Provisioning for Long Distance Cruising
Good food is a fun and essential part of sailing and cruising. Whether you are going out on your boat for a weekend, a week, a month or a year, someone has to plan what the crew and guests are going to eat, shop for it, store it, fix it, serve it, and then figure out what to do with the trash. You can apply many of these same suggestions to set up a reserve stock of provisions so that you are prepared for an emergency situation.
Planning, shopping, stocking and maintaining an inventory of your stores are loved by some and dreaded by others. Fortunately, I am a member of the former group.
The key to nearly every successful meal afloat or on land is in the advance planning and provisioning. Some people plan exact menus for each meal – others take a more casual approach. A lot depends on your dining style.
We have known folks at the Marina and even cruising in remote ports who seem to exist on sweet rolls for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch and dinner at a local restaurant. This may be okay for some people but probably leaves something to be desired for most of us.
First, try to learn in advance what your crew and guests like or dislike. Be particularly mindful of food allergies. Among our close circle of friends and family, we know people with allergies to spices, wheat, and dairy - it seems like food allergies are getting more and more common. We even keep an EPI pen on our boat - just in case.
Next consider what you have to work with. What are the limitations of your boat (or house)? What cooler and dry storage space is available? How many burners can be used at the same time? Do you really want to use the oven and heat up the cabin? What kind of cookware is on hand? How much time do you want to spend preparing and cooking?
Some weekend sailors that we know reserve one shelf in their pantry and one shelf in their refrigerator at home for provisions that are going to the boat. During the week, they accumulate all the things they don't want to forget. It really makes it easy to pack things up when they head for the water.
It is also a good idea to have a master list of basic food and non-food items to either store on the boat or keep in a large plastic container that goes back and forth between the boat and home with you. Some friends use a provisioning list from a boat they chartered in the Caribbean.
The next step in the planning process for an outing or a cruise of several days is to lay out meal plans and then estimate what quantities will be needed. You need to do the same exact thing if you want to lay some stocks aside in your home for emergency use. Some people like to have at least 2-3 months worth of food stored in a pantry or a basement.
For shorter trips in our boat, I used to make out menus for each day and then use the recipes to build my shopping list. A simple three-column list worked very well – (1) the name of the dish and where the recipe is located, (2) the ingredients you have on hand, and (3) the ingredients you need to buy. This can even work for longer trips by making a two-week “master menu”. It would probably be months before anyone realized you were rotating the same dishes over and over. But I like a little more variety than that.
An approach for longer trips is to figure out the number of units of a certain food that you will need for each person in your family or on your boat. I have used this method successfully to provision for trips of over six months.
For example, every day for each person you will need 1 breakfast main dish, 1 lunch main dish, 1 dinner main dish, 3-4 beverage servings, 3 grain servings, 1 starch serving, 1 vegetable serving, 1 salad serving, 1 dessert serving, and 2 snack servings. Multiply the number of persons on board and the number of days you plan to cruise and you have the start of a provisioning list.
Don’t forget to plan meals and treats for any pets on board. Cat and Dog food is not readily available in all countries. During some of the recent hurricane disasters, people found out that it wasn't always possible to replenish suppplies of pet food; so please plan ahead for your furry family members.
The following are some other suggestions and thoughts on planning for specific meals. One important rule - pay attention to expiration dates! I have found that grocery stores frequently have out-of-date products on their shelves.
Breakfast can be a very simple self-service meal. Suggestions include individual fruit cups or fresh fruits, juice, yogurt, dry cereal, breakfast sweet rolls, or cold cuts and croissants with jam. You can vary that with eggs, bacon, French toast etc. depending on the sea state and your willingness to prepare something more elaborate. Look for pre-cooked bacon that can be stored without refrigeration. It isn't always easy to spot because the grocery stores often display it in the refrigerated case next to uncooked bacon. Another handy product for breakfast are "egg-beaters" - you can store them in the freezer.When we were weekend boaters, our breakfasts were pretty elaborate. Now that we are living aboard fulltime – and watching our waistlines, we have large breakfasts less often. I am happy to start my day with a cup of coffee and a granola bar.
