Part of the excitement of a Caribbean sailing vacation is the sense of adventure of exploring new places as well as the opportunity to experience exotic cuisine. Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes time to provision your charter. Whether you are just purchasing drinks and snacks, or planning to prepare meals aboard, provisioning can be a rewarding adventure on its own.
The key is to keep it simple and reduce vacation time spent cooking so it does not become a burdensome chore. There are basically three options for provisioning on your Caribbean sailing vacation. First, if you have the money to spend and caviar tastes, you can have an independent provisioner prepare your provisions in advance and have them delivered to your boat. Second, for an additional fee, most charter companies offer a choice of provisioning options. The charter company will provision for you from a convenient pre-selected plan.
The two main plans are “full provisioning”, which includes three meals a day or a “split program” which eliminates some evening meals so you can eat ashore. Provisions from the charter company are not only delivered to your boat, but are frequently stored aboard for you. Most charter companies will provide a sample menu.
The third option is to provision the boat yourself. Many of the islands have a supermarket either at the marina or a short cab ride away. Although it may not be the mega superstores you are used to at home, the local supermarkets usually have a surprising array of products. Be aware, however, that some items are very costly. A box of cereal, for instance, can often run about $7.00. Selections may also not be as abundant. Therefore, if there is a certain spice you cannot live without, or if paying more than $3.00 for a box of corn flakes will totally ruin your Caribbean sailing vacation, you might want to consider packing and carrying these items on the airplane with you. You take the risk, though, of having them confiscated at customs. Whatever you pack and carry, do not attempt to bring frozen steaks and other meats in your luggage. If your flight is delayed for whatever reason or baggage is misplaced, and your meat thaws in that balmy tropical heat…yuck!
In many locations, the supermarkets will deliver your supplies right to the boat for a nominal tip or the cab driver will wait while you shop and bring you back with your provisions. Most of these supermarkets take credit cards. Even more exciting is shopping in an open air market. These markets offer everything from flowers, fruits, spices and vegetables to freshly caught fish or even live animals. Avoid “guides” (usually a young boy) who offer to take your through the market. They will often take you to their friends’ stalls and a commission fee will be added to your bill. Throughout the Caribbean, everyone speaks some form of English, so it is easy to communicate and get what you need. Before you buy anything, check out the entire market. This will allow you to know what is available, the general prices, and the stalls with the best goods. Bring sacks or your own bags to carry your purchases since they are not supplied at these markets. At the most, food is wrapped in newspapers. Prices are usually chalked up somewhere on the stall. Open air market vendors make their living selling food – not cheating tourists. Prices are extremely competitive and usually very reasonable, thus it is not proper to haggle over prices in the food markets. The vendors will gladly help you make selections and will often explain how to prepare unfamiliar foods. A word of caution: most fresh food we are used to is washed several times and wrapped in plastic. In the local Caribbean markets this is not the case. Wash everything before you consume it.
Knowing what and how much to buy is very important when provisioning for a Caribbean sailing vacation. Many first time charterers really struggle. To know how much food to buy, think in terms of how many breakfasts, lunches and dinners you will need, plus any snacks. Also plan at least one emergency meal in case a passage takes longer than you think.
Unless you are an experienced cruising sailor who truly wants to escape the real world, you should plan on having a number of meals ashore. There are a multitude of beach bars at almost every anchorage. After a few afternoon rum drinks, it is very easy to stay put for a burger and fries or some sort of Caribbean fare. In addition, while exploring the islands on shore, it is not uncommon to discover an inexpensive yet charming dining spot that serves quality food.
Think of food in terms of how long it will last without spoiling since refrigeration space is limited. Buy fruits and vegetables at all stages of ripeness so that they can be enjoyed throughout the cruise. One item that most first time charterers are unfamiliar with is long life, ultra heat-treated milk. It is an unrefrigerated product which comes in a paper box. It tastes as fresh as pasteurized milk, contains more vitamins, and if unopened, can last six months without refrigeration. It comes in half quart and quart sized boxes and is readily available throughout the islands under the brand name, Parma. For those cruisers watching their weight on their Caribbean sailing vacation, there is even a fat-free version available. Make sure to buy an assortment of Ziploc bags and trash bags if they are not supplied by the charter base.
There are two things people almost always do not buy enough of: paper towels and bottled water. Expect to consume more drinks on your Caribbean sailing vacation than you ordinarily would on land. Having sufficient drinking water on board is important so you do not overdo the alcohol simply to keep hydrated in the tropical climate. You should figure on at least a 1 ½ liter bottle of water per person per day of your Caribbean sailing vacation.
When we have family or friends sailing with us, we have everyone write their name on a bottle of water once they open it so that we do not have a number of open bottles sitting around. Again, because refrigeration space is limited, only a few drinks at a time can be chilled. Cold beverages are usually kept on the lower part of the refrigerator. This means constantly unloading all of the stuff on top to get to the drinks, thus letting the cold air escape. A good tip is to purchase an extra bag of ice and put drinks for the day in a cooler to be stored in the cockpit. Most charter companies will provide you with a cooler if you ask.
For a seven day charter, plan on initially buying at least four bags of ice and then replenishing every two to three days as needed. Block ice lasts longer and stores better than cubes. Line the bottom of the refrigerator with these ice blocks. Do not pour crushed ice over everything. When the compressor drops the temperature, the crushed ice will freeze into an impenetrable mass. Regardless of what you purchase, never take a paper bag or corrugated carton aboard. They are known for being the hiding places for cockroaches. If your provisions have not been packed in plastic bags, unpack everything on the dock before taking it aboard. Although you will be briefed by the charter base on how to use the refrigerator prior to your departure, here are a few pointers.
The refrigerator is the sail boat’s most coveted spot for storing food. It must be loaded carefully. Most marine refrigerators are top loaders. Unlike a home refrigerator, they do not lose as much cold when the doors are opened, however, food is often less accessible. The object is to get as much food into the refrigerator as possible without over packing it (this interferes with the ability of cold air to circulate) and without having to unpack it to reach items at the bottom. Drinks are usually the highest in demand during your Caribbean sailing vacation and should be kept as handy as possible. Pack food in the wire trays provided in the refrigerator or in mesh sacks. This keeps the food from touching the holding plate and freezing. If possible, try to layer the food in order of use. Items needing the most cold or those which are to be consumed last should go to the bottom of the refrigerator. Remember that blocks of ice should line the bottom of the refrigerator.
The boat’s motor is a power source for the refrigerator’s compressor. At least twice a day during your charter, you will need to run the engine for at least 30 minutes. This can be done either in an anchorage or during a passage if you are motor-sailing. Regardless of where you cruise on your Caribbean sailing vacation, part of the adventure is provisioning your boat. Although the charter company will gladly do it for you, there is a special thrill that comes from planning an excursion that includes shopping on the interesting islands of the Caribbean- especially in the open air markets. It is a great way to interact with the locales and experience island life in an entirely different yet up close and personal way.
So book your sailing charter and experience provisioning yourself. The opportunity to make shopping for food a whole new adventure awaits!