Vacationing and good eats go hand-in-hand, and when you’re on a boat everything just tastes better. Maybe it’s the fresh air or the appetite you work up sailing and SUPing. Whatever the reason, the simplest fare seems to tickle the tastebuds in new ways when you’re on the water. Because food is such a big part of our leisure-time experience, it’s important to plan how you’ll provision your charter boat. Whether you’re a foodie or can survive on SPAM, careful preparation will be time well spent.
Do the Math
Before you even arrive at the dock in a foreign land, you’ll need to decide whether you’ll let someone else do the provisioning work for you, or if you’ll be pressing your crew into service. Most larger charter companies provide full or partial provisioning. You’ll receive a list with options from steak to matches. You’ll then need to decide how many people you’ll be feeding for how many days. Estimating how much each person will eat or drink is tricky since people on holiday snack a lot and consume more alcohol than in daily life.
Start with water. Most charterers don’t drink from the boat’s water tanks, so you’ll need to buy it. It’s best to buy in larger jugs and then refill individual water bottles to reduce plastic waste. Remember, you’ll have to carry all your trash with you, sometimes for the entire charter, so the less packaging, the better.
Jugs should be large, but not so big that they’re hard to manage when decanting into a smaller water bottle. Estimate a gallon per person per day of drinking water. In hot climates, you may need more. Eight people on a weeklong charter in the tropics may go through 55-60 gallons of water. It will look like a haul on the dock, but you should never skimp on your crew’s water needs.
Understand your group. Are they foodies? Are they restaurant hounds? Will they want to cook? And if so, do they know how? If your bunch wants to eat aboard, plan dinners for every night aboard, minus one. It’s almost guaranteed some beach bar somewhere will offer a “cheeseburger in paradise” that will be irresistible, so leave a reserve night to stay flexible. Even if you don’t eat out, it’s fun to do a mishmash of leftovers on the last day to use up what’s left. It gets the creative juices flowing and can make for a fun last-evening affair.
Plan for four “meals” a day—breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour. That last one is key, even for the kids, who will love joining the adults with some punch and a snack. Meals don’t have to be elaborate. Pastries or yogurt for breakfast, salads for lunch, cheese and veggies for happy hour and then a nice dinner will work just fine.
Pros and Cons
Even a vacation means trading off time and money. Letting the charter base do your provisioning is easy, but usually expensive and somewhat limiting in terms of what’s available. Doing your own food run will be cheaper, and you’ll get exactly what you want. But it’s time consuming, and the logistics may be tricky. Most people in vacation mode won’t want to spend a day stuffing bottled water and frozen goods into the trunk of a taxi. It can also be a bit like herding cats if you take your full crew to the market and they all disperse, bringing back whatever items they feel like, resulting in piles of beer and potato chips, but no milk. Mix in foreign languages and unfamiliar brands and the situation only gets that much more complicated.
Partial provisioning by the base works well. Have them bring heavy stuff, like water, and heat-sensitive items like ice. This will allow you to focus on the details and also get through your shopping faster and with fewer helpers.
Make a plan
Meal planning is an art, so assign it to a capable person who understands the process before you arrive. Make a list of all four “meals” and then break them down into individual ingredients, right down to the spices, so nothing is forgotten.
Consider your cruising area. You may eat out every night on a tour of Greece, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant in Tonga. Be warned: it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of all that’s needed to feed a crew of eight for seven days. Stick to the plan, though, and don’t start returning items just because “it looks like a lot on the counter.” At the same time, less is more, and if you don’t use it on charter, you’ll just end up tossing it or donating it to the charter staff, so again, plan. The goal is to arrive back at the charter base with an empty larder and full guests.
Food on charter can be fun, but you need to think through the process carefully. In the end, provisioning will demand as much of your attention as where and how to anchor. Once done, though, toast your good decisions over happy hour and dig into that steak.
Photos by Zuzana Prochazka