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Day 173

By Brian Hancock

Well I am at a loss for words. As my wife would say, “about time.” Things are humming like a top with the teams in the Ocean Globe Race in Punta del Este and there is not much to update on. However, being a true trooper who knows what it’s like to agonise, let’s take a look at provisioning.

This is a tricky one. Four or five weeks stand between where the boats are and the finish in England. Who was it that said, “an army marches on its stomach?” Oh I checked my Wiki page and it turns out both Napoleon and Frederick the Great (who gave him that title; probably himself) but the point remains the same. Whoever is in charge of provisioning is one of the most important people on board.

The crew need to be fed and fed well but just think about it, you have 10+ people on board and they need to be fed three meals each and every day which amounts to around a thousand meals in the next few weeks. I don’t know this for a fact but in my day (I sound old don’t I?) no one gave a crap if you had a peanut allergy. Or if you were a strict vegan. You just ate or starve to death if your meals were not catered just right. Jokes aside. The real engine of the yacht is the person who is shopping and planning meals.

Funny story. In my first long offshore passage from England to Australia we had a cantankerous cook. I can use his name now because he’s long gone. (RIP) Dola Dawson. He was cantankerous like a cook in a cheap restaurant in New Bedford, Massachusetts, but he could cook. One day he had a pressure cooker of stew on the stove top. It was rough out. Southern Ocean style. Dola thought that it might be a good idea to make stew for dinner but what he hadn’t counted on was the flat out knockdown that would come when the stew was half done. We were sideswiped by an errant wave and over we went, which in itself was not good news but the pressure cooker took flight. It left its home on the stove top and made its way at rocket speed across the cabin. Now a pressure cooker filled with stew can weigh almost more than an infant, only infants don’t have sharp edges (well some do). It took flight and crashed into the leeward bunks. Luckily, well very luckily, we were all gathering our foul weather gear together to go on deck otherwise we might just have been part of the Beef Stew Crisis. It hit so hard that the bunk was badly dented, The stew went everywhere and Dola, completely pissed off, went to his bed. We all went hungry.

Point is this. It’s like running a small restaurant dishing up dishes for very hungry sailors. Knowing what and how much to buy is enough of a challenge. You don’t want to run out of food before you finish, and that in itself is a gamble because who knows what the wind gods are going to throw your way, but you also don’t to end up with too much food left over which would have meant that you had carried all that extra weight across the ocean for no good reason. Then there is the strict job of stowing the food, and more to the point of remembering where it was stored. The person in charge has to think ahead of every meal because much of the food was stowed under the bunks and so if you needed that package of spaghetti for lunch, you didn’t want to wake the off-watch person to get under his warm and cozy bed. So now you are starting to get the picture.

In Cape Town they have much of what you can find in England, Auckland too, but in Uruguay it’s an additional challenge. Their food is different, and so is the labeling. It’s all in Spanish so it’s a bit of a crap shoot; but you still have a team to feed.

While the great sailors of the McIntyre Ocean Globe Race are wrapping up their final bits and pieces (nautical term), in the rain, I might add, I am going to digress, funnily enough. Once the race starts I will get back to the bits and bobs (another nautical term) of the wind and the weather but for now, while things are quiet, I have a story for you.

I was sailing a boat from Cape Town to Gibraltar with my great friend Phil Wade (RIP). He was a Whitbread veteran and a damn good one (‘85/86 Drum). We stopped in the small island of Brava in the Cape Verde islands. We would see the local fishermen going out in their skiffs in the morning and watch them come back each evening. One night one of them didn’t come back. There was a lot of consternation among the locals that he had not made it back to shore. The next morning, just as it was getting light, I was on deck taking a pee (as one does), when I saw a small dot on the horizon. I stayed on deck and watched as the dot came closer. It was the missing fisherman who had caught a massive turtle and was towing it ashore. The turtle was more than half the size of his skiff and he was rowing like heck. That day there was a huge party on the beach. Turtles, by the way, contain a lot of blood and the water in our little anchorage was stained red. We were invited to the feast. Fire pits had been dug and turtle meat was being grilled. What a celebration, not only for the lost and found fisherman, but for everyone, and here is the thing. Brava is a very poor island, but they gave us enough leftover turtle to feed the South African army (of which I was one for two years – stupid I know, but it was a draft). My mate Phil was a great cook and made turtle curry and we fed like pigs until we got to Gibraltar. The kindness of strangers. As I mentioned before; pay it forward and I have done so ever since. These are the small lessons you learn as a sailor. “Life Hey,” as Don would say.

Q&A with Don

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