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Provisional Thinking, or Your Boat is Ajar

Recently, the question came up on another forum about how to stow food aboard and what food to stow. I have read a great deal on this topic and had many an interesting discussion, many of which centered on "if only we hadn't bought 80 pounds of hamburgers a week before the reefer blew". Anyway, here are some current thought, pun partially intended.

Methods of preservation and stowage vary. Given that provisioning in many places is a bit of a crime of opportunity when it isn't a complete crap shoot (there should be a pictorial dictionary of food in PDF form), you have to be ready to buy not only what you can eat at once, but to preserve what you might fancy more of a month later.

Some favour vacuum sealers, not only for food meant for the fridge or to keep cooked food in suspended animation, but also for spares, gaskets, etc. to keep them free from rust. Others favour "home canning" in Mason jars, with such little tricks as blocks of cheese in olive oil in sealed jars, stowed with plastic dividers in Rubbermaid snap-lid bins. You eat the cheese and then use the cheese-flavoured oil for cooking or salad dressing. Other tricks are using rice grains in spices and salt as a desiccant, and having a 12 VDC cooler for beer/pop/cold water when motoring to save opening the fridge. Not everyone has the space for these Peltier-fan-driven wonders (which frequently heat food if you reverse the plug), but if you use it as a clothes crate when it's not a cooler, you can do the sensible thing and add warm drinks from the stores, sandwiches from the galley and then
fill the day's drinks one time from the fridge, and then put other warm drinks in the fridge. The fridge is then shut for eight hours, you motor along for three, maybe, and the cooler is cold for 24 hours and the fridge is only warming the next day's drinks. The cooler can be made more efficient at the cost of space with 1/2" closed cell foam inserts. Four amps out of the alternator isn't going to kill your battery charging regime, and the key to a low draw fridge (beyond insulating the hell out of it) is to have the contents memorized and arranged so that the lid is open for as few seconds as possible.

Regardless, there are a range of snap-lid bins (you can label them with "dry" or erasable marker) that will more or less fit stringers and frames, and if you look for wide and long spaces with only a few inches of height, you'll find plenty of space aboard. Keep a log or diagram of your stores, and try, as always, to keep the heaviest loads near the middle of the boat, and to organize meals ahead of time so that a week's food is in the topmost, accessible bin. The other thing that seems to be important is treats and snacks...if you have an evening ritual of a hot coffee and a bit of chocolate, for instance, get really good examples of both. This makes the occasional "stew three nights running" periods bearable, and takes you well away from the feeling you are on an endless camping trip. Likewise, choose meals that can be prepared in one pot or pressure cooker for those times underway when cooking is problematic and you just want to add hot water to a package of soup. You can even pour boiling water into thermoses if you expect a bad spell.

Not exactly as pictured!

I've purchased a couple of used Forespar Mini-Galley-type gimballed cookers, one of which I expect to use in the galley and the other in the pilothouse, close to the companionway. Hot fluids of a nourishing or reviving nature seem critical to deck watch effectiveness and happiness, and yet there will be times when galley work is difficult or even dangerous. These will provide safe heating at severe heel, and the smell of hot coffee on a dark foggy night in the pilothouse will be welcome indeed.

Unwanted visitors can be a huge hassle, and short of the obvious screens, mosquito coils and netting, there are the little bastards that get a free ride thanks to land-based assumptions inappropriate to tropical shopping.

Cruisers may want to consider the possibility of weevil, bugs or vermin brought aboard and how to a) prevent that and b) fight it if it happens. The biggest offender here is apparently cardboard boxes in the tropics. I have read in several books that cardboard is left on the pier and goods are brought in ziplocs held in string bags as a weevil/roach deterrent. Others also use "Chinese hat" conical line barriers on dock and even mooring lines (rats swim quite well).

Don't rule out canned goods, but be aware that the glue on the labels will both melt and be eaten by bugs. The traditional method is to strip the label, write the contents and date on the lid with marker, and then varnish the can to reduce rust. Such cans will survive even damp bilges undamaged, although really it's the humidity you should worry about and keeping the boat vented.

There's many books on food prep and storage aboard. Most favour the fairly Spartan approach in that the fridge is something you should keep for specialities, as they can and do fail. Better a small fridge/freezer with a high turnover than something that if it goes, rots a few hundred bucks worth of steak.

Wow, I wrote more than I had intended. Apparently, I've been visualizing my own passagemaker as a vast storehouse of calories. I find it interesting that while cruisers seem obsessed with food, most of them are in pretty good shape, perhaps in part to the calories burned keeping current and archived information handy in one's head as you try to stay aware and afloat.


Overboard said...

We've read the same books and had the same conversations with others.
Nicely summarized.
I still rue the day, pardon the pun, when I took around 50kgs of curry roux to the boat.

Rhys said...

Yeah, bargains are relative, even on a big boat. I recall a story about some foul liquor missing a half-tot that was given to one cruiser, who smelled it and gave it to another, who had a spoonful on ice and went "ewww" and passed it on...

The story went that it was eventually given out as a club race prize as "the booze even sailors won't drink".

Might have been some sort of creme de menthe...

Anonymous said...

Eschew rice as a dessicant - it doesn't do more than break down over time and clog shaker holes. Your best bet is a small ratio of unpopped popcorn kernels.

Why yes, I *did* live at or near the ocean for 13 years!

Thanks for the link to your blog.


Anonymous said...

People eat all over the world! It's amazing really.

Rhys said...

Thanks for the popcorn vs. rice tip, Ruth. I assumed rice was good because I've seen it in salt shakers in restaurants (humid ones, I'm guessing)for years.