How to buy food for your sailing vacation

When you charter (i.e. rent) a sailboat, you will need to provision it.

Provision \Pro*vi”sion\ To supply with food; to victual; as, to provision a garrison. [1913 Webster]

There are three basic ways you can provision your boat for your sailing vacation:

  1. Charter company. Most charter companies will provision your sailboat for you. (At their prices of course.) They usually have a form where you fill out any food preferences, allergies, number of people, etc. You also have the option to have them provision for most meals aboard, some meals aboard or just basics like spices and paper towels. The advantage of this method is that they have a lot of experience provisioning boats and you are unlikely to end up missing something important. The disadvantage is that you don’t get to pick exactly what you want. Also, we have a lot of fun planning our meals and groceries. (Although if you don’t like planning meals, that might be a good thing!)

  2. Order in advance. This is what I recommend. We order online from one of the local grocery stores. Several that will take orders and deliver are Riteway and Bobby’s Marketplace many times. We order online a couple of weeks before our trip and they deliver to our boat at the time we specify. (You can check out one of our actual orders below.) I would always follow up with a phone call to make sure they got your order. Sometimes it’s less expensive to order the alcoholic beverages from Caribbean Cellars; they will also deliver to your boat.
  3. Grocery Store. You can go to the grocery store once you are in the British Virgin Islands. You can take a taxi back to your boat or have the store deliver it. Even if you decide to shop once you get there, you should make a list before hand. It’s not easy to just stop by the grocery store for something you forgot during the week. There is a small grocery store at Leverick Bay which we have found to be a good place to add some fresh fruits and bread half way through.

What groceries should you buy for your sailing charter?

  • Breakfast. We usually take lots of easy to eat foods like milk and cereal, bagels, english muffins and granola bars. We usually have one or two cooked breakfasts. Eggs keep really well.

    skyhawk8519: buying 10 days worth of groceries

    skyhawk8519: buying 10 days worth of groceries

  • Lunch. We take enough sandwich fixings for the week. And lots of chips. Since it gets old to eat a sandwich every day, and we are often on the beach, we also eat out for a few lunches. We stick to easy foods for lunch as we are often sailing or moored some where that might not be really calm.
  • Dinners. We spend most of our pretrip food planning time and energy planning dinners. We split them up among the individuals or couples on our trip and eating out. Then everyone only has to plan 1-2 dinners. You can make easy dinners by centering them around the grill.
  • Snacks. Don’t forget to bring lots of snacks! Things that are easy to get out when you are hungry in a hurry. Snacks are especially good at happy hour, after a day of swimming and snorkeling while you are waiting for everyone to get cleaned up and dinner to be ready. We take a lot of hard meats and cheese. (We get a lot of the hardmeats in bulk at Sam’s Club and take them down in our cooler. It’s one of the few things that is much cheaper at home.)
  • Drinks. Take lots of water. The rule of thumb is 1.5 liters/person/day. We never drink that much but water is inexpensive. We get water in gallon jugs and then each person takes a unique water bottle to use for the week. You will definitely end up drinking more soda and beer than you do at home. And don’t forget the coffee if you are a morning coffee drinker! Your boat will most likely have a small stove top coffee maker.
  • Condiments. There might be salt and pepper on the boat, but unless you have the charter company do the provisioning, you shouldn’t count on things like spices, mayonnaise, ketchup, etc.
  • Supplies. Don’t forget things like paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags and ziplock bags! For grilling, the charcoal bricks make life really easy.

How much will it cost?

skyhawk8519: loading groceries onto the boat from the dock

Your costs will vary depending on:

  • number of people
  • length of the trip
  • how many meals you eat ashore
  • what type of food you order (hot dogs or steaks?)

An easy formula for a rough estimate is about $10-20/day/person if you plan on eating some dinners on shore.

Dinners onshore can vary greatly on price but an entrée is often $40.

