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Preparing for Sea, Part II

April 20, 2011

Among cruisers, strategies for taking on voyage-quantity stores differ widely. At one end of the spectrum are the aggressively organized sailors who create recipe books of meals and stock to that. If the boat is happy enough to contain a freezer, those in this group may pack away pre-prepared meals, labeled neatly for easy access when the going gets rough. At the other end are captains who send a crew member to the grocery store with orders to fill a large shopping cart with whatever and be back within the hour. One man’s advice to me was to fill the boat with as much food and as many tools as she could hold; then on the week before departure throw away the food and buy more tools.

In such a field finding useful information can be difficult.

I had the opportunity to stock up on non-perishables items two weeks ago and while I had a rental car but before I’d given the approach much thought. I filled a shopping cart with as much canned food as it would hold, neatly ordered with like-items stacked together–vegetables in the front, meats in the back, coveted fruits in the baby seat–so that I could keep an eye on proportion and so that later categorization would be easier. I took great care to stack these items on the checker’s belt in like manner, but I failed to inform the bagger of my method.

In Mexico, grocery baggers are awkwardly young or totteringly old, and in neither case are they paid a wage by the store. Their salary is a coin tip handed over as customers retrieve their purchases. The effects of this gratuity system are counter-intuitive, as the care baggers exercise in packing your goods is nearly non-existent. Many times I’ve returned to the boat to find my bananas under a cans of beans or a six-pack of beer on top of a carton of now damaged eggs–a service for which I paid handsomely. So I knew better, but by the time I realized my error it was too late; my carefully organized foods sat in their lumpish bags at the end of the checker’s belt and gave an impression of order similar to cans in a food drive barrel. With a much diminished feeling of gratefulness I placed my customary ten peso coin (lavish) into the upturned palm of a smiling, toothless, and very old woman.

In keeping with order destroyed, back at the boat I threw these food bags into a corner of the cockpit, covered them with a towel and went on with other jobs.

Until last week, when it became time to tackle the food problem.

Typically one takes on stores for the number of days the voyage is anticipated to take and half again more. Based on a study of 2000 cruising yachts of various sizes and in various years, the 2605 mile passage from Cabo San Lucas to Nuku Hiva Island in the Marquesas requires between 19 and 23 days sailing (two-thirds of yachts fell within this passage time range). Murre is not speedy. At a waterline of 25 feet, she tends to be smaller and thus slower than most boats that cross, and this appears to be a light wind year, so I budgeted a month for the passage and thus required stores for 45 days.

Lacking any great skill in the galley, I abandoned the idea of compiling a recipe book. I had bought items I liked and that could be sautéed or boiled into an edible, if not recognizable, dish. I just needed to know if there were enough items. I reasoned that if the typical diet required 2000 calories a day, Murre would need to hold 90,000 calories in order to meet the 45 day requirement.*

So out came the cans I’d bought and all the cans that already lived in various lockers and after taking a deep breath, I began to tot up how many calories I owned. The drudgery of this task was immediately forestalled by the problem of understanding nutritional information in absurdly fine-print Spanish. Converting grams to ounces and figuring portion sizes (porciones por envase) resolved quickly enough, but the calorie counting itself was tougher. Mexico gives the totter-up options: the kilojoule (kj) and the kilocalorie (kcal). The kilojoule was frighteningly exotic and sounded like it could deliver an electric shock. I didn’t even explore it. But some digging online revealed that the single American calorie is in fact 1000 caloric units of energy. Kcal equals one calorie.

Result: Murre contains 230 cans of food product equal to approximately 87,000 American calories. Dried goods (pasta, rice, beans etc.) add about another 10,000 calories. And when fresh foods not yet purchased are taken on we should easily top 100,000 calories aboard.

That ought to be enough to charge our batteries for a while.

*This logic is flawed.  One, I doubt I typically consume 2000 calories a day; two, calories are not meals and if I don’t get the balances right I may end up on day 27 with a boat full of dried pasta and instant coffee.  For those interested in the math, I’ve attached the spreadsheet.

  1. Bolster permalink
    April 20, 2011 3:15 pm

    Yes, food does have its occasional advantages, I admit it. But that recommendation to toss the food and take on more tools sounds correct. I assume you are toting a drill press at the very least? And haven’t we learned our lesson about not carrying a hydraulic press? Now a question. Don’t know if questions are allowed here but all the same…what calories can you take from the sea itself as you cross? Can you count on catching an edible fish a day, a fish a week, or…?

    • April 26, 2011 2:45 pm

      Bolster – I’m afraid as Randall doesn’t have access to the internet at sea he can’t see all the comments. Feel free to continue tho as I’m (the wife) checking and responding/forwarding questions as we can.

      As for fishing – he’s not banking on catching food as out in the deep ocean they’re surprisingly hard to find. He’s also a pretty terrible fisherman. Hopefully with this journey he’ll learn tho.

      • Bolster permalink
        April 27, 2011 5:34 am

        Thanks. I sent this comment directly to RR, but I’m reading a fair amount of information indicating that 2000 calories per day would be on the low side, given the required activity. I’m getting indications that 2500 to 3000 is more in the range for the activity required.


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