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Provisioning Tips For Eating Well At Sea

A well-fed crew is a happy crew

A well-fed crew is a happy crew

Following a taco dinner and brief nap at anchor, the Swan 59 Icebear set sail from Falmouth, Antigua, weighing anchor at about 20 minutes to midnight. The first passage of the season had begun.

As Icebear’s chief mate, one of my responsibilities is stocking the boat with food and water before each passage. I learned most of my provisioning skills from 59º North co-founder Mia Karlsson, whose recipe binder is my bible offshore.

The planning begins with dinner. One of Mia’s secrets is a pre-cooked dinner on the first night at sea, allowing for an easy transition to life offshore. Normally it’s lasagna prepared the day before. However, we were in Antigua and couldn’t pass up one of our favorite eateries, Roti Sue, where we stocked up for our first meal.

The overall provisioning plan also focuses on dinner, our one hot meal of the day served at the 1800 watch change. Mia’s recipes run the gamut from conventional entrées to pancake recipes (both American and from her native Sweden) to morale-boosting berry crumbles for dessert. Before a passage, I flip through the binder and select the meals I want to make. On this trip, our dinners included a curry, quinoa salad, beef stroganoff, spaghetti bolognese and skipper Andy Schell’s killer chili. Ingeniously, most of Mia’s meals use the same base ingredients for shopping efficiency.

The author picks out some fresh produce in preparation for the next passage

The author picks out some fresh produce in preparation for the next passage

When planning dinners, I match meals to the conditions we expect on passage. In rough weather or upwind it’s rice as opposed to pasta—no need to wrestle with a pot full of boiling water. Similarly, I won’t throw my spiciest curry at the crew until stomachs have had time to adjust. In the tropics, no one wants lasagna enough to justify having the oven on at full blast for an hour or more.

The other meals are on the crew to prepare for themselves—breakfast is cereal, muesli and pre-cooked hard-boiled eggs, though on longer trips Andy may whip up his famous hurricane eggs. Lunch will be leftovers and wrap-style sandwiches. (Wraps not only keep longer but are sturdier than bread.) For snacks, I’ll get nuts, granola bars, crackers, cookies and fruit. All are kept in an easily accessible locker that is restocked as needed. Chocolate melts in warmer latitudes, and popcorn or flavored chips make for sticky fingers, so they’re out.

Before I make my shopping list, I start off by taking a full inventory of the food already aboard to ensure we don’t end up overbuying, dry stores in particular. The only known exception to this rule is locally made hot sauce. There is no such thing as too much hot sauce. The goal is to be efficient and not have quite enough of “everything” onboard in order to be sure we consume all our fresh produce, meat and dairy. If we run out of, say, turkey on Day 7, no worries. Peanut butter and jelly will do just fine. Taking the time to pack the fridge in an organized fashion also saves energy—both yours and your fridge’s. Incorporating canned vegetables and stowing root vegetables in dry, separate locations will ensure good, healthy dinners throughout even the longest passages.

A quick conference before taking another load of provisions to the boat

A quick conference before taking another load of provisions to the boat

To keep things interesting, I never play all my cards at once. At the start of our passage out of Falmouth there were two packs of bacon in the fridge that not even Andy knew about. I’ve seen the smell of cooked bacon bring a tear to the eye of even the most stoic mariner.

As for water, we can’t operate our long passages with big crews without a watermaker, so both Icebear and 59º North’s other boat, the Swan 48, Isbjörn, have one. That said, because they’re expensive and high-maintenance, we do our best to use them sparingly and carry as much water as we can. Calculate your ideal water consumption based on two liters (about half a gallon) per person per day (when passagemaking), then add a 50 percent safety margin. Plan on showering sparingly, using mostly saltwater with just a freshwater rinse. Learn how to catch rain water, à la Hal Roth, and Lin and the late Larry Pardey. For the ocean’s sake, if you don’t have enough internal tankage, buy a few jerrycans you can fill with water and lash to the stern rail. Disposable plastic water bottles are both irresponsible and wasteful.

We use a simple dish-washing protocol with our crews—wash in saltwater with a final rinse in fresh, the same as when taking showers. We also make sure all our sponges and towels have clear uses (dish rags and sponges versus counter sponges and hand towels) to help cut down on paper towel use.

I separate “clean trash,” like cardboard packaging and recycling that can be rinsed out, from the “smelly trash.” The clean trash is then compressed, bagged and stowed for as long as necessary. Heave-ho to all organic waste and biodegradable paper products, but nothing else! What’s left—the smelly trash—won’t amount to much. If you do it right, you can go a long way on a single trash bag.

I’m happy to report the first meal on our passage from Antigua was a hit, and the entire crew had clean plates to show for it. Another 700 miles, and we were down to our last few oranges, with my secret stash of bacon still waiting in the wings! 

Emma Garschagen is the first mate for 59º North, an adventure-charter company owned and operated by Andy Schell and Mia Karlsson that specializes in providing sail-training and offshore passagemaking opportunities. Garschagen has been a member of the 59º North crew since 2019 and will be sailing as navigator aboard Icebear in the 2023 Ocean Globe Race. Visit for more information

Photo courtesy of James Austrums 

October/November 2021



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