Sit back, relax, close your eyes and imagine your dream kitchen. No, not the one out of the IKEA box . . . go all out . . . custom cupboards and counters; top of the line appliances. Keep your eyes closed! Don’t open them yet. Now anticipate the smell of your “most favourite dinner” cooking; that tantalizing aroma filling the house, bringing back memories of those special Holiday dinners of years past. Yah, that’s it, almost heaven!
Now imagine, at this very magical Martha Stewart moment, there is an earthquake. It begins to violently shake your house, rocking and rolling it wildly. Then the earth opens up and the house drops like a rock into an abyss, only to be levitated by a tornado. Your house drops on its side in a trailer park, somewhere in Kansas. You are bruised and battered (maybe a little blood has been spilt) looking completely dishevelled. Oblivious to your hardship, your family peeks through the open doorway, only to ask “Is dinner ready yet?” You graciously smile and without hesitation say “just about to set the table, come and get it.”
This scenario plays out three times a day while making a passage on a boat. Some meals are easier than others. Well, maybe “easy” isn’t the right word, let’s say “less difficult”. Even on a relatively calm day at sea there may be a persistent swell, making the simplest jobs in the galley, an arduous task. It’s not just trying to keep the food and dishes from jettisoning across the boat, you are also dealing with that feeling in your stomach . . . is that hunger pain or seasickness? Too late! Good thing you had that bowl nearby. You are tired, certainly sleep deprived, and not thinking clearly. After a few minutes, you look at that aforementioned bowl and wonder what you were making in it . . . fortunately you quickly remember.
The galley is a very special place on a passage . . . miracles have to happen there. Passages take their toll, both physically and mentally. So it is critical, for the wellbeing of the crew, that you are nourished properly. It has to be more than basic nourishment, for crew morale the meals should be the highlight of their day. Whether it is calm out or you are fighting gale force wind and huge seas, everyone looks forward to those three delicious meals a day, even more so in the harsher conditions.
There is nothing better for morale than fresh baked bread, straight out of the oven, with a glistening layer of melted butter . . . absolutely “to die for”. Bread making is an extraordinary event on a passage and when ready, there is a celebration. With no room or power for a fancy bread maker on the boat, we do it the old fashioned way; time consuming and more often than not, a bit messy. I remember our first attempt. We didn’t get beyond putting the bag of flour on the counter. Left unattended for a moment, when reaching for the yeast, the boat lurched and the bag was launched across the cabin. The time bomb struck the corner of the navigation table, immediately exploding into flurries of powder drifting throughout the boat. On another occasion, Carol had put the formed loaves in the gimballed oven to rise before cooking. Accidentally, I had forgotten it was in there, and locked the gimbal to stop the oven from swinging wildly. Once again the boat lurched, oven door flew open and the beautiful uncooked pillows of bread come slid effortlessly across the cabin sole. After travelling 5 feet at the speed of light they collided with my foot, pleating together like an accordion. Carol, awoke from a well-deserved rest, and howled “Was that my bread?” Sheepishly I relied “yes, but I can fix it”. Carol stumbled into the galley to find me trying to stretch the wrinkled loaf back to a recognizable shape so it could be baked.
BTW best loaf of bread ever!
Unfortunately, bread making does have its drawbacks. The final creation is produced with hours of loving care, sweat, tears and even a bruise or two. However, this masterpiece only lasts a few minutes before it is completely devoured, leaving no evidence of its existence, except for the galley chaos left behind.
The wonderful creations that we come up with for our meals on passages start long before we cast off our lines. We need to acquire the food that will sustain us over the length of the passage and have a space to work in that is safe and efficient. Then, once under way, we need to think creatively to prepare exciting and distinctive dishes with “what we have”.
As landlubbers, we are used to heading to our local supermarket that we have been through a hundred times. We can walk through it with our eyes closed and still manage to get everything we need. With our cart loaded we cash out and transfer everything to the trunk of our car. Once at home, we put everything away in our 20 odd cubic foot side by side fridge/freezer and one of our 30 or so 7 foot high cabinets and additional cold storage in the basement. Moreover, if we run out of anything, the store is yet a 5 minute drive away.
