by Sheryl Shard
When Paul and I set sail for our first long-distance voyage from Lake Ontario to the Bahamas in 1989, we felt overwhelmed. Our average cruises had been one-week vacations on the lake. On those trips, if we overlooked anything, we could stop at a marina and usually find what we needed in town.
Sheryl Shard at the helm crossing the English Channel in the spring. Different provisions are required in cool climates
Now we were planning a one-year sabbatical (that later stretched into a three-year odyssey that took us across the Atlantic twice). How much stuff should we take for that length of time? What things would we need when living on the boat full-time that we didn't think of when just summer sailing? What products and food items that we relied on, were only available at home?
We asked the experts. We went to slide shows. We read books. The advice was conflicting and confusing. So we took everything! Or so it seemed. In the days before we left, we could hardly move through the boat with all the un-stowed bags, boxes and packages we had piled in the cabin. There wasn't room left in the lockers but we kept bringing wheel-barrow loads down the dock - just in case! The waterline sank and with a ceremonious farewell we heaved off into the horizon.
We had way too many clothes. They took up precious storage space. We'd bought canned goods we'd never tried and didn't like. They took up precious storage space and added unnecessary weight to our already burdened vessel. To survive, we ended up shipping home a large box of clothes, textbooks and other unnecessary gear that we'd hastily packed (this cost over $100!!) and gave some things away just to make the boat liveable again.
Now after 24 years of long-term cruising and five transatlantic crossings under our keel, time and experience has taught us to identify common factors that determine what provisions we require for a specific length of time or for a specific cruise. We call these factors the 10 Parameters of Provisioning. They help answer the questions of 'what to take' and 'how much' by clarifying our needs. They prevent us from loading the boat with a lot of unnecessary supplies and make it easy to create menu plans that are practical for the conditions we will be facing on our voyage.
Paul Shard snorkeling on tropical reefs. Cruising involves lots of physical activity so appetites can increase.
The 10 Parameters of Provisioning:
1. The Length of the Cruise - For a one month cruise, supplies will be needed for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for roughly 30 days. Even if several restaurant meals are planned, we recommend provisioning as if every meal will be eaten on board so you have the freedom to change your mind.
2. Opportunities for Reprovisioning - If you are going to be offshore or cruising in a remote area for several weeks where you won’t have a chance to re-stock supplies, this will have a dramatic effect on how you provision. Attention to detail becomes imperative and good back-up supplies necessary. For offshore passages, we carry at least an extra month's worth of supplies in case of a serious delay. The common rule among cruisers is to provision for 50% more time than you plan to be away. This is a good guideline but use your best judgement. Imagine the worst scenario possible and plan accordingly - it could save your life! Consider too the quality and selection offered by local merchants in the distant ports you will be visiting. Prices and selection are usually better in large mainland cities so it is a good idea to stock up before sailing to isolated places.
3. The Number of People - This determines the portions and amounts of various supplies. If guests will be joining you for part of your cruise, take this into consideration. What appears to be a good stock of supplies can vanish at an alarming rate with a couple of extra people on board. Stock up for lots of casual entertaining. Something we hadn’t anticipated when we first began cruising was the regularity of evening get-togethers with fellow cruisers. Prepare for lots of Happy Hours!
Having young visitors on board requires changes in the way you provision. Youngsters seem to be hungry all the time in the outdoors since they are active and growing.
4. The Appetite Level of Your Crew - Cruising is an active lifestyle and with all the fresh air and exercise - sailing, swimming, diving and exploring - appetite level increases, so plan slightly larger portions than at home. On the opposite side of the coin, appetites tend to dwindle when passage-making due to inactivity, interrupted sleep patterns, seasickness or anxiety. If you are taking on crew or having visitors on board, keep in mind that younger people generally have more voracious appetites than older people.
5. Personal Tastes and Diet Restrictions - Everyone has their favourite foods. Eating is a pleasure and a comfort so plan tasty nutritious meals that everyone is sure to enjoy. We keep a good supply of everyone's special treats on hand - they can be valuable morale boosters on a bad day! Also, it is important to identify any dietary restrictions your crew members may have so you can plan meals that are safe for everyone to consume. We have relatives who are severely allergic to peanuts so when they join us on a cruise, peanuts, peanut butter and cooking with peanut oil are right out.
Paul Shard with a dinghy-load of provisions heading back to the boat.
6. Climate and Conditions - The foods you enjoy in a tropical climate will differ from those you crave when the weather turns cold so plan menus accordingly. Also, if you anticipate rough conditions you will want to stock up on foods that are easy to prepare.
Sheryl and Paul Shard provisioning in St. Maarten in the Caribbean where good grocery stores make it easy.
7. Storage Space - Storage space determines how often you need to re-stock supplies. The more cargo your boat can carry, the more you can stock up and take advantage of good deals when you find them. Be careful not to overload the boat though, and be careful how you distribute weight when loading on supplies. Keeping heavy items down low and out of the ends of the boat improves performance and safety in rough conditions. We learned the hard way. Two-Step handles a rough sea much better since we stopped loading up the forward locker under the bunk with so much pop and beer.
8. Galley Equipment - The type of galley equipment you have will affect the type of foods you can prepare and how you can store them. On our Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II, we have a three-burner propane stove with an oven and broiler so we can cook in the same style as we do at home - broiled fish, roast turkey, etc., but on our first boat and first long-term cruise we did not have refrigeration. Our ice-box was well insulated and could stay cold for about 10 days before we needed to load up the ice again so we were in good shape for most passages. However, the further afield we travelled, the harder it was to buy ice so we had to learn how to store and preserve foods like our grandmothers did. It was fun and we ate well but we had to provision much differently than we do now that we have a fridge and freezer.
Fresh fruits and vegetables from the market in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, in preparation for a transatlantic crossing.
9. The Cook(s) - Paul and I both love to cook which shows in our provisions list - exotic spices, special sauces, numerous ingredients for baking, and a wide variety of meats, pastas and grains. How much the cook or cooks enjoy cooking will affect the types of meals you plan and what supplies you take on board. Paul has a rule that he doesn’t like to spend much more time preparing dinner than it takes to eat it so he designs meals that are simple and easy to prepare.
10. Budget - The bottom line. Buy the most essential supplies first, at the best price you can find. If it looks as if you will be over budget, adjustments can be made on the more frivolous items at the end of your list. On our Atlantic cruise from 1989 to 1992 we spent $200 U.S. to $250 U.S. per month on food including wine and beer which we drink moderately. On our recent cruise from the Chesapeake Bay across the Atlantic to the Portuguese islands of the Azores (1997) we still averaged about $250 U.S. per month.
These 10 Provisioning Parameters help determine provisioning needs so you can plan more efficiently and economically. Every crew and every cruise is different. Provisioning well adds greatly to the success and enjoyment of your voyage.
About Paul and Sheryl Shard: Paul and Sheryl Shard are the authors of best-selling book, 'Sail Away! A Guide to Outfitting and Provisioning for Cruising', which they are updating to a third edition. They are also the fun-loving hosts of the award-winning sailing adventure TV series, Distant Shores, which is broadcast in 24 languages around the world on Travel and Escape channel, Cottage Life channel, AWE TV, Documentary Channel and Travel Channel. They will be conducting seminars at the Toronto International Boat Show January 17 & 18 and at the Strictly Sail Chicago Boat Show January 24-26. You can follow their adventures on www.distantshores.ca.