Reading Melville at Sea: Provisioning

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Plant growing out of sand at Wardrick Wells.  There are no fruit trees or crops of any kind on this rocky, barren island. 

Chapter 20

Provisioning.

Interesting chapter.  The Pequod requires, as Melville puts it,

“a three-year’s housekeeping upon the wide ocean, far from all grocers, costermongers, doctors, bakers, and bankers.” 

The amount of goods and provisions that a whaling vessel must store aboard is impossible to imagine.  Where did they find the room for everything they would need?  Do you know that they cooked with FIRE on board the old ships? 

But so many things have not changed in 175 years.  You still have to bring

“spare everythings, almost, but a spare Captain and duplicate ship,”

when you set out.  Everything breaks.  You can’t predict what you will need, so you bring it all.

I did my best to bring all the foodstuffs, basic medical supplies, and galley items that we would need, figuring three months out. I brought powdered milk, evaporated milk, 15 pounds of beans and 15 pounds of flour, 5 pounds of butter, pasta, rice, and canned vegetables and fruit.  I didn’t know what to expect, even though I had done my research, reading on line as well as in books, and talking to every sailor who would answer me.   There are things you can get down here in the Bahamas, and things you can’t find.   

Off the top of my head, what you can’t find anywhere in the Bahamas:

  1. Good peanut butter.
  2. Good cheese (if you have a freezer, fill it with cheese and meat).
  3. Good bread (plan to bake your own, unless you’re okay with Weber’s White and its variations.)
  4. Good wine or beer.
  5. Good pasta.
  6. Wild Rice or brown rice.
  7. Good meats, especially beef or pork.  You can occasionally find decent chicken.   
  8. Good chocolate.
  9. Good olive oil
  10. Good balsamic vinegar

The following things can be bought, but at a premium, as the Bahamian government taxes everything two or three times, especially now that they have introduced the V.A.T.  Foodstuff from the U.S., is taxed far more than stuff from the U.K, so if you MUST have your favorite American crackers and pasta and so forth, prepare to pay twice or three times as much as you would back home. 

  1. Crackers and chips and nuts (junk food)
  2. Pasta
  3. Soft drinks (you can, however, get good ginger beer and other interesting soft drinks).
  4. Fruit juice without corn syrup and added sugar
  5. Anything without added sugar.

Suprisingly, it is also very difficult to get decent fruit and vegetables here.  You can find potatoes, onions, garlic, and cabbage.  Fresh lettuce, greens, and green vegetables show up in the markets, but they have all been shipped from somewhere else and are not very good.  Forget about good tomatoes or fresh parsley or basil, even though the inhabitants have the ability to grow them here.  They don’t grow them or, if they do, they don’t offer them for sale to the public. 

You would think that you could get tropical fruits here for cheap, since they used to grow the on these islands—papayas and guava and pineapple and oranges.  But if you are lucky enough to find them in the markets, you will find that they have been imported and are outrageously expensive.

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Author: Kimberly Latta, Ph.D.

Psychotherapist, writer, artist, and independent feminist scholar.

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