Provisioning pro-tips: Prep is important

A well-stocked food locker will have plenty of staples on hand like salt, pepper, tea, coffee and sugar. Photo by Ali Wisch Fabre

July 2022

By Jean Kerr

Some years ago, I was asked to plan the provisioning for a transatlantic crossing. The boat was an older Bristol 40, and the duration was two to three or maybe four weeks. I asked the owner/captain if he could be more precise than that. He said no. And fair enough, there are so many variables in that sort of passage that it’s anyone’s guess.

I asked if he knew whether he would have three or four additional crew members. He wouldn’t know until a couple of days before departure. Do they have any food allergies, sensitivities or aversions? “Well, how would I know that?” he replied.

There are a few object lessons here, even for a weekend jaunt with friends, but particularly if you are sailing with people you don’t know well, or planning a longer cruise. Some vessels have galleys with refrigeration, ovens and microwaves, but not all. My cruising days involved a two-burner kerosene stove and an old-fashioned ice box.

1. Plan ahead. Days ahead, not hours ahead. I actually have this weird little ritual of walking through the steps from the time you get aboard, to serving drinks and dinner, to breakfast and lunch if you are overnighting. And ongoing meals if you are going to be out for a longer period of time.

2. Make lists. Not just shopping lists but menu lists, tasks, stuff to pick up on the way to the boat, like ice. If you have refrigeration, that’s great, but if you are relying on a cooler or icebox, buy blocks of ice if you can. They last much longer. You can always chip off pieces when your cubes are gone.

3. Try to chill or freeze everything you can before putting on ice. Things will stay cooler, and your ice will last longer. You can always buy cubes and stow them in a smaller cooler for convenience during cocktail hour.

4. Ask your guests/crew members what their dietary needs and preferences are. Make a plan and cook or assemble things ahead of time whenever possible.

5. Keep staples on hand: salt, pepper, tea, coffee, sugar, long life milk, crackers, peanut butter, etc.

6. Pack food in tight, sealable containers or invest (they cost between $20 and $30) in a vacuum sealing appliance. If properly sealed this kind of packaging will help your food last longer and take up less space in your cooler or icebox.

7. If you plan to be in ports where there are restaurants and food stores, you’re golden. But the best laid plans especially when it comes to boating can pretty easily go awry. The restaurants are full, the store is a mile away, there aren’t any moorings or slips available. You know. The usual stuff.

8. A great batch of chili or a hearty soup like the pasta fagioli recipe above with bread and a salad is likely to please most people as a lunch or dinner. Not only are these simple do ahead meals, they are actually better after a day or two.

9. Have “hand food” on hand. By this I mean apples and peanut butter, crackers, olives, cold cuts, pre sliced cheeses. If things get bumpy along the way, you can hand things up to your crew to nosh on and get out of the galley. I am not prone to seasickness, but certain conditions drive me above deck pretty quickly.

Jean Kerr is the author of four cookbooks, including, “Mystic Seafood” and “Maine Windjammer Cooking.” She is the former editor of Northeast Flavor Magazine and a regular contributor to Cruising World.

Pasta Fagioli

If you can prep the veggies and parboil the pasta ahead of time, this will come together very easily. I like to use the unbreakable boxed stock available in the soup aisle if I’ve been too lazy to make my own.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium green pepper chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves smashed (you can also use 1 tablespoon minced garlic frozen or from a jar)
  • 1-28 ounce can of good quality crushed or chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 quart of good quality reduced sodium vegetable or chicken stock
  • 10 ounces of orzo
  • 1-14 ounce can of cannellini beans
  • Grated Parmesan and Italian seasoning for garnish


In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Sauté onion, carrots, pepper and garlic until soft, about 3 minutes. Be sure not to let the garlic brown.

Add the stock and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and cook for 5-7 minutes until al dente or to taste. Add beans, bring back to simmer, turn heat off and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.

Serve in large bowls with dried or fresh herbs and grated Parmesan on top. (A chunk of parmesan doesn’t need to be refrigerated and will keep well.)

Serves 6

NOTE: You can make the base ahead of time and add pasta and beans the next day.