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A Perfect Galley — A Perfect Idiot

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander chopping up the galley on Ganesh
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander chopping up the galley on Ganesh

The reason I learned to write was to avoid manual labor—and, strangely, I now earn my living scribbling about how-to-do stuff I seldom actually do. Ironic, eh? And, of course, a sailor can become rather pompous while pretending to be an expert—especially when they know they don’t know what they are talking about.

For example, a greenhorn recently emailed me, “What type of galley is best?”

This is a complicated subject, and, as we all know, fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.

Here’s my reply:

The perfect galley doesn’t exist because everything on a boat is a compromise—and, as important as eating is, it is not the only shipboard activity. (There’s sex, for instance.) Besides, one cook’s dream is another’s nightmare. So, what we are about to discuss is a very individual, very personal thing—how to imbue the food we cook with l-o-v-e.

Heavy, eh?

Let’s start with the lowly sink.

  • On a small boat, there can only be one. It should be deeper than its shore-side counterpart, so it can do its job while heeled. Closer to the centerline is better—in any event, it must not begin to fill with water no matter how severe the heel.
  • There should be a correlation between dish size and sink size—which is why the French favor two deep round sinks rather than one square one.
  • The drain is extremely important. It should be as large and straight as possible. Cooking grease stinks, literally, and will soon choke it off if small in diameter—so it is a huge advantage if it can be plunged and re-opened from inside the vessel.
  • This means the sink strainer must either be removable or coarse enough to run a plumber’s snake down … or at least a small dowel or wire.
  • There has to be a shut off where the drain exits the hull—so the cook can shut it off in an emergency and/or when they are ‘destinking’ the drain with standing bleach or soap.
  • Minimum hose diameter is 1 inch; 1.5 is better.
  • The sink drain and the head output can be on the same side of the hull—but the watermaker’s intake and the salt-water sink pump intake should both be very low and on the opposite side of the hull from the sink and head output.
  • The sink should be at a comfortable height—which isn’t easy. Some people are short and others tall. Temporary steps or risers are a poor idea on an offshore vessel. Thus, if the cook is particularly short or tall, and they complain … well, the whole galley top area has to be moved up or down. (Sigh.)
  • The cook’s hands should reach the bottom of the sink naturally, without being too hunched over or having ‘chipmunk’ hands.
  • There needs to be as much counter space around the sink and stove area as possible.

Water Tanks, Water Use and Sink Faucets!

There should be four faucets. Yes, four!

  • The main open-on-demand pressurized faucet should fill from your main freshwater tank—and, of course, go to your head(s) and shower(s) as well.
  • In addition to this faucet, there should be non-pressurized foot pump pulling from the same tank. Why? There are a number of reasons, mostly concerning saving fresh water. (You only need a few drops to dampen your tooth brush!)
  • The third faucet is the ‘deck water’ one. This is used mostly for dish washing and cleaning—and it’s water is caught straight off your deck—by the simple and effective method of diverting some deck water into a special deck-fill with a spare rope (or temporary blocked off deck drains in the case of Ganesh).
    This water is basically fresh rain water—but it can contain a lot of salt if you were impatient and didn’t allow enough time for your deck, sails, and cordage to rinse—and it can also be dirty from anchor mud, dog-poop tracked aboard, and sea gull poop as well.
    So we don’t use this water during our tea break—unless that’s the only water we have, and then, well, a little dog and bird poop tastes just fine!
    In addition to catching semi-clean, semi-fresh water off the decks, we can catch water from our Bimini top and from a clean, dedicated foredeck water catcher.
  • The fourth faucet is for salt water. It is extremely important that this one be as ‘splash & splatter’ free as possible—as salt water is very corrosive.

We use the salt water primarily for the cleaning of crockery, etc. (Certain non-quality stainless steel cooking utensils shouldn’t be stressed with the salt water. These will be easy to find—just look for the streaks of rust.)

We use the semi-fresh deck water primarily to rinse off the salt and for other cleaning chores.

This allows us to use our precious fresh water for drinking, cooking, and other forms of ingestion—and not much else.

How effective is this? Pretty effective. On our first circumnavigation, we could carry 60 gallons of fresh water, max. We filled up in India, and went four months in deserted Chagos—before taking on more fresh water in French Mayotte four- and-a-half months later!

