Long term liveaboard Catherine Lawson talks about how to provision a yacht for a long passage and passes on some of her top tips
Provisioning a yacht for a long period away from conventional shops, with limited cold store space, dry goods stowage and galley facilities, can be daunting. In a beautifully illustrated new book, The Hunter & The Gatherer, long-time liveaboards Catherine Lawson and David Bristow explain how they provision, shop, forage and cook while cruising tropical and remote waters.
The couple have been cruising for more than two decades, and are currently exploring Indonesia and south-east Asia on their 40ft catamaran Wild One with their daughter, Maya, seeking out remote anchorages as much as possible. That desire to be far away has shaped their food mentality, which Catherine explains is for, “ocean-loving foodies striving for better health, greater self-sufficiency and a tiny footprint on the sea.”
Here, Catherine shares her advice on how to provision your yacht before departure.
We stock our boat with all the things we like to eat in bulk quantities that will sustain us for three months or more at a time. We stop and shop wherever we can, replenishing fresh, market-bought produce and trading with locals whenever those friendly exchanges present themselves. We also enjoy our daily attempts to catch, spear and forage for seafood. There is immense freedom in living this way, and I rarely feel bound to the shore. Every sailor’s pantry looks different to the next, but here’s an overview of the items we strive to carry on board:
Carbohydrates and grains
Whole grains and processed grain-based foods form the backbone of any sailor’s stores. Mine includes pasta, rice (basmati, brown and sushi), quinoa, rice noodles, tortilla chips, couscous and long-life flatbreads for quick-cook pizzas and lunchtime wraps. I carry rice paper sheets (for fresh rolls), crackers, frozen pastry and plenty of flour for baking sourdough bread, which I turn into croutons and breadcrumbs too. We basically store a little bit of everything and restock with whatever is locally available in the towns we sail into. As many grain-based foods generate an excess of plastic waste, especially the convenient ones, when we can, we buy from bulk supply stores and markets that allow you to refill your own bags and containers.
We don’t eat ‘meat with feet’ but catch fish whenever we can. If the fish aren’t biting we cook up vegetarian proteins instead. These include dried red and brown lentils (for pasta sauces and sprouting), tinned chickpeas (for speedy hummus), and tinned and dried kidney beans for Mexican chillies.
There are always eggs, tempeh and tofu on board (for Asian-style satays and curries), plus TVP (textured vegetable protein) and falafel mix. Although many sailors adore theirs, I don’t own a pressure cooker, so I favour smaller legumes that are quick to soften. Nutritious and cheap, red lentils are my favourite for their smooth, nutty flavour. It’s not essential to soak them before cooking, but it does make them more nutritious. They are a rich source of iron, zinc, and B-group vitamins. Soaking and sprouting dried chickpeas and kidney beans makes them more nutritious, lessens their cooking times and makes them much easier to digest.
Nuts and seeds
Before long stints at sea, I stock the boat with plenty of nuts and seeds, choosing whatever’s available and affordable. My stash might include protein-packed chia seeds (for baking and breakfasts) and sunflower, sesame and pepita seeds for snacking, sprouting and adding flavour to sourdough loaves. Almonds, cashews, and walnuts add crunch to salads and stir-fries, baked slices and cakes.
Milk and yoghurt
When supermarkets are within easy reach, we drink all kinds of fresh milk and its alternatives, and keep a backup of UHT milk on board. But because David and I lived aboard for 10 years before we got around to installing a fridge, we have a serious powdered milk habit.
We know the weird taste is not everyone’s cup of tea, but we are fairly well immune to it now. When reconstituting milk powder, always add it to water first, stirring it well before pouring it into your mug of tea. If you use lots of milk, make up a batch in a jug or sealed container and keep it in the fridge. The usual milk powder-to-water ratio is 1:4, but I make it a little creamier by simply using less water (1:3 works well for creamy coffees). Pour half of the water in, add a cup of milk powder, stir or shake well, then top it with water and stir it again.
When we left Australia to sail to Eastern Indonesia recently, our freezer was chock-full of three things we knew we’d never find along our route: frozen berries, butter and cheese.
