#64 – Provisioning Principles

Chances are you never used the word provisioning before you went cruising. My online dictionary defines provision as “food and other necessities, especially for a long journey,” and provisioning as a “preparatory step taken to meet a possible or expected need.”

Provisioning the boat with food and essential spares is the single biggest preoccupation of cruisers getting ready to leave port.

This is especially true when leaving your home country and heading to parts unknown. Before you have been somewhere, it is hard to imagine what you will and will not be able to get or how much it will cost. After a lifetime in the first world where you can get anything anytime you want it, the possibility of doing without, of making substitutions, or of making favorite things from SCRATCH (or jerry-rigging a part) is a daunting prospect.

Making favorite things from scratch

Although there are many books and articles on provisioning and countless cruising-oriented cookbooks have resulted from food-lovers collecting their best ideas, things have really changed over the last decade in terms of what you can carry aboard as well as what you can find when you shop. Observations on individual websites and blogs can sometimes give the most up-to-date insight.

On our website www.womenandcruising.com we present in our Resource Section a good list of these with which to get started, plus we have a whole collection of galley and food-related material by contributors in our Articles Section.


So, it is not my intent here to go over lists of what to take and how to mark, preserve, or store it. Instead, I’d like to offer some principles to guide your decision-making, because one of the biggest mistakes cruisers make is that they seriously over-provision on things they think they should have and under-provision on what they actually will want.

What’s wrong with over-provisioning?

You need room in your freezer for that 30lb mahi-mahi you are going to catch
  • First is the waterline goes down! Canned goods in particular can add a lot of weight. So can an overstuffed freezer. An over-loaded boat works harder and goes slower, plus you’ve left no room for the big wahoo you may catch!
  • Next is the fact that things go bad, especially in tropical environments. Overstock in oils and nuts go rancid; crackers, chips and cookies go stale and get pulverized; flours and mixes get weevils; spices lose their potency: yeast and medications expire; aluminum cans develop pinholes, and plastic bottles can chafe through. (This last is particularly depressing when the plastic bottles contain spare engine oil!)
  • And finally, when you cram lockers full of things you think you ought to have because some book or article told you to, you are likely to end up carrying around for years all this stuff you don’t particularly like.
    It is hard to find anything if every locker is … CRAMMED FULL!

What’s wrong with under-provisioning is quite simply that you may go hungry! Or you may get to a destination and find the things your family considers essential are exorbitantly priced or just unavailable.

So, when you sit down to plan your provisioning, consider the following:

Take what you like to eat!
Provisioning Principle #1

Shape your plan around THE THINGS YOU LIKE TO EAT.

It may take some ingenuity, but you can, within reason, figure out ways to eat favorite things right round the world! You’ll just need to stock the ingredients, recipes and equipment to make them from scratch!

Provisioning Principle #2

People eat everywhere, and, if you cannot find the same foods you are used to at home, you will not starve. The trick is to know as much as you can about what will be available and affordable when you reach your destination and to be flexible and ready to try new things.

Basics are in even the smallest stores pretty much everywhere

Basics like flour, yeast, sugar, rice and milk powder are in even the smallest stores pretty much everywhere, and you may wish you had taken up less room with these bulky items. Unfortunately, other things you may consider staples may not be staples where you are going. Sometimes it is because they are not part of the local diet, other times because it is so costly to ship in and stock. In the Bahamas, for example, meat, chicken, beer, wine, and snack foods are very expensive and you may kick yourself for not bringing more.

Fortunately, one of cruising’s greatest pleasures is trying the foods of the places you have sailed to. The ladies of the morning marketplace love nothing better than to teach you how to cook that unfamiliar vegetable! The same is true of local dishes at restaurants if you ask for recipes. Eating fresh and local is always cheaper, better, more interesting (and healthier) than eating canned.

The ladies of the morning marketplace love nothing better than to teach you
how to cook that unfamiliar vegetable!

Even in the impersonal aisles of supermarkets, there are adventures to be had. While many American products make their way onto foreign shelves, check out the unfamiliar label next to it. It may be less expensive. Sample before stocking up, because it may taste different than what you’re used to, but you might discover something you like even better … or can live with at a much lower price.

Check out the local labels

There are many products standard outside North America that are particularly useful to cruisers — like canned cream, New Zealand butter, bulk cheddar cheese, crackers in tins (they stay fresher), and there are even canned (or UHT-boxed) prepared products that are more interesting than the ones you are used to seeing, e.g. the paired cans of ratatouille and couscous available on French islands.

Provisioning Principle #3

On the other hand, when you see something that really matters to you – a favorite peanut butter or a preferred mayonnaise — buy it then and there. You never know when you’ll next see it!

Provisioning Principle #4

What and how much you need to put aboard depends on several factors besides your eating style:

How much you entertain?
  • how much passage-making lies ahead,
  • how much time you’ll spend in remote anchorages versus ports,
  • how much you expect to eat out,
  • how much you entertain.

Foods for entertaining – sundowner get-togethers and potlucks –account for a far greater proportion of most cruisers’ stores than many people anticipate! The same goes for snack foods!

Finally, how much refrigerator, freezer and storage space you have (or don’t have!) must necessarily shape your choices and quantities. Also consider what ambient temperatures will be, not just for preservation, but for how often you’ll want to use your oven!

Provisioning Principle #5

To keep track of what you have onboard, an inventory system, is useful.

Keep an inventory

Go low tech – a notebook, an alphabetized address book, or index cards – or hi-tech – a computer spreadsheet, database or an app (e.g. ListPro or Bento) for an iPad or tablet. Remember, too, you need to know not just what you have, but where it is stowed. Devise a layout system and stick to it.

Inventories, however, take discipline to maintain daily. If it becomes too much trouble, at least keep a master list of your preferred stores and check your shopping list against it to remind you what you may be forgetting to buy. A smart adjunct is to keep a running list of things you have used and update the inventory before shopping.

Provisioning Principle #6

In avoiding over-provisioning, don’t cut things too close on a passage. Things don’t always go as they should. Have enough of something to sustain you should S-@#$ happen!


Provisioning Principle #7

It helps to be clairvoyant about what lies ahead. Invariably, we cruisers bemoan that we should have bought less/more if we’d only better known what was/wasn’t available at the next stop!

To help on this very issue, Kathy Parsons collected info from world cruisers to put together a very helpful handout for her boat show provisioning seminar “Proper Provisioning” which she is willing to share. For a copy, email me at admiralsangle@yahoo.com.

Photos: Thanks to Kathy Parsons, HALE KAI; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III; Karyn Ennor, Magic Carpet.

This article was published in the March 2012 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

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