Focus on smart ready-meals for when the going gets rough
Hot meals that are easy to prepare for when the going gets rough
Enjoying great local food in stunning locations is one of the many delights of sailing. However, the reality can be very different if faced with inclement weather when on passage – we’ve all encountered situations in which no one onboard has time, or inclination, to prepare a meal. Every cruising yacht can therefore benefit from carrying some food that needs no preparation other than heating, and leaves no mess to be cleaned up afterwards.
There’s much that can be learned from the offshore racing community in this respect. A common misconception is that they live mostly off freeze-dried rations. While that may be mostly true for those who race very long distances, such as the Vendée Globe and The Ocean Race, many smaller short-handed boats don’t have a watermaker. This means there’s no weight advantage in taking freeze-dried fare.
Instead vacuum packed ‘wet’ meals are the mainstay for most. This opens up options for boil-in-the-bag style dishes that can be bought from regular supermarkets across the globe (I’ve found good selections in the Canary Islands, Galicia and the Azores, for instance) instead of specialist camping/expedition retailers. As well as being easier to source, these usually taste better and have a more pleasant texture as the food doesn’t need to be reconstituted.
“I like anything that is quick and easy to serve with little mess,” says Richard Palmer, whose JPK1010 Jangada was RORC Yacht of the Year in 2020. He chooses boil in the bag options over freeze dried, with the exception of trusty Pot Noodles, “which are an instant source of gratification, especially at night.”
Palmer’s favourite brands of wet food
include Wayfarer Foods, Jamie Oliver’s ready to eat meals (including Moroccan Salad and Smokey Veggie Chilli), and John West’s salmon or tuna meals in a bag. He says these offer “very long life and can be eaten cold, which is great on a transatlantic or hot days.” He’s also a fan of wraps, which have a longer shelf life than bread, are easy to handle and create no mess.
Nigel De Quervain Colley has owned a long string of racing yachts called Fastrak, the latest of which is a Sun Fast 3300 set up to race transatlantic. He recommends Uncle Ben’s ready rice: “It comes in various flavours, cooks in a pan in a couple of minutes and it’s easy to add other stuff.” He also likes instant porridge pots: “just add boiling water, and chop up any spare fruit that’s easily to hand.”
Equally, fruit cake keeps for ages, has nutritious ingredients and is “a meal in itself.” If freeze dried foods can’t be avoided then Colley recommends Expedition Foods (see right).
A lot of skippers add extra flavour with a few drops of tabasco, Worcester or soy sauce. Louis Burton shipped a bottle of top-notch olive oil from Provence to liven up his meals during the last Vendée Globe. For those who have spicier tastes, 2022 Golden Globe Race competitor Gaurav Shinde points out that specialist Indian supermarkets usually offer a wide range of packaged wet meals.
The biggest downside to vacuum-packed or boil in the bag meals tends to be the singleuse packaging they come in. Of course many longlife items such as pasta and rice are typically packaged in plastic, but at least these cater for multiple meals. Recyclable packaging is increasingly being used where possible by outdoor sports focussed brands – see Firepot over the page which has compostable options – and cruising sailors visiting foreign ports have a responsibility to create as little landfill as possible and to dispose of their waste responsibly.
For a quick lunch, or a pre-dinner boost, a mug of powdered soup and a baguette can quickly lift both spirits and energy levels. Part-baked mini baguettes or rolls have a long shelf life and only need to be heated for a few minutes. Kate Cope doesn’t have an oven on her well travelled Sun Fast 3200 R2 Purple Mist, but successfully heats them in a covered pan, which also minimises the gas needed.
Ensuring you have enough fresh food on longer passages can be a challenge. Kirsteen Donaldson, whose X-332 Pyxis is a veteran of races to the Azores and Cascais, recommends citrus, melons and pineapple as fruit that will “keep well and survive the sort of abuse they may get on a boat.” Some skippers also consider supplements, including Colley who suggests adding an effervescent vitamin C tablet to bottles of water.
Given good refrigeration some salad items can keep well. Iceberg lettuce lasts a long time providing you eat them simultaneously, starting with outer leaves. When I competed in the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race on Jangada we took six iceberg lettuces with us and ate the final hearts, in wraps with chorizo, freshly-made hummus (mash chickpeas from a tin with a fork and add tahini, lemon juice and garlic paste) on day 18.
In the past offshore sailosrs didn’t have recourse to this type of pre-packaged food. Instead, the solution was a stew pot, prepared in advance of inclement weather. This could then be heated at will and topped up with extra ingredients if bad weather lasted for an extended period.
In a similar vein, one of my favourites for the first night at sea, when everyone is regaining their sea legs, is a roast chicken. It can be placed in a baking tray, surrounded by potatoes and root vegetables before leaving port, then all you need to do is light the oven and wait for it to cook. In all but the best boat ovens this may take up to 50% longer than at home.