March 21, 2011

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

March 14, 2011

South Pacific anchoring: dealing with bommies

We wondered a lot about anchoring among coral reefs before taking off from Mexico... and we've heard the question a few times since going through the experience ourselves. Jamie put together this response. 

South Pacific anchorages add a new dimension to parking the boat. Coral heads snag anchors, tangle and abrade anchor chain, and chew up nylon rode. This is not helpful to the common illusion of what South Pacific cruising is supposed to be like; nor is it good for living coral, in my view the most spectacular of all living things.

Perfect example of an anchorage with a minefield of coral heads

First, it’s important for the uninitiated South Pacific cruiser to understand the difference between boobies and bommies. The former refers to what you saw at Isla Isabella and hope to see in French Polynesia. The later is the common reference to coral heads (derived the Australian Aboriginal word bomboras, loosely meaning isolated reef). So while the meanings of both words share a certain aesthetic beauty, bommies differ in that they can wreck your boat.

Among bommies, the “floating chain” anchoring technique is not new. It’s also not well known or practiced. It does reduce coral damage caused by anchor gear; and minimizes anchor chain on coral macramé events. The basic concept is to attach floats, usually boat fenders, to anchor chain thereby keeping sections of the chain above bommies.

keeping chain off coral
A rough idea from the deck of how the float system we use works.

Technique notes from Totem:
  1. We measure anchoring depth as being from the bottom to the bow roller.
  2. Scope: commonly 4:1 but varies widely based on local variables.
  3. Floats (boat fenders are perfect): we used fender measuring approx 8” x 30”. Occasionally we used larger fenders (12” x 32”) in deep anchorages or around very tall bommies.
  4. Attaching fenders to chain:  use about 2’-ish of line between chain and float. Tie to chain with a rolling hitch or clove hitch AND with an extra half hitch to “lock” it, as current/chain/boat movements keep the fenders working.
  5. Safety: mind the finger/toes/etc once the float is tied and more chain is let out! Make sure the float will not foul on the way over the side.
  6. Anchor drop: pick a clear spot to drop anchor (very challenging sometimes). The anchor drags before setting (varies with type), so account for drag distance as well.
  7. 1st float: about 1.5 x anchoring depth
  8. Additional floats: Very loosely, spacing equals 1 x anchoring depth. Amount varies with how much or little you want to control anchor chain droop between floats.
  9. Setting the anchor and use of snubber is no different than without floats.
  10. Communication:  Is a must, especially when windy/choppy. When attaching the first float it is incumbent on the person at the wheel/engine controls to keep the boat from sliding backwards much – or you’ll find the unset anchor will end up on or to close to a bommies.
  11. Hauling anchor: The cautions mentioned above are especially true when raising the anchor in rough conditions – fingers/toes/boat position. It’s also a good idea to take advantage of the clear water and get a good picture of the section of chain that is on the bottom because floats don’t eliminate minor bommie wrapping. Slowly motor forward in the direction of the chain to reduce the chance of destroying coral and to reduce the chance of pulling the anchor back into coral, causing bigger problems.

The catenary question: catenary we all know is the curve in the chain rode between the two fixed ends. More curve means better holding because of a dominate shear force (horizontal on the anchor) instead of peel force (lifting anchor from bottom); and because the curve acts as a shock absorber (in conjunction with the snubber) so that a pitching bow doesn't jerk the anchor out. Floats do affect the catenary. In the first case, the first float lifts the chain and thereby makes the pull on the anchor more vertical – less good. In our experience on Totem, this never once caused us to drag; although different anchors may yield different results (we have a 33kg Rocna). In the second case, the shock absorber affect is not affected by the floats because they do not cause the chain to be straight between the 2 fixed ends.

The opposite is true if you don’t use the float method. Because the chain will wrap around a bommie (more or less dramatically) the anchor pull angle parallels the bottom so holding is very good. The problem is that the effective scope is reduced to the distance from bommie to bow roller; thus reducing chain weight and catenary, reducing the shock absorber affect. In a bouncy anchorage this can cause shock loading that stresses the chain, bow roller and/or snubber. Also, chain wrapped on bommies wears through galvanizing very quickly, can cause loading perpendicular to the chain link (much weaker), and causes loud scraping sounds as the boat moves around.

So in terms of holding power, anchoring both with and without floats poses  issues to be aware of around bommies. The real benefit of the float method is that you are much less likely to delay your departure from an anchorage due to a need to untangle chain. This process can literally take hours or be demanding in rough conditions.  And you cause less damage, or no damage, to the living coral that we all want to see.