Provisioning for a passage is a combination of skill, art and in many places luck. Having provisioned for more than 70 passages with up to 9 crew aboard, on at least a dozen different boats in many parts of the world, we have become extremely good at it. However, we are reminded how difficult it can be when we assign the task to our students. As they prepare menus for the passage and turn it into a shopping list, I try, unsuccessfully, to remind them that we are not at their neighborhood supermarket. Many items may not be available. There has been a few instances where we caught up with crew an hour or so after they headed to the market. Their cart’s empty; faces puzzled! We exclaim, “No we can’t get capers and smoked salmon in Cabo Verde!” This is the time to get creative . . . Locate food groups and fill the carts, usually three, and if there is anything frozen, buy it! Well, actually not “anything” frozen. I remember being 7 days out of the Azores, on our way to the UK, reaching into the fridge and pulled out some thawed “fish”. Awe this is going to be good, a few spices, curry and rice, enough to feed the 5 crew. Stove is turned on, butter bubbling in the pan, and we open the bag of white (?) . . . Really? . . . What is this? The label is in Portuguese. . . Oh well, throw it in the pan. . . . Yikes, that’s weird, never seen fish or any meat go stringy like that . . . What the f#%& . . . “Caaarrrol, I can’t continue cooking whatever this s%$# is”. Sensing my disgust, Carol takes over the cooking, grabs the label out of the garbage and informs me, as best as she can figure, that we are having sting ray for dinner. Well, we tried said “food” and all five of us agreed to promptly feed it to the dolphins.
On the last morning of that passage to England, we were on the verge of exhaustion, having weathered 3 gales over the last 9 days. I woke out of my cocoon to find clear sky, wind behind our beam and only 80 miles to Milford Haven. Breakfast needed to be special, but the cupboards were almost bare. Let’s see, all I can find is two eggs, one orange, two bananas, some flour and icing sugar . . . That’s it? Yikes, we have five crew to feed. A little creative thinking and voila, 10 delicious crepes stuffed with banana filling, topped with icing sugar and orange zest. Even 2 slices of orange each. The crew were in 7th heaven!
Creating miracles requires the right environment. A safe space with everything within an arms’ reach, not that immense of space that we have in our houses. The galley must to be compact and efficient, with lots of storage and all essential tools we have in a modern kitchen. Carol and I were fortunate, that when building Voyageur 10.10, we had a blank canvas to create the ultimate (for us) galley for offshore passage making. We selected a u-shaped design which gives maximum counter space for the minimum floor space, reducing travel distance. We were able to incorporate a seat for the cook to secure themselves, even during roughest conditions. The galley is next to the companionway for ease of communication and passing food up to the cockpit. It also allows the cook to feel they are part of the action. There is a large cowl vent providing air circulation and an expanse of windows giving lots of light.
Design features that help make for a good offshore galley:
- U-shape provides maximum counter space for a minimum floor space, reducing travel distance.
- Something for the cook to brace themselves against (offset from stove)
- Sliding cupboard doors allow you to gain access without fully opening door and door doesn’t interfere with objects on counter
- Double sink that is as deep as possible
- Pressurized seawater sprayer for dishes
- Separate triple filtered drinking water spout. Even if you trust your sources of water, you can’t be sure of the quality of your tanks
- Gimballed stove with lock
- Lots of daylight and fresh air ventilation even when underway
- Locate galley close to companionway so cook feels part of the action. This also makes it quick and easy for on watch crew to grab snacks or hot drink.
- Large garbage bin that seals and is easily accessible to all crew without the cook having to move.
- Be aware of crew members’ special dietary requirement: allergies, food intolerances. Stock up on appropriate products when they are readily available.
- Don’t forget a variety of healthy and high energy snacks. You may feel like you are not burning calories while sailing, but your muscles are constantly working to keep you balanced as the boat jostles through the water.
- Buy Gatorade powder to mix in your water bottle. It adds a little taste and helps your system absorb the water, keeping you hydrated.
- Saltine crackers for those days when nothing else will stay down.
- Make a list of essentials before you provision
- Be prepared to adapt your list to what is available
- Keep an open mind to alternative food
- Be creative with what you combine and how you combine it
- Presentation is always important. Even the simplest meal will brighten the crews eyes if artistically presented.
- Leftover anything should be utilized and combined in the next meal. This leads to some of our best creations, and nothing goes to waste.
- If you have a lot of bits and pieces of food and not sure what to do, make soup.
- Have a variety of spices on hand, and always fresh garlic
- Use up the food that will spoil first
Join Ken and Carol at the 2016 Vancouver Boat Show for their presentation “Galley Antics”. This light hearted look at food preparation while underway is sure to entertain you. They will be at the Boat Show Cooking Stage, Friday January 22 at 1700h and Sunday January 24 at 1500h.