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'Stores' Planning for a Long Voyage

Excerpted from - the revised and expanded Third Edition of Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew, available May 15th, 2006 by Lin and Larry Pardey 

Larry Pardey in "Cheeky"
Buying sufficient stores for any voyage takes planning and can make the difference between pleasant living on board or just getting there. I refrain from saying "pleasant eating" because "stores" includes much more than just food. Toilet paper, flashlight batteries, bicarbonate of soda, Band-Aids, dish soap are all stores, and on most voyages I've been on, they've been the responsibility of the cook or whoever is assigned the job of buying food.

"Buying sufficient stores for any voyage takes planning and can make the difference between pleasant living on board or just getting there."
When it became clear that we were really going to get off on our first long voyage, I went to the library, borrowed all the cruising books I could find, and read their stores lists. Not one seemed fully suited to our plans. They had different tastes, more or less money to spend, more or less galley space, and so on.

So, for the six months before we actually bought stores for our first long voyage, I kept a list of everything we bought for our house that wasn't main-course food. I kept track of the amount of salt, Worcestershire sauce, flour, and even dish soap we used. I found items on my list such as toothbrushes, Scotch tape, toothpicks, black mending thread, erasers, and flashlight bulbs. This six-month survey revealed the shocking amount of peanut butter we consumed.

At the same time, we started a custom we call "Can Night." At least one night a week, we ate a meal prepared from canned or packaged goods such as we might have had left after a week or two at sea. This gave us a chance to see which canned goods we liked and which we didn't. It helped us avoid the problem of buying a case of canned stew that we hated but couldn't afford to throw away. "Can Night" also gave me a chance to come up with some good at-sea meals before we were actually at sea. We've continued this practice as we've cruised. Soon after we arrive in each new country, I buy some of the local canned or packaged products and try them out. If the goods aren't labeled in English, I open them for snacks or lunch so that I don't ruin a main meal if the contents aren't to our liking. I'd say our success rate on foreign canned goods has been fifty-fifty.

It is well worth taking the time to look at prices, sizes, and contents of different packages in different stores. I've found that supermarkets often have lower prices than cash-and-carry firms, especially if they package their own brand-name products. Supermarkets also tend to carry more individual-serving-size cans than cash-and-carry shops, chandlers, or wholesalers do. But try store brands before you stock up. Larry loves Safeway tomato soup, but he won't eat Sainsbury's version.

Examine and compare the ingredients and weights on different packages. On all American and English packages, ingredients are listed in the order of their volume. One beef stew might have its ingredients listed as beef, potatoes, carrots, starch; another label might list potatoes, beef, starch. The first can will have more meat in it. A whole canned chicken is usually no bargain. You are paying for bone, water, and skin. Three small tins of chicken meat cost about the same as the whole canned chicken. They contain solid meat and take up half the space and preparation time. Condensed soup gives you twice the soup for only 10 percent extra cost.

Some freeze-dried products provide excellent results, take up little space, and are lightweight. But there is a catch: They require extra water, fuel, and preparation time. Before you invest too heavily in these, try any you think you'd like. Several times in our foreign cruising, people from other boats have offered to trade leftover freeze-dried products in 5-pound cans. Their crew has simply grown tired of them.
Try some of the canned goods sold in the refrigerated section of the market. Most of them keep extremely well when stored low in the boat. Canned Brie and Camembert cheeses keep for two or three months if stored at about 70 degrees. Since the lockers below your waterline will stay at about water temperature, you can be sure that many of these items will last well except in the deep tropics or the Red Sea, where water temperatures exceed 78 degrees F. The same goes for sausages such as salami or pepperoni, and hard cheeses packed in wax. They'll keep up to four weeks in a cool place.

Lin & Larry Pardey
Economy sizes have no place on a boat with a crew of fewer than five. A small container of dish soap is easier to handle and easier to store. If it breaks open, it makes less of a mess. Noodles in meal-size packages are the only way to go; unused noodles attract weevils and mold. Leftovers are difficult to keep on board at sea. A can just large enough for one meal means you can clean up the galley without having to find a way to preserve half a can of corn. This is especially important in the tropics, where food that isn't refrigerated rarely lasts two days.

Evaluate the different types of packaging. Cans are heavy and require more space than flexible foil packages, but they protect the contents better. I buy coffee that comes in well-sealed foil bags, but if I plan to keep it longer than three or four months, I purchase canned coffee instead. I buy sugar, flour, and rice in 3- or 5-pound bags; then I seal each one in two plastic bags, one inside the other. This way, if one package of rice or sugar goes bad or breaks, I haven't lost my whole supply. (See Day 15, "Tips on Baking Bread," for hints on buying and storing flour.)

Avoid large, flexible plastic containers for such things as cooking oil, syrup, and mayonnaise. If you can press your finger and cause an indentation in the container, it might break under the conditions in a storage locker during a gale at sea. I speak from experience. I had to clean out a whole can locker, Larry's tool locker, and the bilge when a plastic pint container of cooking oil split and spilled. Larry had an even worse job when a quart of boiled linseed oil in a plastic container developed a leak. Glass is much safer. To date, I have never broken a glass container-either while it was stored or when I was using it on board. And glass containers are easily reusable for canning, storage, or painting. If you accumulate too many empties during a long passage, they are easy to sink.

As freight and commodity prices rise, plus the demand for single meal servings, more products are being packaged in lightweight containers. Although I like the ease of storage and the lighter weight of nonglass and nonmetal containers, I have found that longevity has been compromised.

