Helpful tips and a sample menu to help you plan a week of cooking on a sailboat.
I feel relaxed, peaceful, and calm even if I’m overwhelmed with deadlines to meet and e-mails to reply to. What’s happening with me? I’m just returning from a week of sailing through the Bahamas – that’s what. Last week, E and I joined three of our friends for a cruise through the exotic islands of the Exumas. Two of our friends own a sailboat here in Quebec and are experienced sailors. An incredible opportunity arose to join them on a beautiful, private 36’ sailboat, cruising through crystal clear waters in out-of-this-world shades of blue, visiting deserted beaches, observing marine life through our snorkeling masks, and… eating delicious meals made in our teeny-tiny sailboat kitchen.
Early on, before the adventure began, I volunteered to be the cook for the week. I knew it would be a challenge, and I was curious to discover the limitations and factors to consider when cooking out at sea. Plus, we had to plan all meals in advance (including breakfasts and all snacks), because our only opportunity to grocery shop would be prior to departing from the Nassau marina. It was therefore essential to write up a precise list of what was needed and put together another, itemizing what we could bring along with us from home. Before we left for the Bahamas, I prepared a spreadsheet that I shared with my friends so everybody could tell me their thoughts about the menu and point out anything I might have forgotten.
Our kitchen for the week:
As I searched the Web for advice about cooking on a boat, I gathered tips that proved to be very helpful in planning a week’s worth of meals for five food-lovers.
Top Tips for Cooking on a Boat
People tend to be hungrier at sea. Think about it: sitting at your desk, little more than your hands move throughout the day. On a boat though, you’re managing the ropes or the sails, you’re at the helm, or you’re just sitting around, your muscles compensating of the movements imposed by the sea. To make sure nobody’s dying of hunger by dinnertime, serve healthy snacks throughout the day (fruit, nuts, crackers, etc.).
Ask for your fellow travelers’ tastes and diet restrictions before you leave. Out at sea isn’t an ideal time to suffer from an allergic reaction. And, the kitchen is so small that you won’t want to cook an alternate dish for the person who doesn’t like what you planned.
Plan the meals according to the equipment you have on the boat. This may seem very obvious, but what if you plan for meals to be cooked in an oven, and you don’t have an oven on the boat, as it is often the case? Or, you only planned for barbecued meals, and your BBQ breaks down? Ask for a precise list of everything that exists on the boat. Don’t take anything for granted: for example, chances are no coffee maker or a toaster will be on board because of power restrictions. You need to diversify your meal options.
Make a (very precise) list. Don’t just write “onions;” estimate exactly how many onions you’ll need. Not only will you avoid unnecessary waste, but you’ll save time at the grocery store by eliminating the need to stop before every ingredient you need to buy, attempting to figure out how much you need.
Bring your favorite kitchen tools with you. Rental boats are equipped with the minimum of kitchen tools, and knives are known to be especially bad (people use them for anything and everything, from cutting bread to rope.) Bring your favorite knife, a small and clean cutting board, a good-quality corkscrew, and any other small tool or gadget you think you may need to prepare your meals; it’ll make your life tremendously easier.
Bring everything you can from home. If you can fit it in your luggage, bring spices, canned food, snacks, and everything else that’s sold vacuum-packed or sealed. You probably won’t be able to find everything you need at your destination’s grocery store, and chances are that things are a lot less expensive at your neighborhood’s grocery store than wherever you plan to go sailing.
Don’t forget to plan for alcohol as well –but not too much of it. Some people say the effects of alcohol are amplified at sea, so don’t think you’ll drink as much as you would at home. Plus, space is strictly limited, and bottles of wine and beer take up much of it. Hence, we chose canned beer, which was easy to store and also has the advantage of being unbreakable, and favored liquors (like rum and vodka) over wine. (Yes, we still brought along some wine, but only the bare minimum needed to keep us happy.)