Places Totem used the float method:
Marquesas - Tahuata (Hanamoenoa Bay), Ua Huka (Haavei Bay), Nuka Hiva (Anaho Bay, Controller Bay)
Tuamotus – Makemo (all anchorages) Fakarava (all anchorages)
Societies – Moorea (Opunohu Bay), Huahine (all anchorages), Tahaa (Baie Hurepiti)
Cook Islands – Suwarrow (Anchorage Island)
Tonga – Vav’au group (Hunga, Kenutu, Vakaaeitu)
Fiji – Yasawa and Mamanuca groups
Vanuatu – NW side of Lelepa Island
New Caledonia – N side of Lifou Island in the Loyalty group

March 12, 2011

Provisions in French Polynesia

Paths across the Pacific vary, but almost everyone goes to French Polynesia. Based on our experience, here's what to expect in FP. Generally speaking, what's available varies by island group.

As the first landfall after weeks at sea, it's impossible to resist the lure of fresh produce. Like everything in FP, though, it will cost you! For the first (and hopefully last) time in my life, I spent $12 on a single smallish melon. It was juicy, delicious, and honey-sweet, but I hope I never pay that much for a single piece of fruit again!

Marquesan supermarket
Yes, this is a grocery store. Small shops, known as magazins, are the typical source for groceries

The fruit in the Marquesas is beyond glorious, and I probably didn't need to satisfy my fresh-fruit craving at such a price- laden trees seem to be everywhere. Mangoes, pamplemousse, bananas, and more. It all belongs to someone, and it's important to ask permission before helping yourself... but it's almost always permitted with a broad smile. For the first time, we experienced the nectar that is a tree ripened pamplemousse. It was beyond spectacular. We've had them since, but never quite as sweet as the beauties from the Marquesas.

These dry atolls grow precious little of their own produce; almost everything is flown in from Tahiti. Goods are expensive to start with in Tahiti, and don't get any cheaper being put in short hop flights to these islands. The only "deals" were subsidized goods, but other than the $.50 baguettes, they were not a bargain. On the other hand, bring as much fruit as you can carry from the Marquesas. The kids we met in the Tuamotus thought our fresh papaya was a huge treat- as it probably was.

Tahiti / Society Islands:
Anything you could want, from middle eastern dates to French lentils, can be had (for a price) in Tahiti. This was the only stop in the south Pacific where supermarkets resembled their US counterparts. Frankly, it was kind of weird reverse culture shock and took some adjusting: I hadn't been in an aisle dedicated to cold cereal in a VERY long time! Stock up at the Carrefour in Tahiti, supplement with produce from the marche municipal (public market) in downtown Papeete, and try to get out with a few francs.

There are a common denominators between islands, too:

Bless the french, for they have brought baguettes to the far corners of the world. One of the cheapest things you can buy (around $.50 for a meter-long loaf) and available almost everywhere there are people in French Polynesia.

bless the French...
Lunch at anchor in Huahine: fresh baguettes smeared with brie. I personally gained about 10 pounds of fresh baguettes smeared with brie during our 3-month stay.

Subsidized foods:
In addition to baguettes, a variety of staple foods are subsidized in FP. Subsidized prices are still almost always more (sometimes two or three times more) than prices in Mexico, but a bargain compared to everything but gifted or foraged fruit and fish. We discovered the trick for identifying the lower cost goods was the color of the price tag. It seemed to vary somewhat by location, but red or day-glo orange generally denoted a subsidized product. Scanning an aisle, you can hone in on the color to speed up shopping. 

Subsidized items include powdered milk, flour, sugar, cooking oil, canned butter, chicken, lamb necks (?!), pork & beans, and canned beef.

Variety canned vegetables.
We bought a lot of canned or tetra pack vegetables to get us through the stretches between opportunities to buy vegetables in the islands. Yeah, it sounds pretty gross, but it's better than no veggies when you can't find fresh! They've been helpful meal fillers, although surely not very nutritious. The problem for provisioning was that the variety in Mexico was very, very limited. Once again, I think we can thank the French: there was a interesting selection of relatively palatable canned veggies available: beets, caponata, and endive. 

Tahiti's variety
Canned spinach, Brussels sprouts, and beets on the shelf in French Polynesia.

Things to buy in FP:
Canned butter was readily available in French Polynesia, but difficult to find everywhere else (until New Caledonia, where it cost 30% more). I. Love. Butter. Having canned butter, instead of butter that has to be kept refrigerated- or turned into ghee- is reeeeaaaallly handy on a cruising boat in the tropics. 

We also found that Tahiti had best selection of cured meat in the Pacific. We had dry salamis purchased here that were with us until New Caledonia, four months later. Don't forget quarantine in your ports of call, though: most ports in the Cook Islands were confiscating all non-New Zealand meat products in 2010. In Suwarrow, we were merely encouraged to destroy the meat by burning it... slowly, over a barbecue, among friends.

