinking of trying this setup myself to see how it goes. I currently use a big outdoor welcome mat under the cat box to catch litter off of paws and vacuum it every couple of days, which seems to work well. It’s ribbed with a carpet-like surface and seems to catch the litter pretty well. Best of luck with this and the rash!

  • Kenny

    We have switched to World’s Best after our tests in preparation to transitioning to the boat, after one cat taking fine to Litter Quitter and/or aquarium rocks, while the other rebelling in various ways. I guess we will just buy a LOT.

    I will tell you this – if you step on a Fresh Step pellet, you will be angry.

  • David Cutrone

    Use wood pellets for cat litter, and sprinkle it every couple of days with dry bokashi to keep the urine smell down.

  • Rick Peterson

    I haven’t read any of the comments with concern to kitty litter problem to know if this suggestion was already made. But if I were in your predicament I would poop-scoop then rinse the soiled rocks in the ocean in a net sock and hang off the side of the boat to dry while your cats are soiling up the next batch of gravel/litter. If you keep 1 or 2 changes of gravel/litter per litter box drying continually… You’ll be walking in tall cotton
    You could hide the drying gravel/litter under the trampoline.

  • David Smith

    I have been using a light weight cat litter and talk about track all over the house. It is really bad and I will be going back to a heavier version of cat litter soon. It is made by Arm & Hammer and it is called Slide and I can buy it at Walmart here in Fort Worth. My sister in law uses it and says it does not track nearly as much as the light weight stuff I have been using since last July. I was under a weight restriction and could only life six pounds for a few months. I am healed up now and can lift as much as I want again no more hernia. I hope you can find some real cat litter soon so you don’t have to spend half you day on cat duty.

  • Alan Solomon

    I read everyone’s comments. Amazing discussion pertaining to your two mates. If they only knew the time and effort you go through.
    If I were a cat I would be upset about not having thumbs.
    Awesome and best for you in every way….

    • Adrian

      We use Breeze , with the pads .
      And what we intend using on our new L42
      The Pelets can be rinsed , pads are light to carry lots of and paper towels can be used .

  • Doug

    Our big boy refuses to use his potty box if not cleaned at least every other day. He’s a 22+ lb grey tabby. We’ve had him since he was 10 days old and we are full time in RV, traveling around US. We love to watch your Kittys on your videos.

  • Kim

    Love your work.
    And thinking of sailing with a kitty cat so very interesting problem.
    Have heard of this put not tried ….
    Reusable “grass” mat.
    Good luck!

  • Wheelingit

    Boy do I feel for you. My stomach would be in emotional lumps if we ran out of cat litter or cat food (and my life in jeopardy, since the cats would probably kill me). But we’re in civilization and not the middle of the ocean on a remote island. Good job on the hack. You are most super-dedicated pet parents.


  • Maria from Sweden

    Hi! I followed you a couple of years back when you were RVing, and the lost you and now found you back! I’m hooked on your videos and I truly enjoy taking part of your life. If feels like I found my old friends back again. 🙂
    You are both amazing in so many ways and the way you take on all challenges that life throws at you are very similar to my view. Also, Nikki’s way of saying “if you say I can’t do it, I have to do it”. Hear, hear.
    Anyway, my question. I see in the blogs that it says for example “Dates: June 5 – 12, 2018”. Does that mean we are like 5 months behind watching your whereabouts? Just curious.
    See ya!

    • Curious Minion

      Yes Maria, the videos are always a few months behind real life because it takes time to shoot, edit, and sometimes to find the WiFi to post the video. To stay in touch in real time, catch posts on Facebook or Instagram. @gonewiththewynns
      Curious Minion

  • Mike Moran

    Concerning cat litter: the google search suggested using shredded newsprint cut into long narrow strips followed wetting then drying. You might consider using any paper (coated paper i.e, magazine paper is the least desirable). You mentioned there was no good way to dry the paper; however, you have an oven. The wetted paper could be dried in an oven using low temperature (start at 150 deg F). If newsprint, telephone book paper is not available consider cutting cardboard into strips. If the cardboard is too inflexible you might separate the facings to make it more flexible.

