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Grocery Shopper’s Curse

Cruising with a bunch of folks in the future? Make sure somebody else does the grocery shopping. Really!

Believe it or not, there used to be a big Costco store in Panama City, Panama. And years ago, when I was working on oceangoing tugs, hauling bulk cargoes around the planet, Costco was a regular stop on trips back from the ports we frequented in South America. The point, of course, was grocery resupply. Most of the tugs I served aboard back then carried a crew of a dozen and all of us tended to be voracious feeders, in large part because there’s way more work to do—and calories to burn—on an oceangoing tug than you’d think. Fact is, a first assistant engineer I used to sail with was a muscle-bound giant who could polish off a dozen eggs for breakfast without batting an eye, along with a pile of bacon, toast, orange juice, and a hash brown or two if available.

My friend John was the best cook in the fleet. He was retired-Navy, voluminous (always a good sign in a culinary artiste), and capable of feats of profanity that were absolutely stunning, even for those of us well-versed in the rough-and-ready ways of professional seafaring. I’d give you an example right here, but modesty and the constraints of mainstream publishing obtrude. Power & Motoryacht is, after all, a family magazine.

At any rate, when John made his pilgrimages to Costco, on the flip-flop from jaunts to such places as Antofagasta, Chile, and Callao, Peru, he often took an escort to help with the heavy lifting. Usually, an able-bodied seaman would go, but sometimes a mate would do the honors. And so it was that once, in the latter capacity, I jumped into a cab with John as he hit the trail for some serious Panamanian grocery-getting.

I cannot lie. We made an interim stop or two. And eventually, the joyous spirit of revelry overtook the operation. In fact, at one point during that long, incredibly eventful afternoon, I remember proclaiming with deep conviction, “Now this is the way to do groceries, John. We gotta do it again, man! Soon!”

Unfortunately, these youthful sentiments would crumble only a few hours later under the weight of a sorry, undreamt-of reality. No sooner had we departed the fuel docks of Panama City for a canal transit and the long slog home than one of our deck hands, a kid named Tony, piped up: “Hey, who bought this smooth peanut butter? I can’t eat smooth. Smooth! I gotta have chunky. That’s all I eat.”

In a flash, John silenced Tony with an observation so blasphemous it caused the galley’s fluorescent lights to dim momentarily. But then, sad to say, the shock wore off. Other malcontents bobbed to the surface, derisively challenging everything from the kind of cookies John and I had purchased (or failed to purchase) to the choices we’d made for lunch meat.

John was immune. But for me, the phenomenon proved lingeringly glum. Cripes! It seemed like the entire trip home—the whole freakin’ thing—was constantly fraught with pestering little digs (even from friends) like, “I still can’t believe you guys forgot the damn Froot Loops.” It was crazifying!

But hey, please don’t imagine that the realm of recreational boating is completely devoid of such terrible vexations. Just this past summer, Managing Editor Simon Murray, while grocery shopping for a yachty little cruise that involved the entire staff of Power & Motoryacht, forgot to purchase one common but pivotal item. Were potatoes thereafter mentioned like clockwork during the voyage, often in tones of veiled accusation? By almost everybody on board? Heck, yes! And, what’s more, I’m going to bring the subject up again right here and now. I mean, Simon! Man! How could you forget to buy potatoes? I mean, potatoes! Really?

Read more of the Exploits and Misadventures of Capt. Bill Pike here. ▶

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.