Sunday, 5 July 2015

When There Are No Shops

Remote Salamon Atoll, Chagos, Crystal Blues In The Foreground.  Photo / Mark, SV Merkava                         

If we had a mission statement for our cruising life it would be shaped by what we truly enjoy - that is travel by boat, to experience new cultures, cuisines and music.  The past few months have offered a smorgasbord of this mix.  But none of this could have happened without a lot of planning. Before leaving Langkawi, Malaysia, all boat systems were checked, upgraded where necessary, the spares list re-checked and every empty space on the boat was filled with food and more than a little bit of wine, before we began sailing through the Indian Ocean.

We provisioned extensively in Phuket, stocking up on bread flour, pork, bacon, sausages and ham. Then we continued in Langkawi, stocking up on tinned and dry food, steak, salmon, toiletries, tinned butter, and duty free wine.  Over the previous months Ley had taken careful note of our consumption per month of all these items. Then we multiplied all this by six, hoping that our supplies would last around six months.

With those stores on board, the real provisioning challenge was fresh food - principally fruits and vegetables. What we can buy in Sri Lanka or the Maldives ? Will it last us for the 6-7 weeks after we depart Gan Atoll for Chagos and then Rodrigues ?

Fortunately the cruising community share information quite freely and efficiently, so we already knew that it was wiser to purchase fresh eggs, pumpkins and fruit in Sri Lanka, as nearly all produce in the Maldives is imported from there (plus India and Pakistan).

The Maldive Islands have very little fertile soil, with most of the new villages being built on reclaimed land.  Very little produce is grown locally.  It is not a great provisioning place.....

So the challenge was buying ten to twelve weeks of fresh provisions and doing our best to keep this produce fresh and edible in the tropical heat.

How We Fared

Sinkers & Floaters - Testing The Eggs
EGGS  -  Our lovely brown eggs were purchased in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, all 90 of them.  Each egg was then washed and tested for freshness.  Very fresh eggs sink and lie on their side in a glass of water, while when not so fresh they stand on one end under water. If they float they are stale and possibly rotten.  With this process we sorted the eggs carefully, using the least fresh earlier of course.

They were lightly coated in warm Baby Oil and stored in plastic egg trays, in a dark location.  Twice weekly we invert each egg in the tray in a careful rotation process.  Occasionally they were re-tested in water.  Eggs we purchased at the end of February in Trincolmalee were still perfectly edible in early June.  A quick survey of three other boats who also purchased eggs at the same shop at similar times showed a much higher attrition rate if they were not coated in oil and not frequently rotated.  Eggs newly purchased in the Maldives were less fresh than our older Trincomalee stock, and did not last very long at all.


POTATOES -  These were stored in cloth or calico bags, in a "cool and dark" spot, and lasted 8 weeks. We checked them twice weekly to remove any that were not in perfect condition.

PUMPKINS - We love butternut pumpkins and purchased two dozen of quite small size in Trincomalee. More pumpkins were bought in the Maldives and we still are eating them here in Rodrigues two months later.  Stored in a "cool and airy" position they have lasted around 4 months.

ORANGES - Grown in Egypt and purchased in the Maldives, these were mostly supplied wrapped in tissue paper.  They lasted more than two months, in a mesh "hammock" slung from the ceiling above the galley benches.

TOMATOES - We rented a motor cycle in Gan and drove around for days trying to find a stock that had not been refrigerated.  We purchased in all different shades of ripeness, wrapped each individually in paper towel and stored in a dark, airy space.  These lasted over two months.  They also need to be checked regularly and the ripening ones moved to the galley.

ONIONS - Stored in the dark, these lasted for months, the red onions (more common in Asia) storing longer than the brown type.

Mango Harvesting At Nilandhoo
TROPICAL FRUIT -  Pineapples, watermelons and bananas all ripen fairly quickly, so they were stored in hanging baskets under the cockpit shade.

We were fortunate to meet a local family in Nilandhoo, North Nilande Atoll in the Maldives. Invited to their home for lunch, they picked and provided us with two large supermarket bags of green mangoes, from their own tree.  These slowly ripened over the next month, so we were able to have fresh mango for breakfast almost every day in Chagos, with our own Turkish yogurt.

The Refrigerator

Carrots, red and green cabbage, capsicum, cheese, butter, salami and chocolate were all stored in the refrigerator. We used the last of the carrots from Maldives and the last of the cabbage from Sri Lanka just last night, the cabbage was 4 months old and still very good.

Our major provisioning problem was that we had to depend on fruit and vegetables imported into the Maldives, where the produce was often mishandled, left to sit in the sun after being refrigerated, then re-refrigerated, so we had to settle for less than perfect fruit and vegetables. The only other choice was to go with out, as there are no shops in Chagos.

The Freezer

Not every cruising boat has a freezer.  The upside in having a large freezer is being able to freeze down meat, fish, cheese and vegetables, and even to make ice.  The downside is the need for massive amounts of power to keep everything frozen.  We have a large freezer, so we must accept the necessary maintenance that is required to deliver power each day.
Coral Trout

Fruits De Mer

Some people are quite expert at living from the sea. Not us, though we did catch fish in Chagos and shared a few communal barbeques when a huge Wahoo was caught.

Our last passage was too big for fishing.  Ley did not even put a line in the water, from Chagos to Rodrigues.  However she is eternally optimistic, the gear is ready, so watch out fish further west!

Crystal Blues Supermarket

Many days on board were like living in a floating supermarket, as we were unwrapping, inspecting, re-wrapping, rotating and stowing all fresh produce that was not refrigerated.

Neil was enlisted and put in charge of the onions.  Ley watched him "expertly" clean off the loose skins and move the less perfect onions to the front of the container.  Guess this was a skill he picked up as a young boy when his parents owned a fruit shop - his father laughed at Ley's comment on how diligent he was with the onions !

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