One of the things I like most about this adventure is that you can tell just how old an activity sailing is by the wonderfully archaic terminology that crops up everywhere.
Victualing is the practice of planning meals for your journey and shopping for the ingredients. If you’ve ever been camping, this is a lot like what you’d do for food in camp but without being able to run to the local shop if you forgot something.
I’ve mentioned before that one of the other students has worked as a boat’s cook before. That’s been a life saver. Before she swapped out to another boat Amy was our chef for the weekend, which meant she was responsible for planning our menu for the week. I think we would have more or less survived without her, but she’s done this before and actually knows how to do it well.
It sounds like it should be easy, but planning 3 meals a day for 5 people over a week can be a lot of work. I mean, yes, you could have cornflakes, sandwiches and pasta every day, but I’m told that the food we provide is one of the first things that comes up when the instructors get back to shore. And for some reason, impressing the instructors seems really important. Or at least, not being the crew that they’re ranting about hardest.
Anyway, before she heartlessly abandoned us, Amy had worked out most of the menu for the week and I had time after we got the boat allocations to sit down with her and talk through the recipes, take photos of her notes and understand how she’d worked it all out. That gave me an ingredient list, and rooting through cupboards told me what shopping we needed to do. As a result, despite having our chef pulled out at the last minute, we’re going to be eating this week.
Admittedly this week we’re going to have relatively boring breakfasts, although there’s a lot of fruit on the boat and granola with yoghurt is becoming my new favourite thing.
We have a list of lunch options ranging from really dull (ham, cheese and salad sandwiches) to decent (smoked cheese tortellini with ragu and vegetables), to actually fairly good (the avocados are finally ripe, so tomorrow we’ve got avocado toast with sesame seeds and lemon, with a side of crisps to add a bit of crunch to the meal).
The key thing here is that they’re quick and easy, and none of them should take more than about 20 minutes for someone to prepare. Similar approach for dinners; 5 options, all of them reasonably simple things that someone can throw together with only 2 pans without too much effort after a day’s sailing.
With a list of meals it’s easy enough to pull out a list of ingredients needed. A gap analysis with the inventory of the cupboards gives you a shopping list.
For the record, having the whole crew go shopping together is punch-myself-in-the-face infuriating. “Cat herding” doesn’t do it justice. Now I understand why it’s usually just the chef and a minion doing the shopping, and I have a lot more sympathy for parents with toddlers. Never again.
Also important is knowing what the ingredients are being used for just in case you need to find substitutes. Bok choi apparently doesn’t exist in Gibraltar, but I’m pretty sure I can get away with using chinese cabbage as the crunchy vegetable in noodle soup instead.
Shelf-life of ingredients is an important consideration. There are fridges on these boats, but they’re not great. If there’s meat in your menu, you’ll want to cook that within a couple of days. Fish needs to be cooked and eaten the same day. You really don’t want meat or fish going off on the boat. That’s also going to have an effect on which menu options you cook first.
Fortunately, we’re going to be able to pick up additional supplies as we go.
There’s limited storage space aboard a small yacht. Organisation in the kitchen is important at home, but it’s harder on board. There’s just not a lot of cupboard space and most of it comes in awkward shapes and inconvenient places, and playing Tetris with the mayo is just not as much fun as it sounds. I found it really useful to grab a copy of the list the Allabroad team use for provisioning boats for the day skipper and competent crew customers, because you can see how someone who does this all the time arranges things.
The other useful thing on the list was all the non-food items, which means that I’m now (reasonably) confident that the boat has all the tin foil, toilet cleaner, sponges etc that we’ll need for the week.
The more thinking I can remove from this the easier it’ll be. I’ve started a catalogue of quick and easy recipes so whenever it’s my turn to be chef all I have to do is open the list and pick 5 lunches and 5 dinners. Google once, use many times. I’ll try to add at least 2 new recipes each week.
I reckon if I can get the list up to 20 lunches, 20 dinners, and some variety of breakfasts, I’ll be able to pull together a menu with minimal effort and keep it varied from week to week.
I might even share it with the rest of the crew.