Lunch, can be the typical fare of sandwiches with chips, potato salad or slaw, baked beans, etc. Consider wraps, mini pizzas and some favoritate appetizer recipe for a change of pace. If it is cold and raining, a cup of hot soup usually hits the spot. Be sure to keep an extra package or two of crackers for rough weather. Depending on crew or guest preferences, fresh fruit, cookies, or mini-candy bars are great desserts. We make our own bread while cruising – using the package mixes for bread machines, but baking it in our propane oven. The bread machine mixes are so convenient - everything you need, but water - and they are sealed, so you never have "bugs in the flour".
Happy Hour - Weather permitting, on an extended cruise or a lazy afternoon sail, cocktails before dinner always hit the spot. Happy Hour is part of the daily routine for many cruisers, who gather on the beach or on each other’s boats to watch the sun go down. Everyone typically brings their own beverages and an appetizer to share. This can be anything from crackers and cheese to elaborate hors d’oeuvres. I have one locker filled with odds and ends for making snacks. There are some really good dips available that don't need to be refrigerated. I also found powdered humus that tasted wonderful.
Dinner - The evening meal on longer cruises is a high point in the day and should give the crew a really satisfied feeling as well as balanced nutrition. Planning ahead and using a mix of easy to prepare and pre-cooked food takes most of the work out of the galley. Packaged salad, bread and butter, and a side of vegetables can accompany any main course. Fresh vegetables aren't always easy to find when you are cruising - I buy them whenever I can and store them in the "green bags", which work great. Cabbage stores very well for long periods of time. Otherwise we make do with canned vegetables. We’ve had very good luck with high-quality, canned meats ordered off the internet; even canned ground beef that tastes like it was freshly panned fried. My favorite brand of canned meats has a seven-year shelf life. There is even canned butter (very good), canned cheese (so-so), canned bacon (love it!) and UHT milk (best served really cold).
Snacks - Treats between meals and during watches are critical for energy and morale. Individually packaged snacks such as candy bars, cookies, and trail mix stay fresh longer. Stock some of each crew’s favorite goodies and keep them in a “snack drawer” where they can help themselves. The only pitfall is that if you have six months of goodies within easy reach, you may be tempted to overindulge. I went through my six-month stocks of "jelly bellies" in about one-month (and ten pounds). For beverages, we couldn't live without our "Soda Machine" - we carbonate our own water and add flavorings. Not only does this save us money, it lets a store a whole year's worth of soft drinks in a single cupboard.
Just in Case - We try to stock a few “just in case” food items so there is always something we can rustle up – canned meat, ramen noodles, spaghetti sauce. There is an updated version of “TV dinners” that stores without refrigeration and heats in a microwave or in boiling water.
Stowing Provisions - Although we have both a refrigerator and freezer on “Solitaire”, many boaters make do with just an ice chest. Freeze everything you can in advance, including milk, butter and juice. When you buy fresh produce, don’t put them in the refrigerator – they will keep just fine for several days if you don’t. The “green bags” can be used to extend the life of produce by weeks. Use a separate cooler just for beverages to limit the number of times you have to open your “food” cooler.
Trash - Finally, don’t forget the garbage! We remove as much of the food packaging as we can before we stow it. If you ever see someone standing outside the grocery store, removing all their food from the packaging - you've just spotted a cruiser. When we are at sea, food scraps feed the fishes; bottles are broken and eventually become sea glass; and everything else gets crushed, compacted and bagged for proper disposal on shore. Remember, boats over 40 feet are required to have a written garbage plan and designated responsibility for adhering to that plan.
Some of our Favorite Resources for Provisioning
- Sailing Solitaire
Sail along with Jim and Nancy and their two boat cats as they slowly explore the world in their 41' Morgan Sailboat.
- The Fountain Jet Home Soda Maker From Soda-Club
The Fountain Jet Home Soda Maker from Soda-Club lets you make your favorite carbonated beverages for less than half the price of cans.
- Real Canned Meats
Real canned meats that will store for 3-5 years
Learn more about Provisioning and Cooking aboard a Sailboat
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