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  • Victualing is grocery shopping of a different kind

    Posted on March 8th, 2009 michiel No comments

    When it comes to groceries, I’m not really a planner. Or volume buyer. I never had a Costco or Sam’s Club membership, and I intend to keep it that way. I don’t need 48 rolls of kitchen towel, nor do I have the space to store them. I’m not interested in saving a couple of bucks on a dozen steak value pack, even if I had the appetite or the freezer to handle them. I’d rather walk down to the local store and get my supplies for the day (or two). There’s one big exception though. And that is victualing for a prolonged stay at sea. Victualing? Who uses that term? Sailors do.

    Victualing you don’t do at Target or Walgreen’s. Victualing is grocery shopping of an entirely different kind. Stacking up for the long haul goes by a couple of dimensions. The length of the trip and the number of people on board are the obvious ones. Then there’s the type of climate, as temperature has a significant impact on the speed at which fresh produce perishes. Depending on where in the world you are, the availability of supplies at the point of departure can make a difference too. Finally, just like at home, don’t underestimate the capability and imagination of the person(s) in charge of cooking. Or the lack thereof. Altogether, a more intuitive rather than scientific weighing of these factors generates your shopping list. Make sure to take enough cash, and off you go.

    Oh, I almost forgot. The above can be completely ignored when you’re sailing with a skipper that has no consideration for anything but his budget. On deliveries, the transportation of vessels from one place to another contracted out to a delivery agent (indirectly) or skipper (directly), the food budget usually comes out of the lump sum agreed to for the job. And skippers, in control of the overall budget, could be inclined to get stingy. I’ve had that happen, and it wasn’t pretty.

    The Catamaya delivery had many lows. The victuals situation was one of them. Adrian, the skipper, was a prime example of someone trying to cut corners on the food budget. My trick to avoid a bad food setup is usually to volunteer for cooking, and hence the victualing right at the start of a trip. I tried that with Adrian, but he would have none of it. We were in Gibraltar, the British colony attached to the South of Spain, with the aim to deliver the yacht to Puerto Aventuras in Mexico. Adrian’s idea was actually to do this non-stop, which could mean spending four to six weeks at sea. Instead, one could for instance consider making a stop at the Canary Islands, or even somewhere in the Caribbean. For food, fuel, repairs, a drink at the local bar, anything. Not Adrian though.

    All by himself he had created the master shopping list, and then split it into four (the number of crew on board) before we headed out to the supermarket. While we were all taking care of our items at Morrisons, Gibraltar’s main destination, he would go as far as occasionally checking our carts to make sure we didn’t get the expensive beans, pasta, or otherwise. There we were. Three grown up men. Being treated like irresponsible little kids by the fourth one.

    Victuals for Catamaya's trip from Gibraltar to Mexico

    Victuals for Catamaya's trip from Gibraltar to Mexico

    I had boarded Catamaya on Malta, where the 65 ft catamaran had been forced to make a stop for repairs to its rudders (see this post for more). Niklas, a Finnish guy who had joined two weeks earlier on Cyprus, the initial start of the delivery, had given me a heads up on Adrian’s stringent policies. One of them was that each crew member was entitled to one (as in 1) unit of Weetabix per day. For those unfamiliar with the Weetabix breakfast, it’s pure horror in a bowl. So, while gathering the items as assigned to me by Adrian, I made sure to get some extras at my own expense. I rounded up the richest cereal in store, as well as dried fruits, nuts, and a variety of chocolates to get me through the many long night watches that were lying ahead. Ironically, I ended up not using most of it, on which more details to follow soon.

    What keeps me puzzled to this very day about Adrian’s approach is that it is the perfect way to create a bad vibe on board. You don’t have to be a gourmand to understand that lousy food breeds grumpy people. And sooner rather than later grumpy people start taking it out on each other, especially in the confined space of a yacht at sea. I can feel the memories coming back again already. So, enough of this for now.

    Coming soon:
    More details on the memorable Catamaya journey
    Alana Rose, the best trip in terms of food, and otherwise