SV Pandion

Pilot Testing your Boat Resource Management

Using my UX Research Skills on our boat.

Let me lay bare to you some emotional stress I have had recently.


I have spent a lot of time recently researching and fine tuning our provisioning approach. Essentially, stocking up, or grocery shopping, but buying enough food and supplies to last, till, whenever we can re-provision.  As we are in the Sea of Cortez and possibly heading further north, I had heard there were few or no places to shop.  Also the coastal towns on the west side of the sea aren't big urban centers, and may not want as many tourists shopping in them, currently.  I figured this was a great chance to practice provisioning for a passage later when we will literally be out on the ocean for 15 to 30 days. I had heard other cruisers also mention that they go into the islands here stocked up for 1 or 2 months. I began to wonder what that looked like. I got some provisioning spread sheets from The Boat Galley and took the time to fill them in with our own favorite foods and consumption. The tools The Boat Galley provides are very helpful and worth the regular and reduced fees they are offering them for! I highly recommend this site!

First, put in your boats typical consumption amounts. Note your current stock amounts, then with the magic of spreadsheet formulas, you will see what you need to purchase. So if we eat 1 pound of rice a week and, we enter that we want to be away for 4 weeks and currently have 1 pound of rice on board, and PRESTO - buy 3 pounds of rice! Simple math but when you break this down into things like flour, ketchup, olives, cereal, and cans of mushrooms it adds up. I know I was guessing at a lot of the consumption and maybe I just went overboard (get it? overboard?), but when I started to fill my shopping cart with the necessary canned and packaged goods it filled up fast. I was not even half way through the store and my cart was full. SO FULL it almost fell over sideways (too much tequila, rum and ginger ale on the right side?). It was not that full of booze, actually I bought hardly any alcohol. Suddenly looking at all those cans and tomato sauces I was completely overwhelmed. Is this what it really looks like to stock up?  Didn't we already own 5 packages of pasta?  Did I really need 11 more?  How was I going to fit any of the mounds of fresh food I typically bought for 2 weeks???

Here is where the problem lies. It all sounds sensible. Yes, if 3 people eat pasta twice a week for one of their 21 meals that week 16 packages for 30 days isn't that radical.  It's actually only over stocking a little bit. When I look at the numbers. 8 cans of mushrooms - for 30 days? that's not a lot. Especially when the fresh produce runs out. However when I put it in the cart it looked like a monstrosity of food. I felt embarrassed by the cart. I wanted to shove it in the corner and run out screaming like my hair was on fire, but I couldn't in good conscience make someone else put it all back either. I have worked retail before and can't torture staff like that. And... I still needed some food.

I quickly grabbed as much fresh produce as I could pile into my tippy cart and made book out of there.  When I got home to the boat and put it all away I slowly exhaled.  There was so much more room in our storage!  We could easily fit the food that the provisioning sheet called for.  In fact, thinking about this 7 days later, we have almost gone through half the salsa I bought.  We love salsa!

What I Learned: Here's the Tips and Tricks Bit

Even with the tools, the information, and the good sense to follow good advice; shit gets hard.  It's like there is just a huge discomfort with new things, and what really surprised me was the social awkwardness I felt.  Sure, being a Sociologist I should not be surprised that social norms was the thing that bit me in the ass, but really?  I would have expected that after 10 months of being a member of a small social community (cruisers) I would be more accustomed to being the odd person out. I'm not at the store once, twice or three times a week. I'm trying to be there as little as possible. I'm not buying for a standard size fridge, I have a small fridge and a ton of bins, baskets and hidey holes for food. I don't have a car or quick commutes around town - it's always a bit of a trip to and from the boat at anchor. So what if everyone else has one nice little block of queso fresca? I do need 3.  I realized what I need to work on is breathing. I need to focus on my task, on my circle and ensuring I wasn't buying up too much of the food a store had. I'm sensitive to ensuring I was not clearing a shelf in a small town where this all the food for the locals.  All the more reason to stock up when I'm at a big store in La Paz with lots of supplies. I want to make the most of it so that I can purchase small quantities from smaller shops in northern coastal communities. I had good logical reasoning but I was still having to reassure myself and breathe.

Pilot Test your Boat Resource Management

I don't know about other boats but I do recommend trial runs of provisions BEFORE you take off. I'm learning that I over purchased some items and under purchased others. I have been tweaking the list for when we take off on a big trip. It will help me adapt it for any friends we bring with us and their food preferences. As a professional researcher we would always do one initial test to see if the study was going to work. Pilot the questions, the set up , the data collection model. I recommend doing a pilot test of your provisioning. Very much in the same way we test our UX research studies I needed to ensure I had the right questions, data, tools and follow through (analysis).

Earlier on in our trip, I took a great resource tracking spread sheet (I'm big on spread sheets) from a Dan Marshall, one of my sailing instructors.  On this sheet I was tracking water and fuel consumption, battery power levels and water maker usage.  It works very well, but similarly I was not factoring in water making capabilities to match usage.  We weren't tracking battery power with the most optimal data and early on we almost ran out of water, and we had to charge our batteries with a generator once to start the engine.  We have learning which measures work best. What levels of "fullness" are optimal to acceptable and when to focus on filling up water, power or fuel. Going from month 1 to month 3 I dialed these in. This was crucial to reducing anxiety and also for making decisions. When we finally needed to get a new water maker we knew what levels of output would mean for our daily to weekly usage. We know the value of paying for one night at a marina if we can get a certain amount of water for it. I could have piloted more of this before we left, but it's never too late!

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About Tara Franz
A sailor, UX Researcher, and master of the canvas.
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