I’ve been freezing cheese for decades and now know this: the higher the fat content, the better it survives the thawing process. That means that brie, and Camembert all perform well. Cheddar and feta can be crumbly when defrosted, but your home-baked pizzas will still taste amazing. Instead of freezing feta, try preserving it in jars of olive oil.
My cupboards always contain essential flavourings such as soy sauce, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), fish sauce, tamarind, miso paste and whole-egg mayonnaise. I keep vinegars (balsamic, apple cider, rice wine), mustard and wasabi, and a huge range of dried spices and herbs.
Fruit and Veg
The challenge of storing food so that it stays fresh for as long as possible comes down to some careful post-shopping day prep. Taking the time to wash, dry and store your supplies with care contributes to less waste and saves you money too.
Into my freezer goes the produce with the shortest lifespan, lightly processed to make life easier later in the trip: sautéed spinach, roast tomatoes for blitzing into passata, and excess ripe fruit to blend into breakfast smoothies.
I rinse, dry and wrap soft greens like lettuce and spinach in paper towel and seal them in snap-lock bags in the fridge. Carrots, cucumbers and aubergines keep well stored this way too, and I can rinse and reuse the snap-lock bags. In very cool climes, you can keep cos and iceberg lettuce out of the fridge, wrapped in a damp tea towel with the outer leaves intact to retain moisture. Put them somewhere cool and check on them daily, removing only the leaves you need and rewrapping them with any wrinkled outer leaves and a damp tea towel. Cabbage likes a cool spot, too, wrapped in newspaper or placed inside a cotton bag (or old pillow case).
Mushrooms go into paper bags and into the crisper. Hardier fruits and vegetables – potatoes, pumpkins, oranges, sweet potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic – can last for months in a cool, dark cupboard. However, tomatoes, avocados, papayas, stone fruit, melons and pears continue to ripen once picked, so I try to buy them green and firm. The bulk of these go into a cupboard, stored in a single layer to avoid bruising. When we are ready to eat them, I’ll shift a handful to the galley benchtop.
Big bunches of green bananas hang outside on a rope to be snapped off when they ripen yellow. When you have lots of fresh veggies on board, it’s crucial to keep an eye on everything and be prepared to cook up and eat whatever’s ready to go or starting to look a bit tired.
In my early sailing years, when I didn’t even have a fridge on board, we used to dehydrate lots of fruit and veg. Solanaceous (or nightshade) vegetables dehydrate really well – tomatoes, aubergines and peppers – along with mushrooms, courgettes, mangoes, apples and bananas. Just slice everything thinly and uniformly, drying your trays in the sun first if you want to decrease your overall power usage.
On Wild One, we process lots of coconut meat. The firm, drier meat of orange and brown coconuts is grated or shaved (using a vegetable peeler), placed on trays and dried in the sun. Some is bagged and frozen to bake with, and some gets a low, slow toasting in the pan, seasoned afterwards with a pinch of salt or powdered vegetable stock for snacking. We also scoop the flesh out of green coconuts when we’ve finished drinking the water, and freeze this softer, gelatinous flesh to add to smoothies.
Tinned foods are freedom foods because they feed us when we are far off the beaten track. My stash includes slots of emergency veggies: tomatoes, corn, mushrooms, and beetroot (’cos I’m an Aussie, and beets belong in burgers!).
Pickles and preserves
My father-in-law once gifted me a jar of homemade pickled green tomatoes, and I’ve been inspired to follow his lead ever since. I make pickles and preserves whenever I find fresh, seasonal produce that’s impossibly cheap and ready to go: chilli peach jam (can be made with mangoes and strawberries too), pickled beetroot, and crunchy, vinegary spiced pickled vegetables using cucumbers, carrots and red onion that you can munch on long after the fresh food has been eaten. We set out with a decent supply of Kalamata olives and crunchy jalapeños, and Dave makes a heavenly Coconut Sambal which ramps up the flavour of any seafood, soup, rice or noodle dish it touches.
Because we prefer to make our own biscuits, slices and cakes, an assortment of dried fruits is essential. I like to keep stocks of dates, sultanas, cranberries, apricots, and sometimes dried mango and pineapple. There is always ginger and home-dried coconut in our galley too.
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