Reflections on provisioning

Produce stalls, Zihuatenejo
Public market, Zihuatanejo, Mexico

People everywhere have to eat.

This is a lesson I seem to need to re-learn periodically. A lot of provisioning, I believe, is really just the result of over thinking things from a fear of scarcity- and as a result, buying far more than necessary.

On the other hand, this is coming from the person who has a very large spreadsheet to organize provisioning needs (and cross reference items to their stowage location on board)- so you can take that with a grain of salt. But I think almost everyone we know coming across the Pacific had unused food confiscated by Quarantine upon arrival in Australia or New Zealand, and I’ll bet that like ours, a lot of it had been on board since Mexico.

But the thing is, I really do love to eat. We all do on Totem. Food isn’t just something that sustains us, it’s something that inspires us and creates memories. So living on rice and beans between opportunities for provisioning isn’t going to happen, either.

One way to think of provisioning is to break down your ports into a three rough categories.

1. The Rice Category. First, there are the little village shops, which fundamentally are the same whether you’re in the sparsely populated coastline of Baja, Mexico or the remote atoll of Fakarava, French Polynesia. Most goods are packaged for long term storage. Many may have been on the shelf for a long time. The selection will mostly be national staples (is there any place you can’t find rice?), but nothing so unusual that you can’t base your diet on what’s available.

2. The Ooo, Peanut Butter! Category. Then, there are the small towns: the places like La Paz, Mexico or Neifu, Tonga where you can find a public market for fresh produce, and a few grocery stores that will also have some refrigerated and frozen goods. This is where you can find a larger variety and a few imports – like peanut butter, which as the children get bigger, we seem to need in increasing quantities.

3. The I’ll Have Sushi Category. These are the major provisioning centers where you can source nearly anything you want and extensive imported goods, although some may come at a price. Puerto Vallarta, Papeete, and Brisbane ultimately had pretty much anything we wanted- from wasabi to quinoa. We might not have wanted to pay the price of that foie gras at the Carrefour in Tahiti, but it was there; meanwhile the brie and baguettes were fabulous.

So don’t do what we did four years ago, when I hauled multiple carts out of the Trader Joe’s in San Diego as if we’d never see proper food again. The local food in Mexico was so fresh and delicious. It was much more fun to seek out the market in villages down Baja (meeting people and finding adventures along the way) than dig into the freezer for another steak. And don’t do what we did two years later, we bought enough rice and beans to take us around the world. It was embarrassing and a little depressing to hand that over to Quarantine in Oz.

Think of provisioning as an arbitrage game. Stock up on things you love where they are cheap. Get those things you well and truly can’t live without (my Irish Breakfast tea!) in bulk, but worry less about staples. You’ll find those between ports, but meanwhile, you will have all of those little things that can make your day that much better…from your morning cuppa to sundowners.

In many cases our storage space has been better used for specialty items. We did manage to run out of peanut butter, but have arrived at that level 2 port just in time to resupply. Meanwhile, it is pretty fantastic to be able to sit in the cockpit here in North of Nowhere, Papua New Guinea, watching the sun set while nibbling on a little Camembert and good olives.

I’ve got a handful of other ruminations on provisioning in the blog- get em all here: http://www.sailingtotem.com/tag/provisioning

Long term provisioning approach on Totem
Stowing: finding space, tricks for making fresh provisions last
French Polynesia: what’s good, what’s available, and costs
– Local help with provisioning in Mexico
Mexico to Australia: what we over provisioned
Mexico to Australia: what we were really glad we brought

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