I enjoyed researching the recent articles on provisioning for extended cruising. It brought me up to date with the realities of 2020, in many ways different from 25 years ago. So much has changed. Even the past advice to carry enormous amounts of spare parts is not what it used to be. FedEx, DHL, and other carriers routinely deliver around the world. Dealing with customs is still a pain in some countries, but at least one can now get a new heat exchanger shipped to the airport or marina. You might just have to hang around in paradise for its delivery.
I made up a list of provisioning questions, which helped focus our discussion. Out of curiosity I also sent them to Brian Calvert, a Seattle Yachts broker at large, based in Subic Bay in the Philippines. I’ve known Brian for years, as he was the Selene dealer in the Pacific Northwest. After years of helping couples find the right boat and head into the sunset, when he was ready to go himself, Brian moved aboard his own Selene Yachts 48, and steered Furthur’s bow out of Friday Harbor towards the Pacific Ocean. After spending years among island groups across the Pacific, he eventually landed in the Philippines, where he met and later married his wife, and began a new adventure with Donna and her son Priam.
Brian’s comments reflect almost ten years of cruising.
(Seen below: Brian's boat is named "Further." and seen here in Bali.)
What is your basic philosophy when preparing for extended cruising?
We have a great deal of storage places for food, with a big freezer and 2 refrigerators. We have found we need to stock up on the things we can only find on the larger islands, mostly my American food, such as pickles and cereal, as we have been in areas where shopkeepers tell us mustard is a gourmet item. So, our philosophy is to buy big on American items when we can. But we keep in mind access to the boat. The most daunting task is often simply getting bulk supplies from the store to the boat, so we stock up when that task is easy.
But finding food is not hard. As I was told early on, “Wherever you go, there will be people eating.”
(Seen below: Further in hte background as Brian and crew take the tender to the beach.)
Did you follow your shoreside eating habits when developing your provisioning lists?
When I did my first long passage, I was a newbie and made colossal mistakes. My crew, who I later found out could not cook at all, bought lots of basic ingredients, such as flour, oil and such, all of which I traded for actual food in the Marquesas. Be realistic as to what you or your cook is going to do in the galley underway. We lived off frozen pizzas most of that crossing.
Recently we have been in a cruising cycle of six months on the boat, six months at the dock. Before we leave, we make a couple of huge shopping trips, again mostly non-perishable items we know we cannot easily get while cruising, again mostly American products.
(Seen below: Sometimes transporting supplies from land to your boat can be a challenge. Have fun with it!)
Were there items you didn’t expect to find commonly available during your travels?
I was surprised that Costco/Kirkland products are available in remarkable places. When we were in Tonga, for example, folks kept telling me about the “American” store. When I discovered a mini Costco in a cement block building in the middle of the island, I was so happy, I bought marinated artichoke hearts!
One thing that most new cruisers don’t realize when cruising the Pacific, and certainly exploring Southeast Asia, one will find fantastic places to eat out cheaply, and good friends to share meals with. We eat dinner out at least half the time, some cruisers even more. Dining out can actually save you money and is way more fun.
(Seen below: The captain and crew share a meal at a local restaurant.)
How closely did your provisioning plans match your experience?
In the beginning, not even close. Now, it is far better.
The main thing to keep in mind in Southeast Asia are the cultural and religious restrictions on what you can buy and when. Getting pork or alcohol in Muslim countries is a trick, it is doable but expensive. Another thing to consider is that Muslim countries all practice Ramadan, an amazing month-long event where the locals do not eat or drink during daylight hours. This puts a big limitation on where you can eat, and more so, when you can eat. To be a good cruiser, and leave a clean wake, one must respect such things. To be an enlightened cruiser, immerse yourself in all the local events and practices. That is why we go cruising!
Beef is either like shoe leather or is imported in the tropics. For whatever reason, cattle just don’t do well in the tropics. The trick is to find some Aussies as they will lead you to a good steak. Which brings up another point from my experience. There are so many Western expatriates in areas like Southeast Asia. Where one finds expats, Western food is available. If there are no expats in the area, don’t expect to find Western food.
Also read Bill's articles: Provisioning Your Yacht For Cruising In Alaska and Provisioning For Extended Cruising In The Bahamas & Caribbean.
Did you find restrictions/limitations that apply to meats, eggs, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables, pet food, and liquor?