Yes, it rained, and we effectively caught it.

Watermakers are expensive things. They require lots of spare parts—and some eat money faster than they make water. Do you need one to sail around the world? No. Would it be nice to have? We don’t know, but we soon will—as Ganesh (our new Wauquiez 43) has an 80E Pur unit.

What kind of Cooking Fuel do We Use?  SAFETY FIRST

The fuel of choice is propane. It is hotter than butane. Forget alcohol stoves; the fuel is tough to find, doesn’t burn hot, and is expensive. Kerosene stinks and needs to be primed; yeek! Wood and coal only makes sense if you are a survivalist, hiding aboard at the poles. (My friend Alva Simon froze himself in at 70+ north latitude for the winter—something I recommend you don’t try at home!)

The bottom line: propane is (almost) the universal stove fuel for offshore live-aboard vessels. It is widely available, burns hot, is cheap, and you can carry lots of it in a small space.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that propane can, and does, kill people. It is dangerous! Why? Because it explodes. Why is it particularly dangerous aboard a boat? Because, should a leak develop—the gas does not slowly dissipate like in a house—but rather gathers and condenses in the bilge … until lit by a spark … and everyone dies.

Many offshore vessels that were ‘never heard from again’ actually exploded, in my humble opinion.

Collision and fire are the two things I worry about most offshore—not storms.

The main safety precaution is to carefully check your newly installed propane tanks for leaks EACH AND EVERY TIME you change ‘em.  There’s special (completely non-corrosive) stuff you can use—we just use sudsy dish washing liquid on a sponge. Take your time. Any leak will expand a bubble. Watch carefully.

Technology, of course, can help. Most boats these days have a 12 volt electric solenoid to shut off the fuel at the tank—conveniently, from the galley. This device has saved a lot of lives but, like anything else on a boat, has its drawbacks.

If you lose your electrical power, you lose your ability to cook as well. To avoid this, many old salts put manual bypass valves running in parallel with the solenoid—but this adds cost and complexity.

Another device that should be mentioned is the propane fume sniffer. These are located in the bilge—and work well. At least for a while. But I’ve never seen one working after four years or so—so I am reluctant to depend on one with my life.

Tips on the Galley Stove

  • The stove itself should be gimbaled AND able to be locked in place (in harbor or while boiling a huge pot of water for, say, lobsters).
  • There should be a minimum of two stovetop burners—but the more the merrier. Certainly three burners is a vast improvement over two.
  • The oven has to be able to get truly hot—at least 350 degrees. Bigger is better, of course, but space is always at a premium on a sailboat—even if it is 80 feet LOA.
  • It is nice if there’s a broiler—although it is hardly necessary.

Many stoves are very expensive today. That’s fine. However, many of these very expensive stoves are crap—which is not fine. The only bright side of this situation is that we have always managed to pick up gleaming $2,000 stoves in the dumpster—because their owner has deluded themselves that the new model might be more dependable—dream on, pal!

Galley Utensil Drawer and Other Items

The placement—and easy of opening—of the galley utensil drawer is very important—but the most important placement after the sink and stove—is the trash bin.

Oh, dear! This is complicated. It must be super easy to use, quick to replace its plastic bag, and odor free. Usually the solution is to hinge it from the bottom so that it wedges open from the top. Its placement should be close to, but not directly under, the sink.

Refrigeration and Galley Power Generation

Most live-aboard boats these days have refrigeration. Given enough solar cells, wind generators, and batteries (translation: weight and money), these 12 volt units can run solely on renewable energy.

We have six solar cells on Ganesh, and our battery bank is almost always recharged by the sun before noon IF we are in the sunny tropics.

One more thing…

Knife racks should not empty during a pitch-pole—the last thing you need is a flying meat cleaver winging around the interior in gale force conditions.

… On and on I happily went for another 10,000 words or so—and then hit the ‘send’ button on my email program. I felt smug and self-righteous. A fan in need is a fan indeed!

The following day I received this response: “Er … what I meant was, like, ‘U’ or ‘L’ shaped?”

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 52 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, Sail: How To Inexpensively and Safely Buy, Outfit, and Sail a Small Vessel Around the World is out now.Visit:fattygoodlander.com

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