Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing


By Liz Tosoni

I have to admit it, there was more than one night of tossing and turning. Thinking about the crossing. Thinking about feeding four people. Provisioning for Tom and me is one thing, we’ve done it so many times. We were delighted that old friends and seasoned sailors Gus Kolaric and David Allester agreed to join us for our longest passage yet, in 24 years (off and on) of cruising, but the idea of 2,700 miles translating to an equation of (approximately) 20 days X 4 people X 3 meals= 240 meals, not counting meals in port before departure and after arrival in the Barbados, was frankly, daunting! I lay awake at night agonizing over the prospect.

Las Palmas in the Canary Islands was our kick-off point for our passage to Barbados in the Caribbean, a distance of about 2,700 nautical miles and our longest in 24 years of cruising (on and off).

We’d been stocking up on certain specialty items we’d found in various countries prior to arriving in Las Palmas such as olives, olive oil, almonds and cous cous in Tunisia. We still had a huge supply of good flour in one kilo bags from Thailand, and lots of good but inexpensive coffee, UHT milk, wine and beer from mainland Spain. Our supply of some canned goods was pretty good too but we would need more. How do you decide how much of each item to carry, how many potatoes, oranges, apples, tomatoes, canned goods… how much rice, pasta, cereal, soup (and the list goes on) would be needed for four hungry sailors for 20 days at sea?

There were several good supermarkets in Las Palmas to choose from. The one that became our favorite was Hiper Dino as it was a 10 minute bicycle ride from the marina so it was easy for Tom and me to make regular runs, loading up our bicycle carts. They deliver free of charge to the marina, for the big loads, so we took advantage of that service too.

Feel Free would have to become a floating grocery store/restaurant for a period of at least three weeks and our departure date was fast approaching. It was time to get serious. No more daydreaming about it. The first step was to take an inventory of what was already on board to determine what was required. It was a surprising exercise. For example, we still had 13 cans of pineapple, 5 of cranberry sauce, 9 of spinach, all from a stocking up in Australia back in 2004!

I love this type of provisioning- a case of this, 10 packages of this, 20 of that. We love these cookies so let’s get 10 packages. Everybody fancies granola for breakfast, better get 10. We use canned tomatoes with so many recipes so another case is definitely in order. Oh, yum, nougat, gotta have a few boxes. 

The question then becomes- where to put all the goods? How can we possibly stow all this stuff? Somehow, we always manage to find a spot for everything and this time we did too.

After Gus and David arrived, we got their input to make sure we’d have their favorite foods and ingredients on board as well. Have to keep the crew happy!

As soon as Gus and David arrived they were pitching in, offering their culinary skills, cranking out delicious and exotic meals. Gus actually brought two cookbooks along and had already planned several meals he’d be preparing en route. It was a great relief to know that all crew members would be taking turns in the galley. My anxiety began to wane.

During our discussions about quantities of fresh produce, we came up with a ball park figure: assuming 20 days of passage making, and four people, we’d need one unit per person per day of many items such as oranges and apples. That meant 80 apples, 80 oranges, 80 potatoes etc. I know, that’s very unscientific, but at least it gave us a number to work with.

Las Palmas has an excellent produce Mercado and the day before departure we loaded up there. In one of the larger shops, the owner took us under her wing, guiding us to all the choice items and making sure we got the freshest stuff they had. Canaria mango- miu dulce- try, try!

Flats of eggs were packaged tidily in saran wrap. We always make sure to turn the eggs during the passage. In the past we’ve smeared the eggs in Vaseline to further ensure longevity.

Fruits and veggies were stored in plastic ventilated bins in the passageway where they would be checked regularly for bruising and spoilage.

We bought both red and green tomatoes, and green and yellow bananas. The green tomatoes were wrapped in newspaper to allow them to last longer. They, along with potatoes and onions, were placed in their own separate bins in the coolest, driest place, the bilge.

A huge block of cheese was bought, then cut into four equal portions for separate storage. We had a large amount of mosquito netting on board so decided to cut it up and use it as cheese cloth. I soaked it in vinegar, then wrapped the cheese in the soaked cloth and placed each block in its own storage unit.

Slowly but surely, the items on my “To buy” list were getting crossed off. When it finally looked like this, we were just about ready, or so we hoped!

With ship’s stores complete, rigging and systems all checked and in good order, emergency ditch kit assembled, first aid kit examined and replenished, water and diesel taken on and the crew briefed, the excitement was mounting.

All that was needed was the “bilge slaw” I always make before every long distance voyage, a good hearty meal to have the first day out, and of course, the perfect weather window.

Bilge Slaw Skye

This recipe comes from Kottie of Sky II who gave it to me many years ago. It is a mainstay aboard Feel Free before every long passage.

1 large head cabbage shredded

1 onion chopped

4 carrots grated (optional)

1 green pepper chopped (optional)

½- cup sugar, 1 cup vinegar, ½ cup oil= bring these 3 to a boil

Dry mustard, garlic, dill, caraway seeds, salt, pepper, according to taste

Pour over veggies and let stand at least overnight. Keeps for 2- 3 weeks (even without refrigeration, hence the name). Drain and add to tuna and mayo for sandwiches.

So, just to summarize, here are a few pointers about long passage provisioning you might find useful:

1) Buy dry goods like rice, flour, beans and cereal in multiple, well packaged, small units rather than in large quantities (10 or 20 lb. bags) as the chances for them to go bad are reduced, and storage is made easier.

2) If you enjoy meat, buy quantities of canned ham, chicken and beef as well as salami and pepperoni in case refrigeration fails. Refrigeration can and does fail; we know of many boats whose refrigeration went bust on passage so we always keep that in mind. In fact, we always set out with no fresh meat.

3) Preserve cheese by using vinegar soaked cheese cloth (see above).

4) Before departure, make up a large vegetable dish (like cole slaw, above) that will last a while, as well as other meals for ready use. That way, if it’s too rough to cook/prepare while under way, you don’t need to. We know cruisers (with large freezers) who package 20 meals ahead of time.

5) Turn eggs and check for spoilage regularly. Smear them with Vaseline if you want them to last even longer. Unwashed, unrefrigerated eggs last longer than washed, refrigerated ones.

6) Wrap items like tomatoes and oranges in newspaper, for better protection and longevity.

7) Carry lots of long lasting vegetables like cabbage heads, potatoes, onions, jicama and pumpkins. Check and change their positions regularly to avoid bruising and keep in ventilated bins or hammocks in a cool, dry place.

8) Buy lots of treats to enjoy on night watches. We use a wicker basket, fill it with goodies that are easily grabbed, and place it in an easily accessible spot for munching under the stars.

9) Carry a variety of fishing lures for trailing.

10) Bicycles are a must aboard Feel Free, not only for provisioning, but also for generally checking a place out and getting around to see what there is to see; so if you have room on your boat, definitely carry bikes! They can make the difference between enjoying a place or not.