Provisioning for a long Pacific Ocean passage

30 Jan
About 6 months worth of Vanilla Enriched Coconut Milk, one of our favorite breakfast staples.

I’ve been spending the last month pouring over my nutritional spreadsheets, comparing prices, building a provisioning list for our upcoming Pacific Ocean crossing from Hawaii to Tahiti and buying enough canned and dry goods on Amazon to make my Prime membership worth 100x the cost. So if you are looking for a provisioning list for 2 people to cross an ocean on a sailboat for 6 months, look no further. Also, if you are not interested on how I built the list, you can just click on the details link and start shopping. We haven’t had to provision the boat like that since Petter’s last crossing from San Francisco to Hawaii, when he ran out of Coconut Cookies so this list draws from a couple of lessons learned over our times sailing and cruising in California, Mexico, South Pacific and Hawaii:

  1. People eat everywhere, so don’t stress about not being able to find food once you get to your destination. As long as you are willing to eat the ‘local way’, which turns out it’s cheaper and more fun anyway, you will be able to get lots of fresh stuff when you arrive. In Tahiti, for example, we remember fondly the Poisson Cru and cheap, cheap Brie and Baguettes.
  2. If you have any favorite staples or dietary restrictions, stock up with the things you already eat day to day for a 6-12 month period if you have the storage space. Don’t buy things you wouldn’t eat normally. For example, for our first passage to Mexico we bought cans of chili and soup (and beans and corn) which we never ate normally. Needless to say, those came back with us to San Diego and got donated to a food bank. On the other hand, our stock of cans of sardines, salmon, tuna were gone in the first 3 months. For this passage, we stocked 120 quarts of our favorite Coconut Milk because it keeps well in the bilge without refrigeration, we love the taste, it’s low carb, and it has added calcium and vitamins which is important on our low carb/keto diet.
  3. Which brings me to the third point: we normally eat low carb (and I, Octavia, eats keto) on the boat, and most of the food we provisioned is low carb/keto friendly. For the passage specifically, based on Petter’s experience crossing, we will be adding some carbs in like cereal, bread, and cookies, glorious cookies. Turns out you use a lot more energy when offshore, and we want to make sure we don’t run out of food. Petter was definitely a bit too skinny when he arrived in Ko Olina after his passage and it was mainly because he bought food that we normally ate in San Francisco, when we were on a low-carb healthy roll.
  4. For the passage specifically, we are planning to standardize our meals to stuff that is super easy to make, and also that we like eating. For breakfast, it will be cereal with coconut milk. For lunch and dinner, it will be ham, cheese and butter sandwiches on bread or Wasa crackers, and Kraft Mac and Cheese when we need something warm. Avocados, Papayas, Passion Fruit will accompany the sandwiches for as long as they last. For snacks, we are planning almonds, cashews, Rx Bars, cookies, and Nutella. I know this sounds a bit Spartan but we love the simplicity and we don’t want to have to cook while under way. Plus, we really love ham and cheese and we don’t get to eat it much so it’s a bit of a treat to eat it for passages. Not to mention the carbolicious Mac and Cheese. If the weather is sweet and the boat doesn’t roll much we might attempt bacon or steaks while underway too, but we’re not planning on it.
  5. We are taking as much steak and bacon as we can freeze because I absolutely love the local grass fed beef that my amazing ‘meat dealer’ Jess Rohr from Forage Hawaii finds for me. We plan to eat most of it once we get there. It’s not that I don’t trust that Papeete will have good meat (Tahiti is a French territory after all, complete with a fully stocked Carrefour). I love the steaks that Jess provides so much that I take them with me wherever I go, including as gifts for friends and family. I even flew with a big 10 pack to California last spring. Also, to my understanding French Polynesia does not restrict frozen meat being brought in in the ship’s stores. If anyone knows otherwise, please send me a DM! You should always check the policies of the country you are traveling to when it comes to importing food and alcohol. For example, Mexico did not allow fresh meat from the US when we cruised there so we left with empty freezers and filled them up in Ensenada.
The beautiful, melt-in-your-mouth grass-fed sustainably grown happy cows Makaweli NY Steak from Kauai

Overall, we stocked up 899 137 kcal worth of food, enough for 2 people to eat merrily for 225 days or 7.5 months without rationing (assumes 4000 kcal for two people, which is actually more than we normally eat). The staples like coconut milk, protein powder and chia seeds are meant to last for 10-12 months. Other items will run out at about 6 months. I am continuously impressed with our boat’s ability to swallow cases after cases of ‘bilge milk’, Wasa crackers, almond bags, and cans of sardines. Our fridge also holds about a month worth of food (like all the cheese, ham, and butter we can eat) and our freezer can hold about 30 steaks and 12 pounds of bacon. So hurray for modern boats, refrigeration, and technology.

When storing food in the bilge it is important to remove all cardboard boxes and protect the packaging from chafe and sharp corners. I store most of my food in plastic boxes and pad it to make sure it stays put during passage.

One interesting observation from my research on prices and nutritional value was that the absolute cheapest calorie you can buy is sugar. Not surprisingly, given what we know about the food industry in the US and globally. Then it’s Ramen noodles (I knew that since college!), rice, other noodles, flowers, carbs in general, fats, and ultimately protein is the most expensive, especially quality protein like fish and fresh meats. The difference is mind-boggling, going from 10 cents per 1000 kcal to 35 dollars per 1000 kcal of high quality steak or fish. No wonder the industry pumps sugar as a filler into everything, it’s the cheapest filler. You can take a look at the full provisioning list here, and shop for the same staples we carry on Amazon and Costco. Please don’t hesitate to ping me I the comments below if you have any questions about nutritional values, eating keto on a boat, etc. I am planning to write a couple of more articles about our scientific approach to low carb nutrition while cruising, and optimizing the nutritional value of various foods for efficient eating.