I have lived aboard a variety of sailboats from 33 to 42 feet long for eight of the past twelve years. Some time has been spent traveling at sea, some anchored in beautiful places and much of it in port. Whether we are on the move or relaxing at anchor with friends, each day includes time spent in our galley preparing snacks and meals for my family and friends. While the dishes in our galley taste much the same as ones I might prepare in a typical kitchen, there are a number of unique aspects to cooking afloat.
What is a galley anyway?
While boat galleys can vary greatly, mainly depending on the size and type of boat, they all have just about the same things an apartment or house does: a stove, (usually) an oven, a sink, a refrigerated box, counter space and storage for cooking supplies and food. On a boat (or an RV, or an efficiency apartment for that matter) what is different is the scale: everything about a typical galley is much smaller that you’d find ashore. For example, our refrigerated box is about 5 cubic feet of space, our sink is about 1’ x 2’ and our stove has only three burners.
Cooking in a closet with a view
If you guessed that the biggest challenge to cooking on a boat is the small space, then you would be right. If I could best describe what it’s like to cook in a typical galley space I’d have to say it is much like cooking in a large linen closet. With better views, of course.
Managing all of the ingredients and tools necessary for preparing most meals with the available counter space can take some strategic shifting. Storage for cooking equipment can be minimal so many “luxury” items (such as a kitchen mixer) simply don’t fit onboard our small sailboat and I’ve had to pare down to the true essentials. Unless we are in a marina our water supply must be conserved so it’s a good idea to keep the number of dirty dishes down to a minimum.
Purchasing and storing food can be very different on a boat; food must often be stored for a lengthy amount of time if we are away from port. Since our refrigerated space is limited (and many boats do not have refrigeration at all) I often have to choose items that do not need refrigeration, such as boxed milk and canned goods. Finally, when away from our home port, the same ingredients or brands I am used to may not be available so I need to find suitable substitutes.
Getting the most from your galley
Even with all of these limitations, I absolutely love to cook in my efficient space onboard. I have found a number of ways to make the best use of the space, cooking equipment, and food supplies available:
- Equip the galley with tools that have multiple uses, or at the very least are used often. While I no longer have a Cuisinart, I do have a good set of knives that get used constantly and I know how to sharpen myself. There are many items made for the galley that are just ingenious, such as my nesting set of stainless steel cookware. I have two pressure cookers (a 3 quart and a 6 quart) because these cook a huge variety of delicious meals quickly and with minimal clean-up. Quality is important too, because having a handful of utensils will mean that each will get used a lot; my sturdy bamboo mixing spoon is used multiple times each day.
- Keep the most often used tools and food items close at hand in the galley. I keep my nesting cookware, cooking oils and spices right next to the stove as I use these daily. Items that are not used as often (such as cake making supplies) are stored in lockers beneath seat cushions that are not as convenient to get to. This reduces the amount of time spent gathering up supplies and ingredients for each meal (which can be significant if many of the items needed are buried in the bottom of storage lockers).
- Prepare and clean as you go. I tend to cook each meal in shifts: first I spend time preparing the ingredients I need for the meal (such as washing and chopping vegetables). Then I spend a few minutes cleaning up my preparation area before I continue on to start cooking. That allows me to have just what I need at hand on the galley counter and to not have to struggle to find space for what I’m using to cook.
- Be flexible with food ingredients. While it’s certainly not our first choice, I have learned to use even canned chicken in ways that no one would suspect was from a can. When traveling, especially outside of the United States, it is a fun challenge to cook with many new local ingredients. It is a huge part of the adventure.
- Keep a sense of humor. I think this is required for any aspect of living or sailing on a boat as it can be quite challenging at times. Sometimes, despite all my best efforts, cooking gets a little wild and messy in our galley. And the best trick then is to just laugh. And eat. Even if I have to scrape the burned bits off the bottom of the lasagna.
For more stories about our life as a family afloat, visit our blog Sailing Wondertime at www.svwondertime.com.
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