Learn what the cook should consider when you invite extra people to help you sail across an ocean.
The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew (Amazon)
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Music: “Slow Down” by Yvette Craig
During Larry and my first delivery job together, almost 50 years ago, there was another woman on board—the wife of the owner. We’d been hired because the owner had a heart condition and wanted the insurance of extra crew for the 1,200-mile offshore passage.
At the wife’s suggestion, we took turns in the galley. One day she did all the work—cooking, serving, and cleaning; the next day was my turn. Never again. Though we didn’t have any open disagreements, both of us grew to hate the arrangement. I’d inadvertently used up the exact piece of meat she’d planned for her dinner. She’d used up the leftovers from my previous day’s work, so I had to re-plan my next day’s menu. I didn’t clean up the galley the way she preferred. She moved the can of such-and-such so I couldn’t find it. Just as in a house, two chefs can’t use the same kitchen constantly. And on a yacht during a long passage, the problem of keeping track of stores and menu ideas for three weeks ahead makes two cooks even worse.
In Malaysia, we met Peter Thuell, who had retired from his job as manager of a local tin mine, outfitted his 35-foot ketch for a voyage “home” to England, then advertised for three crew to make the voyage with him. Three experienced onshore sailors joined him—two young men and a woman. Peter had never made any passage longer than two or three days, and he asked us how to arrange galley duties. “Put one person completely in charge of the galley. Have that person keep track of stores, water, and making sure the galley stays in order. Have each crewman help the cook all of one day—washing dishes, serving, peeling carrots,” I suggested. Larry agreed, and Peter, who was locally well known for his ability to get along with people, felt our suggestions made sense.
A furor erupted that night in the tiny Perak Yacht Club bar. Both of the young men challenged me. “Peter told Janice she’s in charge of the galley! That’s not fair. What if she gets seasick? What if I don’t like the way she cooks? I like to cook, too. Why should we do all the dishes and the dirty work?”
Almost five months later, when we were in Brunei, we read a long letter telling the end of the story. “Food was great on the trip,” wrote Bob, one of the young men. “Janice took charge of the galley and turned out great food except for the few days when she was seasick. But that didn’t matter because all of us were too seasick to eat anyway. Each of us men took turns making breakfasts so we got to indulge our cooking instincts. Boy, the competition to create the most exciting breakfasts sure got good results. Janice cleaned the breakfast dishes, we guys did the rest. All of us tried our hand quite successfully at bread making; Janice did a great job of keeping track of stores. Only small problem—ran short of nibbles towards the middle of the Red Sea. All of us gained weight too.”
This problem of nibbles is most acute when there is a crew of hungry young sailors on board. It’s amazing how important snacks become for night watches. Fresh popcorn, individual candy bars, peanuts, sausage slices, dried fruit or trail mix, potato chips, fruit, cheese, cookies, cake, or pie—anything that can be a snack with no cooking or dishes will evaporate. On deliveries or whenever we sail with crew, we’ve found it best to have a snack box easily available to the person going on watch. I put everything in the box that is available for that particular day without cutting into our stores. But if a snack item is a particularly favorite sweet that can disappear into an unconsciously greedy sailor’s stomach, leaving the rest of the crew feeling left out, it’s best for the cook to give out rations to each person.
I say this because of one incident that occurred when we had two extra crewmen on a long delivery. All of us loved a particular English toffee that I’d come across in Gibraltar. I’d bought an 8-pound sack of it, and it seemed to grow shorter in inches every day. So we decided that six toffees per man per day were a fair amount. Three days later, I handed out rations. Jim was asleep when I did so. I gave Ken his six and also gave him six to be handed to Jim when watches were changed. The next afternoon at cocktail time, Jim asked, “Why didn’t we get any toffees yesterday? Run out already?” Seems Ken put all 12 in his pocket and steered happily through the night popping candies, forgetting that only half of them were his. Fortunately, both men had good senses of humor. A court-of-inquiry to punish Ken reached the following verdict: no toffees for one night, a double ration for Jim, one extra for the rest of the crew except for the cook, who was personally to hand each crewman his ration in the future. This may sound a trifling matter, but, at sea, trifling matters can create ego-bruising blowups.