Paper-covered foil packets used for instant soups, sauces, and pudding mixes tend to allow moisture into the products after three or four months. Therefore, I package half of my voyaging supply in heavy-duty plastic bags to ensure a longer shelf life. For this purpose, I find Ziploc-style plastic bags indispensable and preferable to having a vacuum storage-bag system on board, especially as the Ziplocs are reusable and readily available in most reprovisioning ports.

Taleisin Under way
Wax-coated cardboard containers such as those used for long-life milk, casks of wine, and some sauces are prone to leaking if they are allowed to shift in the lockers. The wax gets chafed off the corners and spoilage soon follows. Furthermore, temperatures above 75 degrees F soften the wax and make it porous. These containers should be stored low in the boat and packed tightly to ensure the longest possible life.

Once the initial product-and-price research is over, how do you do your actual list planning? Few long-distance cruising or racing cooks depend on a menu plan for voyages of more than a week. It just doesn't work. After the first time, few of these people make a detailed shopping list. Instead, most seem to use a method similar to ours. I go to the shops I've found to be the best value and buy main-course items for the length of our voyage plus 50 percent. In other words, during this passage we figure an average speed of 100 miles a day for 45 days plus 22 for unforeseeable holdups. So I buy about 65 cans of dinner-meat products plus the same number of lunch items. I figure on four eggs equaling one can. I stock up more on corned beef than I do on ham because I know of more uses for corned beef. I buy at least 24 cans of stewing beef because it can be used several different ways.

Next I purchase fruit and vegetables (canned), rice, powdered potatoes, flour, pasta, peanut butter, jam, and nonfood items to cover the same number of days. I take this all back to the boat and store it. This way, I can see how much space I have left. I then go back to the shops and buy luxury items to fill the empty spaces: tins of nuts, canned pâté, Brie, candy, dried fruits-what we call "fun foods." These add variety to our menu as we cruise.

My final purchase is twelve complete, very-easy-to-prepare meals, which I store in the most accessible place possible. These include meals such as hot dogs and baked beans, chicken in cream sauce, and beef and mushroom stew-each of which can be simply opened and heated in one pan-for those times when it's too rough for anything else. When I am too seasick to cook, Larry knows exactly where to look for something to stave off his starvation. I feel a bit better about being seasick because I did my bit when I shopped for stores.

Fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat are the last things we buy. I wait until the last possible day to pick them out. Other than potatoes and onions, I consider these to be in excess of the amount of food planned for the voyage.

New potatoes last forever, so we buy 30 pounds for the two of us whenever our stocks get low, even if we're not planning a voyage. It's the same with onions. Tomatoes purchased green ripen slowly and can be good three or four weeks later. Lemons wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in a sealed container are good for two months. Other fresh produce can be a gamble but is nice to have, so we always carry some. It's rarely wasted, but there have been times when we have had apple fritters, applesauce, and apple fruit salad all in one day in order to use up apples before they turned. (See Day 7 for guidelines on buying and storing produce.)

When the boat is full to the brim and I can't think of anything I've forgotten, I take a stroll through one or two markets and drugstores, looking at each item they sell. This often jolts my memory or else reassures me that we haven't forgotten anything. If the voyage is going to be a long one, I use this chance to buy a few surprise gifts for any birthdays on board or just joke items that might perk up an otherwise depressing day. I also spend the rest of the local currency that is lying around the bottom of my change purse.

Lin shopping at an open air
Polish Market
If you are stocking up in a foreign country, making a stores list is more difficult. A good cookbook that describes vegetables and foods from all parts of the world and suggests ways to use them is invaluable. But no book tells you what is inside foreign cans, so be extra careful to try canned goods before buying by a caseload. I found this out the hard way in Antigua, British West Indies, when I bought six cans of cooking butter from Australia. It turned out to have a bright orange color. It tasted great, but the crew wouldn't spread it on their toast, and cookies made with it came out yellow. In 50 percent of the world's countries, labels are in English, but where they aren't, it pays to find a local person to go shopping with you and describe the contents. Japan presented a special problem. All labels were in kanji (Japanese characters), and the pictures on the labels didn't resemble anything I knew. An English-speaking Japanese friend tried to help as much as she could, but beyond the language barrier was a culture barrier. She couldn't imagine why I was disappointed when a can of what was described as fruit cocktail contained one-fourth fruit, three-fourths unflavored-gelatin cubes. If all else fails in a foreign country, look for Chinatown. Almost all goods shipped from China have labels in English.

One thing will soon become obvious as you cruise abroad. You won't be able to afford to eat the same way you do at home. Your stores list for offshore passages will change if you are stocking up in an island economy, where all imports are expensive, or if you are in a primitive economy like Costa Rica, where canned peaches cost five times what a pound of beefsteak does.

And finally some advice that Larry often repeats: overbuy. Fill the boat to the brim. When you see stores you like, buy them. They might not be available in the next country you visit. Keep the boat full and refill it every chance you get. Full lockers in port means freedom from that endless round of shop, cook, wash the dishes and clothes, shop, cook . . . . That turns many wives away from cruising. When you are making passages, having extra food on board means you are free to change your plans, extend your stay at a deserted island, and avoid civilization for just that extra bit of time that will make your cruise a joy.

Excerpted from - the revised and expanded Third Edition of Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew, available May 15th, 2006

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