It’s easy to provision once you’ve done it a few times. What mistakes did I make before I figured it out?
When we first decided we were going cruising, I was a newly-minted college grad, playing house with my boyfriend in a 2-bedroom apartment that split the distance between his work and mine. What I knew about cruising was learned from 2 summers of teaching sailing with Sail Caribbean, plying the waters of the BVI and the Leewards on 50’ sailboats with a crew of teenagers. Food was provided, along with lists of what we were supposed to have, what we were supposed to make, and recipes to follow. Those boats had huge freezers and larger refrigerators, and one of the worst jobs was cleaning the charter juice out of the bottom after a 3-week program ended.
Our boat would have a refrigerator the size of a small cooler and no freezer. Nobody was going to magically appear with a few boxes of food on a regular basis, along with a plan of what I was supposed to do with that food. I better learn what to do now, before we left.
It was the early 90s, before the internet made everything accessible at the tap of a few fingers on a keyboard, so my main references were books, mostly purchased from the Blue Water Bookstore. There was the tried and true Joy of Cooking*. A book by Michael Greenwald called “The Cruising Chef”. A couple of pressure cooker and bean cookbooks. And the book that would find a priceless place on my bookshelf, a place it holds firmly today – Lin Pardey’s The Care and Feeding of the Offshore Crew (it’s since been renamed "The Care and Feeding of the Sailing Crew", and that's what the link is for.)
I have a fondness for Lin and Larry Pardey for many reasons, but chief among them has to be that we own a boat designed by the same guy who designed both of theirs. That I’ve since gotten to personally know Lin still feels like a bit of a pinch-me-now situation. When Lin talks about how to organize a galley (which is really like organizing your boat, because the food winds up in lockers all over), it’s like she’s standing in Calypso’s salon, directing me. She’s almost never steered me wrong when it comes to food stuff, although I’m far less of a fan of corned beef than she is.
She taught me the importance of trying canned goods at home before stocking up. The importance of learning to create meals out of items you’d have left after 2 weeks or longer since you saw a grocery store. And the importance of using leftovers so you don’t waste food.
There may be those reading who are in the planning stages of your cruise. I’ll offer three tips for provisioning practice that you can work on right now, before you move aboard.
1. Observe the kinds of food you like to eat. Be a student of your preferences as far as food goes. If you like it on land, you’ll LOVE it on board. Understanding what you like to eat is critical to making an accurate list when it comes time for provisioning.
2. Start thinking about food that lasts a long time, and how to use it. Sure, there are fresh staples like cabbage and onions and garlic, but there’s also some really fabulous stuff in the packaged section you might like to try once to see how you like it. On my list in this category is jackfruit, some of the Thai curry options, and even powdered hummus mix. Will we like it all? Maybe, maybe not; but if we do, we have expanded our options for eating well when we decide to stay an extra few days in that perfect anchorage. I spend an extra few minutes in the sections of the grocery store that are dedicated to my favorite kinds of food (see #1!) and if there is something that catches my eye, I either buy it on that trip or make a note to pick it up next time.
3. Pick ONE thing to learn how to make from scratch that right now you buy as a matter of course. Maybe it’s queso dip. (no judging – I have teenagers) Maybe it’s fresh bread. Maybe it’s salad dressing or spaghetti sauce or yogurt or hummus. It’s a whole lot easier when you’re cruising to carry ingredients you can use to make a lot of different dishes rather than just buying the specific dish. If you’re so inclined, check out Tasty Thursday, my YouTube playlist, where every Thursday I share a simple recipe or tip designed to make you think, “Hey, I can do that!”. The show’s been running weekly since October of 2012 – there’s a lot there! And if you don’t have a copy of The Boat Galley cookbook yet, what on earth are you waiting for!
Provisioning can feel daunting, especially when you see pictures of boats piled high with canned and packaged goods that need to be stored in every conceivable cranny. A little forethought, planning, and understanding can alleviate that feeling. Start practicing now!
Side note: If you’re planning to be at Cruisers University at the Annapolis Spring Boat Show in October of 2018, stop by and say hi to Carolyn and me. She’s teaching a class on hurricane prep, and I’m sharing more provisioning tips plus offering a class on the dreams vs realities of cruising. We’d love to see you.
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