  • Charlie McNeil

    Someone mentioned this already but I have seen this advertised before. Coconut husks. They say you just scoop the poop and strin the urine. It is called cat spot litter. I am sure you could find coconuts somewhere. 😲

  • Roger B

    Would rotten fruit collected from the ground and then put into a blender and then dried work?

  • Ian Brown

    I was going to recommend something like the CatGenie because of the reusable plastic litter pellets, but really what you need is some way to allow the urine to pass through the bottom of the pan so you can remove it easily. If the urine is contained, it contaminates the entire pan, so it’s important to remove it from the gravel as quickly as possible. Drill some holes in one little pan that can fit inside another, and put something in as a spacer to keep the pans apart with a bit of a gap between them. Then you can dump off the wee more often than doing a complete pan wash. Add vinegar, baking soda, or hydrogen peroxide to the bottom pan to kill the ammonia smell on contact, and you can go longer between wee dumps!

    • ben kokenge

      Ian, that is what we did. I took a cat box and drilled many 1/4″ holes. Then glued a weed blanket (semi-permeable mesh) to the bottom. (Do not glue to the inside of the box, the cats will scratch it up when burying their poop.) Then put the cat box in another slightly larger cat box (or some sort of pan) under to collect the urine. Dump in the washable cat granules. You dump off the urine and can scoop the poop. Once a month or so you need to wash the granules. It’s been working for over a year now. Over time you lose granules stuck to the scooped poop, but it’s not much.

  • Bart

    I will add my vote to trying coconut husk as a mulch. May also be a bit of work, but we know Jason loves climbing those palm trees. 😉

  • Robin

    My first post ever after years of following you guys and it’s about cat litter… Because I Google everything, I searched for reusable cat litter and came up with this. Can’t vouch for it (my three guys use World’s Best too) but it looks like it might be a good solution.

  • Charles

    For passage could you just get a two or three buckets of sand. Don’t sift it just scoop two or three buckets full off the beach before you head out and just dump it overboard every x hours. Refilling and dump overboard repeat.

  • Joy Gross

    Can we send you some?

  • Sandra & the 2 Spaniels

    Oh Nikki! What a lot of work! Pet Lovers always go the extra mile. Can Amazon deliver to a future destination?

  • David Lee

    Hi you two would coconut husk matereal chopped up work?

  • Danny Lee White

    There are Potty Training Kits for cats.
    Its shaped and fits inside the toilet seat.
    After awhile you remove it
    The cat learns to straddle the seat
    And use the toliet.
    Some have learned to flush.
    I travel full time in my RV.
    I spend 4 months in Pensacola.Phoeinix and Seattle.
    Love reading about your adventures

    • Curious Minion

      Except you shouldn’t leave the lid up on a rocking boat. At best, the lid keeps closing. At worst, stuff sloshes. And I’m guessing that balancing on a slick toilet seat in rough seas is going to be tough. A couple of bad experiences and your cat may stop trying to use it and pick a corner somewhere…
      Curious Minion

    • CJ

      We trained one of our cars to use the toilet using a kit. It does work. How ever, would it with a compost toilet?

      • Curious Minion

        No, there’s no way then to separate liquids from solids. Bummer.
        Curious Minion

  • Doug Short

    How about dried older coconut fiber, chopped into chunks then run through a food processor or blender. We live on Vancouver island (no coconuts) so we can’t test this theory for you, lol.

    also are you aware of

    Good luck

  • wallace loper

    See Style Options
    CatGenie Self Washing Self Flushing Cat Box

  • Elizabeth B

    Not helpful information while in the middle of the Pacific, however when I needed to collect a urine sample from my cat, a vet provided me with a small bag of cat litter sized glass pellets as they don’t asborb the pee. Similar to how you’re utilizing the small rocks!

