Victualling for the ARC - by Ann
Ann cleans the food before loading the boat at Las Palmas
When we decided to cross the Atlantic with the ARC I offered to cook, in return for escaping night watches. Consequently the question of storing the boat needed to be addressed. I asked as many people as I could, how they approached the problem, and read any books I could find. My eventual solution was not perfect. One year later we were still trying to eat up the excess stores! We had to throw out quite a lot of food. When I inspected some flour I noticed that it moved, and when I looked more closely I saw that it was riddled with weevils. While one or two would not have worried me, I felt that it was time to throw it out. Incidentally I have read that bay leaves, stored with the flour, discourage weevils. This works well. With hindsight, some things have become clear.
I took far too much food, and the wrong sort of food. Admittedly we had a good, reasonably fast, crossing, and we caught five excellent fish. (Six including the Barracuda, which we threw back. It ungratefully tried to bite the fisherman’s hand as he disentangled it from the lure) Were I to be victualling a boat again for a three-week crossing I would approach it as follows:
I would store enough bottled water for each person for 4 weeks. Frequently watermakers fail to function, or tanks leak. The minimum water needed per person per day is 1 gallon per person, but that seems a lot to carry in bottles. If you have separate tanks it is extremely unlikely that it would all be contaminated or that all tanks would leak. The bottles need to be carefully stowed and inspected frequently, as the plastic can chafe through and valuable water lost.
Spanish bread (Bimbo) from the Canaries lasts well, but tastes very sweet and glues itself to your teeth.
I made bread from Tesco bread mixes. It tasted excellent, kept for a day or so, and was easy to make. We also used the dried Tostadas, available everywhere in Spain, which replaced breakfast toast satisfactorily.
I asked each crewmember for their preferences, and bought accordingly. Cornflakes take up a great deal of space, muesli is much better value in a portion per volume ratio, but unfortunately some people do not like it. I removed all cardboard wrappings in order to save space and reduce the chance of getting cockroaches. I used either plastic boxes or Ziplok bags instead. Incidentally Ziplock bags, in all the sizes, are totally indispensable. Make sure you get the heavier ones and not the ones with the zip on the top, the ones with the interlocking channels are best. Don’t get the Tesco ones. If you can’t get proper Ziplocks get the M&S ones. You can use them to rewrap goods which came in cardboard cartons, to store leftover food in the fridge or freezer, to protect cameras and other delicate things when you go ashore. I also use them to keep clothes in. It keeps your lockers tidier and keeps the various items separate.
All the books suggest that you buy unrefrigerated produce. This is nearly impossible nowadays. When I asked for them at the market in Las Palmas I was told that, not surprisingly, all fruit and vegetables are now chilled. Potatoes and onions do not keep well together. They cause each other to spoil, and a spoiled potato is one of the smelliest things you can find on a boat. Bananas also make other fruit ripen faster Carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage last well. We bought some hard avocados and they survived well too. Tins of peas, beans, corn and tomatoes are useful. Tinned potatoes taste good, better than the dried sort, though the latter are useful for thickening stews. Yams and sweet potatoes, cooked just like ordinary potatoes keep well and make a pleasant change. Make sure they are unblemished when you buy them. We washed all the fruit and veggies in a mild bleach solution before they came aboard to avoid unwelcome stowaways. We made sure they were dry before stowing, a difficult feat as the heavens opened when our stores were delivered to the dock.
We bought four large laundry baskets, put them in the forepeak and filled them with fruit. We bought oranges, grapefruit, limes, mangoes, green tomatoes and some bananas. Don't fall for the romantic notion of a large stem of bananas tied to the rigging. No matter what you do they will all ripen at once. This means fresh banana, fried banana, banana cake, banana bread, until you never want to see a banana ever again. Make sure that when you do buy bananas that they are not the cooking sort. (that is, unless you want them) We tried to inspect the fruit and vegetables every day and to remove any damaged ones. We stored some of the fruit in a hammock in the saloon. This was so useful, that it is still there. I rinsed the fruit in potassium permanganate solution (a crystal in a basin of water to make it pale pink. It is very strong and VERY MESSY, maybe mild bleach or Milton would be better) and dried it before we stowed it. ?necessity for this.
Pasta is a wonderful standby. If the weather turns nasty you can whip up a satisfying meal quickly and easily, using one of the bottled sauces some salami and plenty of cheese.
Rice is another useful starch, though it seems to get everywhere when you are clearing up. The best way to cook it is to put 1 cup of rice, a little salt, a nut of butter if you like it, and 2 cups water. Cover tightly and cook for about 20 minutes on a low heat. By that time the water will have been absorbed by the rice and it will be easily fluffed up with a fork. You don’t then have the messy and potentially dangerous task of draining it over he sink.
Even if you have a fridge, freezer and generator, do not rely on them totally. I remember a boat broadcasting on the SSB in the Pacific, saying that his freezer had refused to freeze and that he would give away the contents to any boat who cared to come close enough to get them. A crowd of boats descended upon him from a previously empty sea. I had some meat vacuum packed in El Corte Ingles in Las Palmas. I bought chicken, beef, bacon and pork. Only the beef and bacon lasted for any length of time, perhaps because our fridge was not very efficient in warm weather. Marks and Spencer chunky chicken is a marvellous standby, as are some of the other M&S chicken dishes and Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies. The Spanish dried ham, jamon serrano, is delicious and lasts well, though it is expensive. Tinned French pates are useful for a quick lunch or an appetizer with a pre dinner drink. That old standby, corned beef, is definitely worth a place in the store locker. Corned beef hash is a rib-sticking meal and can make everyone feel much better. I used to think that when the weather was warm that we wouldn't want to eat hot food, but I have found that is not so. A hot and savoury dish raises morale as nothing else does.
