Thoughts on yacht provisioning

When I set out to plan our sailing trip to the Grenadines this year I knew provisioning would be a huge time suck. With little time on the ground in St. Vincent to shop for ourselves, Excel spreadsheets became my weapon of choice. Thankfully, our charter operator, Barefoot Yacht Charter of Calliqua Bay, was willing to pitch in and do our grocery shopping for us.

Internet research suggested that there were a million ways to skin this cat, but no quick and easy methods for planning meals for 5 to 10 days. I found several helpful recipes friendly to the cramped and jostling quarters of a ship’s galley, exhaustive lists of suggested foods for life at sea, but nothing in the way of a solid planning tool.

To ensure that we weren’t left with bread but not butter or cooking oil like last year (hint: mayonaise can work in a pinch), I came up with the following spreadsheet.

Tip No. 1: Create a sample itinerary. Some islands offer great restaurants, and others are entirely uninhabited. This was key in planning meals for days of plenty and want. Knowing which passages can be rough also prompted me to plan foods that were easy to prepare and eat when life aboard is less than simple. I can assure you, boiling water on land is a task most can master. Avoiding horrific burns as you cook spaghetti for your crew on a tight close haul is quite another matter.

Tip No. 2: Make a note of which dates and times offer options for re-provisioning. A loaf of American bread can last a week or more. A loaf procured in St. Vincent will contain far less preservative and will spoil quickly. Many onboard refrigerators are nothing more than an icebox topped up and kept cool when the ship’s engine is running. The quality of your food depends largely on how regularly you can purchase ice. It’s a fine art to juggle your raw ingredients throughout a trip to minimize spoilage and waste.

Tip No. 3: Encourage each crew member to take responsibility for a meal. By designating an owner, you’ll ensure that everyone does their part to keep the crew fed. A bonus is that your crew members might have great meal ideas, thereby improving variety and possibly the quality of your dinner.

Tip No. 4: Everybody needs a good breakfast. Most all breakfasts are spent at anchor before departing for the day’s sail. Make breakfast count. Go big. A well-fed crew is a joy to work with. For our trip, we’re planning generous spreads of pancakes, cheese, burritos, egg casseroles, fruit, bacon, sausage, coffee, juice and more.

Tip No. 5: Anything can be a meal. One of my favorite experiences was eating chocolate cake, bacon and champagne for breakfast in a deserted bay at San Simeon. Don’t leave joy and spontaneity on shore.

Tip No. 6: Nothing beats a cheese sandwich or beer in the morning.

Tip No. 7: Don’t forget the charcoal, lighter fluid, dish soap and necessities.

Tip No. 8: Write out each ingredient by meal. You’ll be able to notice efficiencies and avoid repeat buys. Also, there’s no reason why noodle salad can’t become noodle dinner. We’re having a fajita spread one night, and breakfast burritos the next morning.

Tip No. 9: Use generic terms and offer up substitutions with your final order. I was surprised to find that our charter agent in St. Vincent was completely unaware of what English Breakfast tea was. Black tea, no problem!

Download our meal planning spreadsheet

Many thanks to John Yelda of Sailing San Francisco for his advice and guidance along the way. I’d never have learned the consequences of bringing a bag of chips or a banana on board without his help. For those interested, John offers sailing charters and
sailing lessons in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

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