Provisioning: where does it all go?

I realized after a comment (thanks Travis & Maggie!) on an earlier post that in the series looking back at provisioning that I entirely ignored the big question of stowage. Trading email with Diane while she preps for Ceilydh’s Pacific crossing kicked me into gear. Where do you put a few thousand pounds of food on an already packed-to-the-gunwales cruising boat? How do you make it last?

removing labels from cans
just a hint of the true provisioning chaos on Totem

Yeah. I know. Honestly, we didn’t plan this very well. Mostly, we bought the food, then figured out where to put it. It was kind of stressful, and our boat was a mess. Not a lot of wisdom to share except that it’s amazing how you CAN find the room! As we put things away, we made notations on our provisioning spreadsheet- it turned out to be really, really helpful later. Stowage locations for different items seem obvious at the time but get lost in the memory fog all too quickly.

A few things worked really well for us in helping things last. Reading up on how to to extend the life of fresh whole foods kept at ambient temperature brought a  few fundamentals:

  • Keep a zone of separation from one type of produce to another. No touching, and in some cases (like citrus), not even nearby!
  • Keep them out of direct light, in the dark if possible
  • Try to have everything as well ventilated as possible
  • Mellow temps = mellow veggies: if that locker gets heated up by the sun, it’s not going to keep your tomatoes well.
  • wrapping individual items for some types went a long way to extending their useful life

Listed below are our long-haul “freshies” stored aboard, and how we kept them from spoiling.

Onions: wrapped individually in paper towels. It felt really wasteful (we normally use dish towels, not paper towels!) but they did get re-used eventually, and the wrapping was KEY to keeping onions (and many other veggies) from turning. After sawing the paper towel roll in half, I tore sheets in half again to find a good wrapping size. They seemed to last forever, but the thing is- you can get onions almost everywhere in the Pacific, so there’s no reason to get tons except for convenience and cost efficiency.


Cabbages: we were able to get cabbages with all the big outer leaves intact, as harvested. One of the only things we washed before stowing, they got a soak in a very mild bleach solution to kill any critters tucked intothe deep leaf crevices. I left all the outer leaves on- they dried and yellowed but it kept the inner leaves well. A 15 minute “bath” in a mild bleach solution, then another to rinse, then dried upside down in the shade of the cockpit. They lasted a very long time. Cabbage sautéed with cider vinegar has become a favorite dish of the kids!

main cabin- extra stowage
Bins with cabbages and chemoya (top) and onions (bottom) under the bench in Totem’s main cabin

Tomatoes: purchased in stages of ripeness, tomatoes were also wrapped individually in paper and carefully packed in a bin. The greenest tomatoes went on the bottom and the ripest stayed on top. We kept tomatoes for nearly a month this way.


Potatoes: wrapped in paper, kept separately from other produce in their own bin. These also lasted approximately forever in a relatively dark / relatively cool spot. I seem to remember we had plenty of potato and potato-like veggies available in the islands, though, so… great for the passage, but in the scheme of things, not a real priority for provisioning.


Limones: oh we miss the Mexican limon! These lasted really well, individually wrapped in wee little squares of aluminum foil. Yes, foil. A tip from another cruiser- the wrap made a big difference… unwrapped / poorly wrapped did not keep nearly as well.


Eggs: contrary to popular practice in the USA, there is no refrigeration required. We kept them for a long time… longer than I should probably admit… I think it was probably pushing two months, in fact. They were stored in the flat trays we purchased them in, and turned when I remembered. It wasn’t very often, to be honest.

