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Galley Advice from

Sylvie Branton m/V Albatros - Coastal Cruiser and Island Hopper

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A self-described “live aboard minimalist” aboard a 68 foot motor boat in the Caribbean, Sylvie designs web sites like this one.
Kneading bread by hand

About Sylvie Branton

What advice would you give women in setting up their galleys, in preparing to cook aboard?

If you depend on electric power to cook onboard, you are in trouble.

Cruising is about relaxing: don't become a slave of electric power. You cannot afford the stress of not being able to cook dinner at sea when some electric equipment fails.

Cook with gas (or kerosene).

There is only one electric appliance that you truly need: a 12V fridge. Add a blender or a mixer. Other appliances - toaster, food processor, coffee maker, bread machine, rice cooker, micro-oven - can help too. But, unless you are a charter chef, see them as luxury items. They burn amps (navigation equipment, lights, computers, watermaker … need power too) and waste storage space. They are meant to save time: you will probably have time to waste.

Treat your fridge like your best friend. But don't get attached to it: you must be psychologically ready to face life without refrigeration for a couple of days (weeks?). It might stop working miles away from a good refrigeration technician…

Be a stainless steel fanatic.

Good stainless steel is beautiful, easy to clean and lasts forever.
Cast iron rusts, aluminum corrodes, plastic breaks or scratches, china or enamel chips, wood splits … more quickly at sea. You find the best stainless steel cooking equipment in restaurant supply stores.

But nothing is perfect in life: stainless steel knives are more difficult to sharpen than steel knives.

Get organized for making "home" products.

Bread dough,
ready for the oven
Tuna hanging
in smoking oven

Bring your grandmother's cookbook if you can: you might want (or need) to make your own bread, jams, chutneys, yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut or mayonnaise, or simply to can food for long passages.

Try to always carry enough supplies for preserving food: empty jars, extra reserve of white sugar, salt, vinegar and cooking fuel. Opportunities when perishable food is cheap (or free) and plentiful often come unexpected.

Unfortunately I can't tell how long "home"-canned food may keep. Anything I can - especially jams - usually disappears from the locker within 2 weeks!

“I can't cook because I have to take care of the [engine]".

Cooking “contests” produce better and more varied food. How many hours a week does the [engine] need care compared to cooking time? Help “fixing the engine” and share the cooking duties ...


What is the best aspect of cooking aboard?

Having time ...

... to make bread, can octopus or pickle fresh sardines, smoke tuna, bake coconut pies, make tamarind juice or experiment with mango jam.

Tamarind: from tree to juice


What is the most challenging aspect of cooking aboard?

Preventing your lovingly-prepared dinner ... from ending up upside-down on the floor.

Keeping smiling ... when you are being interrupted for some emergency on deck.


What are the 5 items that you consider essential in your galley?

the oven

What is life worth without cakes, pies, fresh bread, baked fish or chicken? Pizzas?

If you can, get an oven spacious enough that you can bake 2 things at the same time - to save time and fuel (have at least 2 rectangular baking pans: they are easier to fit inside than round pans).

Security guard on watch in front of the oven

the fridge

Sailing in tropical areas without a fridge is an interesting challenge, but life with a refrigerator is nicer.

Life without refrigeration:
salting fish before an Atlantic crossing

Life without a fridge means:

  • frequent trips to the market
  • more canned, dried, salted food on the menu
  • hunting for ice in each port (and carrying it)
  • having to cook immediately - or salt - the fish you just caught
  • most importantly: you can't keep yogurt!

the stainless steel pressure cooker

Pressure cooker + spare valve & seal

  • it saves fuel: reduces cooking time by 2/3rds
  • you cook with little water and save minerals and vitamins
  • at sea, its screwed lid prevents liquid for spilling
  • you can steam vegetables while you cook meat
  • if you don't have a fridge, you can keep cooked food overnight in the pressure cooker (heat it and leave the pressure cooker sealed)
  • you need a pressure cooker to can food aboard
  • you can use it as a normal pot too

this coffee percolator


this can opener

  • is quick
  • works without electricity
  • does not need paper filters
  this simple can opener has no moving parts and works forever.


What items
can you easily
do without?

electric appliances

a wok pan (very bulky)

a pestle or garlic crusher
you can grate garlic or spices, or crush them with the top of a hot sauce or ketchup bottle…

What items
are hard to find
once cruising?

  • a measuring jug scaled in “your” units
    (grams / liters- milliliters / oz / cups-fractions of cups)

  • canning jars

  • good olive oil, good coffee or black tea

  • spices that grow in other latitudes

  • good roach/ants killers
    (bugs come aboard with cardboard, fruits, flowers or while the boat is in the yard - they love your galley)


Can you describe your galley layout?


On deck:

- a big fiberglass locker for storing dry food
- a hammock and a straw basket for holding onions, garlic, fruits and vegetables

- a smoking oven, used on great occasions

Our galley is on deck level, so it is well-ventilated and well-lit.

Cruisers believe it is spacious (8ft x 5ft = 2.5m x 1.5m), I say it is small, because it is:

  • a cooking place
  • the meeting place where all important decisions are made
  • the dog's favorite sleeping place
  • a corridor between deck and wheelhouse and front cabin: you have to move constantly to let 2-legged or 4-legged crewmembers pass.

It is entirely custom-built, made of recycled boat items found in scrapyards. *The grates come from the deck of a World War II American ship. *The stainless steel sink was originally on a Rhine barge. *We adopted our fridge in a boatyard. Its former family got angry because it would not work properly, although it was almost new. It received a new thermostat and now works peacefully and happily on board.

