Grocery Shopping During Covid-19-From a Sailboat!

We don’t call it grocery shopping. It’s called ‘provisioning’. What’s the difference? Grocery shopping is gathering supplies for the week ahead to prepare meals for yourself and your family. Provisioning is long term. You try to gather supplies that will last for the upcoming week, but also for possible weeks long at sea, or perhaps during a pandemic. You start to find fruits and veggies and even meats that will last the longest. Provisioning was a cruising life thing. However, because of COVID, many more people have started their own “provisioning” to avoid venturing out into public for long periods of time. Provisioning changed for us too as we tried to avoid grocery stores and contact with others. Below is a little of our experience that includes how we provisioned during the pandemic. (Note many of this is similar to how we normally provision, but with extra sanitary steps! Such as using Lysol and delivery service.)


Before reading on, regardless of your opinions about the virus, we decided we were going to be safe rather than sorry. We took what some might consider ‘extreme precautions’. I encourage you to keep an open mind while reading about this experience. 

During this pandemic, we have spent most of our time in the British and US Virgin Islands. Once we arrived back to the US Virgin Islands, our friends aboard SV Sargo recommended a provisioning company to us via a company called Stocked VI. We would place our order via email and expect delivery within a few days. The provisioning company covered our needs across multiple grocery stores and were very prompt. They would deliver just about anywhere in St. Thomas or St. John and all we had to do was drive the dinghy into shore and load up. So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this process of transporting the groceries during the beginning of COVID-19.

The Groceries Arrive. The Fun Begins.

The provisioning company arrives at the previously agreed upon location with all of our goodies. We buy as much as possible to avoid having to go to the store. Only one of us goes to shore while the other prepares the cockpit with Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer. The shore-bound person arrives with large duffle bags to pack in as many groceries as possible. The sweltering sun beats down on our refrigerated items and our masked faces. The shore person, usually Curtis, tries to assemble the bags in our 8 ft dinghy so as to not smush too many items and to keep them as dry as possible. It’s an upwind ride back in the waves and salty droplets fly over the bow of the small vessel, spraying our groceries. This could be round one of two or three as the number of bags and the size of our dinghy limits our abilities. 

When the dinghy arrives, I tie it up to the stern as close as I can and begin the bucket brigade of groceries to the boat and out of the sun while wearing gloves. The difficulty is keeping my balance while both boats rock differently against each other. One moment Curtis is rocking towards me and the next away from me. He deadlifts the groceries up over his head and I try not to pull every lower muscle in my back reaching for them. Once the first load of very heavy and awkward duffle bags and backpacks makes it to the stern, I run them around our giant wheel to the cockpit, closer to the interior of the boat, to make room for the next round of groceries as Curtis grabs the empty bags and heads back to shore.

Curt removes cardboard packaging.

Refrigeration Station!

After we finish transporting the groceries to the boat from the dinghy to the stern around the wheel and to the cockpit, we begin the Lysol wiping of our items. Curtis uses sanitizer and gets a fresh set of gloves to begin the sanitation process. We discard as much cardboard as possible, for example, removing Wheat Thins from their box packaging to leave only the plastic bag. We do this normally as bugs are attracted to cardboard and we prefer to offload as much trash while we can. This effort is joined by Curtis and I both wiping down each grocery item as we can’t be sure how many hands it’s passed through before arriving at our boat. We begin with our already somewhat warm refrigerated items as I make my way down the cockpit stairs. The fridge is situated directly in front of the stairs so the bucket brigade continues as Curtis whips packets of lunch meat, cheese, veggies, and other chilled foods towards my face. If I’m not quick enough, I’ll take a peppered-turkey to the back of the head, unintentionally of course!

Placing the chilled items in the fridge is not a complacent task.  It requires much logic and planning as space is limited. Meats and other items that are temperature sensitive are placed as near to the cold plate as possible. To give you an idea, our fridge has two stories. It opens from the top for the second story and also has a door along the bottom for the first story. We organize things based on what must not be smushed with what must be eaten first with what must remain as cold as possible. Frustration ensues when an item cannot be found and cold air is released from the fridge and humid air enters and gathers on the cold plate creating a layer of insulating ice that later has to be thawed. 

The blue foam covers the fridge to keep cold air in and warm air out. Along the walkway is a side door with access to the bottom.

Pantry Tetris

Once items are “securely” in the fridge in a place we most certainly will have trouble finding later, we continue with pantry and dry storage items. I play a shuffling (or Tetris like) game to move older items out of the way and newer items further in the back. The items had currently lived in a refrigerated store and thus sweat out the rest of their chill and Lysol liquid as I pack them away in our unairconditioned boat. Provisioning becomes a workout as we carry the heavy bags and individual items throughout the boat to their resting places. I imagine I’m doing bicep curls as I move cans and bags of flour about. Curt finishes the sanitation process and takes the remaining cardboard back to shore to be tossed in a dumpster, recycling if we can find it (which is scarce on the island).  

What feels like a day took a matter of hours. I used to take about 45 minutes at the grocery store (shout out to all my Aldi loving fans) and maybe 10-15 minutes to put everything away. I probably did this about once a week. I suppose if I stretch that out to a month, the time adds up to about the same. But there is no sun-beating-down-on-my-cold-food timeline or pressure of organizing items in the fridge “just so”. Perhaps people with children don’t share the stress-free grocery shopping I used to.

Before the pandemic, provisioning was much the same. However, groceries were not delivered, but carried a mile or less on our backs as we walked and traded bags on our way back to the dinghy. When we arrived, we worried not about sanitizing, but simply discarding trash and packing away our refrigerated items. Since things have calmed down, I have returned to walking to the grocery store, dawning the required mask, and sanitizing my cart and items upon return. We have a solid base of food should we need to escape a hurricane or go offshore for a few weeks. 


Everyone is a Provisioner Now

I could write more about the types of items we purchase, but perhaps that will be for another blog. As I write this, I realize that grocery shopping, or provisioning, has been a likely unique experience for many during this pandemic. For example, during my first trip onshore in a month, the only masks we had were fiberglass masks. I wore this to the store and was both ridiculed and thanked during my shopping experience. Toilet paper did not run out, but we were limited to how much we could buy, along with a few other items, such as tuna cans? What fun toilet paper, limited items, or mask stories do you have to share about while grocery shopping, or provisioning!, for yourself and your family during the pandemic? Please share in the comments! Cheers!

Fiberglass masks. It is all we had!

Making all of our American friends jealous. Note: This was BVI pre-mask requirements.

Sharing a homemade pizza social-distancing style!

Brownies are a real treat when you are trying to conserve propane!

Loading the dinghy when you have a rental car makes life easier. The luxury!

I wish I had more provisioning photos, but in the meantime enjoy! Is anyone interested in more pictures of some of the dishes I’ve made? Let me know below!

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