Happy holidays! Since returning from our visit to the east coast, we’ve been making preparations to finally tear ourselves from our pleasant life in St. Thomas. During the past two weeks S/V Delancey has been a hive of activity, fixing recalcitrant mechanical systems, redistributing stores, and getting everything shipshape for a trip down the Leewards and Windwards. Boat and crew are currently in largely working order, cleaned, polished, and fully provisioned. Time to cast off.
Somehow, during all this, Deb found time to jot down notes describing her efforts to provision the boat. Think of it as news-you-can-use for potential Caribbean cruisers. (As with last month’s post about cruising costs, I’ve peppered this with completely unrelated photos selected from our time in St. Thomas to entertain readers who don’t care about the details of cruising.)
Take it away Deb!
A Little Context
During our visit home, in between spending time with our families and friends and strolling about our ever-changing city, I went to the grocery store. It’s hard to explain just how much choice we have in the US. Our grocery stores are huge buildings crammed with every possible food, beverage, houseware, and dry good item. Even in the wealthier, more densely populated island countries that we’ve visited, there isn’t the sheer quantity of stuff that we have back home. Islands are difficult places to get deliveries, and most are too small or too sandy or too mountainous to have much locally grown produce or food animals. In the Bahamas we quickly tuned into which day of the week the delivery barge arrived. Shelves would be empty on Tuesday and full the next day. The can of orange juice that you picked up for $4.50 one week would be $6.00 the next, if it was available at all, depending on the vagaries of the market and what made it onto the barge. On the Out Islands (most remote islands of the Bahamas), the grocery store often consisted of a couple of shelves in someone’s front room (which doubled as bar). There you could typically get some onions, flour, sugar, and a few other basics. As part of the US, St. Thomas has most of the US’s amenities. Yet it’s still an island, so there is less of everything and what is here is about 1.5 times the cost as a typical NYC grocery store.
I’ve been really happy on St. Thomas, which wasn’t the case for the early part of the trip. I’m not sure how much of this to attribute to easy access to grocery stores or to being employed or reliable cellphone and internet communication, or if I’m just adjusting to having less control and less order in my daily life. I’ve a bit of trepidation about moving on, but I’m eager to start this next phase of our journey hopping down the Leeward and Windward Island chains, before turning back toward home. And I’ve heard AMAZING things about the grocery stores in St. Martin!
Our Floating Pantry
It’s been a bit over a year since we quit our jobs and set sail from New York. Before we left, I read up on how much stuff; canned food, aspirin, kitty litter; we’d need to carry aboard. If you can name it, we had to think about if we’d be able to purchase it when we need it. Even if we can find some version of it, some items are so expensive that it makes sense to buy them in the states and carry them around for a few years. I’m not going to detail what we decided to bring for the medical kit, but we did research and bring a list to our doctor and put together what she thought prudent. She drew the line when I requested a suture kit, stating that we’d probably do ourselves more harm than good by stitching ourselves up. Here I’m focusing on what food and dry goods we originally brought with us, what we ended up using, and what we could have done without.
I found a great excel spreadsheet online, created by Carolyn Shearlock of TheBoatGalley.com, to catalog our provisions. I used it as a starting point and customized it to reflect the quantities and locations of the items that we carry. (If you want even more information, here’s a link to our provisioning spreadsheet.)
Since we’d already lived on the boat year-round for sixteen years in New York, we already had a lot of stuff onboard that people who only use their boats in the summer or on weekends probably don’t have. This included things like cough medicine, Christmas decorations, and a pasta maker; basically all the items of life in an apartment or house. Our first challenge was to go through these items and figure out what to keep onboard and what we wouldn’t need on a trip to the Caribbean. We packed away most of our work and cold weather clothes in our tiny storage space. We decided to keep the pasta maker (we made fresh pasta once this year), but stored the Christmas decorations. In general, we haven’t missed many of the stored items (although yesterday I purchased some solar Christmas lights).
Next we had to figure out how and where to store everything on the boat. S/V Delancey has a lot of storage space. In the main saloon, there are storage spaces behind our settees (couches) and space under the drawers beneath our settees (when I realized that we could store an average sized can under our drawers and still open and close the drawers, we doubled our food storage space). We’ve got four saloon cabinets and a clothes locker that we fitted with shelves to create a pantry. Then there are the galley storage areas, not to mention the cavernous (but difficult to access) space under the berths. We really haven’t yet had a problem with fitting what we want to carry on the boat.
So what did we store? What did we have too much of? What do we wish we had more of? Let’s see.
