Dinghy Cruising with Phillips
Chapter 6
Cooking and Catering
by Joy Phillips

This chapter clearly falls into three parts: 

  • something to cook on
  • something to cook in
  • and something to cook

In our experience, no stove beats an open fire. When circumstances permit, this is undoubtedly the most economical way to cook. It gives the widest range of temperatures, is the most fun, and saves on the fuel you have to carry in your boat. By "open fire" we do not mean a blazing bonfire. There is no point in risking life, limb and the forest, for the sake of a cup of coffee. An old saying goes: "White man build big fire—sit far; Indian build small fire—sit close". 

Materials for a small fireplace abound in our Great Lakes wilderness. Two logs of a maximum diameter of six inches, or some of the local rock, quickly form a fireplace about two feet long and six inches wide, which is ample. As a sailor you will, of course, be aware of the direction of the wind even on shore, and you will set your fireplace to catch the draught. As a responsible user of the wilderness, you will put it close to the water's edge and away from the forest. (But you may have no choice: when the water is high, the beaches are narrow.)

There will be times when you camp in places where it would be foolhardy or illegal to light a fire—or even impossible. We had one overnight stop on a beach about two feet wide, and we cooked on our little stoves with one foot in the water. For such occasions, and for wet days, you need to carry a stove. Over the years, we have sailed with people who carried an astonishing variety of camp stoves. We have tried several ourselves, and our last is the nearest to satisfactory. Considerations in order of importance are:  
1. Compactness
2. Safety
3. Convenience in use and speed of heating
4. Fuel: weight and bulk of containers, and availability of supplies where you will be cruising.
Most people take a two-burner stove; with our preference for open-fire cooking, we carry a single kerosene- burning Primus or Optimus as auxiliary. It fits in a securely closed gallon paint can. We also carry a kerosene- burning hurricane lamp as a source of warmth and comfort, and for drying the inside of the tent. Gasoline we regard as too dangerous to carry because of the risk of explosion in any space where it could leak or a few drops could spill. The compressed gases (butane, propane etc.,) require heavy containers which are also magnetic, but with a suitable stove they are very convenient and give good heat. 

For cooking in the tent you require a stove that will not flare up and set fire to your tent or melt the sail wound around the boom. No one stove has all the advantages and you have to choose the best compromise for yourself. If you ever cook on the boat inside the tent, you should have a fire extinguisher, type B1. Remember to have the matches in a separate waterproof container, with more dry matches in reserve.

Compactness and light weight are also considerations in choosing your cooking pans. Rejects from your kitchen may be cheap, but very inconvenient to stow in the dinghy lockers. A set of nesting cooking pots is a good investment. Ours packs a lot into a small space—three cooking pots, two Teflon-coated lids which double as frying pans, two handle-grips which fit all these, a coffee pot, four aluminum plates and four plastic cups. (To keep the outsides of the pots fairly easy to clean after use on an open fire, the old campers' trick of smearing them with soap works well.) You need knives, forks and spoons, and it is a good idea to pack these in a roll similar to that used for tools—a straight piece of cloth with pockets to slip the items in, a flap to fold over, and the whole rolled up with a rubber band to hold it. Ours is made of terry-cloth so that everything comes out dry even if it went in wet. 

Your choice of kitchen utensils is up to you, but there are some we find invaluable: 

  • tongs, which double as fire tongs
  • a rubber scraper, which gets the last gram of chicken à la king on to your plate and not in the dishwater
  • a big sharp knife (you will have a sharp pocket knife as all good sailors do, but it is sometimes not quite big enough for a homemade loaf or the canned ham on Sunday), and 
  • a corkscrew. 
Don't forget the can-opener. These are items from our standard list, which goes on from year to year with changes dictated by experience. Such a list will vary with individual preferences, but some more "don't forgets" are: 
  • detergent
  • dish-brush and tea-towel
  • aluminum foil; and, surprisingly,
  • a few paper towels (in a plastic bag)
Food is such an individual thing that it is not easy to say much about it, but if ever there were a place for convenience foods, a cruising dinghy is it. Cans of food are bulky and magnetic, but unavoidable if you are serving a conventional diet. (One couple we sailed with went on a vegetarian diet and opened only two cans in two weeks, both of them milk.) 

Tear the labels off, write the contents on the ends of the can with a grease-pencil, and stow them under the floorboards. Keep a record in the log-book of what's there, port and starboard, and think ahead when you have gone to the trouble of lifting one floor board, so that you get out supplies for two or three days. 