 

Tips:

  • Plan in advance. It’s not easy to just stop by the store while you are sailing around the islands, so it’s important to plan in advance. We usually have a planning party a month before our trip. We all add our favorite breakfast, lunch, and snack foods to the list. Then we split up the dinners among everyone going. Everyone plans a dinner or two. We count on eating a few dinners out.
  • Substitutes. If you order from the grocery store, if they don’t have the brand or exact item you ordered, they will try to find a substitute for you. (You check your groceries when you get them and you can return anything you don’t want.) We are always sure to put backup beer brands and to specify that we want cans not bottles. (Broken bottles on a boat is not a good thing. Plus bottles don’t crush well.)
  • Trash. Think about trash. You are going to have to carry your trash with you for a day or two at a time until you find a place to take it. You will also have to pay for them to take it. This is the main reason we get canned beer instead of glass. You can crush the cans. (They are also safer.)
  • Grill. Cooking on the stove  or in the oven is really hot inside a non air conditioned charter boat. If you make sure most of your meals are centered around the grill, you’ll be cooler and happier. Also the “chef” can hang out with everyone else. (Be sure to move your dingy to the far side of the boat, away from the grill, before you use it!) Also, be sure to order charcoal bricks (instead of bags of charcoal) as they will make life much easier. We usually order 1-2 per dinner depending on what we are cooking.
  • Snacks. Take lots of snacks! You’ll be hungry a lot especially at happy hour. You can take healthy snacks (the fruit is awesome), salamis, cheese, crackers, … just more than you would eat at home.
  • Water. Take a 1.5 liters/person/day. Again, we buy in gallon jugs and have each person bring their own water bottle from home.
  • Fridge. Fridge’s on boats never work really well. They have no exact temperature control. They only cool when the motor is running. The fridge and freezer are often combined. Take into account that your fridge may not keep everything as cold as you like. Eat foods early in the week that might go bad like chicken and fish. Also, beware! When you are hot from a day in the sun, and you put your hand in your fridge to see if it’s still cold, it’s going to feel cold! Run your engine every day to cool off the fridge. (We now take a small thermometer to hang in the fridge to monitor its temperature.)
  • Bread. Bread doesn’t keep very well in the Carribean. If you can keep it dry, keep bread in the fridge until you are ready to eat it. Sour dough, english muffins and tortillas often keep the best.
  • Cooler. Use a cooler on deck to keep things you’ll want to get to all day long so that you don’t have to open (and warm up) your fridge throughout the day. A large cooler for drinks helps a lot. We keep a gallon of water in there as well. Your charter company will most likely give you a hard sided cooler. We also bring a soft sided Polar Bear Cooler to take to the beach with us. (We take it down full of food – all frozen and vacuum packed. We check it as luggage without ice.)
  • Ice. Start out with a lot of ice in your cooler and fridge. You’ll probably want to buy more ice every couple of days depending on how many drinks you’re having. (You have to replenish those in the cooler with warm ones which uses up your ice.)
  • Bringing food from home. Experienced charterers are divided on this. Some say you should buy everything local and not worry about food. Others bring food to save time or money. We bring down food so that we can do some of the preparation at home and because a few things are much cheaper, like hard meats for snacks. We marinate our meat and chicken at home and then vacuum seal it and freeze it. Then it’s ready to go on the grill. We also make a few main dishes like gumbo. We carry it down in our Polar Bear Cooler. If it’s for personal consumption, you can take up to 40 pounds of meat without paying customs fees.
  • Spices. If you use a lot of spices, you might want to consider bringing some from home. In small ziplocks, they will pack very easily and it can save you a lot of money buying full size containers for a week’s trip. Premarinating food at home will also take less spices.
  • Kids. If you travel with kids, plan for them to eat a lot more than they normally do at home! A day of swimming, jumping off the boat, and climbing back on takes a lot of energy. On one trip, our six year old ate 3 hotdogs, a piece of mahi-mahi, dessert and offered to eat another hot dog if he could have another piece of dessert! (Also don’t forget the peanut butter!)
  • Reuse. Your empty water gallon jugs can be used to make painkillers!

See an actual order:

Here’s our grocery order from Bobby’s Marketplace from a trip a few years ago. We didn’t bring any food from home on this trip. It was for four adults and one kid. (We forgot the peanut butter on this trip!)