March 9, 2011

Provisions worth their weight in gold

We have the luxury to eat for pleasure as much as for sustenance. So yeah, we could have filled the boat with nothing but rice and beans- as it seems I may have attempted to do- and survived just fine (and quite cheaply) for our seven and a half months of Pacific island hopping. It wouldn't have been much fun, though. Here are some things we chose to bring on board for the Pacific voyage that worked really well for us:

* Cured meats. As mentioned... we make lousy vegetarians. But we don't have a freezer, just a works-fine-most-of-the-time refrigerator; we simply can't keep fresh meat very long. To feed our protein cravings, and avoid cracking into the, ew, canned stuff- we ended up with a considerable volume of cured meat on board. We broke into the last of our Mexican smoked ham in Vanuatu, so as far as I'm concerned, we nailed the quantity on this on perfectly. It was worth every penny of the markup at Carnes del Mundo in Bucerias for quality, vacuum sealed stuff.

* Dried eggs. I know- sounds nasty, right? And frankly, for eating straight up- scrambled eggs or whatever- they are nasty. But I love to bake, and a lot baked goods have eggs in them. Fresh eggs were often hard to find, and expensive when we could find them. This canister worked out to pennies per egg, and helped keep us in scones and cinnamon rolls. It was perfectly acceptable for french toast or pancakes as well. One canister, equivalent to about 96 eggs, was the perfect amount.

It even makes cake
Carrot cake bakes on deck in the solar oven. Thank you, dried eggs.

* Specialty foods. Things we love that we might not find (or once again, might have found in Tahiti and paid a small ransom to acquire). Grains besides long grain white rice (I love quinoa, bulghur, and wheat berries; brown rice is a basic staple). Treats to go with a sundowner: good green olives, baby corn (Diane, you were SO RIGHT about those!), and smoked oysters. Favorite sauces or condiments that could be hard to find, from pesto to hot chile sauce or a good curry paste.

In some cases, we didn't realize how much we would miss certain items until they were gone or unavailable. We were lucky enough to have friends and family visiting on several occasions, in both Mexico and Bora Bora; they all came well equipped with both wish list items and other things they thought we'd like! Jocelyn and Willie made sure we had some key spices and grains that I couldn't find in Mexico... Claire and Elliot kept us in chocolate chips (Jamie is eternally grateful) and quinoa (quinoa porridge... breakfast of cruising champions!).

Next...looking sample costs and, availability

March 7, 2011

Provisioning lookback: over-buying

When we arrived in Australia, we faced by far the strictest quarantine encountered so far. So besides just keeping us all fed and happy for the past half year, perfect planning also means that ideally, we consumed all of the provisions which could be confiscated before we reach Australia.

It didn't quite work out that way. I can't stand waste, and it pained me to see the bag with at least 20 kilos of consumable food taken off our boat after we reached Australia. Here's what we over-purchased:

* canned meat. We bought cans of chunk chicken and beef, and a few of ham. To be honest, I still can't believe we even consume this stuff... talk about falling far from our life on shore, where we knew the knew by name the farmers who raised most of the meat we ate! Even before the question of canned meat came up for the Pacific crossing, during our year and a half in Mexico I looked hard at being de-facto vegetarians as an alternative to healthy, sustainably raised meat. We really didn't know much about about how the meat we eat there was consumed, so it seemed like a good options- and a good way to prep for the Pacific islands. Besides, I was a vegetarian for a few years before I met Jamie... it couldn't be that hard, right? But we found, as we waited out the hurricane season in the Sea of Cortez last summer, that we make very, very bad vegetarians. Of course, our Sea of Cortez failure was probably also because of the dearth of vegetables... it turns out that if you want to be vegetarian, having fresh vegetables available to purchase is pretty important! Even when we were catching plenty of fish, it didn't squelch the desire for serious protein fix now and then. The day we cracked into the emergency Spam- literally, ditch kit food- for a "ham" and cheese omelet one morning, I knew we were doomed as veggies. Besides, the reality of being vegetarian in the Pacific islands means eating a pretty limited diet. How do you like cassava? White rice? Good. You'll be fine. The rest of us, well...

bringing back the bacon
Swimming back to the boat with fish on spear - Suwarrow. When the alternative is canned meat, we basically became pesce vegetarians for much of our time in the Pacific islands anyway.

* dried beans. I avoid cans if I can, and dried beans- while they take a wee bit more effort- are both tastier and healthier. We eat a lot of beans, but I probably didn't need to buy enough to get us through Armageddon. Even though we consume at least a couple of pounds per week, I'm frankly embarrassed to admit how much was still on board when we made landfall in Australia. We had a lot of rice & beans, chili, and bean salads in our last weeks before Australia, with recipe help from The Keel and Galley Swap among others (thanks guys!). Everything left was confiscated by quarantine in Oz. It just feels criminal to throw away perfectly good food.

