WHAT’S IN YOUR PANTRY? Or how do you provision for a long passage?

What is in your pantry


The difference between my boat pantry and my house pantry in Sydney is that we don’t have the convenience of running to the supermarket whenever we run out of a particular ingredient. The closest we ever come to this situation is when staying in particular countries for a while (like the USA or Mexico) where grocery shopping is easy and accessible. We then make weekly trips to the supermarkets and seek out local produce and to experiment with, just as we do at home. Otherwise, planning is the key to successful provisioning. Even more so for ocean passages.

Terry and I have crossed a few oceans in the past 25 years:  we sailed up and down the Australian Coast maybe 10 times B.C (before children), then as a family cruised around the Mediterranean, crossed the Atlantic twice (from Spain to Brazil, then from France to the Caribbeans), and we are currently on our 4th Pacific crossing from Panama to Australia (previous ones were from Cairns to Alaska via Hawaii, Los Angeles to Townsville, and Panama to Sydney). 3 years ago, we joined the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) for the crossing from the Canary Islands to St Lucia. The main attraction for us was not only the opportunity to travel for a while with other cruising families, but also have all the official paperwork done for us, allowing us to focus on boat preparations and enjoy the social programme set up by the rally organisers. Between seminars, safety briefings and cocktail parties, we met a huge variety of crew, a lot of them first timers curious to hear about our previous voyages.

While Terry’s mechanical skills were in high demand, I found myself asked about tips for provisioning. I was happy to share our experience then, and now that we’re embarked on yet another long passage, I thought I’d part with some of my VOAHANGY wisdom, answering the most frequently asked questions.

How do you know what to buy?

Two factors to consider: the different needs of the crew, and the availability of products in whichever country we’re in at the time.

Our crew consists of myself (female in her late-forties who foolishly thinks she’s 30 years old most of the time), Terry (strong 70-year-old male who doesn’t like to be called senior except in Spanish), Marc (16 year-old male, as strong as his Dad, and eats 3 times more than the rest of us) and Anne (our 11 year-old princess, full of energy, who loves to bake). Allowing for Marc’s healthy appetite (he’s growing, he tells me!), whenever I cook for the 4 of us, I plan for 6 or 8 servings. After he’s had his extra servings, we’ll be lucky to have enough left-overs for lunch. For the same reason, I always include starchy carbs in our meals: rice, potatoes, pasta, bread…though not all at once. Because even if Terry and I are happy with chicken and salad, the kids need filling and I’d rather they did so on beans than ice cream. It’s not to say we don’t have sweets once in a while: ice cream, cakes, or cookies are always available, it’s just that most times everyone is too full to think about desserts (in fact, the only times I see the cookie jar opened is when I am seasick and the crew is too lazy to cook for themselves). Then we have the issues of food allergies (no shellfish for Marc) and dispositions (I never drink alcohol on passages, stay away from strong flavours…)

The fun part of provisioning (for me anyway) is in roaming the aisles of local supermarkets and checking out local specialties while looking for more familiar items. Staples like flour, rice and milk are available everywhere. They may be different brands though, certainly in a different language, and that’s when knowing a few food words of French/Spanish/Portuguese/Italian or Turkish help.  If you find some local delicacies that you like, now is the time to buy bulk because chances are that you will not find them in the next country (or at a much greater cost). That’s how we have accumulated cooking chocolate from France, maple syrup from Canada, grits from South Carolina, salsas from the Canary Islands, spices from Turkey and Martinique, mole paste and Ancho chile from Mexico, yucca flour and cornmeal from Colombia…

Do I have a menu plan?

Well, as a matter of fact, I do. I got into the habit of menu planning a long time ago when Marc was a baby with bad allergies. I needed to keep track of what he ate, so I could identify problem foods. It’s become a routine ever since, and nearly every meal we eat is written in my diary. Nowadays I ask everyone what they’d like to eat, and that’s what goes on the menu: we have family favourites (roast chicken, lamb chops, baked pasta, and curries), fast food (hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza), healthy options (lentils, salads, wraps) and desserts (ice cream, brownies, apple pies…). Most prepared meals are frozen, as is the bread, and meat, in case we catch fish and don’t want to have food going bad. Still I don’t rely on catching fish (in fact we have only caught 2 since leaving Mexico so far!), and I have plenty either frozen, dry or in tins to last us for a month. This way most meals are interchangeable, and I have a menu list on display in the galley for everyone to see and look forward to. Eating is a big thing on a boring passage!

What staples do you keep on board?

