A Dufour 425 optimistically named Pollyanna
to be precise.
We, or rather Peter Mackie's and Sam Peckers, organised her charter out of Dunstaffnage and through the Sound of Mull
for a nice long weekend of cooking, eating and sailing for six of us.
As the designated ship's cook on our four-day, three-dinners-with-two-on-board voyage
I paid particular attention to my universal rules for successful
Cooking On Boats
while developing our menu
Even the rules I broke.
As any sailing fule know, the sea is a treacherous mistress
so it pays to avoid as much onboard food preparation as possible by doing it all ashore.
Thus our first meal aboard consisted of my own interpretation of a seafood chowder
prepared at home and sealed into my large stock pot with Sellotape.
Or sticky backed plastic
as it is inelegantly known to a generation of Blue Peter viewers.
Don't forget to remove the Sellotape before reheating!
For dessert I also pre-made a baking-tin-load of individual sticky toffee puddings
that only required reheating in the oven.
The main difficulty they presented having successfully driven them across the country, was transporting them intact aboard the boat.
There was a definite point on the pontoon when I was seriously afraid the whole tray was about to blow out of my hands,
to the great amusement of the rest of our heartless crew.
A situation not improved by my careful fashioning of a cling film aerofoil covering.
I must admit to defying another cardinal cooking rule by accompanying the chowder (rather well, I thought) with an oven-baked loaf of
A boat's oven is useful for keeping things warm (like breakfast - ladies!), reheating sausage rolls or pastries
or possibly cooking things securely wrapped in tin foil but don't even think about using it to roast a dinner.
The temperature, heat distribution, and vagaries of the gas supply are eager to ruin anything even slightly sensitive.
Fortunately soda bread is quite forgiving of temperature and rises with the activation of its bicarbonate of soda content
more reliably than do fickle yeast cells.
I also reheated my sticky toffee puddings in the oven, but reheating is specifically allowed, so that's alright then.
Meal number two needed to actually be prepared on the boat, so I followed the best practice:
Organise your dishes so that everything cooks sequentially going into pots, pans or the oven as you prepare the ingredients
- so choose recipes wisely.
This avoids the disaster of an unexpected tack (unexpected to the cook, obviously everyone on deck knows perfectly well what is going on,
but to them you slave in an invisible magic kitchen) dumping all your bowls of lovingly prepared components into the bilges.
The best way to arrange this is to have one large pot for browning/crisping/frying and a large warming dish securely lodged in the sink.
Cook each batch of ingredients as soon as they are prepared in this pot, then decant to the warming dish when done,
freeing the pot for the next batch.
Return everything from the warming dish to the pot at the end for their final simmering/stewing/burning.
lends itself perfectly to this kind of single pot preparation -
I served it with mashed potatoes which I first baked in the oven
(which makes for richer, tastier mash and avoids the need for another giant pot of boiling water rolling around the galley).
And some green beans
which I cooked in a giant pot of boiling water.
Handily both meals also followed an essential rule for shipboard harmony:
A generous supply of bacon in their diet acts much like Valium on the crew mood. Lack of bacon can lead to unrest and even mutiny.
Actually this is rather more of a personal rule, perhaps not quite so applicable to vegetarian voyages. Perhaps.
On reflection, the proximity of that porthole's curtains should have argued against having
flaming rum bananas
with butterscotch sauce
Fortunately the sauce was very well received and the skipper didn't notice a thing.
Not just a good rule for cooking - it's a good rule for all of your sailing. Maybe a good rule for life!
Since The Sea Is Not To Be Trusted
it's a good idea to have at least one backup meal in case you run aground, or get blown out to sea.
I chose a pasta with smoked salmon and cream cheese dish
all the constituents of which keep reasonably well.
Of course, when it proved surplus to requirements, as the designated chef I was able to take the ingredients home and try the dish out for myself.
It would have been delicious!
My favourite non-cookery related bit of the sail was helming Pollyanna between Lady's Rock and Lismore island
in an unreliable easterly wind against a stiff tide running Northwards.
A much stiffer tide than any of us had managed to predict from the tidal atlases aboard.
As I admired the astonishing disagreement between the chart plotter's Heading and COG tracks
I gave some thought to how often I'd been in the position of having to pick the best course through a narrow channel or entry,
and what would be a better strategy than just aiming for the middle and hoping for the best.
It occurred to me that navigating to avoid the worst-case outcomes might be a smarter plan.
In this case the place I definitely didn't want to end up would be being forced to tack mid-way through the gap and risk losing way
while being swept energetically towards Robert Stevenson's lighthouse on Eilean Musdile!
Accordingly I made sure to hold the passing tack until I was almost on the skerry before bearing away - much to Scot's consternation.
Hopefully no-one else noticed our anxiety!
Other things I learned on this trip:
- Don't attempt to berth sideways onto the end of a narrow pier lest you crush your less agile crewpersons - approach sternwards.
- Don't let women cook your breakfast or you'll be waiting for it one bacon rasher at a time.
Later you might get an egg.