Sailing across an ocean is a grand adventure that requires quite a bit of planning. You have to ensure the boat you’re sailing is sea worthy, you have a stash of various spare parts, extra fuel, cooking gas, possibly other crew members, maybe a SAT phone to let everyone on land know you’re okay. If you have a SAT phone you may have a person (or two) onshore providing you with weather updates, or maybe you’re paying for a weather routing program. If you’re travelling with a regatta or organization, you have registered your vessel and its crew and paid any fees. On top of all that, you also have to make sure you have sufficient food for the entire duration of your crossing that will feed you and your crew three times over.
This post is designed to help you learn how to provision for an ocean crossing, and hopefully make the process a bit easier! My partner and I don’t use any provisioning services for any of our journeys unless required by ports and countries (re: COVID-19). So we prep our vessel for all crossings ourselves. While there is plenty of resources out there for ocean crossings and making your vessel sea-worthy, I’ve found there are not many who provided tips on how to provision for an ocean crossing. Most of the tips have mentioned buying lots of canned, non-perishable goods. While this is a good tip, it simply isn’t enough for those (including me) foodies who wish to eat a broader range of foods.
Plan and Understand Your Trip / Vessel
The very first thing you should do is plan your trip. Decide where you will disembark and arrive, then determine when you should arrive. Determining your ETA requires some understanding of your vessel’s limits and the weather in which you will sail in. Crossing the Atlantic from East to West generally takes 3 weeks. I’ve seen some vessels similar to ours take anywhere from 18 to 30 days to cross.
For perspective, Lady Grey’s first Atlantic crossing (from East to West) took just under 18 days (with 5 crew). Her return trip took us over 22 days (with 2 crew). Also determine how many crew you’ll have on board for the crossing.
Next, understand your boat. What’s it storage capabilities? Extra fuel, cooking gas, spare parts, and sails aside; where can you store food? Is there a fridge? Oven? Microwave? Water maker?
If you have a gas stove/oven, do you have a general idea of how long one tank of cooking gas will last? Mike and I update the log book when we switch out a gas tank for a new one. If we only use the stove, one tank will last anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks. We try not to use the oven very much as it uses too much gas, we’ve had our tank last just over 2 weeks when I was using the oven lots for bread (hence why I purchased a solar oven).
Take Stock of Your Current Food
In the week leading up to your departure date, take stock of all food you have on board. Count your spices, canned goods, dry goods, everything! This also gives you the chance to see what foods you’ve forgotten. As well as a chance to clean out all nooks and crannies. I simply wrote out the different items I came across and tallied them on a piece of paper.
Determine What You Use and Like the Most
And then figure out how much you use of said items in a week. Multiply that by the amount of weeks you’re provisioning for, and how many people will be on board. For example, if you tend to go through 1L of milk every week, assume that 4 people will go through 4L every week. Use this method to determine how much you’ll need of different foods, then get more!
Also keep in mind how long fresh foods will last. Potatoes and onions will last much longer than bananas or berries. We stocked up on 5 kg of potatoes, but only got two bunches of bananas.
Shop! Shop! Shop!
Put your list to good use and buy heaps of food. There is no such things as “too much” when prepping for an ocean crossing. It’s best to have too much food than too little.
And there you have it! This is how I provisioned our food for the Atlantic, I hope this provides some insight to help you with your planning.
For those wondering, our Atlantic crossing took just over 20 days. We sailed a total of 2392n. Unfortunately, there were few days of no wind (and very beautiful glassy water) so we had to run the engine for 102 hours. On top of that, we also experienced a lightening storm to keep us on our toes, millions of Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish, lots of birds, a few ships, and even a dolphin pod that stalked us for an entire week. Upon arrival to Horta, we dropped anchor in the marina and crashed. After the crossing, we had plenty of non-perishable food items left and even some fresh foods! All in all, it was a life-changing experience.