We’ve been cooking as much as possible on the grill as it’s too hot to cook inside. That said, we managed to eat the 20 boxes of pasta we originally brought (we’ve found it easy to re-provision pasta everywhere). Despite all this carbo-loading, we didn’t use up the 18 large cans of tomatoes and paste we brought to make Bolognese sauce, so we’re carrying less going into this second year. We’ve used up all eight cans of chicken, often opting for cold curried chicken salad with dried cranberries instead of a hot cooked meal. This year we’re carrying 12.
We grossly overestimated our rice and beans consumption, but we underestimated how much flour we need, since I’ve been making bread and pizza dough regularly. We’ve cut our rice and bean stores by half and doubled up on the flour. We’ve been re-provisioning beer as we go, but we do still have one unopened 18-pack of Miller Highlife that we’ve carried all the way down the east coast. Since the price of beer in the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos was about $42.00 a case (versus the $18-22.00 case in Puerto Rico and USVI’s), I’m surprised we didn’t break out the Miller, but it was buried so deeply under the aft berth, tucked behind the steering quadrant, that I think it was just too difficult to get to [It is also horrible beer. – Pete].
We’ve used all our bar soap and dish soap and vinegar and oil, but these items, like pasta, flour, and rice, can usually be found anywhere. Depending on the location, vegetables can be quiet hard to find (the Dominican Republic has great produce; Bahamas not so much). We keep root vegetables stocked. It’s amazing how long a butternut squash can last and I’ve discovered I really love grilled carrots. Decent meat can be hard to find and/or expensive, but there’s always something. In a pinch we can always resort to canned. I’m forever grateful for the canned ham we had last Easter last year while pinned down by weather for 10 days in Mayaguana, Bahamas; a tiny island without any shops. We wish we were better at catching fish and hunting lobster, but we’re not. Maybe we’ll learn to master fishing by the time we return to New York.
We stay hydrated with sun tea (iced earl grey is fantastic) and always have one jug brewing and one in the refrigerator. We didn’t realize that we’d be drinking so much tea when we left, but luckily, it’s pretty easy to find. Thank you British colonialism!
We drink water from our tank, so we only ever have a handful of water bottles onboard, mostly for visitors (e.g.: customs agents) or for taking on hikes. (Lucy, our very spoiled cat, must have her water poured from a refrigerated bottle, but we just refill the bottle with our tank water. Ha – fooled her!) I always try to have some ginger ale around. We don’t drink much in the way soft drinks but sometimes we do need the settling effects of ginger ale, especially on rough passages. Also the occasional sugar kick was helpful during some of the really long, really hot days motoring on the trip down. We drink seltzer when we can get it. We have a seltzer maker, but only 20 CO2 chargers, so I save them for when we can’t buy seltzer. (FYI: We haven’t found any chargers down here and there’s no way to have them shipped.)
We haven’t touched the two pounds of “potato flakes” that we brought in NY. It’s true that the things you didn’t eat at home are things that you still won’t eat at sea (although canned meat has been an exception). We used to buy hummus, yogurt, and bread. Now we tend to make it. We therefore use a lot more garbanzo beans than anticipated. (I prefer canned beans for hummus, but we also use dried beans. A pressure cooker is a great tool for boat life). UHT milk is great for making yogurt. I keep dried milk and buttermilk powder for baking. These are all things that I didn’t often use before this trip.
We just started on our second giant wedge of Parmesan, purchased in a big-box store in Jersey City before we left. We kept and served a chunk of a soccer-sized ball of Edam whenever we had friends over. It made it through the Bahamas before being polished off in the Turks and Caicos. We still like to entertain, so we want to have cheese and hummus around.
And now for the most important item: kitty litter. We don’t like to use clumping litter, because if it gets into the five-foot-deep bilge (as everything left on the floor eventually does), it would, well, clump (read: turn into cement and be impossible to clean out). Buying cat litter and cat food has been a constant challenge; either it’s nasty or it’s not available. We’ve thought about replacing litter with beach sand, but it requires bleaching or baking to kill bugs first, so we’ve opted to carry a years’ worth of both litter and cat food with us. I’m trying a new litter “system” that uses ceramic-ish pellets that last for months (and can be cleaned and reused). The litter box bottom is perforated and sits over a tray holding a diaper-like pad. A pad lasts 3 to 4 days. We’re carrying 20 lbs of litter and 96 pads. Here’s to hoping that I won’t have to obsess over kitty litter anymore!
Ready to cast off! Now, if only the weather will cooperate.