To take food from home or not?

One of the most frequently debated topics among return charters is whether or not to take food from home. Many argue you should support the BVI and buy your groceries locally. We like to prepare the food in our full size kitchen at home and since we are taking a cooler anyway, it’s easy for us to vacuum pack and carry it with us. (Just don’t pack any ice in your cooler!)

You can read more about the debate and what we take.

In Summary:

skyhawk8519: Don’t forget the most important thing!

Plan ahead, have fun and don’t worry. If you forget something really important, you’ll find a place to get it or a substitute.

Any other advice or questions from people provisioning charter sailing boats?

(P.S. If you have a picture of all of your boat’s provisions sitting on the deck or dock, I’d love to include it in this post! Let me know if you are interested.)

12 comments for “How to buy food for your sailing vacation

  1. Cindy Pawluk
    February 16, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Is there recycling? Thinking bringing small amts. of garbage bags, cleaning, jiffy clothes…that type of items?

  2. Cindy Pawluk
    February 16, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Me again. Provisioning list has $45-48 for buying lobster tails. How much to buy lobster dinner at restaurants? Would love to eat it every night!!!

  3. stormy
    February 17, 2010 at 9:57 am

    I have never recycled in the BVI. Anybody else?

    We do usually take a bunch of our own stuff. Things like ziplock bags and garbage bags that are light to pack and we buy in bulk at home.

  4. stormy
    February 17, 2010 at 10:00 am

    About lobster tails … I don’t remember the exact price but eating lobster on Anegada is very expensive! (FYI, I find eating out in the BVI expensive.)

    • Patient
      March 27, 2010 at 2:02 am

      @4 – Stormy

      $75 a person. Worth every penny!

      • stormy
        March 27, 2010 at 11:21 am

        They were delicious! And huge. I actually had some to share.

  5. stormy
    March 7, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Francis, To the British Virgin Islands for a week on a sailboat!

  6. Patient
    March 27, 2010 at 2:50 am

    Fantastic article! Thank you for taking the time to share your provisioning tips. We are planning our list right now for our 7 Day BVI Bareboat charter in April.

    A few additional tips:
    One frustrating thing about the Moorings is that in their literature they state, “A Fully Equipped Galley” but it was very difficult to find the exact list of what that includes.

    After a few calls we found out what the complimentary package with every charter includes: Ice, Paper Towels, Garbage bags, Matches, Bath Soap, Toilet Paper, Sponges, Dishwashing Liquid and Insect spray. Plates, Bowls, Cups and Silverware are also included according to the trip planner.

    We initially added most of those items in our Bobby’s market list. Luckily we caught it at the last minute saving us about $50.

    What is really interesting is discovering the vast amount of the 3rd party provisioning companies that specifically make their money catering to the money conscious Chartering crowd. For example. We love our rum mixed drinks, but this time we decided that with a blender aboard we could make our own, thus reducing the amount we spent on expensive Pusser painkillers. The moorings has a Rental Blender package but is $7 a day. After some searching around we found a company offers a Blender / Cooler package for $20 a week. It seems like penny-pushing, but really in the end it becomes evident that the more time you spend researching your options saves enough money to have a nice dinner on the hard rather than sandwiches down below, it really is worth the trouble.

    • stormy
      March 27, 2010 at 11:20 am

      Thanks, Patient. Those are some awesome tips. You are right that the complimentary package and galley equipment is not only not listed anywhere but varies from charter company to charter company!

    • Sally
      April 22, 2012 at 8:11 pm

      What is the name of the blender/cooler package company..
      Also do you know of anywhere that rents fishing gear inexpensive and maybe a khaki?
      Thanks

  7. Sergey
    February 2, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Bobby’s market could be good at spot, but working with them online (e-mail) is to confusing. Expect long waits for replays.

  8. Sergey
    February 2, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    skyhawk8519, in an attached list of groceries there is no mentioning how long this trip was. Was it 10 days as indicated under the first photo?

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