Flour 20 kilos, Rice 29 kilos, Pasta 8 kilos, Tinned vegies and fruits 100 cans, Tinned fish 30 cans, Olive and other oils 12 litres, UHT milk 50 litres, Beer 150 cans, Wine ??? bottles, Soft drinks 35 cans, Bottled Water 50 litres, Eggs 90, Tea bags 500, Sugar 10 kilos, Butter 5 kilos, Coffee 3 kilos…These are basic items. How much to buy? Go back to your menu plan, if you have recipes, check the quantities required then add or multiply by the number of dishes you plan to cook. Don’t be pedantic though, a rough estimate is good enough. Items consumed daily are easy  to plan: how many beers, cups of tea, glasses of milk do you drink per day? Multiply by 30 (or less if you’re optimistic you will sail faster!) On this current trip, the quantities are large, to last us thru the crossing to Australia, allowing for top ups in Tahiti (primarily French food), Marquesas, Tonga and Fiji (only fresh produce there)

Then there are all the “extra” ingredients for baking (chocolate chips, coconut flakes, yeast…) curries (spices and pastes), breakfast (vegemite, oatmeal, jams…), condiments (sauces, vinegars, mustards…), happy hour (chips and nuts)… Well you get the idea.

Quantities are of course limited by your budget, space, but also your next destination. It pays to know about the food regulations in different countries. So far we have had no problems with quarantine anywhere, and been able to keep all of our produce, fresh or not. We know that French Polynesia is pretty easy with food (not necessarily with alcohol!), so are Tonga and Fiji. Australia, New Caledonia and New-Zealand are ruthless with fresh and frozen items, as well as selected dry/tinned products. For that reason, we plan to consume most of our supplies by the time we reach Australia.

Where do you keep it all?

Fortunately our boat is big enough to store everything: 3 fridges, 2 freezers, plenty of cupboard space, storage under the lounge and bilges, even the guest cabin has been turned into a pantry for the next few weeks…I go as far as organising “accessible” storage under the floor, for all the pantry items required during the crossing, so that I don’t have to rummage under the lounges. Terry thinks that I am taking the organisation too far, bordering on obsessive compulsive behaviour, but I’m not doing it for them really, I am doing it for myself. You see, I am sure to be sea sick, so it needs to be easy for people to find what they want without turning the whole galley upside down. And we’re only talking about food here. Even though I planned for drinks, everyone is responsible for their own drinks. Up to them to stock up the fridge. Terry can’t complain, as he ends up with double space for his beer since every crossing is a dry one for me (perfect detox: seas sick and alcohol free!) Whether my system works for other people, I’m not sure, but I know that we’ve never starved on our boat, and there is nothing like a batch of pancakes (or popcorn, hot chocolate,) to keep the crew happy when bored at sea!

What is your first meal at sea?

If the weather is rough, I will have made sandwiches in advance and kept them in the fridge for the crew to help themselves. I also always buy a roast chicken and fresh bread rolls before we leave, as an option. And on really good days, we’ll all sit down to a pot of beef and carrot stew, our family favourite in any circumstances.


Beef stew with carrots


Beef carrots and potatoes


This is my version of the French dish Boeuf Carrottes. Sometimes, when in port, I’ll add wine instead of stock, a whole head of garlic or a teaspoon of curry powder for extra flavour. But mostly keep it plain for passages. I always cook a batch in the pressure cooker before we leave; as long as the cooker remains closed it will keep for 24h at room temperature. Just reheat before serving.

*this stew freezes very well too, so don’t hesitate to double the quantities and freeze some for later!

Serves 6 (or 3 + 1 very hungry teenager!)


1.5 kg stewing beef like chuck steak cut into 5cm cubes

3 rashers of streaky bacon, diced

1 large onion, chopped

200g mushrooms, sliced (optional)

8 carrots sliced thickly

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 bay leaves

1 tsp of dried thyme

1 tsp of dried parsley

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 cups of beef stock (cube OK)

1 tbsp. tomato paste

1 tbsp. flour

1 tbsp. sugar

Salt and pepper

  1. In the pressure cooker, sauté the beef cubes in olive oil on high heat until brown on all sides. Proceeds in batches, so that the meat actually sears rather than stew.
  2. When all meat is browned, add tomato paste, sugar and flour. Cook stirring for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the streaky bacon, onion, carrots, garlic, dried herbs and leaves. Pour the beef stock and mix the lot. Season to taste and bring to the boil.
  4. Close the cooker’s lid. When the valve starts whistling, turn the heat to low and cook for 35 minutes.
  5. If using the mushrooms, clean and sauté them in a separate pan with a little butter. Season and set aside.
  6. When meat is cooked, you can serve the stew as is. But if you prefer a richer sauce, take out the meat, carrots, and bacon and set aside. Reduce the sauce on high heat until reduced by 1/3 or it has reached a thick consistency. Remove the bay leaves; add back the meat, carrots and bacon. Reheat 5 minutes on low heat, add mushrooms if using.
  7. Serve with potatoes, rice or pasta. Voila!


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