Since our current trip to the Bahamas was the first major provisioning opportunity for Mahi, I knew there would be a steep learning curve. Mistakes would be made. So, I decided to share what has not worked in order to help future cruisers.
In preparation for leaving, I had read multiple books on how to provision for your boat, store the food, which basic supplies to have on hand, and most importantly, what not to do. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the subject. I even talked to several experienced cruising friends to learn from them.
Despite all my research, I made many errors in provisioning for the Bahamas. No matter how well you prepare, you will make mistakes, too. Just accept this fact ahead of time, and you will far ahead of the game. So, what lessons did I learn the hard way?
Lesson 1- Costco Oops! Do not overbuy any one item at Costco. This mistake was my biggest one, and I am sure to have this story retold over and over for many years with lots of laughter involved at my expense.
Joe and I were at Costco, and our conversation went something like this:
Carla: “Joe, we need rice, which bag should we get?”
Joe: “These are too big, just buy rice at the grocery store instead.”
Carla: “No, we love rice, we will be gone a long time on the boat, and we need it.”
Joe at this point shakes his head, and decides to let me have my way, since I am stubborn and had my heart set on buying a Costco rice bag. He picks it up and places it on the cart. We haul it to the boat.
I quickly learned my mistake- it was a 50 lb. bag of rice! In my head, that bag was a lot smaller, really. So I bagged up about 15-20 lbs of it, then gave the rest away. Joe was right, of course.
What is funny is that we have only had rice once in the last 3 months. Twice, if you count the time Joe got his new android phone wet and he used the rice to dry it out. Or the time I put some rice into the salt shaker to prevent clumping. Do not go crazy and overbuy any one item at Costco or Sam’s Club. Especially not staples easily found outside of the US whatever country you live.
On the flip side, there are items I wished I had bought more of at Costco that we used up quickly: Trail Mix, Dried Mangoes and Coconut, Turkey and Beef Jerky, to name a few. Paper Towels are another Costco favorite.
Postscript: I heard yesterday from a cruising friend that a sailboat she just met had 50 lb. bag of couscous on board their boat. See? I’m not the only one who made this mistake! 🙂
Lesson 2- Produce Mistake. The day before we left, I stocked up on tons of produce from Publix Supermarket in Fort Lauderdale. I even brought those green bags that are supposed to extend the life of produce. Half of the produce fit into the fridge and the other half I organized into bins on the counter.
What really happened is that most of the produce in the fridge froze, then turned bad. Many of the produce in the bins went off quickly in the tropical heat and humidity. Within a couple of days, we had to throw out rotted produce.
The solution is to buy just enough that you can use quickly. Better yet, plan in advance and can vegetables to use on the boat. Bring some frozen fruit and vegetables for when you run out of fresh.
In buying fresh produce, read on for my next lesson.
Lesson 3- Not All Produce is Equal. Some produce keeps well and others do not. Here is my list of what produce lasted: cabbages, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, onions, garlic, citrus fruits including lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits. Apples lasted about a week.
Unripe bananas, mangoes and similar fruit will ripen quickly. You will learn to buy when you find, then use up later that day, if possible.
Lesson 4- Buy What You Love– Many cruisers will buy items because they read an article or blog post- or want to try out new recipes. You stock up, then discover that you do not really use that item. I did this with some Trader Joe purchases and some recipe items. They are just sitting in my provisioning bins gathering dust at the moment.
The moral of this topic is keep a running list of items you love and will use day to day before moving on board your boat. These are the items you want to have on board. At the end of this first season, I will remove what we didn’t eat and I’m keeping a list of groceries and provision items that we need more of.
Here is an example- Joe happens to love canned peanuts. I stocked up on some in Florida, paying about $2.50 per can on sale. However, our peanut supply is about to run out. While shopping in the local store here on Spanish Wells the other day, I found some canned peanuts, however, the price was over $10 a can. Ouch! I should have devoted more provisioning space to peanuts and less to rice and flour.
Lesson 5- Staples. Basic staples are found all over the globe. Sure, they may cost more in other countries, but I would rather have the storage space devoted to items we love and eat everyday- especially items not readily found outside my home country.
We all have our favorite food items or treats that we like from time to time. Trader Joe’s makes a few items I really like, including seaweed wraps, that can be eaten alone as a snack, or used to make sushi wraps with rice. (For the record, Joe thinks they are gross) I picked up about a half dozen, and they went within the first few weeks. This is a specialty item only found in the states, so once I ran out, they could not be replaced. Flour, sugar, milk and other staples are found in every small store, but not so rarer items.
Lesson 6- Stowing Inventory. I started with good intentions using the “What’s On My Boat app, then as I moved things around, my inventory system fell apart. Keep a good inventory list that will be easily modified. Keep groceries that you use most often in easier to reach locations.
It will be worth it in the end to properly maintain your boat inventory list. Whether you use an app, an excel spreadsheet, 3×5 cards, whatever your system is- keep it up to date as you move things around. Trust me on that!
Lesson 7- Potluck Provision. Once you are out cruising, you will attend lots of potluck gatherings, even if you are not a potluck type of person. The hardest part for me is always figuring out what to prepare and bring.
Next season, I will plan ahead of time a list of crowd pleasing potluck dishes and desserts, then provision especially for those events. Right now, I am just winging it. Last potluck we had I made chicken tacos (homemade tortillas) with chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
You can improvise in a pinch, but I would prefer to have this all thought out ahead of time and provisions at the ready pre-bought and organized.
In the future, I will write a post on what I did correctly, and what provisioning lessons actually worked well for our boat. 🙂