Would you like fries with that? Never mind, I forgot the cooking oil...

People write a lot about provisioning a ship, that is of course, the purchasing of edible items that one pre-purchases before a cruise. For all of you readers who haven't had the pleasure of cruising on your own boat, allow me to enlighten you just a bit.

In our case, we cruise to the Bahamas. In the area we sail there, there aren't a lot of grocery stores to be found. Not like the ones we are accustomed to here in the states, at least. Many of the outer islands have no store at all. Others look like a seedy convenience store a week after the aliens have landed and wiped out 7/8ths of the panicked population. There is no way to easily acquire fresh produce, although most of these small stores will have onions, potatoes, and apples in stock on the day the mail boat brings supplies. There are a few staples on the shelves, but not enough to plan on buying all our food in the islands What to do then, about eating?

It's simple really, we bring the store with us. Food in the Bahamas is upwards of double and triple the price of what we can purchase stateside, so it saves us money as well. Now before my cruiser friends disagree, think about what you take for six months in the Bahamas. (It's OK now folks, that alone will keep them busy for a few hours)
In fact, I never thought of it in those terms myself, until this month, when I started provisioning for this years cruise. Last time we went to the Bahamas, we stayed three months. Double the time, triple the food. Well, alright, admit-ably there were a few snack items we really missed, but this year I think I have all the junk food-groups covered.

So we bring lots of food, you say. What's the big deal about that? Keep in mind, dear friends, we are not talking about a mega trip to the grocery, and then lugging loads of grocery bags onto the boat. Oh no, this is a full scale food procurement assault. Each step is planned, like a barrage, and it must flow smoothly or one might find themselves eating meals of green beans, pintos and chick peas for the last two weeks of May. Or worse... nothing. That's right, this is a one shot deal, bring it, or do without, no tap-backs, do-overs or second chances here.

First one needs to decide what to bring. If you want roasted peppers in your spaghetti sauce, you will do without unless you put it on the master list. I plan to make a lot of hummus this year for potlucks and sundowner treats. But it would be a plain, hum-drum hummus indeed if I forget things like pine nuts, hearts of palm, minced garlic or pimentos. So everything, and I mean everything that we will need in the way of food needs to get on the list.

Next comes quantities. Just how many tea bags does one need for six months of sailing? Well, if we figure a gallon of tea per day, x's 180 days; four bags per gallon, 48 bags to the box, it's a hell of a lot of tea bags! I must do this kind of math for everything that goes on the boat, so I don't end up with too much (no place to put it, and wasteful of money )or too little (OMG! We are out of Ruffles!)

We also need to think about how we will store a grocery store full of food on our boat. Many items are packed with "air", Splenda is a perfect example. Open the bag it comes in, pour the Splenda into a food saver bag and re-seal, removing the air during the vacuum process. Now there is a fairly flat, hard plastic pouch, easy to stow, impervious to bugs, moisture and decay. I'll need a lot of food-saver bags for nine bags of Splenda, eight bags of nuts, all that tea, and just about everything else that originally comes not-in-a-vacuum-sealed-bag. Anything that comes in a box is given similar treatment. A box around a small pouch of rice is wasted space. The boxes are all removed.  The food inside might get the food-saver do-over, or as in the case of pouches, the cooking instructions are written on each pouch, and then they all go into a plastic freezer bag.

Glass gets some special treatment also. Glass that bangs together, breaks together and leaves a god-awful smelly, sometimes sticky mess. I use the foam sleeves that are sold at the truck rental places for packing glasses for a move. Each jar gets taped inside one of these, and is labeled so I don't stand there holding it in four months with a "DUH" look on my face.

Of course after I have completed all these tasks, I'm still not done. The food has to be packaged for transport to the boat. Now I'm in Fl. and the boat is in NC, so I won't even get to the fun of fresh meat, dairy and produce until I arrive, I will save that for another lively post. (Besides, the cruiser folks are starting to stir after their contemplation of their own provisioning; we need to hurry this along!) I get those cheap, plastic totes (with lids) from WallyWorld and line the bottom layer with cans. Then I try to distribute, weight-wise, all of the repackaged food until they are full. The bins are easy (-for you to say, says Al) to transport and get onto the boat, where I then begin the real fun: trying to fit 80cu. ft. of food into 40cu.ft. of space.

That, my friends, is an art.


S/V Veranda said...

I scoff at your pile o' foodstuffs. I have a bigger pile of rum on board than that but seriously....have you tried vacuum sealing a roll of paper towels yet? Talk about saving some space....

MJ said...

OOOH! Tell me more, oh Guru of the Bahamas. You know, it really is you that taught me all I know about cruising the Bahamas back in "09. OMG! It just hit me...No wonder I'm so warped! It's all your fault! I learned from the master. LOL!!

CW Bill Rouse said...

I applaud your method. Of course, I applaud it because it is exactly what I do on our boat. Bill says we live in a floating grocery store. Crossing the South Pacific I was very glad that we had provisioned so well. We enjoyed gourmet quality meals while many others complained of not being able to buy decent food at any price. It is a lot of work to do it right, and you know that because you are doing it right.


MJ said...

Thanks for your kind words Judy. Only another pro-provisioner could truly "get it". Al always has his "we're taking way too much" mantra, but I know he appreciates it when he is still feeding his cashew habit on May 12!

Dan said...

As someone who is getting started with sailing, I really like this post to see what goes into getting ready for long trips. I'm not much of a cook, haha, I guess I'll have to learn someday.
Thanks for sharing.

MJ said...

You are welcome Dan! Fortunately for all of us, there are many easy-peasy recipes that take few ingredients and little time to prepare and taste good. The more time spent out of the galley and up in the cockpit enjoying food and friends, the better cruising is. A few cooking basics are all that's needed, then if you can read a recipe, you are good to go.