Just as you wouldn’t depart on a voyage without fuel for the engine, stocking the boat with the necessary foodstuffs is an important part of pre-voyage preparation. Many of us have heard at least one story of a voyaging crew having to survive on little more than air for some part of a voyage. One friend of ours still tells his story of perpetual hunger on a fourweek passage from Hawaii to Los Angeles more than 30 years ago. After the first week the fiveman crew lived on rice, hard tack, and whatever fish they caught. This friend still remembers with resentment a cagey crewmember who squirreled away cans of peaches for himself during the first week, when he perceived what the general menu would be for the next three weeks.
This friend’s experience illustrates the most basic tenet in provisioning for offshore voyaging: calculate the amount of food necessary to provide a wellbalanced diet for the number of people aboard for the anticipated duration of the cruise. Then add a quarter to a half again that much in case bad weather or boat problems lengthen the trip. You may well ask, “Just how much food is that?”
We answer that question for our ocean passages by beginning with menus for the period of time we think we’ll be out and then extending those by another quarter or more. On our return from Honolulu to Puget Sound last summer, we expected the voyage to be about three weeks. So we planned breakfast and dinner menus for 30 days as the first step in making up the shopping list (more about lunches later). We then calculated the quantity required of each item on the menus to feed the three of us aboard.
In planning your menus, begin by consulting all the crewmembers about their food preferences, especially about foods they can’t abide. Beets and Brussels sprouts, two of our favorite vegetables, have, for example, failed the universal appeal test among crews we’ve had.
The next consideration will necessarily be the interest of the crew in cooking. If no one among your crewmembers has the interest or the skill to do more than heat or, at most, add water, your job will be simple: base your menus on packaged foods, including the dehydrated meals hikers and mountaineers rely on. However, most of the voyagers we’ve met prepare meals aboard that are similar to the meals they prepare when they are landbased.
Four questions For those of you in this latter group, the answers to the following questions will help you determine the kinds and quantities of foods you can reasonably include in your menus:1. How much meat, dairy products, and fresh produce can you store in your refrigerator? (In recent years, we’ve met scarcely a voyaging sailor who doesn’t have refrigeration. Our provisioning hints are therefore based on the assumption that a refrigerator and freezer are aboard.)2. How long will the foods you want to serve last, even if refrigerated?3. How much other storage area is available?4. What foods will last well even if not refrigerated?
Breakfast menus are simple on our boat. We begin with fresh fruit followed by freshly baked muffins, hotcakes, hot cereal, or French toast if we have bread that is beginning to dry out. An occasional treat is bacon or ham and eggs. (The “occasional” is more a result of health considerations than storage. Fresh eggs that have never been refrigerated will last several weeks when stored in a cool, dry place and turned once a week. Canned meats have a much longer shelf life.)
We keep three kinds of fresh milk substitutes for cereal and cooking or baking: vacuumpacked milk cartons, available in both eightounce and 32ounce sizes; vacuumpacked soy or rice milk; and powdered milk.
Arranging to have fresh fruit daily may seem an insurmountable problem, and certainly the longevity of fresh produce varies widely, depending on the degree of freshness of the produce, how it is stored, and the climatic conditions to which it is exposed, with produce on voyages all or primarily in cool waters faring much better than that on voyages in the tropics.
On passages in both directions between the mainland and Hawaii we were able to keep some varieties of fresh produce for the duration of the approximately threeweek voyage.
Grapefruit, oranges, lemons, limes, melons, and apples will last easily for three weeks if kept dry and cool. We select unripened kiwi fruit, mangos, pears, papayas, and bananas (preferably still on the stalk) to enjoy for the first couple of weeks. Peaches, apricots, and plums will probably need to be eaten during the first week; berries, of course, are good for only the first day or so. We don’t refrigerate any of our fruit, both for reasons of space and of taste.
As a backup, carry a selection of canned fruits as well as canned or boxed fruit juices. Though somewhat more expensive than larger containers, the individual cans or boxes of juice may prove more convenient, both because they are easier to store in confined spaces and because they eliminate the necessity of storing the remaining unconsumed juice. Besides breakfast drinks, juices are a welcome treat on long night watches. (Be sure also to have an ample supply of both coffee and tea and a good stainless steel thermos to keep the beverages hot.)
For us, dinner is the crowning event of the daya time to have a glass of wine, recap the highlights of the day, and relish a gourmet meal (or what passes for gourmet in the middle of the ocean) as we watch the sun slide smoothly into the ocean. To savor the gourmet meal, obviously, one or more crewmembers must appreciate the role of chef.
Remove the ice cube trays To provision for a variety of satisfying menus, we begin by removing the ice cube trays from our freezer and filling the freezer with mealsized packages of filleted fish, boneless chicken, chicken sausage, and boneless pork loin. Your choices will, of course, vary from these, but don’t squander any of this precious space on bones!
If you and your crew can get along on modest portions of meat and fish, you can stuff even a small freezer with as many as 40 individual servings. Divide that by the number of people on board, and you’ll see how many days you can cook “fresh” meat or fish, even if you don’t catch any fish as you’re sailing. After assessing your freezer space, you may find it insufficient to hold enough meat for the number of days for which you need to plan. Fill in your menu with main dishes incorporating canned meats or fish, cheeses, eggs, dried beans and rice, pastas, or hearty vegetables such as winter squash, eggplant, and dried mushrooms.
