One of the most important activities getting your boat ready to spend a winter in the Islands is provisioning. Unlike cruising in home or coastal waters, once you cross the Gulf Stream and begin exploring the many fabulous islands and anchorages that await you, it is vital to be self-sufficient. There is not Door Dash or Uber Eats, at least not yet, and a couple expecting to enjoy the winter months down island must bring much of their provisions with them.
Many of the more-populated islands have well-stocked supermarkets, liquor stores, and marine chandleries, especially if there is a sizable charter fleet operating out of the area. But that is simply not the case for many of the other places you will be drawn to. And if you do come across stores with items to restock your pantry, you will be shocked at the cost of these supplies. Everything is flown in or shipped from somewhere else, and the costs ramp up accordingly.
To check on the latest helpful suggestions for the rest of us, I contacted Hugh Scarth and Maria Boudreau, a Canadian couple who are the new owners of White Pearl, a Hampton 55 PHMY, safely anchored in Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, in the Florida Keys. The couple waits patiently, along with dozens of other sail and power boats, for a favorable weather window to cross the Gulf Stream over to the Bahamas. There is no need to get beat up from contrary winds and waves. Waiting it out is what prudent cruisers do.
Long time sailors, Hugh told me they prefer to anchor out most of the time, rather than hop from marina to marina, which is more typical of the motoryacht lifestyle. Even though the Hampton 55 is well suited for their needs in terms of space and livability, they felt it necessary to make some changes to better fit the boat for life on the hook.
(Seen below: Hugh and Maria on White Pearl.)
They ditched the original 40-lb anchor and replaced it with an 88-lb Rocna, a much better choice for anchoring security. Hugh said they also recently installed a 1280-watt solar array to charge the house batteries while at anchor. Most motoryachts are power hungry beasts that come equipped with full-size domestic appliances and systems that require a constant supply of electrical power, far more than the typical cruising sailboat or trawler set up for self-sufficiency away from marinas.
“The boat came with a spare alternator, props, starter motor, a cruising kit for the generator, water pump, complete set of tools, and filters,” Hugh told me. “All this is extremely expensive, but you’ve got to have it. I am not a mechanic, but I can do some of it myself.”
Maria found checklists on Pinterest that served as templates to remind her of provisions she would need. She already knows what lasts in the climate of the Bahamas and Caribbean. Meat is always frozen, so the boat has a freezer stocked with all the meat they might need on the trip. (In their experience, meat is generally not of the highest quality if you can even find it, so it is best to bring your own.)
Pets are not a problem for cruising the Bahamas, according to Hugh, if the paperwork is in order. Stock up on all your pet food, however, as you will not likely find it on grocery shelves.
They purchase their canned goods, such as tomatoes and vegetables, while in the U.S., as well as all baking and cooking supplies that Maria anticipates needing, including flour and sugar. Same with toothpaste, paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies. Once in the Bahamas, some of these products will be few and far between outside of major towns and chartering centers. And expensive.
Maria found it difficult in the past to replenish galley spices and recommends packing all the spices one might need for the duration. She loves curry, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, and makes sure she has plenty on the boat. “Better looking at it than looking for it!” She also stocked 16 pounds of butter in the freezer. She never ran out.
The ultra-filtered, lactose-free milk we find in stores today has a long shelf life, and is a better bet than regular milk. Box milk is also a great backup, especially if you put it in the fridge the night before.
Fresh produce and bread are easily replenished in most towns in the islands, so there is less of a worry about running out. But other food you take for granted, such as peanut butter, are best bought ahead of time, as it is less likely to be found on the shelves of smaller grocery stores. And if you do find it, it will be very expensive.
One should stock up with all sizes of Ziploc bags, as anything that can go stale once opened needs to be in a Ziploc bag.
Buy lots of beer and wine. They are considered a luxury and are taxed heavily. The social aspects of cruising in paradise leads to frequent sundowners, cruisers coming together for drinks and snacks while discussing the problems of the world and waiting for the Green Flash. It is common for cruisers to bring appetizers to these gatherings, especially if the hosts provide the beer and wine.
