Provisioning - this was our second cruise. Did we learn anything? Maybe a little.

Published in Living Aboard Magazine. Read, print for your friends, share it, but please don't publish it without written permission.


Gene Gruender
Austin.sailor at

By Nellie Symm-Gruender
copyright 1999



Before leaving on our first cruise in 1997 I read all of the standard books on provisioning. I must have read Lynn and Larry Pardee's " The Care and Feeding of the Offshore Sailor " at least 3 times. Despite all of my time and effort, somehow the message got lost in the translation. I take full responsibility for not provisioning well for the trip.

Cruisers, in my opinion, are the embodiment of "living outside the box". I now understand that to provision well you must move outside the food shopping box. Imagine my confusion when we seemed to run out of food despite the fact that I had gotten groceries at every port we visited in the U.S. My mistake was not moving outside that shopping box.

At each port grocery store I shopped for the next two weeks. While this process worked great when we lived in a land house and I passed several grocery stores each day coming home from work, it was a total failure on the water. By the time we got to the Bahamas, where we found fresh veggies were sold at a premium price and canned goods cost $1.50/can, my two weeks of groceries/provisions were long gone. The bottom line is that buying groceries and provisioning are not the same.

First consider where cruising is going to take you. I made the mistake of not talking to cruisers experienced in traveling to the places we wanted to go. Had I done this I would have learned that in the Bahamas meat was readily available at prices only slightly above U.S. prices, as were eggs and butter. Vegetables, both canned and fresh, are all shipped in from the states, and are very costly. I would have also learned that in Jamaica the cost of vegetables was only slightly higher than in the states and fruit could literally be picked from the tree.

In provisioning for our 1999 cruise I went to a local discount shopping mart and bought samples of a variety of canned goods at an average of $.29/can. I then tried each kind of vegetable on the family, getting their OK on quality and taste. After the taste test I returned and purchased 300 cans of various vegetables and fruits.

Another purchase was 100 small packages of pasta or rice with sauce. These packages run from $.50 to $.88 and are quick and easy to make. Because some of these packages require milk I have provisioned 30 boxes of Parmalat shelf milk that doesn't require refrigeration until it is opened. We found that this milk tastes no different from our usual milk and is much better than dry milk.

While Au Gratin and Scalloped potato mixes are bulkier than the packaged pasta or rice they are a family favorite. I take each mix out of the box, and store all of the potato packages in one sealed container, and all of the sauce packages in another sealed container. I use the same process for Macaroni and Cheese. Doing this reduces the risk of bugs getting into the cardboard boxes, and reduces the bulk.

I have also purchased spaghetti, fettucini, and other types of pasta that can be served with different sauces and can be bought and stored in bulk. To vary our breakfast menu I bought boxes and bags of favorite cereals to be stored in sealed containers.

Another area I provided for poorly was snacks and deserts. There's nothing better to keep you awake on the night watch than something to munch on. For this trip I have purchased 15 cake and brownie mixes, 8 pounds of dried apricots, and 8 pounds of our favorite trail mix. The apricots and trail mix will keep quite well for an extended period of time in a sealed zip lock bag. Popcorn is also a must have snack. For sharing with friends I have bulk popcorn that we cook on the stove. Since we have a microwave I also stocked up on the microwave pouches for smaller quantities of the snack. Another good "sharing" snack is oyster crackers that have been covered with oil and Ranch dressing mix, and then baked. These can be made ahead of time, stored and served later with sundowners. Canned nuts, potato chips, and cheese balls add variety to the snack menu.

Because we are from Texas we have a strong Mexican influence in our usual diet. Two gallons of picante will replace the two jars of salsa I took the last time. We have all agreed that giving up some extra space to store our bulky favorite tortilla chips would keep the crew happier.

