Crossings

One of the great things that I love about working in the yachting industry is that occasionally it really puts things in perspective. It really makes you appreciate how big and beautiful the world on which we so precariously live, actually is. In an age where the planet is shrinking so rapidly as we are all brought closer together in ever increasing efficiency by the advances of modern air travel, it is nice sometimes to be onboard a yacht pootling along at a very leisurely 10 knots. It gives one time to appreciate ones surroundings, as we take 3 days to get to somewhere that it has taken the boss to get to in 1 hour on his private jet. More specifically it gives me 3 days to figure out what the hell I’m going to cook for the guy and what I will do when he inevitably comes back to the boat one day with a brace of 90 kilo Polynesian saber-toothed albino swamp pigs and cries “Neeel, viz zees you are cooking for me zee tasting menu, tvelve courses, vee veel eat in half an hour ya! Chop chop!”

Just kidding, its a different pig! The one at the top was eventually sponsored by the boat and now lives in an apartment near High Street Kensington where it will lead a long and fruitful life before being eventually turned into ‘Wagu Pork’ [copyright:patent no.26753098] nom, nom, nom. (Disclaimer: The last statement may be a lie).

But as with anything, it sometimes has its downsides. For example, standing in the middle of a small room in the middle of the Atlantic as the room pitches, rolls and bucks like the business end of a rodeo bull (that could be either end I guess depending on your perspective), and you are surrounded by razor sharp knives, pots of boiling water, hot oil, heavy pieces of equipment, marinating Polynesian saber-toothed albino swamp pig heads and ill tempered seasick stewardesses (or stewards, we are very PC on achefabroad.com) is sometimes not as much fun as it sounds.

There comes a point when it simply becomes too dangerous to cook. On a relatively small yacht, it may not take the perfect storm to bring about such circumstances. Some yachts won’t have stabilizers, which will make things very uncomfortable in any remotely choppy sea condition. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the boat, the more stable it will be in open water. When I worked onboard a cruise ship with 3000 people onboard, we could plough through pretty much any seas and you would be able to have a game of snooker if you wanted to (no there were no snooker tables onboard, I’m just sayin, it was a smooth ride).

I have done an Atlantic crossing which took around 10 days and was incredibly lucky that we hit a window of calm weather and she was like a mill pond the whole way across. Great for me as I could cook away for the crew and everyone was in good spirits. Crew could be out on deck and exercising in the gym. Morale was high. Everyone felt good and could eat properly and generally enjoy the experience. When it is rough it can be very different. People get ill, you get very tired from continually having to brace yourself as you walk around, its very hard to cook, not that anyone will eat anything anyway. When you are not on watch then you are being bounced around your cabin trying desperately to sleep in order to relieve the boredom.

It does get very boring on a long crossing. The crew will be doing maybe 4 hours on watch sitting on the bridge as either a watch leader driving the boat or a lookout followed by 8 hours off. So one day watch followed by 4 hours in the middle of the night sitting in pitch black trying not to fall asleep while you keep an eye out for any ships/land/giant squid etc.

So to relieve the monotony we try to do some fun stuff on the way across. Maybe some skinny dipping 2000 miles from the nearest point of land, maybe loosing off some of the boats firearms,

a spot of fishing perhaps

some safety drills are always fun,

or a sweep stake to guess the exact time and day of our arrival. Or maybe tie crew members to the mast with cling film and pour rotting slops from the galley over them while dressed as Neptune.

Upon our arrival in …..”hey hey hey, hang on a minute, what the hell was that last one, clingfilm, slops etc”

Ah yes. This ancient tradition of ritual humiliation is generally practiced on most yachts that do crossings. The idea is to target any crew who are crossing the Atlantic for the first time. Well I think it is actually meant to be if you are crossing the Equator for the first time but generally a captain will use any excuse to do this to new crew members. The Atlantic, the Pacific, the pool at the Intercontinental, the street…..if you are crossing it for the first time, beware. The victims are given orders to dress up in fancy dress and then make their way to the pointy bit at the front of the boat….the bow, yes that’s it, the bow. Hey, I’m the chef, its called the front of the boat or the back of the boat. The captain is dressed as Neptune, lord of the seas etc.

