Sunday, November 11, 2012

Provisioning Up

Every cruising blog seems to have a photo like this.  Shopping for all this food was the easy part.  I'm going to stow it where exactly?
“You should bring enough food to be able to live off your stores for 3 months without ever seeing a supermarket,” advised our experienced cruiser friends as my eyes widened.  “And 6 months for things where you really want your specific brand.”  It was late springtime in Annapolis and we were planning our trip to the deserted Bahamas Out Islands for the coming winter.  “Okay, then,” I responded with a calm I definitely did not feel, while trying to decide if I needed my regular brand of organic, fire-roasted, petite-diced canned tomatoes or just generic canned tomatoes.  This was going to be the real deal – just us, deserted tropical islands.  No grocery stores.  No people.

That summer was the planning time.  For months, I kept grocery lists to figure out our shopping patterns.  If I had it to do over again, I would have written my lists in a small notebook; much easier and neater than keeping the odd collection of envelopes and scraps of paper that I actually use.  At one point I even built a computerized list, organized by the aisles in our local grocery store.  We’re vegetarians who added limited species of fin fish into our diet at the advice of the nutritionist after Dan’s cancer surgery; at least we weren’t going to have to figure out how to store steaks and bacon.  From studying my accumulated grocery lists, we learned that we generally eat 1-2 fish meals per week, and 3-4 bean, grain, or pasta meals, and 2 cheesy dairy meals.  In theory.  In practice, we eat out once or twice a week, and have one “meal” that is really just a couple of glasses of wine with snacks and friends.  Non-food supplies like shampoo and paper products and plastic bags, had to be accounted for as well.  Want to know how long a tube of toothpaste or box of laundry detergent lasts?  Write the date you put it into service on it with magic marker.  We both cook for fun as much as sustenance, which means there are also condiments and spices to contend with. Inevitably I’ll complain that there’s nothing in the fridge – but the fridge is not empty, there’s a bunch of space taken up with half-bottles of salsa and maple syrup and mustard and mayonnaise.   There are partial bottles of Trader Joe’s sauces, flavors that we tried once or twice and liked, so we bought several more to use again, only to grow bored after the novelty wore off and leave behind while we headed in new directions.

Provisioning sounded like simple math.  3 months, 12 weeks.  If we have pasta twice a week, that’s going to be 24 cans of chopped tomato and 8 pounds of pasta.  48 cans of vegetables.  12 pounds of rice.  24 cans of tuna.  12 pounds of coffee.  We also planned for things that we knew would have to be different under way than at home.  Fresh bread wouldn’t keep for 3 months and we didn’t have the space to keep it frozen.  Instead, we’d make bread from scratch or do without.  Add to the list 15 pounds of flour, “some” powdered milk, sugar, and honey.  Onions probably won’t keep, better get some dried onion flakes.  When we’re on overnight passage at sea, we don’t really cook, we just want food that can be eaten out of hand or mixed with boiling water.  Add instant oatmeal, ramen noodles, and some energy bars to the list.  Toilet paper and paper towels!  Everyone warned us that paper products in the Caribbean were either ruinously expensive, or simply not available in the soft, cushy quality we’re used to here in the US. 

Still, making the list was the easy part.  After the big shopping trips to CostCo and Giant and Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, we had to find places to store everything.  First came the repackaging.  Cardboard never comes aboard, both because it can harbor roaches - they love to eat the glue - and because it can hold moisture and spoil whatever is stored in it. We saved the plastic containers of things we bought regularly; they made nice uniform-sized canisters for storage of bulk things like dried beans as well as anything that originally came in a cardboard package.  We bought a restaurant-size jar of bay leaves and put handfuls of the leaves in with the flour and rice to prevent weevils.  We split the cost of a vacuum sealer with our friends and broke bulk packages of coffee and granola and crackers and blocks of cheese into smaller servings and shrink-wrapped them.  We also vacuum sealed prescription medicines and Q-tips and spare parts, anything we wouldn’t use right away that would be damaged by moisture. 

After repackaging, then we looked for creative stowage locations.  One huge dry locker under the v-berth cushions became our primary long-term storage pantry that we’d get into once a month or so, to restock canisters of staples that were in more accessible “day use” locations.  We tucked things in unlikely places: drawers are rectangular but the hull is curved, which meant that there was wasted space behind the drawers.  Wasted no more, that space was promptly filled with supplies.  Heavy things went below the waterline and bulky but light things went higher.  Finally, with a water line an inch or two lower than normal due to the extra weight we had crammed aboard, we were ready to sail to the Bahamas, and live off what we had with us.

We spent more time than we expected to in the little islands of the Exumas.  There were small stores there; the local people had to eat something and get their food somewhere, after all.  We could learn more about life here by following their lead.  Maybe we couldn’t get broccoli, but we could get cabbage and kale, and grapefruit and limes.  The stuff we had in storage stayed in storage.  Then we headed for the Out Islands.

You know what the kicker was?  Because of the weather, we never made it to those deserted Ragged Islands.   That weather trapped our friends, along with several other cruisers, on moorings in the national park, for about 3 weeks, where they happily ate and drank everything they’d brought, per their own advice.  We were wonderfully lucky to be “trapped” by that same weather on more-developed Eleuthera, where we had access to the biggest grocery store we’d seen since leaving the U.S., and even pizza.  Why eat canned tuna and canned string beans when there was fresh-caught fish and pineapple available?   We never needed many of the supplies we’d so carefully stowed, and many of them came back to the U.S. with us.  (Except, of course, for the alcohol.  No trouble using that up!)
Stowing the good stuff!

Locker diving in that deep locker to get a favorite snack

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Provisioning is the subject of this month's RaftUP (which I'm embarrassingly late contributing to; blame it on a combination of Superstorm Sandy, conflicting deadlines and some personal-life drama.)  You can read other cruisers' take on this topic at:

Still to come: 

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Click on the monkey's fist to read others bloggers on this topic.
The Monkey's Fist

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