Provisioning for a Passage
I grew up in the National Park Service where the major grocery store was often 100 miles away. I remember during my dad’s 4-year assignment in Yosemite National Park, we would make a monthly trek with our mom to the booming metropolis of Fresno to stock up on groceries. At the time, I didn’t give much thought to how my mom planned for the month—I just remember my sisters and I pushed around a cart overflowing with food and gallons of milk, while my mom continued to fill a second cart. Checkout was $100 for the two carts. That was 1972.
Fast forward through my own motherhood and several extended backpacking and river rafting trips and I feel well-equipped to provision a boat. That would be true if I was shopping in my local grocery store, there was no concern for humidity and the effects of salt water, my oven didn’t top out at 375 degrees, seas were always calm and nobody got sea sick, and I had a nice big pantry.
Gémeaux is equipped with a two-shelf pantry, small freezer, and two very generous refrigerator drawers in the galley. There’s another small refrigerator and a Yeti ice chest in the cockpit that we use for cold drinks. I’ve also discovered many nooks and crannies to extend the pantry, e.g, my baking ingredients are under my bed. We’re actually in pretty good shape to store food and we’re especially fortunate to have the ability to freeze food—a luxury many boats don’t have.
As we prepared for our 2-week passage offshore, I started reading blogs, talking to fellow cruisers, and trying a variety of different meals on Gémeaux. I learned that lettuce freezes in the back of our refrigerator, chips and crackers get stale almost immediately after opening, most cruisers make their own bread, and the best meals are quick and easy in case of rough weather.
The Captain provided these instructions—we could arrive in 10 days, but plan for 14 meals and have enough food for 18 days. The last 4 meals can be canned chili and soups…but temperatures will be warm at that point. It will be cold when we start out and hot when we finish. Conditions underway are unpredictable but plan for heavy seas and remember you (that’s me) get sea sick so you can’t plan to be the cook all the time. I’m not sure of the exact date and time of our departure—I’ll probably know that within 24 hours of departure.) P.S. Get as much pineapple as you can. Alrighty.
A couple comments—first, I do not do canned foods. I’ve had the luxury of California produce and sustainable foods for the past 18 years and I can’t bring myself to buy a can with ingredients I can’t identify. Second, my type A personality will not allow me to casually jot down a few meal ideas and stroll through the neighborhood market to fill my cart. Those who know me well know that this food plan will be highly-researched, tested, catalogued, and organized well in advance of whenever the skies part and we’re cleared for sailing.
Naturally, my first step was to find an app on my phone to organize this magnificent database I was about to create—shout out to AnyList that pretty much fulfilled my demands to make an integrated meal plan, recipes, and shopping list.
Next, I located a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods close to our marina in Hampton so I knew shopping wouldn’t be limited to the neighborhood market. I made a test run to these two stores when I was in California to find out exactly what ingredients I could expect to find when I returned to Hampton. I looked specifically at what canned foods or prepared meals these stores sold—a limited supply, as you would imagine, but at least I could pronounce the ingredients. The Internet was a great source of many recipes that could be made in advance and frozen. Once I filtered out the green bean and Durkee onion casseroles, these recipes were a key part of my menu. I began plugging recipes into a meal plan that met all our criteria and could sustain us for an unpredictable journey. Everything looked fabulous…on paper.
We arrived in Hampton about a week before our anticipated departure. It was a busy week, filled with meeting fellow cruisers, attending lectures on offshore safety, and squeezing in an endless list of last-minute repairs. In terms of shopping, I decided to break it into three trips—first to Costco for bulk items, next to the neighborhood Food Lion for non-perishable items, ingredients for any freezer meals, and cat food!; and finally to Trader Joe’s for perishables, meat, and those canned meals just before departure. Each trip, we hauled the groceries down the dock and onto Gémeaux, where I filled every orifice I could find for food storage.
At the end of trip two, I was certain I had bought too much food and started worrying about storage space. I devoted 1-½ days to making freezer meals at the dock. I lined up all my disposable tins, five rotisserie chickens, noodles, beans, fresh veggies, and a long list of other ingredients, and converted our 6-foot galley into a commercial kitchen. In the end, I had nine freezer meals that could be popped into the oven in case of rough seas or if the cook was under the weather and a bunch of frozen meats tucked in between. I declared the freezer stocked.
Three days before our anticipated departure date, we got our weather window. In a last-minute haste, we squeezed the final Trader Joe’s grocery run in between the airport pickup of our last crew member and returning the rental car. Fruits and vegetables were cleaned, organized into plastic green saver bags (an experiment to see if they they really do slow down ripening process), and filled to the top of the refrigerator drawers. I posted the meal plan on the pantry door (just in case the cook was sick). I declared provisioning was complete.
Now the reality…on Day 3 of our passage seas were clam and the weather warm. Baked chili just didn’t have the same appeal. Everyone slept odd hours because of night watches so at least one person missed a meal. Jim Moore sustained himself on cans of sardines. We caught a 20-pound mahi-mahi on night two so guess what? We really did have too much food. I made a rule—no more fishing until we ate all those freezer meals!
On Day 6, I could report only a few bouts of really rough seas and nothing that a little Bonine couldn’t take care of, so the cook was alive and well in the galley. We caught a total of four fish—three mahi-mahi and one bonita, which, in the end, I agreed should take precedence over any freezer meal. If only we could plan on catching fish—provisioning would be so easy. I learned that rice doesn’t freeze well unless you like mush. I’m glad I bought 4000 Kind bars since they ended up being the most popular snack, particularly at night. And most importantly, I had the best crew who would gratefully eat anything I placed in front of them, even mushy rice.
On Day 10, Allen rejoiced in the discovery of one final fresh pineapple! We still had lots of apples and clementines before we needed to get into the dried fruit. Onions and potatoes remained in good shape in their dark cellar under the galley sink. Fish tacos were a big hit, especially when fresh mahi-mahi replaced frozen, store-bought cod.
On Day 14, we arrived in Antigua safe and sound and well-fed. We did not run out of food. With all due respect to the cook, however, this crew was ready for a restaurant meal. Anyone want some canned meals? We have plenty leftover:)