We've just pulled into a tight protected little harbor on the east side of Whitsunday island after a quick trip out to the barrier reef. Encouraged by our new dive certifications, we couldn’t wait to log our first independent dive on the Great Barrier Reef and see for ourselves the famous chewer of ships and ailing heart of our atmosphere. This was our first stop at any far-fringing reef. We had flirted with stops at the Chesterfield and the Minerva reefs, but in the end, went another way and missed our chance to anchor in what must feel like the middle of the ocean and walk on tips of corals as the tide sinks low enough to reveal the not-quite-land hidden below the water in the most unexpected places.
Navigating through the bommies with a lookout stationed on each bow, we anchored in 10 meters of water with no land in sight, just an odd little brown coral egg popping its head above water as the waves sunk to expose it. Soon the tide slipped away and all around us were naked coral heads and long stretches of half-awash coral beaches. We jumped off of Dafne and our first dive was to the two coral heads just 20 meters from the boat. Nearing low tide, we had a very slight current and could swim across, then around, the two bommies before heading back. The coral was certainly sick, the brown algae creep-crawling its way over the colors was ominous. However, compared to our dives in Magnetic Island, this was epic. We saw hundreds of fish, many brightly colored coral heads, fans, parrot fish, anemones, and—wait for it—a turtle. The turtle whizzed off in a haze of bubbles as soon as he spotted our five masks and bouquet of index fingers all aimed straight at him (her?).
We spent only two nights anchored at the reef, before high winds chased us off. I'm eager to get back and again experience a truly solitary anchorage and the beauty of those coral creations. In order to visit places like the reef, or any island that doesn’t have a market or arable land, it takes a bit of preparation. A day spent in the ocean is just as sublime and inspiring aboard a small boat with no refrigeration or hot water. However, I know from experience, I prefer a day in the ocean that ends with a warm shower, a hot, high-quality meal, and a cold beverage. Which finally brings me to my point, provisioning.
Have any of you spent $2000 in one day on groceries? And I don’t mean lobsters and caviar. I mean costco and canned beer. I mean a compact rental car stuffed full so that you can barely fit yourself into the driver seat. I mean cases of canned tomatoes: diced, crushed, paste, and whole in their juices. I mean sacks of beans, rice, and flour that require dragging not lifting. I mean gallon-jugs of oils and vinegar: olive, canola, balsamic, red wine, and white. Then, do that three days in a row and stuff every last bit under beds, seats, and floor boards until the boat sinks 2 inches lower in the water. That was an abridged version of our provisioning for the Pacific crossing. I don’t expect to face another challenge like that until we are ready to cross the Indian Ocean, and maybe not even then.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t need to think about some basics of provisioning when we are cruising along a developed coastline. It’s just not convenient to go to the market every few days or even once a week. It’s an excursion that involves buses, taxis, or long walks with heavy bags. Optimizing those trips to make them stretch is key. If we make it out to the reef or an uninhabited island and are lucky enough to get an extended stretch of good weather, we don’t want to have to run back to town because we're out of milk, bread, or butter. A bit of planning and some long-life substitutions will make the difference.
Thanks to experience living outside the US, I know that eggs, milk, and even butter do not need refrigeration. If eggs have never been refrigerated they will last weeks in the pantry. UHT milk is easy to find all over the world and will last many months before opening. Butter can be canned and frozen. Canned butter is tricky to find, but if you do, buy it all. Otherwise, devote a bit of freezer space—if you have it—to some back-up butter. Yogurt is easy to make on board. Save the last few tablespoons of your store-bought yogurt to start your next batch. Use UHT or powdered milk and keep the pot at 100ºF for 8 hours. Repeat ad infinitum.
Fresh stuff is harder, both because a head of lettuce takes up a good amount of your tiny refrigerator and also because it won’t last more than a few days. I suggest making a big salad the day you go shopping and then skipping lettuce for the trip. Cabbage will last in the pantry for weeks and also makes a nice salad. Other veggies that last outside the fridge are onions, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, cauliflower, and that’s just a start. Just be sure to find the freshest and preferably un-refrigerated versions of all of them. Don’t buy the reddest tomatoes. Green or pale pink ones will ripen on your boat and you’ll have fresh tomatoes two weeks into a trip. Apples, pears, and citrus last the longest outside the fridge and large melons will last, too, if you can get them before they ripen.
One of my most favorite additions to Dafne II is my bread maker. I made pizza, rolls, and flat bread on my last trip, but I coveted the brown, grainy loaves that magically appeared on other boats. So this time around, I picked up a basic bread maker for a shockingly small price and now produce my own magical grainy loaves once (sometimes, twice) a day. This means there is always toast and jam for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and fried bread rubbed with garlic to go with soup at dinner. Also, it smells good.
My shopping trips for the boat are embarrassing, and my kids would rather sit at the bus stop reading than help me in the store. I buy heaps and have frequently been seen pushing two carts down the aisle. If there’s a pasta I like and rarely find, I’ll buy 30 boxes. If I find a farmer’s market or wholesale vegetable mart, I’ll buy 10 kilos of apples. I get lots of really inventive comments from strangers about bomb shelters and not leaving enough for anyone else. Hilarious. The real fun begins when I load all three of my kids and myself with back packs and ikea bags on each arm, and we shuffle our way back to Dafne.
Once all the bags are passed from the dinghy to the cockpit, I am left to find a place for all my new provisions. There’s no room under the beds on this boat, so I put most of the excess into the floor. Keeping track of what I have and where I hid it is its own kind of magic. Jade helps me inventory all the goods so I can check what I’ve purchased and see where I’m light. She’s a spreadsheet prodigy. The kids run and hide when it’s time to make the two shopping carts full of food disappear. I don’t mind. That means I’m the only one who knows where to find the chocolate and nutella.