How to provision your boat in a foreign country.

Provisioning for a crossing/cruise in your own country is monumental so how do you provision for the first time in a foreign land, in a language you do not speak, read or write?

I recently had to provision 5 crew for 6 weeks at very short notice – in Brazil which is very Portuguese.

If language is a problem, (very few Brazilians speak English and our Brazilian Portuguese was non-existent) then arm yourself with Google Translate before you leave home soil. Sounds obvious but we didn’t do it!

Where to start? The ZAR is not a very strong currency at the best of times so we had to be really careful with our budget, prices in Rio de Janeiro were at the very least double, sometimes as much as 4 x the costs back home.

Firstly, ask the locals where they shop. We asked around in the yacht club and got 3 great suggestions. Look them up and if you like the look of the shop, visit it and check out prices. Do a small sample shop, especially of the canned goods that look appealing or you think you could cook with. We found some tinned ham which was glorious, tinned turkey was rubbish! I must admit that I am not a fan of tinned goods but you need to stock them. What if your fridge/freezer conks out during your trip and you lose fresh food? We “tested” a lot of the food before we bought it, cheeses, meat, fruit, yes, the wine too! Was a lot of fun.

What do you normally cook on board – do not start trying out recipes that you think are “boating” appropriate or come from the latest boating “must-have” cookbook. If you have never made chicken vindaloo, this is not the time to start. Stick to what you make at home, what you like. Stock up on the spices you know and use. We did have a vague menu plan and then wrote out what we needed to buy for eg. 3 x lasagne on the crossing. Its a lot easier than flinging boxes and containers into your trolley when shopping, hoping you can “put something together” out of what you have bought. It is fun to try new items, of course, but the bulk of the food should be what you know and like.

Translate recipes before you shop. Write down translations. It’s hard when you are faced with 17 types of flour and you need “cake flour”. You can translate as you shop but it’s frustrating, people will slam trolleys into your ankles because you are so slow, it gets messy fast. Spend some time translating your shopping list before you go, it is worth it!

Check payment methods and opening and closing times of the stores you want to visit – we were scrambling around with notes and coins when we did a particularly big provisioning shop as they did not accept any cards. One of the shops only opened at 3 pm, we were waiting outside the doors at 10 am no problem, tested several caipirinhas while we waited!)

See if the supermarkets you like the look of deliver to the marina if you are in one – we found one supermarket that did and, although we paid a small delivery fee, it was worth every cent. Shopping was a bit of a nightmare in the heat and humidity of Brazil. We split our shopping into 3 separate trips and used the delivery service for all the really heavy items.

Check out local markets, particularly on a Saturday morning, we were told of 2 and they were magnificent. Yes, slightly more expensive than the supermarkets, but tons of homemade stuff, pestos, cheeses, salamis, loaves of bread, so delicious. Always fun to mingle with the locals, generally, they were excited to meet South Africans too and gave us lots of samples!

I divided the provisions we bought into the number of weeks we thought our passage would be and stored accordingly. We expected to sail for 4 weeks so shopped for 6 weeks. Each weeks provisioning, from the butter to the flour and the treats, crackers, chips and dips etc. were rationed into separate carriers, marked and stored. This is a necessity – otherwise, you will find a whole salami and a whole round of cheese, “rations” for 4 days, missing in one day ….I speak from experience!

Each person had their own goodie bag in their cabin/space. Let the crew give the person doing the shopping their own personal shopping list, be it Nutella, beef jerky or sweeties. Sailing is hard. Crossings are hard. It’s nice to go and hide in your cabin, shut out the world and pig out on marshmallows under the covers! (No, not while you cry, it’s not THAT bad.)

Pre-cook for at least 3 meals. I cooked a large batch of tasty mince that I could use in lots of ways. I intended to wash and cut and neatly label matching size Ziploc bags with healthy vegetables but I didn’t get there. Do the obvious and buy some goods that aren’t ripe yet. I did grate the cheese and store into containers in the fridge so it was easy to yank out and use. Do whatever preparation you can to make your life easier when crossing. If we had had a deep freeze, I would have done a lot more.

Comfort food that reminds one of home is invaluable. After our dismasting and the storm we went through, all we wanted was familiar food, good old homemade mac and cheese and bangers and mash with gravy etc. Don’t go all exotic because you are buying in a foreign country, I don’t eat certain foods at home, I am not going to try at sea!

Utensils and equipment are just as important when provisioning. I find a large Teflon pan invaluable for one pan paellas, frittatas etc. Cooking and sailing are not 2 activities that go hand in hand. It gets rough. Keep it simple. Stock up on those instant noodles and soups for those occasions when you cannot produce a hot meal. Buy a flask if you do not have one. Those night watches get long and cold, even in the tropics, a flask of coffee or soup is such a treat!

Cardboard is a problem. With cardboard come a lot of nasty bugs and bug eggs, get rid of it fast, if possible do not even bring on to the boat at all. We took cereals etc out of all cardboard boxes before coming on board and put everything in marked, clear plastic containers, easy to store. We didn’t do any of the “coat your eggs in vaseline” crap, just turned the trays every 2 days or so and the eggs were fine.

Perishables – refrigeration or not? Each boat is different. We only had one fridge so were limited with the perishables. We bought net bags which held (even in the storm!) and placed our fruit, tomatoes etc in them. The fresh stuff is obviously bought last and is a completely individual decision. I know some crew who sail without a vegetable/fruit in sight and others that stock up as if they are the local “Fruit and Veg” store. Let the fresh stuff have plenty of air, pack your things properly, again, common sense…No potatoes on top of tomatoes and grapes…..

Water. A huge problem for us as the tanks did not have the capacity we are used to on our own boat. Work it out. Most people need 1.5 – 2 litres a day, figure out the best option for the boat in terms of storage.
We bought individual water bottles for all crew. Mark them. This sounds so silly but nearly caused a bit of drama. No fighting, no grabbing other people’s water bottles, or any other personal item, by accident,(or on purpose because it’s the closest one to you)!
Sadly, we had to buy a lot of plastic 1.5 l water bottles which leads me to ….garbage. Another problem. Squash everything, rinse out tins etc, double bag and store safely on the deck or in a lazarette until you can dispose of it all.

Of course, you need to make a list of toiletries, detergents, loo-paper, toothpicks etc. Sit somewhere quietly and think of all the things you use in your day to day routine. It’s not hard and honestly, if you forget to buy the dental floss it won’t kill you. Read a lot of blog articles on provisioning, I picked up weird, yet useful, tips that I would not have thought of such as having a vacuum pack sealer on board, (on my wish list) lots of “just add water and an egg” packet type bread and brownies, stacks of tortillas…….
Of course, if you know how to fish your provisioning could be a lot simpler. We don’t. Have only ever caught an albatross.

Lastly, it’s tough provisioning in a country where you do not speak the language or know the system. It can lead to immense frustration, raised voices, mutterings, swearing and “I want to bash your head in” moments with whomever you are shopping with, especially a spouse/partner. To avoid being locked up in Brazil for manslaughter, we split our provisioning into 3 separate shopping trips, spaced over a few days. Those trolleys fill up fast and trying to manoeuvre huge loads in the humidity and tropical rain in Rio was very unappealing.

We realised, after the first expedition, that we had to lighten up, be patient, enjoy it as part of the experience and then it honestly did become a lot of fun! A smile and an attempt at speaking the local lingo goes a long way. Be prepared, you got this!

Captain Mike and Queen of Provisioning Nikki.

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