To emphasize the social elements of cruising, Hugh and Maria agree that one should bring more food and liquor than you might otherwise carry. Potato chips are very expensive in the Bahamas, so stock up. Same with Granola bars and other snacks.
Any family or friends asked to join for a portion of the cruise are expected to contribute. “We’re not a hotel,” Hugh joked. But the idea of guests aboard really doesn’t happen frequently, as most friends you’ll encounter are found in the anchorage, on their own boats. Hugh recommends making boat cards, as they come in very handy when you meet other cruisers. Complete with a picture of the owners and the boat but leave the back of the card blank for comments.
Hugh and Maria make a list of where everything is in the boat. Remembering where things are is important and sometimes it’s hard to remember. Make a diagram of where things are as well as an inventory.
(Seen Below: How much is too much? This fridge is fully stocked to feed a crew.)
Besides food and drink provisioning, Hugh, a retired surgeon, suggests bringing along extra eyeglasses, antibiotics and all medicines, prescription and generic, as well as sunscreen and Tylenol. A boat’s first-aid kit can be easily supplemented with additional medicines and lotions, bandages, and items specific to your situation. Talk to your family doctor for suggestions. Hugh recommends having a supply of Steri-Strips and Dermabond or other liquid bandage products in the first-aid kit.
With respect to the concept of a motoryacht as a self-sufficient cruising boat, Hugh tries to find a happy medium for generator use, balancing use of the electric stove and oven with other activities that require the generator. The couple uses a small butane camping stove in the morning to make coffee instead of firing up the ship’s generator. Good idea.
(I plan a future article on how to set up a motoryacht as a cruising boat, one that can live away from marina umbilical cords. It should be an interesting exercise.)
Also read Bill's articles: Provisioning Your Yacht For Alaska Cruising and Notes About Cruising & Provisioning In The South Pacific
As to the mechanical side of provisioning, one suggestion offered is to hire a professional mechanic to come aboard and go over all systems. Hugh found the exercise hugely helpful, as the mechanic found 12 separate sacrificial anodes in the boat, including two in the fin stabilizers. Hugh was then able to purchase the correct supply of zincs, impellers, and other spares before he left. This is a great idea.
One requirement that Hugh and Maria insist on is installing a watermaker on the boat. “You just have to have a watermaker if you are going to the Bahamas,” Hugh said. Otherwise it becomes an unnecessary focus to ration water, which is just so not necessary these days. This is cruising, not camping.
And Hugh says it is a good idea to bring cash, especially in the Bahamas. “Not all vendors take credit cards,” he said, “and ATMs are almost non-existent.” Bring backup credit cards from another bank or account in case your normal cards are somehow compromised.
When their long cruise on White Pearl comes to an end, the couple plan to haul their Hampton 55 in Grenada for the off season.
I offer a few additional suggestions, learned from experience.
If you drink plenty of water, as you should when cruising, you may be a fan of sparkling water like I am. I find it more interesting than drinking plain water all day long. But I do not recommend stocking up with cases and cases of liter bottles of seltzer, for the obvious reasons of storage and creating significant single-use plastic waste.
Instead I recommend you purchase a SodaStream machine (https://sodastream.com/), which creates sparkling water using carbonating cylinders. One cylinder is enough for about 60 liters of seltzer. SodaStream also sells numerous flavored drops and mixes that can be added to the seltzer, although I often mix it with pineapple or other fruit juices.
I also suggest you consider a bread machine for your galley. The smell of freshly baked bread is one of life’s simple pleasures, and it is so easy these days using those countertop machines from Sunbeam, Cuisinart, and others. A three month’s supply of yeast comes in a jar and stores easily. Your crew will be all smiles whenever the cook bakes interesting breads, buns, and pastry.
By now, White Pearl is over the horizon, her crew living the dream. Fair winds and following seas, Hugh and Maria. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with us.
We’ll enjoy hearing all about your adventures when you get back from paradise!
Boat BVI provides top line crewed sailing and power vessels in the British Virgin Islands and the Caribbean.