UHT milk is now very nearly indistinguishable from fresh. Get the sort of packaging that can be well resealed when you return it to the fridge, either bottles or cardboard cartons. Spilled milk in a fridge smalls disgusting quite quickly. I keep the carton in a Ziplock bag in the fridge.
Our butter lasted well. I had bought some tinned butter and it tasted good and lasted for a few months. You need to look carefully at the expiry dates for milk and butter, as sometimes out of date produce is sold off cheaply abroad.
Cheese keeps well especially cheddar and parmesan. Even if it goes a little mouldy you can cut off the outside and the middle is perfectly acceptable. Cream cheese mashed up with a little onion and sardines makes a delicious dip.
You can make this easily. I did it once, with a mix I found in the Lakeland shop. It tasted quite good, but I wondered if it was worth the trouble.
Our eggs all lasted well although I did not turn them nor did I grease them, as the books suggest. I stored them in plastic egg boxes. If you can get non-refrigerated, non-washed eggs that would be much better, but nowadays that is difficult. I did have problems when the temperature was 85 with humidity of 90%. The cold eggs in their plastic holders got very wet and then mouldy. When I opened the box, not long after I had bought them they were interesting shades of yellow and green. One, unbroken, sat in a pool of fetid liquid. Now I leave them out in the air until they are quite dry and then give them a thin slick of vaseline before putting them into their plastic overcoats. That works well.
Tinned sardines, tuna and salmon make fast and tasty meals.
It is well worthwhile buying a rig for catching fish. It is very exciting when you catch one and the fresh fish tastes much nicer than anything you buy from a fishmonger.
I put the sugar into a large sweet jar, which I begged from my newsagent. With hindsight, it would have been better to store it in smaller containers, as trying to decant it in a boat which is corkscrewing around is difficult and can be messy. It would have been possible to measure it out into manageable portions in plastic bags, and to store these in the big jar. It is NOT a good idea to bring any paper bags or cardboard or corrugated cartons on board as they can harbour cockroaches or their eggs. It is WELL worth being fussy about this as it is inconvenient and messy to have to have the boat bombed to remove the pests. When you get to the Caribbean you will be able to buy roach hotels, which you put in various out of the way places where fresh water and food crumbs can gather, to catch them before they start to breed.
I use lightly flavoured olive oil for most cooking purposes. I keep it in its original bottle, but stored inside the bottom half of a large water container, which means that if the bottle were to leak or chafe through it would not be a major tragedy. I also use one of those pump containers which you fill with your own oil. This gives a fine spray onto baking sheets or frying pans.
Spices and Flavourings
These help to improve the taste of tinned food. Tabasco sauce, seedy mustard, balsamic vinegar Lea and Perrins sauce, Branston pickle, mango chutney and curry paste all add a little zing to bland food. A squeeze of lemon or lime juice and some freshly ground pepper really makes boring food taste appetising. A marinade of vinegar, olive oil, garlic and soy sauce improves meat that has begun to taste a little high. Washing meat in a fairly strong vinegar solution has the same effect, a fact I learnt long ago from my microbiology professor. She said that meat with a slight smell as perfectly all right, as long as it was raw. However, cooked meat is a different matter and should be thrown out at once if there is any doubt about it at all. Stomach upsets on a long crossing are not funny. I use an antibacterial washing up liquid and disinfect cloths and surfaces daily with a mild bleach solution.
This of course depends on whether or not the boat is dry. On our boat we had a beer each at lunchtime, a gin and tonic at dinnertime and wine for occasional celebrations, such as the first 1000 miles, half way etc. We carried coca cola, sprite, etc too and we had a good selection of fruit juices. Powdered Nestea and Crystal lite make tasty thirst quenching drinks and take up less space than canned drinks.
This is tricky. I think that probably the best approach is to make out menus for a week, and multiply by the number of weeks you expect to take on your crossing. Add some heavy weather, one-pot meals and a few treats. If you catch fish, so much the better, but don't rely on it.
Before we made the long crossing I checked how long it took to use up a carton of milk, a roll of toilet paper, a roll of kitchen paper, a jar of coffee, etc, and stored accordingly. I marked all the tins with indelible marker, a really well worthwhile operation, though I did not remove the labels, as our lockers are quite dry. I made a record of where things were stored. I kept it fairly well up to date, but I must admit that the records became a little disorganised as we approached St Lucia.
Night watch goody bag
I bought some small boxes of raisins and some bags of mini Mars bars, Snickers, Smarties and Milky Way. These, with fruit, helped keep the night watch amused. I replenished the bag each evening.
One thing, which I had not anticipated, was the very long dark nights. I live in a northern latitude where when we sail the nights are light until 2200 hrs. Darkness falling absolutely at 1800 is quite a surprise.
Cheap, nonstick, frying pans and rather more expensive, nesting, nonstick pots are worth their space, as is a pressure cooker. The tight lid on the latter makes for safety in a rough sea and the large pot can be used for one pot meals, or to boil up lobsters when you reach the Caribbean.
Some boats with rather more space and power than ours, brought bread makers and were delighted with them. A microwave oven is also useful, as it means that you have an alternative source of cooking fuel, other than gas.
Extra tin openers, corkscrews, and gas lighters are essential.
‘J cloths’ are indispensable, as are green scourers. Cif, Fairy liquid and Ariel hand wash pay their way. The latter is hard to find in many countries.
I do not pretend to have given you a complete picture of providing for a long passage, just to have offered a few thoughts to start you off. Most people have found that they have overprovided for the trip. I think that I bought too many things that I thought I might have wanted, when more staple food would have been more useful, and would have been easier to use up on arrival. After all, the trip lasts only a few weeks, although I planned for it as if it would take a lifetime.