The snack box (or fair rationing of snack items) is important because it makes clear to the crew what foods are off-limits. I’ve had an uninformed crew eat a 1-pound chunk of Cheddar as a snack, thereby ruining prospects for a ham-and-cheese casserole I’d planned for the evening. I was at fault because I hadn’t told him to ask first—nor had I explained what foods were off-limits. This was his first long passage, and he was used to rummaging through the refrigerator at home.
The same crewman taught me another important lesson. We’d picked him up during a 3-day stop in Antigua. One of our original crew had asked if he could jump ship because he’d fallen in love. He helped locate the crewman for us the evening before we set sail for the last 2,000 miles of the voyage. Two days out, I discovered that our new crewman didn’t like candy, pancakes, waffles, French toast, or doughnuts. He didn’t like cakes, either. In fact, he didn’t like anything sweet. Providing enough non-sweet breakfasts and snacks for him severely taxed our stores. Since then, I’ve been careful to find out ahead of time if any potential crew members have special dietary likes, dislikes, or restrictions. Some interesting new ideas have come from these few minutes with the crew before each voyage, and a quick trip to the local market has made for a happier crew situation at sea.
Though it’s important to find out generally what particular crewmen do or don’t like to eat, I find it best to avoid saying, “I’m going to cook such and such today; does that sound good to you?” Invariably, someone will say, “I don’t really feel like . . . ,” or “Can’t we have such-and-such instead?” And if that doesn’t happen, the weather will deteriorate and it will be impossible to cook what was planned, so the crew ends up disappointed. Take it from me: Keep your cooking plans to yourself. Keep the crew in suspense until you put dinner on the table. It’s much more fun to be surprised.
One final secret about cooking for a crew was told to me by a well-respected charter cook: “Save the best meals you can for the last four days of the voyage.” Crewmen, like everyone else, have short memories. They’ll soon forget that fabulous stew and salad with fresh bread and crème caramel you served on day 16 of a 30-day voyage. But serve that the night before you get into port and they’ll leave the boat saying, “What a cook; made the whole trip more fun.”
As for the expense of feeding extra crew, on deliveries, we pay for all expenses and have found that food costs us between 15 and 22 cents per crew per mile (based on average prices for provisioning in the United States, the Caribbean, New Zealand and South Africa in 2005). For shorter passages the lower figure seems to apply; for longer ones, the costs go up as more canned and packaged provisions are required. This would be a reasonable amount to charge for food if the crew on your boat were sharing expenses. It would include food, beverages, and basic stores for menus such as those in this book, but it would not include wine, liquor, or beer.
With regard to liquor and crews, we have found that it is best to discuss how you feel about drinking on board before you leave port. In our case, on deliveries, we provide two beers a day for warm-weather passages and liquor for one cocktail at night, plus wine for occasional dinners. We keep the liquor supplies separate from other galley provisions and ask that the crew let us bring them out when we wish. The crew is invited to bring along extra if they wish to be able to treat the rest of the crew to a drink. But we ask that they limit the extra drinks to cocktail hour. This may seem dictatorial, but when we are delivering another person’s boat, it is an expensive responsibility, and crew alertness is important.
One comment for those who are invited to crew for a generous drinker. Even if the host seems to pour drinks with abandon, always ask permission before pouring yourself a drink or offering others a drink from the host’s supplies. It is surprising how often skippers have become angry with crew over this simple matter. “How dare they offer my liquor as if it were their own?” is a comment I have heard more often than you would expect from skippers who were looking for a crew member to replace one who had just been asked to leave.
For those who take crew and share expenses, one other item should be cleared up before taking off for a cruise. What happens in port when the skipper feels like eating ashore? Do crew members pay for their own meals? Is the food bought for days in port part of the general sharing? This can be decided in many different ways. When we are on a delivery, we provide food on board at sea, plus basic provisions for times in port. If our port visit is for more than one day, I continue to provide all meals. But if it is a 1-day stop, we usually give the crew sufficient money for lunch and dinner onshore at an average café and then take a break and eat out by ourselves at the restaurant of our choice.
It is definitely harder to cook for a crew than for a husband-and-wife cruising team. I’d say that one extra crewman adds one hour a day to the cook’s workload. Shopping for the extra food adds time before your voyage. Most cooks feel obliged to cook slightly fancier meals when there are extra crewmen on board. I know I would never suggest cook’s night off when we are on a delivery. That’s one of the reasons couples seem to make the most lasting cruising and voyaging teams.