This post is the first in a series about the year I spent (fall 1985-August 1986) as the cook/stewardess/deckhand on the Jubliee, a 75″ sloop.
When you shop for food, supplies, and stores on a boat it is called provisioning. Provisioning is a snap, really, when you are traveling shorter passages (three to five days), though it gets complicated when you are going to be at sea for a longer period of time. Other things that complicate the process are currencies, availability, storage, and picky eaters.
How much is this coin worth?
Local currency was always different from island to island in the Caribbean, in fact on St. Martin/Maarten you have both Dutch guilder and French francs. It might be Euros now, but in 1985/86 it was a handful of different coins and colored bills. I could pay for anything with the US Dollar, but I would get change in the local currency. That meant planning ahead. The exchange rate was usually very good in stores, and I was able to get things that the boat needed for reasonable prices (like good knives – as all Surf Ninjas know, “Money can’t buy knives.”) As cook I was following behind one amazing woman (Annie – moved on to Ioranna, a Swan 57 that could outsail us any day) and a woman (Kathy) who as cook was scuttled and sent back to the Newport Boat Basin with her apron in her hand after one week at sea. More on her later – but what that meant for me as chief food and stuff purchaser was that I had a lot of ground to make up to get the boat back to where Annie left it.
I flew back into Bermuda from Boston (I had rushed home to quit my waitress job, set up a power of attorney for my cousin, find health insurance, tell everyone I was going away for a year, and cry). First tasks involved getting a sense of what Kathy had left us with. Inventory revealed enormous quantities of canned tuna and not much else. I had to provision for the next leg of the delivery – Bermuda to Antigua – and I was expecting five days and planning for seven. My instructions were to take the bus to the grocery store, buy everything I needed, and take a taxi back to the boat at the St. George’s Dinghy and Sports Club.
Bermuda is the place where I realized that there were people who made a lot less money than I did but smiled more. In April 1985 I had flown to Bermuda to meet Jim on the Corviglia II, a Swan 47 that he was delivering after Antigua Race week. I met him that day at the White Horse Tavern. I was worried that they would have to wait for me, but I waited, briefly, as they finished clearing customs and moved the boat to the Dingy Club. The club had showers and laundry, a second floor bar, and a snooker table. I smiled a lot, got tanned, ate fish chowder, skinny dipped, met Roger (surely a pirate in another life), tried to play snooker, and went home and quit my job as manager at a corporate restaurant in Quincy Market. I sense a theme: a boat makes me quit my job, but I digress… back to provisioning.
Step one. Make a list – oh, I’m good with lists, so that one was easy.
Step two: Get the bus. A Bostonian without a car I was comfortable with buses, but still I was so worried. Really nervous about not getting the right bus, having the right fare, not finding the store, not having enough cash to get the groceries… I think that I invented every neurotic worst case scenario possible. As I waited by myself at the bus stop I was joined by another boatie. He had all the classic signs. Sunburned nose, shorts and a polo shirt with a boat name on the left breast. He was very nice (also quite handsome), although I am embarrassed that I don’t remember his name. His destination was groceries as well, and this was not his first trip. He was captain of the boat he was on and would make sure that I got off at the right stop and knew what the fare was.
Bermuda is not an economical place to buy food. I remember being careful to get what I needed and to not be extravagant. Some things I passed on as too pricey. It was not until I successfully returned to the boat and gave Øle the receipt that I realized economy mattered but only so much. He never flinched when I gave him receipts. Ever. (Oh, except that one time when I could only find a piece laundry service in Porto Cervo, Sardinia- another story I think.)
I often looked for the captain that helped me whenever we made it to a port with a lot of activity. I saw him a few times. He remembered me and it was like seeing the beginning, and recognizing how much I had learned. Øle was never much for instructions, just jobs to do and “Oh, I wouldn’t have done it that way”s. That other captain, he was mine. I know that sounds odd, but everything else in that world was the province of Øle and Jim from snooker to sails, and there was very little that I could claim past the galley doorway. That solo voyage on the bus to the grocery store launched me. And soon we would leave for Antigua and there was no turning back.
Photo of the Bermuda Bus Barn in Hamilton by flickr member Andrew Currie