Another Mexican staple is the tortilla. We found that packaged flour and corn tortillas will last for extended periods of time in the refrigerator, and can be used for any kind of sandwich. Even peanut butter and jelly or tuna salad work on a tortilla. Bread is one of the things that will not last when purchased in provision quantities. Bread can easily be baked in the oven or in a pressure cooker. Even though it's a power hog I have chosen to keep a bread maker on board. Making bread in the bread maker while at sea does not work, but while anchored, it bakes like a charm. We did find that bread was available, usually at a reasonable price, in every port at which we stopped, although the freshness was sometimes questionable.

While the staples are important, just as important are the "extras". The first time I took 15 pounds of flour and sugar. Both were bulky, and when the bags got torn, it created a real mess. While I plan to take flour and sugar, both are available at very cheap prices and will be purchased as we go. Because of its versatility we will stock a large container of Bisquick. It can be used for biscuits, casserole toppings and pancakes. Quality tea bags were not available, so our favorite tea will be stored in a much larger quantity. Powdered soft drinks are much easier to store than canned drinks. This trip we will have a variety of several hundred packages of kool-aid and a few sodas. Yeast and cooking chocolate were available, but not in the form that I was used to, so they too will be part of the provisioning. In terms of spices, if you don't use a spice in your kitchen on a routine basis you won't use it while cruising.

Another important aspect of cooking is to consider ahead of time on what and in what you're going to prepare food. We started our trip with a kerosene stove that I was not in love with, but that my husband felt would be safer than a propane stove. Once again, if I had discussed propane cooking with experienced cruisers I would have found that it is the primary type of fuel used, readily available, and seldom caused any problems. This discussion might have saved me from cooking on the stove from hell.

Soon after leaving we found that some rough seas had churned up sludge in our kerosene tank and it had clogged up the orifices of the stove. Even after repeated cleanings the burners were very inconsistent, and the oven wouldn't function at all. When we returned to the states I told my husband that if he ever hoped to eat on the boat again we would get a new propane stove. The stove was delivered within a week and has burners, an oven and a broiler that all work quite well. This trip we will carry replacement parts for anything that might go wrong.

We also have a microwave that was a major part of my land-cooking repertoire. The problem that we faced in using it was that it, like the bread maker, is a real power hog. It also became useless when our inverter burned out. This loss left me with no way to bake and greatly impacted the kinds of foods that I could prepare. Because we realized that we did have several important appliances that eat up power, this trip we will be starting out with a new larger inverter, three more solar panels added to our existing one, and a wind generator.

One cooking device that worked the entire trip was our propane bar-b-que. Because we fished a great deal we were often able to have fresh fish on the grill. Of course we also had grilled burgers, chicken, and steaks that we purchased as we traveled. The grill eventually became our primary means of cooking meat and has remained on the boat. Like everything else of importance we've added replacement parts to our stock.

Another real source of frustration was my cookware. For some unknown reason I decided to use inexpensive cookware that would not be a huge money loss if it got banged up during the cruise. The problem was, cheap is cheap. The surfaces were soon flaking off, and the pans fit poorly in the hold, becoming a clanging pan nightmare each time I tried to get them out. For this trip I purchased a set of T-Fal/Ingenio cookware. This set of pans has the quality of T-Fal pans with a handle that snaps on and off allowing the pans to nest in one another. The pans are covered outside with high temperature enamel. With the enamel and no handles all the pots and pans can be used both on the top of the stove and in the oven. This feature has meant that I could down size the number of baking dishes I need to take. The pans also come with plastic lids so they can store leftovers. With no attached handle the pans are compact enough that I made a bag for the all the pans to fit in. They now store in the hold with space left over and will come out of the hold as a single unit. I purchased the cookware from an infomercial (something I had never done before) for $250.00. I have since seen the cookware in a local chain store for $100.00 and a camping magazine for $140.00. Even at $250.00 the pans are a bargain.

While no one on Rainbow Chaser suffered scurvy from the lack of vegetables and fruit, having a varied diet certainly does make the cruising life more enjoyable. By stepping outside of the food shopping box I've torn up my grocery list and learned how to provision.

Copyright 1999
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