The Ups and Downs of Food at Sea

13th Apr 2003 On the passage down from Puerto Mogan, Gran Canaria to Cape Verde Ian Enlander mentioned in passing that he hoped this trip would act as something of a weight-watchers programme. I nodded to him in the positive; one of the inevitabilities of being at sea it seems to me is weight loss, either through being very green and unable to stomach anything but liquids or surviving on what foods are available depending on where you are. Our conversation led us to speculate on what we might enjoy once on site in the Cape Verde; all manner of fish and an abundance of fresh fruit we concluded.

Buying food for periods at sea falls into the remit of the skipper: catering for every possible taste and peculiarity does not. So the shopping basket can prove a mixed bag; vegetarians must co-exist alongside meat-eaters, lovers of pasta and rice alongside the committed spud fiend.

The first few days after leaving port are usually good ones as far as supplies of fresh and wholesome foods are concerned. Paradoxically it is during these few days that one is least likely to be disposed towards their consumption. It usually takes me at least 48 hours before I can start eating properly; depending on sailing conditions it can be longer. The trick is to eat little and often, dry biscuits an old reliable, and consume as much water or fizzy drinks as can be managed. Even when sea legs have been established, they are by no means permanent; after three weeks at sea, on the passage from Boavista to Sao Vicente, I lost mine and the contents of my stomach to the deep blue sea.

Once the fresh veg and fruit have been consumed, an element of enterprise is needed. Pasta and rice dishes are the norm, but there is only so much we basic cooks can do with a tin of tomatoes and a bag of dried wheat.

Open Air DinerWhen fish are available they are barbecued and eaten with relish, though our fishing skills so far have proven unequal to the task; we have lost two lures to fish that bit right through the metal links, their probable size always mitigating against us landing them on the Anna M anyway. And of course there was the one that got away, a tuna so big….honest we did.

Bread usually survives a little longer than the fruit and veg. What we spread on it varies but has peanut butter as a given; Matthew's preferred toppings are Nutella and peanut butter; Simon honey and peanut butter; the skipper peach jam and peanut butter; and I am partial to peanut butter and marmite. Our supply of Kerrygold butter, bought in Gran Canaria, has run out and we are now using a tin of Dutch produce.

Supplies permitting, fries are popular in the morning or as brunch, with the main evening meal usually consumed when possible before sundown to facilitate cleaning up etc. Who cooks is something of a lottery but everyone tries to do their share; when “green” the last place you want to be is in the galley and thus the skipper often cooks morning noon and night for the first days at sea. In a big swell working in the galley is an onerous task; it is not uncommon for food to move between cooking pot and galley floor before reaching your plate.

When everything bar the tinned foods have been digested, the fun starts and can produce some alarming combinations; Joe's speciality is a tin of “Denny Original Beefsteak & Kidney Pie”. To date I am the only one to have joined him in this culinary minefield. Beans and peas are safe enough options but diminishing stocks can force unwelcome choices - chicken luncheon meat or pale looking “salsichas”? When is a best by date to be taken seriously?

Despite having the constitution and stomach of an old Billy goat the skipper has banned me from using chilli peppers in my concoctions; his pleas of less garlic have also been heeded. I refuse to eat porridge.