Bellying Up

22 Jul

Hopefully, Carolyn Shearlock’s provisioning tips this month will help those of you who, like me, are useless at stocking their boats for a cruise of any duration. Bacon, eggs, cheese, a couple of steaks, a handful of onions and a loaf or two of bread, and I’m good to go. A couple of days later I’m pulling long-forgotten cans out of the lockers, wondering what culinary masterpiece I can throw together from pickled beets, artichokes, peas and a suspiciously rusty tin of Spam. In the end, it’s usually sardines on toast, washed down with the kind of last-resort boxed red that leaves you with pink teeth and an ache behind the eyes.

I should know better because I’ve sailed with some first-rate sea cooks and eaten like a prince (rather than a prisoner) on most of the long passages I’ve sailed. Onshore, I can twirl a spatula with the best of them. It’s just that I lose inspiration at sea. Especially when it’s rough, food becomes a duty, not a pleasure.

I know I’m not alone here. The sailor’s diet has traditionally been a dull one. Our ancestors sailed the world on a regime of ship’s biscuit, salt meat and dried peas, with a splash of lime juice in the daily rum tot to keep scurvy at bay. (This is still not a bad idea.) When the prime consideration is the calories, not the method of delivery, you tend to cut to the bare essentials, and it is quite surprising how well you can survive on a fairly limited diet.

One of my sailing heroes, Bill King, a British wartime submarine commander who raced in the original Golden Globe, sustained himself solely on a mixture of almond paste and dried fruit and legumes that he called burgoo, brightened up with bean sprouts cultivated in his dank cabin. (I can only imagine his joy at harvest time.) King lived to be 102, thus proving his own point. Micro-boat sailor Sven Yrvind is about to set off around the world fueled only by sardines and muesli. There must be something about solo sailing that destroys taste buds.

I fondly recall a charter in Tonga’s Va’vau islands a few years ago, where we found precious little in the way of interesting provisions in the port’s markets. The first night, we hooked a wahoo the length of my leg and, away from the civilizing influence of spouses, promptly regressed to basic hunter-fishermen; the three of us ate little but that fish for three days, first as sashimi, then ceviche, then grilled, with only bacon and eggs in the mornings to relieve our fishy diet. It was superb eating, and we cared not at all when the greens ran out. A couple of small skipjack provided enough variety for another night.

Dr. Atkins would certainly have approved, for our clothes got looser by the day, but truth to tell, by the time we hooked a fat yellowfin tuna toward the end of the week we were about fished out; we took that beautiful 25-pounder to the nearest (only) restaurant we could find and traded it for three hamburger dinners, with extra fries and a large salad. I think by then we were also hankering after muesli, but most certainly not sardines.


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