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Haute Cuisine on a Sailboat

Vegemite on toast—an irresistible sailing snack?

Vegemite on toast—an irresistible sailing snack?

It’s true! Everything does taste better on a sailboat

It is fairly miraculous how appetites are sharpened while sailing. I have conducted experiments and can tell you it isn’t simply a question of being afloat. A meal aboard a powerboat tastes pretty much the same as a meal ashore and, among other things, is normally just as easy to prepare. On a sailboat, however, things tend to get more existential.

I remember, for example, watching slack-jawed as a boat I’d agreed to crew on in the Sydney-Hobart Race was being provisioned. I saw box after box of loaves of plain white bread being loaded aboard and finally had to give the skipper a poke.

“Is that all we’re eating?”

“Of course not!” he scowled and pointed at the smaller boxes coming on after the bread.

These were filled with jars of a strange Australian delicacy, Vegemite, a yeast-extract paste with more or less the consistency of axle grease.

Standing there on the dock, these staples seemed grossly inadequate. Or just plain gross. However, two days later, as we were beating across the Bass Strait into the teeth of a fierce 50-knot southerly “buster,” they seemed like ambrosia. Twice a day we started up our AC generator so we could run an electric toaster. Massive quantities of toast were then prepared and across this was spread a generous skin of “Veggie,” as the Aussies like to call it. I can assure you that Beluga caviar served on gourmet crackers never tasted so good, and to this day, like Pavlov’s dog, I still start salivating whenever I hear a generator start.

It may be that our culinary standards are greatly degraded when we are sailing. Then again, it may be that our sense of taste is greatly enhanced. Really, I think, it must be a combination of the two, and it is wise to keep this in mind when provisioning your own boat. There is, in the end, no point to loading on all the fresh ingredients for a sumptuous beef stew prepared from scratch when your crew most likely will be just as happy eating cold cans of Dinty Moore.

Not that fresh ingredients need be banished from your larder. One of the wisest things I ever heard uttered on a sailboat came from the lips of an experienced cook I once knew as he stood in the galley one evening during a long passage trying to decide what to serve for dinner.

“The first step always,” he declared, “is to start frying an onion in a pan. Then you decide what you want to eat with it.”

My life has never really been the same since. The number of one-pot meals you can prepare with onions as a base while swinging like a gibbon over a steeply heeled and madly gyrating stove is mind-boggling. Even if you just add Spam or any other equally noxious ingredient, your crew, once their bellies are full, will hail you as the reincarnation of Julia Child.

And onions aren’t the only fresh food that keeps well on boats. Cabbage, carrots, garlic, potatoes, beets, apples, cured sausage, hard cheese and most kinds of nuts are all comestibles that can stay fresh a long time without being refrigerated. Mix these up with things like rice, pasta or any number of canned and boxed foods, and your meals will be both various and nutritious.

Even if you don’t have any fresh food aboard, it is surprising how the most unsavory dish somehow becomes palatable when the wind is blowing dogs off their chains and your lee rail is buried in the briny. Think of all those centuries when windjamming swabbies wandered the globe for years at a time eating nothing but salt beef and hardtack festooned with wriggling maggots. Even with liberal rations of rum to wash it down, by any objective standard, this seems an execrable diet. But if you add in a fresh breeze, a dash of salt spray and perhaps a healthy dollop of Grey Poupon, you’ll still have a meal fit for a sailor. 

SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane, sails on the Maine coast and down in the West Indies whenever he gets the chance. He is the author of The Modern Cruising Sailboat, published by International Marine, and is a contributing blogger at SAILfeed.com

June 2017

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