#35 – The Cruising Galley

Gwen cooks dinner on the smokeless grill We’ve all seen the cutesy paired slogans on T-shirts, hats, and drinking glasses that are marketed to sailors in just about every chandlery and nautical tourist shop: You know… the stuff that reads “Captain” and “Galley Slave”. You’ve got to wonder: Who actually buys those?

I highly doubt many Admirals cruising today think of themselves as “galley slaves.” That whole “slave” thing implies that we’re there without choice. I can see how it might look that way to women just setting out, the ones who are feeling shanghaied into a partner’s cruising dream. You’re probably still clinging to the memory of that last power lunch, where nouveau cuisine was served up artfully without a thought needed to the work it took to create it and the dishes to be washed afterwards.

It’s taken me a long time to get around to writing about galleys and an Admiral’s relationship with them. Perhaps it’s my own hang-up. I didn’t want to contribute to a stereotype, where a woman is pigeon-holed as the cook.

But here’s the thing: not only do most of us in fact do the cooking onboard, most of us truly enjoy it! The moment we leave those hectic lives ashore – with all the convenience foods and fast-food takeaway, business lunches and restaurant meals – and step on board our boats, we find ourselves in a situation where meals matter again! Suddenly we have time, time to make favorite recipes, to try new ones, to actually make things from scratch, and then time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labors!

Lisa Schofield prepares a party appetizer More than any other thing we can do, the food we cook on board is what makes the boat home. This doesn’t mean we aren’t out there trying local foods, shopping local markets, or eating in local restaurants. Far from it! That’s half the fun of our style of travel: that we can bring ingredients and tastes back home to the boat and try to recreate them – a sort of culinary scrapbooking, if you will. But experienced cruisers do provision to their own tastes and style of eating, and the effort to which we go to produce familiar meals in faraway places contributes to the feeling that we have a home hearth to retreat to. It is a luxury few other travelers share.

Sushi party in the cockpit Beyond that, food seems to be one of the glues that bind our floating community together. We share cozy impromptu dinners in the cockpit with our favorite buddy boats, we build new friendships with the boat that just anchored nearby over an invite for sundowners and hors d’oeuvres, and we celebrate our community by including every boat in the anchorage in a dinghy cocktail raft-up or sprawling beach potluck. (If you don’t know folksinger Eileen Quinn’s song “Piranha Potluck,” you must get it! You’ll think twice before you ever bring a rice dish again!!)

On passage, of course, the meals we prepare are a matter of survival. We have no options but what we put together ourselves. It is a challenging responsibility that starts way before we put pot to stove. There is the strategy of provisioning: what meals to plan that balance tastiness, nutrition, and ease of preparation, with availability and durability of ingredients, not to mention how much to buy, how to stow it, and how to make it last. It is worthy of any business plan! And this all before we try to execute the plan in a boat heeled hard over, gyrating uncomfortably downwind or just bouncing in lumpy seas.

Good planning actually starts even before the provisioning. It starts in how we choose, lay out, and equip our galley. If we are cruising on our first boat, we often end up with a galley by default, in other words the one that came with the boat we and our partner selected for other reasons. Most of us just assume that certain inconveniences and sacrifices are the price of the cruising life. To a certain extent, this is true. It is a huge adjustment to move from a large land-based kitchen into the cramped quarters of a cruising boat’s galley.

Mary Heckrotte baking in Camryka's galleyGalleys are often laid out the way they are for reasons that are not immediately obvious, so it’s good to work in yours awhile before contemplating changes. For example, small U-shaped galleys may look unnecessarily restrictive, but tradition has shown them to be the safest layout for cooking at sea because you can wedge yourself in. Likewise, top loading refrigerator boxes must first appear to be some torture devised by men who want time to admire our butts as we delve head first into them to extract something from the bottom, but, again, top-loaders became the tradition because it was the most efficient way to contain the cold air that was so hard to achieve with ice. Furthermore, many boats currently in use for full time cruising were never conceived as liveaboards. Their designers thought we were going out for a vacation getaway and provided storage space in the galley for little more than a week’s worth of stores or gussied things up to be more pretty than practical.

Today, cruising women are expecting more from their galleys and so are making decisions about galley design, equipment and provisions that the original builders never imagined. To boats built in the 70s and 80s, cruisers have added solar panels, generators and inverters, allowing them to squeeze in refrigeration, freezers, microwaves, or bread machines. Where shelves were constructed to secure four sets of stock plastic tableware, cruisers now want to fit in nice plates and stemware. And where lockers and bilges were enough to hold primarily canned food, today’s cruisers want to bring along a variety of produce, products and condiments to ensure a diverse and interesting menu.

Gwen prepares enchiladas in Tackless ii's galleyAre we stuck with what we’ve got? Only to a certain degree. Budget and ingenuity available for refit will have their impact, as will, of course, your personal knack for organizing things. Some people go in gangbusters, rip stuff out and rebuild from scratch. Others find that small, carefully-considered additions like lift-up counter extensions, shelves in lockers, or spice racks can meet the need we all have for “just a little more room.” Like most things nautical, there are many different considerations to weigh when putting it all together. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see how experienced cruisers do it!

Well…. now you can. It’s the latest project from the ladies at www.womenandcruising.com. To help you consider prospective galleys as well as to help you make the most of the galley you have, we invited eighteen cruising women from a variety of boats and cruising styles to give you a look right inside their galleys and to share insights and tips about cooking aboard. It’s almost as if they’ve dropped the hook beside you and invited you over. They are coastal cruisers and world travelers, they sail monohulls and catamarans, they cook simply and gourmet. They work in U-shaped galleys, in-line galleys, galleys up and galley down. Whether they were full-time Moms before they went sailing or had professional careers, they cook now for their partners, families, friends and a few even for charter guests. But, almost to a woman, they find the cooking they do onboard one of the particular pleasures of their cruising experience.

About that Captain/Galley Slave thing: It’s been said that “Captains are a dime a dozen; good cooks are hard to find.”

This article was published in the June 2009 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

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