Although we are on a motor boat, cooking and refrigeration aboard are engine/generator-free. There is:

    • a 4-burner stove/oven, not gimbaled (this is not recommended, even on motor boats: they don't heel but may roll).

    • a wooden countertop on each side of the stove: one of the countertops is made of a very hard dark wood, so in an emergency you can throw a hot pan on it without burning or staining it. It is so hard that we use it as a cutting board too.

    • [Please step over the sleeping dog to go past the stove and reach the sink.] Single sink (sorry, double sinks were not available at the time at the boat scrapyard...), integrated in a 3ft (1m)-long stainless countertop. A fresh water tap, mounted high enough that you can fill and clean big pots. Fresh water flows down from a day water tank installed on top of the cabin: no need for a foot pump nor pressurized water. On the wall, above the sink, a long wooden rack is used for draining and storing the dishes at the same time.

    • a front-opening fridge. We lived many years without refrigeration, so Fridge ("The Safe”) is one of the most respected crewmembers on board. It is spoiled with a dedicated 12V battery, charged by its own 75 W solar panel. A rotative compressor runs it (it's quiet and saves power). We try to group "trips" to the fridge and open it as little as possible, so that little cold air is lost.

    • electric appliances: a blender, that runs on the boat's inverter.
      I should have bought a plastic model instead of a shiny chrome one that rusts.


What is your eating/cooking style on board? Who cooks?

We have our meals when the temperature is cool = a big breakfast and a good dinner. At lunchtime we snack - a heavier lunch would get us sleepy all afternoon. Caffeinated coffee, herbal teas or home-made fruit juices all day long.

At the anchorage, the table is set on a cotton napkin, with enamel or china plates. Glasses are either stainless steel or real glass (no plastic). No LED or fluorescent lights for dining: it makes the food look less appetizing.

At sea, one-pot dishes are served in bowls, on non-skid mats, and liquids are kept in thermos jugs.

Bread and yogurt are home-made (every other day). Food scraps are recycled: they make pies, fritters, soups or salads (cooked rice might end up in the bread dough…), the pasta/potato cooking water is re-used for soups (or for bread dough…), lobster or shrimp leftovers make "bisque".

I cook too often. My captain claims that He is the galley slave: cleaning up my mess and washing the dishes all the time.


What cookbook do you recommend?

Dog-eared recipe book

My favorite cookbooks are:

•  My own collection of proven recipes, donated by boating friends, and my mother and grandmother. Most recipes are hand-written by the author and named after her/him (Elaine's coconut cake, chicken façon Johnny…).

•  The “Cooking with Cruisers” monthly column in the Caribbean Compass newspaper, especially the “Whatcha gonna do with all that [local produce]” articles by Mary Heckrotte.

•  “Fishes of the Atlantic Coast by Gar Goodson: not a cookbook but a fish book that mentions the edibility (excellent? fair? poor?) of any fish you might catch from Labrador to Brazil. It also gives the Spanish common name of each fish specie: very helpful for shopping and fishing in Spanish-speaking countries...


Would you like to share a recipe that works well on the boat?

Home-made Coconut Milk
from Sylvie Branton

A quick way
to make coconut milk
(learned in Venezuela)

Crack open
a dry coconut
1/2 lb of coconut flesh* with 2 cups of water


The liquid you get is the coconut milk - not to be confused with the coconut water, which is the liquid you find inside the coconut.

* you can leave the brown nut skin on


A slower way to make coconut milk
(does not require electricity)

1. Crack open a dry coconut
2. Grate 1/2 lb (225g) of coconut flesh
3. Pour 2 cups (1/2 liter) of boiling water over the grated coconut
4. Let stand 30 minutes
5. Drain




  • Why make coconut milk?
    - Coconut milk is a key ingredient for curries.
    - Besides, anything cooked in coconut milk tastes delicious: it makes great seafood/meat/ vegetable stews, soups or desserts.
    - Coconuts are easy to find, easy to store, and cheaper than cans of coconut milk.
    - You don't find canned coconut milk everywhere.

  • How to crack open a dry coconut without effort
    Insert it in a strong vise, screw the vise until coconut cracks (see first picture at left)

  • Use the quick blender method (with as little water as possible) to grate fresh coconut for cakes or pies

18 Boat Recipes

About Sylvie Branton

Sylvie Branton

Sylvie has been a live aboard since 1990. Minimalist. She cooks with moderate enthusiasm but loves baking.

She designs web sites on board, including this one. She likes it so much that too often it is the smell of burning food that reminds her that she is supposedly cooking dinner…


A 68' fiberglass motorboat – converted ex-Florida shrimp trawler. The boat is a mobile workshop as well as their home.

— "2 people only (and a dog) on a 68ft boat, it's disgusting!" sailors think.
— "Well, maybe. But when it is cooking time, it does not make much difference than with a 24ft boat: we are all packed in a small area: the galley."

Cruising grounds

South America and Eastern Caribbean

[February 2009]

An Addiction: the Fascinating Beauty of Seashells : Sylvie tells us about her passion for seashells. On the Women and Cruising Blog (on this website),

Coastal Cruisers and Island Hoppers
have more ready access to regional markets, and cook mostly at anchor

Ann Vanderhoof Heather Stockard Kathy
Mary Heckrotte Sylvie

Catamaran Cruisers
cook on boats that don't heel


Long-Distance Cruisers
provision for long passages and cook often at sea


Cruising Charter Chefs
current & former; challenged by cooking for guests

Swan Neal