Oranges/grapefruit: these citrus fruits were stored away from everything else, a strategy to keep one from spoiling another. They were also in ventilated bins put in a locker (dark / ventilated) in the girls’ cabin. We didn’t wrap them, and they may have lasted better if wrapped. We washed these in a diluted bleach bath. I’m not sure if it helped. We found that we loved the sweet Mexican grapefruits and didn’t get through the oranges as easily. There is an abundance of fruit in the Marquesas, so if that’s your destination- don’t go too crazy!


sorting citrus in the cockpit
sorting citrus in the cockpit, somewhere in the Pacific ocean



14 Responses to Provisioning: where does it all go?

  1. Searay 36 Sedan Bridge March 21, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    I just bought the kindle and for all you boaters with books taking up valuable space, this is the answer for providing additional space….Get rid of the books!!!

  2. Skipperette March 21, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

    Behan, good tips on provisioning. On S/V Trillium, I have plastic containers with locking handles to separate fruits from veggies and another one for all lunch making items that need refrigeration. This is really helpful when feeding the crew on a passage. We enjoy your posts.
    Skipperette Sherry
    http://sv-trillium.blogspot.com

  3. Laureen March 21, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    To help with some of the guilt about the paper towels… we get the blue ones that are meant for industrial use, because they’re washable! I’ve been using the same towels over, and over, and over…

  4. Jim and Heather on Meerkat March 22, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    I remember years ago individually wrapping citrus in foil. Worked great except when I didn’t completely dry a few… Paper towels certainly helped too!
    On “Meerkat” I put up lists on the inside of the doors of cupboards of what was in there (in fact still do this back in our non-cruising state!) and had a master list of provisions. The only bad part was when we moved some items and forgot to put on the list… spent about an hour searching and searching until Jim finally remembered where we put it. Important to keep the list updated! In our post tsunami state, I just went through all of our canned goods / dry stuff & re-inventoried. Time to make sure we are prepared for “whatever”. It was fun to do – felt like we were crusing again 🙂

  5. boatbaby March 26, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    I am loving all of your very informative posts on safety/ provisioning/ etc. Thank you Behan!

  6. Mid-Life Cruising! March 29, 2011 at 2:30 am #

    Just came across your site and love this post! Although we’re not leaving for another year, we recently looked at our Catalina 30 and wondered where the heck we’re going to put everything! Still don’t know but at least your storage tips will help!

  7. Les and April 5, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    Hi guys, great reading your adventures, we are presently in SF, refitting Gemini and taking care of family business. Should be heading south again when things ease here. Presently in SF, have a house in remodel and a trawler and Gemini in the marina, plenty of accomodations.
    Les and Diane

  8. Jen Pells April 7, 2011 at 7:06 am #

    Hi Behan. Writing from not so sunny Bainbridge. Enjoyed your photos on this post, some say you can really get to know people by looking at their groceries 😉 I just spent some time back-reading your blog. We have some mutual friends, but we’ve never met. I moved here shortly before you headed out. Your life is truly blog-worthy, keep the posts coming.

  9. moliver April 12, 2011 at 1:32 am #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. mathew w April 12, 2011 at 1:33 am #

    behan – i love the logistical posts of your blog.

    with eggs, i think they last unrefrigerated if you don’t wash them after they come from the bird. if you do wash them, then they need to be refrigerated… is my understanding.

  11. bgirl June 24, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    you are incredible. wow.

  12. The Chatty Housewife June 7, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Matthew W is right… if the eggs have been washed after laying, refrigerate them. If they haven’t (these are found on a store shelf instead of a fridge/cooler), then they are shelf stable. (To see if an egg is bad, float it in water. If it doesn’t sink and touch the bottom of the glass, throw it out!

  13. Carney September 17, 2015 at 9:23 am #

    In placing items in a bleach-wash prior to stowing, I wonder if it matters if the water-bleach solution is fresh water or sea water?

    • Behan September 17, 2015 at 10:49 am #

      Hey Carney, salt pulls moisture out of things (think: sprinkling salt on eggplant slices to make them ‘sweat’) – I think it would be a poor choice for washing fresh produce. If your concern is to minimize use of fresh water, it doesn’t use much to do the rinse. Interesting though, I had to think for a sec. 😉

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