The good news was that I’d be racing aboard the J/133 Antidote for the 2006 Newport-Bermuda Race. The bad news was that, as the new guy on board (this would be my first offshore voyage), I was assigned to be the cook. As it turned out this wasn’t a bad arrangement for me or the rest of the 10-person crew. We ate well, we stayed healthy, and the cooking and cleanup weren’t all-consuming, so I had plenty of time to help out as midship crew, take pictures of the dolphins in the Gulf Stream, and enjoy the trip.
My goal was to cook food that the crew would eat because they liked it, food that I could prepare in even the worst weather, and food that the crew could eat while on the rail. I was also under strict instructions from our medical officer to make sure everyone stayed well hydrated. I set out to keep things simple and safe, minimizing food prep and cleanup time, minimizing use of the hot stove and sharp utensils, and minimizing my time spent below, where I was sure to get knocked around in a blow.
The key to success was planning, figuring out in advance what the crew wanted to eat and drink, what I’d need to prepare it, serve it, and clean up afterwards, and where all this food and equipment would be stowed. I got lots of good ideas by consulting people who’d done the race before and by reading articles I found on the Internet.
Make a Shopping List
Right after our first crew meeting in February, I sent everyone a questionnaire on preferences for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks. I asked about food allergies, “must-have” items, and “won’t eat” items. I then narrowed down the preferences, for instance picking two kinds of cereal from the six or seven choices I was given. I didn’t negotiate over choices; the one exception, of course, is that whatever the owner wanted he got.
I calculated how many meals I’d be serving for the length of the race (five dinners, five breakfasts, four lunches, plus snacks), added two days of emergency meals, and blocked out tentative menus. I figured out portion sizes and laid it all out in an Excel spreadsheet listing each menu item by meal, number of people, and portion size. Doing the multiplication yielded the number of units (ounces, pieces, slices, etc.) needed of each item. Sort the spreadsheet by item, add up the amounts, convert the result to units you’ll find in the supermarket (quarts of milk, bags of cookies, boxes of cereal, loaves of bread, etc), and you’ve got your shopping list. Leave a column at the end to note where you’ve stored each item and you’ve got an inventory that can be sorted by item and by location.
My plan was to buy or cook all of our dinners and freeze them so I didn’t have to prepare them on board–I’d just heat them in the oven. This worked. I made chili and froze it in disposable aluminum baking pans, I bought a frozen lasagna at Costco, and I arranged with local restaurants to prepare the other meals (beef bourguignon, chicken fricassee, stuffed shells Bolognese) and sides (squash, spinach, string beans, potatoes) and freeze them in the disposable aluminum baking pans I provided. We tried out these meals on practice overnight races well in advance of the Newport-Bermuda Race, which turned out to be a good idea. One roast chicken meal was delicious, but dealing with bones while hiking out on the rail was messy and potentially dangerous. My advice: don’t serve any meal during a long race that you haven’t previously succeeded in preparing and serving on board.
Breakfasts and Lunches
These meals would be simple, requiring no cooking or reheating, though hot drinks and soup would always be available. Breakfast would be as near to a buffet as you can have aboard a J/133. As long as the weather was calm, I planned to lay out the food and bowls and utensils on the galley counter and let the crew feed themselves. In bad weather, or when heeled way over, I’d fix one bowl at a time and pass it up the companionway and I’d serve all drinks in water bottles or mugs with lids.
I planned to do the same for lunch–make an assortment of sandwiches and pass them up to the cockpit along with bowls of chips, carrots and celery sticks, cole slaw, and potato salad. In bad weather I’d pass lunch up in bowls one at a time. The only exception would be the first day, when there’d be too much to do, so I ordered sandwiches from a Newport deli.
The emergency meals I planned may have provided extra incentive to finish fast and never need them–dried pasta and large plastic jars of Ragu sauce, tuna fish wraps, soup, and enough water to cook it all.
Drink-planning revolved around water, water, and more water. I planned on three quarts per day per crewmember, less two cups per day of other drinks, which worked out to about 45 gallons for six days. The Notice of Race required five gallons per person, or 50 gallons for our crew. We used bottled water, mostly in one-gallon plastic jugs. We also had some half-gallon jugs, which fit way down into the spaces behind the settee cushions, and we had the boat’s two water tanks. Small water bottles presented too much of a garbage problem, so we didn’t take any (except for the 10 16-ounce bottles in the ditch bag). Every crewmember was to have their own water bottle, label it, bring it on board full on race day, and keep it clean. When we left, we had 15 gallons of bottled water plus a full 50-gallon tank for drinking. The 40-gallon tank was also full, to be used for washing, cleaning, and cooking the emergency meals. This was too much water, and we ended up dumping 25 gallons en route.
In addition to water, I planned to bring orange juice, Gatorade, apple juice, and cranberry juice in half-gallon containers, and milk (whole and skim) for cereal and coffee. I also planned to bring an assortment of energy drinks (Red Bull, etc.) for the night watch. We left with 16 gallons of these drinks.