Name one person responsible for managing the food. Anyone can help prepare the meals, serve, and clean up, but it’s very helpful to have just one person responsible for the kitchen. Fitting all that food into the small fridge and in all the hidden storage spaces of the boat will be challenging, and having one person remember where everything is easing the whole process. This person is also responsible for ensuring the freshness of ingredients and will be able to advise if something isn’t edible anymore. Clearly, you don’t want your whole crew to take sick,
Don’t forget that storage space is very limited. Especially in the fridge. Most often, there’s no freezer, or just a small corner of the fridge is dedicated to it. Favor liquids that can be stored at room temperature like Tetra-packed pasteurized juices and UHT milk.
Balance out meals based on the freshness of ingredients. Plan for meals made with perishable foods as well as others made with canned ingredients. Eat the most perishable foods first, and keep the meals based on canned foods or ingredients that keep well at room temperature for the end of the trip. Be very careful with meat and eggs. If available, buy frozen meat; they will defrost gradually in the fridge, allowing you to keep it fresh (and fit-for-eating) for a longer period of time.
Plan for lunches that can be prepared in advance. Do not think you’ll be able to cook while the boat is at sea. You probably won’t. Even on an exceptionally calm sea, a boat is a boat, and by nature, it’s ever moving. And, if you’re like me, you probably won’t even be able to get up and serve food, because you’ll be seasick. Make sandwiches or salads in the morning when the boat is anchored, and be certain the food is easy to reach in the fridge so that anyone can go grab the lunch if the cook isn’t feeling too well.
Ask about the garbage disposal restrictions and allowances. We knew we wouldn’t be able to get rid of our trash prior to the end of the trip, but nobody informed us we could dispose of all organic trash in the sea. Had we known, we would have avoided (really) bad smells toward the end of the week. In the Bahamas, everything you would put in a compost bin can be thrown out at sea.
The sheer quantity of groceries we had to store into the boat was frightening at first, but we managed to fit everything in.
A boat featured a lot of hidden storage: water gallons under the seats, wine bottles into the table, beer cans under a floor panel.
A headlamp proved to be a very helpful gadget to help me watch over the pizzas in the oven which had no interior light.
Whatever your destination, cooking at sea is a thrill, and I really enjoyed it. I cooked in the smallest kitchen I’ve ever worked in, but with a little ingenuity, I was able to make everything just like I would have at home. I even made chocolate cupcakes for E’s birthday! I had excellent guests who loved everything I made and also doubled as wonderful helpers: Not once did I need to take care of cleaning up after meals – what a dream! We didn’t waste much and never went hungry. It was a unique trip, and I loved every minute I had the chance to cook on this beautiful sailboat.
For your curiosity, I leave you with our menu. You’ll see that we didn’t sacrifice taste for practicality!
Bread (toasted in the oven)
Jams, Peanut Butter, Cream Cheese
Blueberry, banana, and walnut muffins (baked on the boat)
Ham, Turkey & Cheese Sandwiches (twice)
Tuna Salad Wraps
Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Bagels
Oven-Baked Ham and Vegetable Frittata
Oven-Baked Nachos with all the fixings: BBQ chicken (leftover from the fajitas, below), olives, green onions, salsa, bell peppers, jalapeño peppers and cheese
Burgers (on the barbecue)
Pork and Beef Marinated Kebabs with brown rice and vegetables
Fajitas with BBQ chicken, sautéed bell peppers and onions, served with guacamole, fresh coriander, lettuce, salsa and cheese
Fish “En Papillote” baked on the barbecue served with broccoli and rice flavored with chick peas, green onions, coriander and Indian spices
Pizzas, Two Ways: tomato, olives, ham & parmesan cheese and BBQ chicken, barbecue sauce, red onion & cheddar cheese (made on oval flatbreads)
Tomato, Tuna, Olives, Capers and Parmesan Cheese Pasta
Nachos go well with a refreshing Kalik, the beer of the Bahamas!
Tortilla chips and salsa
Assorted nuts, dried cranberries
Apples and cheddar cheese
Cantaloupe and watermelon
Hummus, chips and chopped vegetables
Assorted granola bars
Brownies (from a mix, with added chopped walnuts and chocolate chips)
Chocolate cupcakes (from a mix, with added chocolate chips and chocolate frosting)
Dark chocolate bars
A fancy happy-hour with white wine, black pepper dry sausage, green olives, and smoked salmon canapés (photo by François Carpentier).
The most beautiful beach in the world at Shroud Cay.