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The Challenges and Joys of Cooking at Sea

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Cooking at Sea: Pizza being made on a two-burner stove by Connie McBride. Connie McBride
Pizza being made on a two-burner stove by Connie McBride. Connie McBride

Cooking at sea is vital to full bellies, high energy and happy boaters. Yet it can be a challenge over long passages, stormy weather and space considerations. Sailors need not live on a diet of peanut butter. Many a cruiser has enjoyed cooking at sea.

Larry Dominy of www.cruisersnet.net said, “A good shipboard cook can make or break an extended cruise. On the other hand, in the mind of the victim of seasickness, food is almost always a very unpleasant part of that memory!”

Connie McBride and her husband, Dave, raised three boys aboard a sailing vessel and currently are in the Bahamas. They have lived aboard for 15 years and have traveled for 14. The boys are grown up now and have moved away. But, the busy mom said, “We cook very healthfully. We eat very little processed foods, and almost everything is made aboard.”

A tip she shared is that before leaving on a passage, the couple prepares foods that keep. “I bake dozens of muffins, cupcakes and cookies, and Dave makes a big pot of soup or something that can sit on the stove and we can reheat as we need some. That gets us through the first few days of a passage. At that point, we’re usually feeling OK enough to cook.”

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Cooking at Sea: Dave and Connie McBride. Photo: Alvin Kernan
Dave and Connie McBride. Photo: Alvin Kernan

For the most part, Dave cooks, Connie cleans up. “When the boys were home, if I was working, they took turns cleaning up.”

The family usually craved salty snacks offshore, they found, but the boys always liked having hard candy available, too.

The McBrides have a gimballed propane stove, but they prefer to use it un-gimballed. “It’s a Force 10 and it acts more like a trebuchet offshore because it is not heavy enough.”

Bonnie Greenberg of Key Largo has enjoyed some sailing experiences but still considers herself “new to being a galley wench.” She and her boyfriend have spent the past five years working on their boat rather than sailing. The main thing is organization, she has found.

“Like working in any small space, you need to know where stuff is and put it back when you are done. My first ‘galley lesson’ was making coffee while under way without spilling anything. Thank goodness for the gimballed stove and a sense of humor.” As for what type of stove, they chose propane and a grill on deck.

Provisioning is still a work in progress, Greenberg admits. “I need more practice. For our last trip before putting it on a dock for restoration work, we were out for two weeks and I learned how right Jimmy Buffet was about banana bread. It was the one thing we still had plenty of when we were pulling into Burdines after the Tortuga trip from hell …” Which is why she can share some suggestions for seasickness. “For seasickness, I like ginger snaps, candied ginger, and lying down with a wet rag on my forehead and cursing myself for forgetting to take Dramamine.

Greenberg suggested cooking in advance due to it being easier when not moving. “Plus, if planning a trip, it’s best to prepare easy go-to meals for the journey: sandwiches, cheese, crackers, fruit, nuts and seeds, hummus, guacamole and the like. Roasted chicken or a casserole in advance is good for a long haul.”

Greenberg cooks and cleans for the most part, while her boyfriend is the Mr. Fix-It. “Washing up is no fun, so try to limit the mess you make,” she advised, adding she looks forward to the day she is living aboard.

Cooking at Sea: Connie’s pizza dough
Connie’s pizza dough


Amy Knowles, a 73-year-old, long-time resident of Islamorada shared that she enjoys going out to eat or ordering out. Her 61-foot Hatteras powerboat is moored, and has a big kitchen with electric stove and microwave. An avid flyfishing angler, Knowles is more concerned with being able to put her Bonefish Skiff atop her boat than she is with cooking!

At www.theboatgalley.com/stove-gimbals, Carolyn Shearlock describes how a gimbal works and suggests using a crock pot with a lid that can be secured in rough weather. Pressure cookers use steam to quickly heat foods. Ingredients are sealed within the machine, which gradually builds steam and cooks food through high amounts of pressure. This method is conducive to quick cooking, as liquids and solids blend more easily in the locked environment.

A book entitled An Embarrassment of Mangoes shares the tale of living aboard a 42-foot sailboat, anchoring in 16 countries, mostly in the Caribbean, over a two-year adventure. Author Ann Vanderhoof shared recipes she created while living aboard, several of which contain the variety of mangoes and tropical fruit she encountered in her voyage.

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Jill Borski
Jill Borski
Jill Zima Borski lives in Islamorada, Fla. and is board chair of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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