  • Morris Walters

    If its available buy screening material, fiberglass preferably. Make a 3 foot by 3 foot bag with the screen with grommets along two sides. After removing the solids dip the bag you have created in water and rinse the rocks. Then stretch the bag flat between two points and let it air dry. Even if you later get litter the bag will store well for emergencies. This will reduce handling. This assumes you have a grommeting kit and sewing materials. In a pinch mosquito netting might work. It also allows you to get a couple of buckets of coarse material at the beach and sift it at the boat, rather that at the beach. For what it’s worth. Be safe.

  • Mike&Cindy....

    Hi…You can use Speedy-dry also ..they use it for oil spills at auto repair shops..or just about any fluid spill’s…work’s great…I was just trying to help out…We love all of your video’s…good luck…enjoy your adventures…

  • Carol Ivanusic

    Check out the Tidy Cat Breeze system. I have 2 cats in a 25′ travel trailer it works great for me. It has reusable pellets instead of rocks, sand, etc. It is a 2 layer system, the top tray holds the pellets has slots to let the urine flow through to the bottom tray which holds a pee pad which you toss when full. Maybe the whole system won’t work for you but maybe you can use the pellets, which I’ve heard some people wash & reuse. Good luck and safe journeys.

  • Mindy

    You guys are so awesome!!

  • Tom Fitch

    Just a thought…Why not just take a bucket, drill a bunch of 1/8 inch holes in the bottom, and then just plunge it in and out of the ocean a whole bunch of times until it’s clean? You might not even need to scoop out the poop if they float to the top when held under the water. Keep it simple! Also, I really liked the intro this week without that awful music and the “credit roll”. Don’t like to be critical, but I would always forward past that part. 😉 You guys are awesome!

      • Tom Fitch

        I think you would keep using the sand and, as you say, ditch the litter forever. And if you had extra sand, one sand box could be the liter box while the second drys for a few days. Just keep rotating them.

  • Linda Jorgenson

    Hi sweeties! How are you? Question. How’s there paws? Different grains, can be rough on their digging tools. Keep an eye on them when you have to switch, ok? Love you guys!!!Safe sailing, Lynne

  • Lisa Cantrell

    I had a cat in Egypt who used the toilet. Of course, in your case they can’t open the hatch for the poop chamber but the smell would surely alert you guys to it.:) . Then you’d just have to train them NOT to poop while you are out. 🙂
    But good job with the rocks! Growing up we had LOTS of cats but life was somewhat like where you are and we had no idea what cat litter was and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t available on the island then either.
    BTW, I am not a Bourbon drinker but my husband is and when we were in KY last month went to the Jeptha Creed Distillery in Shelbyville. If you ever get back to the states it’s worth it. Run by women and new (they didn’t even have a fully aged barrel of bourbon yet) but they also have moonshine and vodka. I got the Hot Pepper Vodka which has 3 kinds of hot peppers and lots of garlic an is my new favorite “secret” ingredient in virtually everything I can put it in. It will be featured in the Vegan Pumpkin Leek soup I am making for Thanksgiving.
    Lastly, J’espère que vous continuez à profiter de vos voyages.

  • Therese Sandhage

    You might consider teaching your cats to use the toilet. No, I’m not joking. It will save you time, effort, and money. I feel for you, I really do. Good luck.

      • Therese Sandhage

        Here I thought it’d be perfect. A little cat litter on the trap door, cat poops, you open trap door, and all falls into the base. Pee would be absorbed but extra would go into the urine collection container. Oh well.

  • Richard Savage

    You two somehow managed to make the great cat litter crisis of 2018 very interesting. Well done.

    Those paddle boards really look like a must have. I assume you didn’t use the Minion because that beach would have torn it up.

  • Sondra

    Don’t know if it would work with your composting toilet, it maybe?

  • See if they have oil dry and one of the stores

    See if they have oil dry and one of the stores

  • michel paris

    Hi guys
    One question, may be you already talked about that, are you using the same composting toilet than the RV.
    Take care

  • mary vancompernolle

    That is an awful lot of work. Next time, I will bring cat litter instead of bourbon. LOL!


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