The victims are restrained and tied to something.

And this is the part when I think I kinda shot myself in the foot. As the chef, I was approached at the start of the crossing and asked to keep all the food waste from the galley. So all shrimp shells, fish bits, left over cottage pie, left over Roquefort salad with truffle dressing and brussel sprout reduction, left over Polynesian saber-toothed albino swamp pig bum holes etc were handed over to the mate every day and kept in a big container somewhere nice and warm, like the engine room, to fester for a few days until we reached the half way point. Now with the benefit of hindsight, I think I would have selected the items of food waste that I handed over a bit more carefully. “What do we have today then?” “Well yes sir, here you go, all I had left over today was these bottles of champagne and this wad of dollars from the APA and these young local ladies with questionable morals”….thereby turning the tables completely and fulfilling a fantasy in the process. Ah, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Once tied to the boat, a speech is made by Neptune and then we are all made to kiss the mouth of a dead flying fish that was found on deck that morning (does anyone else think that this sounds strange?). The bucket of rotting, fetid slops is then brought out and, yes, you guessed it, tipped over are heads.

Nice. If I had only thought about it abit more, I could have been tied to the mast and showered with Dollar bills, champagne and women with questionable morals. A whole different prospect. And then its back to work. Ah, fond memories.

The yacht I am on at the moment is crossing the Pacific from Tahiti to Panama next month. A trip that will take fully a month going into seas considerably rougher generally than the Atlantic at this time of year. That will be my first Pacific crossing. Actually it won’t. As soon as I heard the news, I managed to persuade the captain that it would be a far better idea to get a relief chef in to cook during the crossing and instead, let me go and eat my way around Tokyo and then spend a month in Thailand followed by a few days in Cuba before getting to Panama just in time to be standing waiting on the dock when the boat arrives. Bullet dodged.

TTFN

achefabroad

7 comments

  1. A fine blog, sir, and all the better for being about a world that most of us know absolutely nothing about. Keep up the good work (in both the literary and culinary senses of the word) and I hope you manage to avoid the slop bucket!

    • Thank you Muzuhashi. I am pleased to hear that you are enjoying it. I will be writing about my travels through Japan in a few weeks so if you have any tips on where to visit in Tokyo then please let me know.

      • It sounds like you’re going to be concentrating on the luxury end of the culinary scale, so my advice would be to seek out some cosier, cheaper venues – ie. the kind of bars / cafes with a little red lantern outside and seating for about five customers (in fact, in some cases not even seating), which should offer you a more authentic dining experience, and the opportunity to meet ordinary salarymen popping in for a beer, a chat and some ramen / yakitori / sushi before they catch the train home after work. As for where you’ll find this kind of venue, it’s usually best to pick a busy station and wander into the backstreets – either that or find yourself an English-speaking local who can point you in the right direction.

        In my time in Tokyo, my favourite place to wander around during the day – and which tends not to be in the tourist guides – is Kichijoji, which is about 20 or 30 minutes west of Shinjuku station on the JR Chuo (central) line. It has a park, a shopping arcade, and lots of little backstreets full of interesting shops and cafes.

        Feel free to drop me a line if you need any advice, and I look forward to reading about the trip!

      • Thanks for that. I will definitely check out the area you suggested. I got abit carried away with booking restaurants and have gone for mostly 2 or 3 michelin star places. Some very small with just one guy serving 8 guests at a counter. I am very interested to see how that kind of a place gets 3 stars. Plus it has had very mixed reviews from what i can find on the web. There are a couple of days when i am free to just wander around and pop in and out of some little places. That is what i am really looking forward to, just getting lost in the city. I think the only worry that i have is finding some of the restaurants that i have booked as i know that they are in tricky locations with no english signage. So i guess i will be trawling street view and printing out what i find. Anyway, thanks for the comments.

      • Tokyo in particular is notoriously maze-like, and even the natives have trouble working out where they are, so don’t feel bad if you get lost or manage to lose a Michelin-starred restaurant!

  2. amazing blog…you should write about how intrepid chefs get into this crazy industry…as if someone was going to go and do it right away!

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