Provisioning a sailboat for three months off the grid

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who will find this blog post interesting, thought-provoking and maybe even useful. The rest of you will find it boring AF.

For those of you in the first group, I would appreciate you reading this and commenting with suggestions and even criticisms. See, aside from the freedom, adventure and beautiful scenery that cruising by sailboat provides, it also provides me with three other things I really enjoy: 1) Planning, 2) problem-solving and 3) organizing.

And provisioning on a sailboat for an extended amount of time requires all three.

Step 1: Planning

The view into the backseat after buying two carts worth of stuff at Costco.

We’ve spent a week, even a little more than two weeks, without ready access to a restaurant or grocery store before.

But with our summer plans to cruise for 3 months and concerns about where coronavirus will take our access to food in the near future, we decided now was the time to stock the boat up with enough food to keep us off shore for a long while.

To prepare, I leaned heavily on advice from The Boat Galley (which is so useful it feels like the sailor’s equivalent to “The Joy of Cooking”) and some informative posts from other sailing-oriented online resources like Sailing Totem and BlueWater Sailing.

I also considered our situation at the time: we are four mostly unpicky omnivores, including two growing kids, with a small refrigerator and freezer, a grill, a two-burner stove and teeny-tiny (but quite normal, by boat standards) oven, tons of stowage space, and for now decent access to fresh food, but lots of coronavirus concerns about hitting up really populated places like the grocery store over the next few weeks.

Then, I made a massive list of favorite pantry items and staples, plus a few “let’s try this” items because they were economical, easy to store and shelf stable. We purchased most of these items at a Costco in Shoreline, north of Seattle.

In short, I wanted to make sure we had:

  • Plenty of high-energy (read: high in calories) shelf-stable food, like nuts and seeds.
  • Canned vegetables and fruits, so we could still get necessary vitamins once we ran out of the fresh stuff.
  • (Mostly) healthy canned proteins like beans, fish and chicken.
  • Easy-to-cook grains like oatmeal, rice and quinoa that have fiber, nutrition and can fill people up.
  • Some easy and yummy treats like crackers, applesauce, nutrition bars, coffee and yes, chocolate.
Our easy-to-access pantry in the galley has a little bit of everything. The rest is stored in deep storage around the boat.

Then, we purchased about 2-3 weeks worth of fresh food to store in the fridge or freezer.

The plan is to eat through most of the fresh stuff first before digging into the shelf-stable stuff in deep storage.

Step 2: Solve the storage problem

After filling up the galley cabinets and shelves with food we planned to eat sooner than later, we turned to our “secret compartments” (as our son likes to call them) for everything else.

We have plenty of stowage all over the boat. Every berth (bed) has storage underneath, there’s storage behind the cushions and even under the step into the galley.

Sparkling water keeps the kids happy; mixers keep the adults happy.
One of the “secret compartments” under our son’s bed. Soft-sided bags and mini-milk crates help keep things better organized. Also ziplock bags help ensure that things that really can’t get wet — like feminine products — stay dry.

No one’s hanging locker (which is like a closet for you landlubbers) is free from cans, bottles and bags, either.

We use small milk cartons and soft-sided storage to group items and make them less likely to roll around if there is a little empty space we haven’t filled yet.

Typically, cruisers take everything out of cardboard boxes before stowing. This is to avoid a mess in case they get wet–always a possibility on a boat–and to avoid bringing onboard nasty stuff like cockroach eggs and bacteria.

For the most part we took everything out of boxes, especially because the extra packaging takes up unnecessary room. We didn’t remove the wrappers from cans–also a typical recommendation–but did label every can in case those wrappers wear off or get wet and disintegrate.

I love labeling. Things, not people, I promise!

Step 3: Get organized so you know where everything is

Perhaps my proudest achievement from this exercise is this:

Isn’t it beautiful?

Not only do we want to make sure we know where everything is, we also need to know when we are running low on something. I see this spreadsheet working as our grocery list when it is time to provision again.

We are definitely not experts at this yet as we are only coastal cruising for now and in a country that despite everything, still has a great food supply chain.

I’m also mindful of where we could cut waste even more. One of the many things I hope to learn during this journey is how we can cut down on our trash, energy usage and water usage, which are all very necessary to-dos, living on a boat or not.


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