Many "perishables" are surprisingly long-lived without ice: 

  • margarine in tubs keeps under the floorboards for two weeks or more
  • bacon (in a Ziploc bag) keeps for three or four days
  • cheese keeps a couple of weeks, especially when it is in the sealed package as it comes from the store—don't let the cheese itself get wet
  • eggs keep well if protected from breaking 
Milk and raw meat are the two perishables which have to be used up within thirty-six hours, if you are lucky enough to find somewhere to buy them. 

Anything stored under the floorboards must be securely packaged. The packages will be in water part of the time, and if the contents get out, it will be a mess, and may clog the bailers or bilge pump.

Bread can go mouldy. Ours is homemade, and I bake it longer than usual and at a lower-than-usual temperature when it is destined for a cruise. Our pride and joy in the bread department is Anadama bread (see Appendix C for recipe). The story goes that there was once a salty old sea-captain in Maine, whose wife was named Anna, and he always referred to her as "Anna, damn 'er". Anna had one great talent - she could make bread that did not go mouldy as fast as the bread that other wives made. Her recipe has come down to us as Anadama bread, and it does keep longer than ordinary bread, whether white or whole grain. You would not want it as a steady diet, for it has a robust flavour, but it is very welcome towards the end of a two-week cruise when there have not been any stores. Apart from store-bought crackers, crispbreads and hard-tack, another bread substitute is griddle scones (see Appendix C).

That brings us to staples:

  • Flour has many uses, and is more versatile than pancake or biscuit mix. Just take flour and make your own mixes as you need them. This will mean that you will need a small moisture-proof container of baking powder.
  • Sugar and salt you will have anyway, also moisture-proofed. An old spice jar is fine for salt, and a few grains of rice in it will help to keep it dry.
  • For quick casserole-type suppers, noodles and quick-cooking rice are good, with instant soup for flavouring, and canned meat or fish and canned vegetables to complete the dish. 
  • Garlic powder and Italian seasoning perk up dull canned food. 
  • Pepper, of course, and onion flakes and dry mustard are handy. Mustard brings out the cheese flavour in any cooked cheese dish. (At the end of a two-week cruise, we once heated a canned ham, basted with a mixture of its own juice, adding the juice from a can of pineapple, salt, pepper, mustard and brown sugar, for a gourmet farewell supper. There's a lot more to cruise food than canned stew!)
  • Most vegetables have to be brought along in cans, though we have found it well worth while to carry fresh potatoes and onions. Dried potato flakes are acceptable in an emergency, but need to be doctored to be enjoyed (with bacon fat, garlic powder, or whatever strikes your fancy). 
  • Fresh carrots carry well, celery lasts a few days, and we have even had a romaine lettuce that stayed fresh and crisp in its plastic bag through an 18-hour car journey and three days in the boat. But do steel yourself to find alternatives to salads unless you come upon a settlement with a grocery store.
  • Tomatoes look pretty sad after a couple of days on board. We have intended to try drying vegetables (straight from the garden) but have not yet got around to it. These would be lighter than cans, and non-magnetic. The only fresh fruit we have found satisfactory is oranges. Everything else is too fragile.
  • Take lots of instant drink makings—coffee, teabags. hot chocolate, soup. Nothing is more comforting on a wet chilly day than a hot drink. Take lots of coffee whitener—you'll be surprised how much you use when it serves for many different drinks. Take a can or two of milk even if you don't use it in tea; it adds richness to soups and top-of-stove casseroles. Take a thermos: you can fill it with boiling water at breakfast time, and use it any time for a choice of instant drinks. If you don't use it, nothing is wasted, and there is no messy flask to wash at day's end.
Lastly, forget your diet. You are using so much energy, especially in camp, that the chances are you will lose weight even if you eat like a horse, so take plenty of snacks. A mixture of dried fruits and nuts, including candied papaya if you can get it, is a treat. We always have ample supplies of light fruitcake and some other sturdy cake such as gingerbread, and generous supplies of cookies. Take candy - a toffee is comforting on a wet day when the rain is seeping round the hood of your foul-weather jacket, and a peppermint or fruit drop goes beautifully with a fine sunny day. You're on holiday - relax and enjoy yourself.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Planning
Chapter 3: Equipment
Chapter 4: Rigging and Sails
Chapter 5: Camping
Chapter 6: Cooking and catering
Chapter 7: Communication
Chapter 8: Navigation
Chapter 9: Heavy Weather
Chapter 10: Spares and repairs
Chapter 11: Clothing, Personal Items, First Aid
Chapter 12: Stowage
Chapter 13: The Record
Appendix A: The CWA Cruising Library
Appendix A1: Dinghy Cruising Logs on line
Appendix B: Book List
Appendix C: Recipes
Appendix D: Addresses: Government Agencies, etc.
Appendix E: Buoyancy Testing