Leaving Antigua, W. I.

Monday, October 17, 2011

iPhones, iPods, and Yacht Provisioning

Grocery shopping takes a lot more time in this cruising life than it did when we lived ashore.  When non-cruisers ask us what we do all day to stay busy, provisioning is high on the list, and only partly for the reasons mentioned in our last post.  It is harder for us to get to the grocery store than it was when we lived on dirt, but there are other differences.
Dungda de Islan', where we live, we usually have to visit several stores, and perhaps an open air market or two, to find what we need for the week (or month, depending on our plans.)  Store stocks aren't replenished as often, and what's available is largely dependent on what was on the last ship.  It's quite different from getting in the car, going to the nearest supermarket, and buying everything on your list.  Oh, sure, you might want to shop price, but that's an option, not a necessity.  Here, one grocery store may have cornered the market on peanut butter.  Invariably, a competitor has all of the jelly in town.  Or maybe this week, everybody has peanut butter, but all of the jelly went to the next island to the north.  We've developed a maxim that we call "the rule of the islands."  It's simple:  If you see it and you think you might want it, buy it, right now.  If you go back later, it will be "finished," as they say down here, or sold out as we used to say.  And there may well never be a next shipment.
Besides availability, there's the problem of where to put everything when we get home to the boat. We have a lot of storage space, but it's spread over the entire vessel; a little locker here, space under the floorboards there, the cabinet concealed behind the settee cushions. You get the idea. When we were cruising out of the way places, we stored several months worth of food aboard. The last time we did that was several years ago, and we still find some of that stuff, every so often, in a forgotten corner. To avoid turning our provisions into science experiments, we've tried using lists, card files, spread sheets, you name it. We couldn't find a workable solution until recently.

We're now using a database management app on our iPod Touches.It’s called HanDBase, and it costs just a few dollars.It runs on all the magic iOS devices.It's straight forward to use, and we've developed databases for groceries, other consumables, and spare parts, all of which present the same acquisition and storage problems.
The screen shots are mostly self explanatory. The first one is the "default view," which is just a list of the items in our grocery database, with quantities on hand, quantity in each of several storage locations, target stock level, and a "Buy" quantity. The next screen is the "Need to Buy" view, which lists the only the items with a buy quantity of 1 or greater. That is the essence of our shopping list. We have 279 items in our grocery database, and 111 discrete storage locations; hence the need for an organized approach.

The last two shots show the details for an item record. This one happens to be coffee.

Because our iPod Touches go everywhere with us, the database is easily kept up to date. In fact, we keep recipes in another app called GoodReader, so when we're cooking, it's a matter of seconds to update the database as we use things. We always have the database available when we are shopping, so we know exactly what we need. There's space in each record for notes and favored brands, as well as typical prices, so if we find something that we aren't expecting, we can make an on the spot decision to buy or wait, knowing whether it would likely be cheaper in a different country. And, now that we've looked in all of those 111 storage locations, we aren't finding moldy surprises.

Just one more thing that we didn't think about when we were dirt dwellers

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