Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | December 10, 2012

Provisioning for the San Blas

N 10° 24.95′   W 75° 32.68′

Cartagena, Colombia.


One of the few items we don’t have aboard – baby food in many wonderful tropical flavors!

Throughout our trip I have stressed a lot over provisioning. Since this job mainly falls to me – and like the rest of my crew, I love to eat well – I take it seriously. I have gradually come to realize that in 90% of the places we have traveled, the people eat well too, and there are plenty of adequately stocked stores throughout the Caribbean.  It is really nice to be in places where you can shop weekly and only buy what you need for that period of time.

However, with our upcoming venture to the San Blas Islands I am back into mega-provisioning mode. The San Blas are a string of over 340 small islands that dot about 100 miles of the northern coast of Panama. Some people have told us these spectacular and culturally fascinating islands were the highlight of their cruising adventures. The San Blas are inhabited by indigenous Kuna Indians, who other than adopting cell phones, live in simple and traditional tribal communities. The Kunas are said to sell fish, lobster and produce to visiting boats as available and they have a few small stores on certain islands, but the advice we hear is “if you want it, bring it”. If we were going for a shorter time – like a month – I wouldn’t be so concerned. But two to three months here with minimal shopping opportunities will be a challenge for the Mar Azul.

Provisioning is really making assumptions, planning menus and then doing the math. Plus rationing when crew members decide to adopt some strange new eating habit. Then there are storage issues & managing to find a home for each item, remembering where to find it and being able to retrieve it without tearing the boat apart and standing on your head. I have scoured provisioning advice for cruisers and have come to the conclusion that we are lucky that we have a freezer in addition to two small fridges. The carnivores aboard will benefit from that appliance, and I am generously allocating most of the space to their preferences and foregoing stashes of frozen veggies.

We started thinking about this time away from civilization many islands ago. I still have some powdered eggs aboard (Bob says eww!!) and canned veggies from the Publix back home (Elaine says eww!!) that have not yet expired. In the French islands we stocked up on pates, which we seem to rarely consume any more, and in Aruba added 16 pounds of Dutch tinned butter that requires no refrigeration. Since the ABC’s we have been carrying around long life cheeses like cheddar, feta and parmesan which are more expensive and hard to find in Colombia. In Santa Marta, we really started to get serious about augmenting the ships stores and tried to make sure we bought extra items on our weekly shopping trips in addition to the items we consumed.

I decided I had perhaps overestimated our needs and in the interest of not totally cluttering up the boat with food bins made a few modifications to the original plan. Fifty pounds of flour was whittled down to 25. How much bread do we really need? A few packs of flat whole grain tortillas in the freezer will help stretch the bread supply. Forty pounds of rice was deemed excessive by Bob, who is not fond of it, so 20 pounds it is. One hundred cans of veggies became 80, not including all the dried beans. Then there are the 12 pounds of pasta, 20 pounds of that wonderful Colombian coffee, maybe more if I can find space, especially since I have discovered that delicious iced lattes are easily made out of the morning coffee leftovers. Mine are just as good as the ones they sell at Juan Valdez, a Colombian chain similar to Starbucks. Then there is the freezer full of meat. Plus soup mixes, tea mixes, powdered milk – just add the ship’s water, and cereals. Boxed wine, milk and juices.  We have 88 cans of dog food, 10 pounds of dehydrated dog food carefully saved from Puerto Rico that will rehydrate to 40 pounds of fresh food and 50 pounds of kibble. That’s more commercially prepared food than the dogs are used to, but they will have to adjust for the next couple of months.

My time here in Cartagena has allowed for a supermarket run almost every day. I walk 6 blocks to the Carulla market, browse the aisles for clues in case I have forgotten something and carry back 2 bags loaded with goodies. We still have to make a last-minute run for eggs, fresh fruits, potatoes,veggies and more paper products. Plus a few of Bob’s vices. Fruit is the only area I may be lacking in after the fresh supply has dwindled. Other than dried fruit I did not purchase any more canned fruit because I find most of it tastes terrible and no one else aboard will eat it. Hopefully we can at least get some bananas or something.

I’m still worried we are going to run out of something, but I guess we won’t starve or be malnourished. There are multivitamins aboard for all in case our diets get a little out of balance. And it probably wouldn’t hurt some of us to cut back slightly on the intake anyway 🙂

We are spending our last few days here in Cartagena trying to catch up on internet stuff, banking and personal business since we can’t count on good internet access for several months. Although I have no doubt that if there is access to be had, the Captain will find it. Rumor is that the Kunas sell Panama Digicel phones and sim cards that will work on some of the islands.

We’ll let you know how this all works out!



  1. Ah, I’m so enjoying reading your blog and wishing we had followed you. A dream of mine is to do the San Blas Islands – we have a friend (Ocean Dance) that spent time there and the stories an photos are wonderful!! Regards and Fair Weather! Sharon aboard Finally Fun

    • So far we have no regrets, Sharon! But after Panama, the back end of the trip is generating some anxiety for me. We have to get out of the “hole” here in the SW Caribbean, pass by Nicaragua & Honduras, not the safest cruising areas, and move up the coast of Belize and Mexico at a quicker pace than would be ideal in order to get back to Florida and in a marina for hurricane season. Some days the idea of putting the Mar Azul on a transport ship back to the states sounds good to me! We’ll take it one passage at a time, and see how it goes.

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