We also brought plenty of soda, notwithstanding the caffeine, sugar, and added garbage. This is what the crew overwhelmingly wanted, so we had caffeinated, non-caffeinated, regular, and diet, all in cans. Empties would be crushed. Whatever your feelings on soda, do carry ginger ale, since it really does help if someone’s feeling queasy. We left with 14 gallons of soda in all. This was too much; we had plenty left on arrival.
We’d have coffee, tea, cocoa, and soup, all instant, all available all the time. My plan was to boil water in a teapot on the stove and transfer it to a large thermos bottle (the kind with a pump lever on top) and keep it in the sink, tied down for security but easily accessible to the crew. This turned out to be a great idea, as no one had to wake me up in the middle of the night for a cup of coffee.
We weren’t going to have any alcohol on board. No cocktail hour, no wine or beer with dinner. I did plan to hide a half-gallon of rum on board for the finish.
We’d have everything–candy, energy bars, fruit, trail mix, cookies. I haven’t been racing long, but it seems that you’re not allowed to leave the dock without Pepperidge Farm Milanos on board, so I planned accordingly. We also had Oreos, Fig Newtons, and ginger snaps (for their supposed medicinal properties).
I was lucky in that Antidote was brand new and had no galley equipment on board, so I could start from scratch. My advice, if the galley’s not already empty, empty it, figure out what you’ll need, get those things, stow them, and bring nothing else. You will not need the owner’s old fondue pot, believe me.
Stove and Oven
We had a three-burner Force 10 propane stove with an oven/broiler and one rack. One of the first things I did was buy a second oven rack. I took measurements with both racks in to see what size baking pans and cookie sheets would fit. Do this. Do the same with the stovetop so you’re sure your pots and pans will fit. Make sure the stove swings freely on its gimbals and that they can be locked. Make sure the stove has clamps that will fit your pots so you can secure them safely whenever you use them. Make sure you have a cook’s harness that will fit you and the fastening points in the galley. If you have a microwave (we did not) make sure it’s easy to access (the crew will use it) and make sure you have sufficient battery power to run it. It’d be a shame to lose your navigation equipment for the sake of a slice of frozen pizza. Make sure your containers are microwaveable and that they’ll fit in the microwave. Make sure to have a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket handy. And make sure you’ve got enough propane for the trip (we had two, six-pound bottles) and that everyone knows how to handle propane safely. Copy the instruction manuals for the stove, oven, microwave, and refrigerator and bring them along. You never know when they might help.
Pots and Pans
You’ll need very few. I had an eight-quart pot, a two-quart pot, and an eight-inch frying pan, all with locking covers, a griddle with high sides, two cookie sheets with high sides, and a teapot. Frozen foods were in disposable aluminum baking dishes (with covers) that fit in the oven, and I brought along extras, with covers.
Containers, Utensils, and Other Stuff
I also brought:
- a set of nesting plastic mixing bowls for chips, veggies, etc.
- two, 24-ounce insulated water bottles for milk and skim milk (refilled from quart containers in the refrigerator and kept in the sink)
- screw-top glass shakers for salt and pepper (loaded with rice to absorb moisture)
- plastic storage containers with tops and scoops for cereal, trail mix, Goldfish
- a good chef’s knife and a bread knife, and a way to store them. (One of our crew made me a canvas storage bag with sleeves for the knives, so I could wrap them and store them safely in a drawer. It worked well.)
- a can opener
- a plastic cutting board
- large plastic serving spoons and a spatula
- oven mitts
- metal oven tongs
- aluminum foil, Saran wrap, heavy-duty garbage bags, and plenty of zip-lock bags for leftovers and odds and ends
- clips to keep open bags of chips closed
- an apron, even if it looks goofy
- a harness for the stove
- a headlamp with a red filter, so you can see what you’re doing in the middle of the night without disturbing anyone
Dishes and Silverware
Will you use paper or plastic dishes? We used reusable plastic dishes, mostly because I concerned that paper would create too much trash. We had plastic bowls (large enough to contain any meal in bad weather), plastic plates, plastic cups, and plastic mugs with covers. I had to wash all the dishes in the sink or a bucket, which frankly was a pain. Having a salt-water foot pump would allow you to wash dishes without wasting fresh water stores. You’d only use fresh water for a quick rinse.
You’ll have to make a similar decision on silverware–plastic or metal? We used metal, which doesn’t break and maintains the illusion of civility. We had an emergency store of plastic utencils for use in heavy weather but never needed it.
You’ll need dish detergent, sponges, rubber gloves, baby wipes, spray cleaner, a bucket, dish brushes, paper towels, and dish towels. Designate these items for use in the galley only and don’t let anyone use them in the head. (Whoever’s in charge of the head should make sure it’s stocked with its own cleaners.) Keep it all under the sink.