I remember our first grocery provisioning tours as newbie cruisers very well. We were overwhelmed by the prospect of spending weeks away from supermarkets. How much coffee would we need a month? How many pounds of flour to bake bread? We hectically filled shopping trolleys, wondering on the way home where or if we’d be able to store everything. In the end we listed all lockers and their contents including expiry dates in a food-folder, a system that we’ve kept up over the years. In the meantime we’ve found out that at least basic supplies can be found almost everywhere as the locals also need to shop, cook and eat. We no longer fill the lockers with rice and sugar, but research beforehand what range of provisions to expect at our next destination and rather stock up on goodies that can’t be found in minimarkets and, because Pitufa is a gourmet boat, we enjoy preparing elaborate meals almost as much as eating them.
Provisioning and Where to Shop for Food While Cruising the Caribbean
Cooking is a creative activity, especially on a cruising boat. Unless you’re in a city marina with supermarkets providing customary ‘Western’ fare, cooking according to a recipe proves impossible. The more remote the cruising area, the more adventurous and interesting the boat cuisine becomes.
Whenever we encounter UVOs (unidentified veggie objects) we’re not shy and ask the locals not just what they are, but also how to prepare them, broadening Pitufa’s menu continuously along the way. I enjoy browsing through cookbooks, but I mainly look at the pictures to get inspiration, suppress a giggle when reading the list of unattainable ingredients and mentally start substituting them.
No yoghurt in the fridge? Just mash some Happy-Cow style processed cheese with lemon juice, some milk powder and a few drops of water. No potatoes at the minimarket? Why not try breadfruit, yucca, taro or yam instead?
Finding your Thanksgiving Turkey Provisioning in the Caribbean
Green papayas are readily available in the tropics and these chameleons of the galley can pose as bamboo shoots in a stir-fry, courgettes (Zucchini) in a risotto, grated raw they make a delicious salad and can even pass as cucumber in a fake tzatziki (with the above mentioned fake yoghurt).
On passage the cruising cook faces different challenges. I usually don’t prepare meals beforehand, as our fridge is filled to the brim with provisions anyway and there should still be space left to accommodate fish we hope to catch. We talked to fellow cruisers who habitually prepare one huge pot of stew before passages, which then lasts them a week. But just imagine the whole crew being sick from food poisoning on top of seasickness. Who would handle the boat?
The degree of sophistication of our passage food varies with the sea state. In calm conditions there’s galley business as usual with fresh bread and full meals. When the boat starts heeling or rolling severely I take some seasickness meds, avoid handling pots with boiling water (no pasta) and limit myself to one-pan dishes. In rough conditions cooking turns into a form of extreme sport with the chef wedged in behind the stove, ripping open lockers to grab something and then slamming it shut before everything inside goes ballistic. On Pitufa we have a sturdy gimbaled stove, but we additionally secure it with bungee cords to avoid violent swings. A non-skid mat on the work surface also helps. In such conditions I prefer quick dishes like couscous, ready-made mashed potatoes, or noodle snacks (e.g. Asian ramen). With some added fresh ingredients, like sliced veggies or fish, they provide simple but tasty and nourishing meals to keep up the energy and morale of the crew. We also keep a dedicated box with passage-snacks like nuts, dried fruit and cookies. These treats and the prospect of the delicacies to be found in the next anchorage sweeten even the roughest passage.
STOVES … KEROSENE VERSUS PROPANE
Our old fashioned kerosene stove came with the boat. The advantage is that we can stock up fuel to keep cooking for a long time in remote areas. We use less than a gallon per month and can carry enough kerosene for about two years. Owners of gas stoves constantly worry where they’ll get the next supply and whether their fittings will match the local systems. The nuisances of preheating the burners and constantly pumping to keep the tank pressurized are often exaggerated. I find pumping is only necessary about once a week and if preheated with alcohol for two minutes the stove usually refrains from puffing a darting flame to the ceiling. The main disadvantage of a kerosene stove is that it’s getting difficult to find spare parts and in many places kerosene. The best solution is to get JetA1fuel from remote airfields.