As to “cleansing” our stored provisions when entering a new country, our stop in Australia reduced my provisions by six full garbage bags. The quarantine folks confiscated bizarre things, in my opinion, including a box of microwave popcorn bags. They said I might plant the corn, which was absurd.
Meat is available by type, region, and religion. It is possible to be in countries where locals do not eat pork one day and beef the next. All beef is imported to Southeast Asia and expensive, but I splurge sometimes. Eggs and chickens are everywhere. (Those who believe the great American myth that you must refrigerate eggs will be blown away. Absolutely no one refrigerates eggs and they last a long time if kept in a cool place. We store them in the oven. Milk is always found in a box, as there is no fresh milk without cows. Cheese is a Western thing, so stock up when you can. Ice cream can be found in most places.
Most of the produce and meat shopping will be in public markets. It is a wonderful experience, albeit shocking at first. You want a pork chop? In no time a chunk of meat is dropped from the ceiling, a huge clever comes out and BANG, you have a pork chop...all while someone waves a feather-type gizmo to ward off the flies. The adventurous buy the entire pig’s head.
Produce is generally smaller in selection and less dazzling than what you see at Whole Foods, mostly because it is truly organic and not filled with chemicals. That carrot came out of someone's backyard this morning, and that pork chop was grunting about the village yesterday.
All and all, I think the food is healthier here. As to the ethics of food production, well, that pig lived a free-range life, not cramped in a dark pig factory and filled with hormones. So, I believe both the pig and I are better off here.
I covered some alcoholic liquor issues but missed one thing. In Tonga and Niue the rules are strictly Christian, so many places are closed on Sunday. In Tonga you can be fined for drinking on Sunday. Keep a clean wake, respect the local customs, and you will enjoy your travels much more.
Each country I’ve visited has one or two local beers, for my beer-drinking friends. Again, find an Aussie, who seem to adapt well to these customs. Wine can be found where expatriates shop, so one must stock up. Liquor is generally very cheap as well. In most of the Philippines, a beer is a dollar, and a hard drink about the same.
(Seen below: Brian and Priam "face-off" at lunchtime!)
Any recommendations you suggest for those considering their first extended cruise?
First and foremost, remember that wherever you go, there will be people eating. You won’t starve. Once you accept that, you must decide what you personally need to have. If you love Skippy chunky peanut butter, like I do, stock up when it is available. Don’t wander down the grocery aisles thinking “Gee, I might like this or that.” Read up on where you are going, decide what local foods you will or won’t eat. In six years in the Philippines, my wife has yet to shame me into trying Balut (duck in the egg) but I do love pork adobo.
If you are like me and can’t eat chili spicy foods, learn to say “NO SPICY” in the language of every country you visit!
What other related subjects do you feel we should explore for others looking to cast off? Spare parts, tools, communication solutions, even donations for locals?
My crew bought several gallons of cheap Tequila in Mexico without my knowledge. I forbid it to be given to locals. Do bring a supply of school supplies and candy. Something from home is a great gift to give to local officials, or T-shirts with your boat’s name and graphic. In Tonga one must visit the chief of the village before you and your crew can swim or use local beaches. The ritual involves presenting a designated amount of Kava root and other small gifts to the chief. One must sit without the bottom of one’s feet pointed to the throne. The chief will then invite you to use their beach, and you are now essentially a member of the clan. We got invited to a feast they spent two days cooking underground. These are the things that make all that boat maintenance worthwhile. Enjoy them.
Regarding spares, the rule on Furthur is that if something breaks, buy two, one as a spare. If it is small and it breaks, your day or trip is ruined, so carry a spare. Each year I go to the “screw store” and buy four of each sized bolt, nut, and washer. I carry at least a spare or more of each bulb and fuse on the boat. I carry a year’s supply of filters as well. I renew my tool collection often, as we are in the tropics, where even plastic rusts. If you are coming from the U.S. you will need to get used to using metric tools, which is not a real problem.
Oh yeah, get a ton of WD40 products and Rust Converter, too.
The number of spare parts you should have varies with the size of your boat but the variety of spares required also diminishes with the size of your boat. We need nine different kinds of oil on Furthur.
Ok, the ninth oil is massage oil, but that is essential.
(Seen below: Exploring the South Pacific can lead to amazing scenery like this lagoon.)