* rice. This kind of shocked me, because we eat tons of rice, but I actually bought too much. The weevils helped me out as several kilos had to be chucked overboard in Fiji, but we still arrived in Australia with about 6 kilos left on board. Still, it was worth it. Long grain white rice was been readily available in the Pacific islands, and generally reasonably priced, but brown rice and sushi rice were very difficult to find (and brown sushi rice? fugeddaboutit! Tracey... I dream about short grain brown rice... *sigh*). The lovely quarantine official allowed us to keep it all, too- thanks, Officer Mortimer!

our sushi plate runneth over
Whatever you do, bring plenty of sushi rice! Hyo (s/v IO) showing off our tuna and dorado sushi fiesta on Oso Blanco, in Anaho Bay, Marquesas

Next... things I'm really glad we brought!

March 5, 2011

Long-term provisioning

When we left Mexico for the south Pacific just about a year ago, we had Totem loaded down with our best guess at the provisions to sustain basic needs for half a year. How did we figure out what we needed? I made a basic spreadsheet in Excel (those who know me well will not be surprised by this), put in our estimated weekly consumption for staples in our diet, multiplied that volume over the time period, then broke it down by package size and determined how much of each item we needed to acquire. Additional columns on the spreadsheet helped track of storage location on the boat, and comments on usage.

Why leave with six months of provisions?

1. Availability.

When was the last time you went three weeks without a single grocery purchase? We had our initial passage to the Marquesas, ballparked at around three weeks, but for many months afterward there were limited options available for stocking up. In Tahiti, supermarkets resemble their American counterparts. Elsewhere, the average shop is smaller than a two-car garage. Goods which are available often came at a high cost. You may not find even basic items that you count on in your "normal" diet. In areas we visited, people often supplied their own needs through subsistence farming; in many other areas where we spent considerable time, markets weren't always accessible. Also, although I've considered myself a big locavore fan, this doesn't turn out to be very appealing in many parts of the Pacific. The Polynesian diet was very heavy on starches (cassava, breadfruit, yams, etc.), coconuts, and fish or meat. In general, there are few fresh vegetables and no grains outside of white rice. That's fine upon occasion, but we like consume a diversity of grains and veggies. Fruit was either wildly abundant, or available only for purchase at high cost (in the freshwater-poor atolls). We love to forage as we go- and we've had lots of great fresh fish and fresh fruit for our efforts- but you can't count on it all the time.

collecting mangoes
PJ and Andrew shaking mangoes out of a tree - Nuku Hiva

2. Simplicity.

Although it's a lot of work upfront, it's very convenient to have a deep stash of provisions on board. Usually, one of the first things I do in a new place is scope out the market and stores to see what's available. Having deep stores on board means I can focus on what's fresh, instead of worrying about staples. Poking around in the farmer's markets is much more fun than trolling dusty, windowless stores. In Mexico, outside of our summer months in the Sea of Cortez, there was generally easy access to well-priced supplies. It made it easy to carry less on board, but that often translated into carrying heavy loads back to the boat- bags of flour, liters of juice and milk. Doing this too often meant I left Mexico with a shoulder injury that has taken the entire intervening year to heal.  It's been kind of nice to be able to keep the shopping bags lighter, since all transport is human powered!

Anaho Bay
This awesome ridgetop view was brought to you by... the desire to find the nearest groceries, a 3 hour round-trip hike to a tiny shop on the *opposite* side of the ridge from the anchorage.

3. Economics.

The cost of food in Mexico was a fraction of the cost of food in most of the Pacific islands. Purchasing staples  before we left that we knew we'd consume kept our food costs down, even though we traveled through some very expensive islands. Had we relied on acquiring it weekly or even monthly while we traveled, our expenses would have increased significantly. In the Pacific islands, much of the food is imported, and carries a higher cost for transportation. In super expensive French Polynesia, even the subsidized staple foods (flour, sugar, rice, cooking oils, etc.) were generally twice as expensive as prices we paid in Mexico, and often more. It was a little painful to spend so much money on food last March, but it meant we ended up spending considerably less on food overall in 2010 than we did in 2009.

As a further incentive... imported goods in the islands also tend to sit around on shelves longer, and as a result, are more likely to come with... shall we call them... "little friends" incubating inside. Eww!

Foie gras
You can get foie gras in Tahiti for about $100/kilo. 

Next... hindsight is 20/20. If we didn't eat it already, we probably won't start.