The more particular challenge for most voyaging sailors is to have fresh vegetables, most of which, unlike fruits, do maintain their freshness best with refrigeration. Vegetables that can last for several weeks without refrigeration include onions, garlic, and ginger; potatoes (russets are the hardiest) and sweet potatoes or yams; cabbage, with red cabbage being even more hardy than white; and all the winter squashes, such as acorn, butternut, and spaghetti. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, and green, red, and yellow bell peppers can last a couple of weeks. Tomatoes and avocados continue to ripen after picking, so we purchase them in varying stages of ripeness in order to enjoy them for as long as two or three weeks. Celery and iceberg lettuce will stay fresh only a week or so without refrigeration.
We save any refrigerator space left after storing the dairy products for leafy vegetables such as romaine, butter, and green or red leaf lettuces; bok choy; Swiss chard; cilantro and parsley; and for the more perishable vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, green onions, green beans, and peas. As we consume these vegetables, we replace them in the refrigerator with some of the moderately hardy vegetables we’ve stored elsewherethe bell peppers and cucumbers, for example. For storage of vegetables both with and without refrigeration, the “breathable” green plastic bags made by Evert Fresh seem to prolong freshness; they can be reused many times. The third important menu item for our dinners is dessert. One of us has an unrelenting sweet tooth, and the other likes to make desserts, so we have freshly baked cookies, cakes, brownies, pies, or puddings regularly. You’ll notice we haven’t included planning set menus for lunches. Our experience has been that we often have leftovers from dinner the night before, and, when we don’t, we have aboard a number of standard items. Canned soups and dehydrated soup mixes are good choices.
Canned tuna, salmon, crab, clams, chicken, and turkey add protein to a lettuce or cabbage salad or combine with mayo, celery, pickles, apples, or nuts for sandwiches. Canned beef and pork and cheeses of all kinds, many of which remain edible for weeks without refrigeration, offer even more options for lunch. We also keep a good supply of peanut butter for fast sandwich making.
Buy bread or make your own In order to have sandwiches, you must, of course, have bread. The commercial bread that has the longest shelf life is Oroweat Best Bread, which comes in three varieties. These small loaves are double wrapped and, when unopened, have lasted up to two weeks. Many of us, however, have found that, after the first few days at sea, the voyaging life is ideal for bread making.
Along with the ingredients for the menus and for lunches, we attend to three other categories of provisions. First, we make sure we have an ample supply of staples. “Ample” means substantially more than the minimum we’ll need for the planned meals, for, as backups, these ingredients are ideal. They last for months, and they take up little space relative to the amount of nutrition and flavor they deliver.
To ensure a long shelf life for the dry staples, we immediately transfer those in paper or cardboard to plastic or glass containers with tightfitting lids and put the others in plastic or glass once their packaging is opened. These dry staples include whole wheat and white flour; granulated, brown, and powdered sugar; white, brown, and wild rice; dried beans; dried pastas; walnuts, pecans, almonds, and pine nuts; coffee and tea; cornmeal, oats, and oat bran; salt, baking powder, and baking soda; and spices. (Add two or three bay leaves to flour and cornmeal to discourage weevils.)
Our staples include gallon jugs of olive and canola oil and smaller containers of soy sauce and various kinds of vinegar. Honey and syrups are always in the larder as well. Always include dried fruitsraisins, dates, cranberries, apricots as well.
Another important consideration in provisioning is the other backup supplies for the unexpected: your refrigerator goes down and you lose some or all of the ingredients for your planned menus, the unrefrigerated fruits or vegetables get damp and spoil, the voyage takes longer than even your extended menus accounted for, or the weather conditions don’t inspire anyone to spend an extra minute in the galley. Fortunately, we don’t know of any one sailor to whom these have all happened. But we prepare for any or all of them, so a supply of fallback items has come to be among the staples. Along with the extra quantities of ordinary staples, we add more canned foodsbeans, fish, meats, and fruits and vegetablesthan we anticipate using during the cruise.
You’ll also want to plan carefully for the paper products. Toilet paper, facial tissues, paper towels, paper plates, and paper napkins can take a huge chunk out of your storage areas. The biggest consideration is to keep your paper products dryplaces always dry as you sail in placid waters may spring surprising leaks in a seaway. Some sailors whose boats have limited dry storage areas seal their paper products in SealaMeal bags to ensure their dryness. Look for hidden storage areas on your boat. We found a large blank space behind the solid bulkhead supporting the dinette cushion and other smaller spaces behind the bottom drawers in the galley and in the main saloonall perfect for storing items we need to reach only occasionally.
Canned foods often necessarily end up in the dry bilge on many boats. If your dry bilge is only sometimes dry, yet you must store cans there, give those cans their best chance by lining the bottom with DriDek or a similar grate to keep the cans off the hull. Removing the paper labels on the cans will prevent a plugged bilge pump when the labels slither off the cans and into the wet bilge. You will, of course, have labeled the tops of the cans with a waterproof marker before removing the paper labels.
Wine in the bilge The dry bilge also makes a comfy home for what some in the boating community call “bilge wine”; that is, the boxed wines that are more easily stored than bottles. Some sailors save even more space by removing the plastic bladders from the cardboard boxes. While you might argue these boxed wines are surely not easier to drink, the Chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons, especially, can be palatable enough for everyday consumption. Supplement them with a few bottles of better wine or champagne for birthdays, anniversaries, landfalls, or a more-than-usually spectacular sunset. If you prefer beer, which can also ride in the dry bilge, be aware that aluminum cans are highly susceptible to corrosion and subsequent leaking if any salt water touches them.
As daunting as the task of planning, acquiring, and storing enough food for a voyage of several weeks may seem, once you’ve done it, you’ll see how smoothly it can go. One element greatly in your favor is that voyaging sailors are generally happy sailors, content as long as their sails are filled with air and their stomachs with food.