tending the fire, the feast and the belly at sea

A Day in the Galley


Putting fresh Maine grown tomatoes on the garlic bread on the infamous lasagna night.


A day in the life of a galley cook. This was taken at 6:20am on Monday morning aboard the Mercantile. I was feeding 21 people 5 times a day for 3 days. At 6:20am, the check marked items were already completed. Whew!

9 Knots and Indian Food Night


8am perhaps in Gilkey’s Harbor

I didn’t post anything last week. I had one short day and a half off and somehow couldn’t find the time. I just finished 7 days on the Grace Bailey. It was an exciting week full of beautiful skies, a couple great!! days of sailing  (reaching around 9 knots on Friday afternoon when we covered 30 miles in less than 4 hours!)  and plenty of delicious food. It seems there’s lots to note from this week and I could probably write a blog post every day if I had reception on the water more regularly and enough time!


While sailing at around 9 knots in the Grace Bailey, this is what being heeled over looks like in the galley. Note the angle of the water coming out of that faucet.

Of note this week;

  • after my one rough day with the Mercantile stove during race week, I’ve been on a roll with the wood stoves on each boat. So much so that I am regularly getting an extra half hour of sleep and still serving everything on time and most importantly, getting the oven up to temperature in record time. This means I get up at 4:30 a.m. each day rather than 4:00 to serve the first snack and coffee at 6:30 a.m. This half hour of extra sleep is like heaven!!


Baking garlic naan for the first time ever (under way in the Grace Bailey)

  • also of note was a special surprise meal that I planned and executed Saturday night with my messmate for the week, Sally. I bought 3 cans of coconut milk and managed to have everything I needed to make coconut chicken curry, with cinnamon rice, sweet and spicy cole slaw, garlic naan (first time), raita, spicy apple raisin chutney, minty plum chutney, Indian pudding (first time I’ve ever tried a technique called a water bath where you bake something in pan of hot water) with whipped cream and an iced chai for dessert – we served this meal just after coming through a scary little squall on the way to Gilkey’s Harbor to 13 passengers and 6 crew members including ourselves. It was definitely like having a party in my mouth!


Anadama bread fresh from the oven

  • I didn’t set foot on land for 6 and a half days this week, perhaps the longest time I’ve been at sea yet.

  • Friday and Saturday afternoon we had great sailing reaching upwards of 9 knots at times (just after I finished baking the Indian pudding in the water bath!!) and covering 30 miles in less than 4 hours on Friday!! Both days were glorious with calm, slow moving mornings followed by high winds and lots of hot sunshine and cool air.


There is so much more to say about the rhythm of the days, the menus, being on the water, the crew, the Maine coast, tending fire and of course water, which I haven’t even written anything about yet, but I have only a short window of time before I have to be back for captain’s call – heading out for another 7 days on the Mercantile tomorrow morning – and plenty of errands to run and people to talk to before my bedtime at 9:30 or so.





FIRE: The Rhythm of the Day (Part 2)

Well, this week started out well.  Easy Peasy as we say around here.  After a great, though somewhat rainy 3 days out, we came back into Camden Harbor and boarded 12 new passengers.  Thursday we headed out again for the  Great Schooner Race, which started Friday morning in Gilkey’s Harbor.

Thursday I had my first tussle with the stove.  From the very start of the day I could not get the temperature above 300 and it was often hovering around 250, definitely not hot enough to do most of what I need to do in any given day.  I wrestled with it, pleaded with it, got angry, confused, etc. Nothing helped.  Finally, without really understanding exactly why, at about 4:30pm, the oven jumped up to almost 500.  Once it gets this hot, all kinds of things start happening since the whole hot water system is tied into the woodstove.  Boiling water started coming out of the hot water faucet when we turned it on and the pressure in the hot water tank started creeping up.  As soon as I realized this was happening, I turned on the faucets and drained our gravity feed “day tank” to release pressure and and get the water temperature normalized again.  In spite of this challenging start to the trip, most all the food turned out pretty well.  The pineapple curry chicken was dried out (that was in the oven when it shot up to the highest temperature) and some of the baked goods did more of a horizontal puffing  than a vertical one.  But besides that, the only thing ruined was my arms, which now look pretty terrible from all the new burns I got.  Over the course of the day there were probably 10-15 new burns on my arms and hands.


The Great Schooner Race. 8:30am in Gilkey’s Harbor. From the deck of the Schooner Mercantile.

Friday was the Great Schooner Race where all the different schooners start in one place and race through a course picked by the captains to a finish line.  This year we started in Gilkey’s Harbor where you can see a big fancy house that used to be owned by Kirstie Alley and raced to Rockland Harbor with a few zig zags in between.  We anchored in Gilkey’s Harbor with all the other schooners Thursday evening.  Friday dawned beautiful — clear and warm with a slight breeze.  It was so cool to wake up that morning and know that all the other cooks on the other boats were also starting their days as the sky turned from dark grey to pink to yellow to blue.  The woodstove started right up that morning and got up to temperature much more quickly than usual.  I didn’t burn myself all day and I did so much prep work that I was able to be on deck from about 9:00 to 11:00 and again in the afternoon for a couple hours while the race was still going on.

It was a gorgeous day with lots of wind with gusts up to 25 knots at times and plenty of hot summer sun.  The Mercantile was in the coaster class and she came in 4th of 5 schooners.  We received a “Spirit of ’53” award, which I couldn’t really figure out the meaning of.  And there was a party in Rockland with free beer, live music and more food!

There’s so much more to say about the fire and about the rhythm of the day.  But it is just now dark and time for me to go to bed so I can get up tomorrow and start it all over again.  We 19 new passengers and head out of Camden Harbor at 10am tomorrow morning.  Thanks for reading this hastily written report!!

FIRE: The Rhythm of the Day (Part 1)


The stove top in the Mercantile Galley. The ladder is the main passageway in and out of the galley. The bars around the stove top keep things from sliding off when we’re heeled over.

I just finished a 5-day trip aboard the Schooner Mercantile.  This is the first week I’ve started to really settle in to the rhythm of the days of sailing.  Once the initial rush of provisioning the boats on Sunday/Monday is over and we’ve left Camden Harbor with our passengers, there is a sweeter, slower rhythm developing each day we’re at sea.  

My days start at 4:00am.  I wake up, get dressed and head straight to the galley to start the fire. At 4:00am on the eastern edge of the country as we hover around the summer solstice, the sky is just beginning to lighten.  By 4:30 it is daylight and at 5:00am, the great golden sun starts to peek over the horizon.  Usually, no one is up and around until almost 6:00am, though sometimes we have an early rising passenger who will sit quietly on deck or in the galley if it’s raining.



The fire box on the ShipMate cook stove, ash box is down and to the left, oven is behind the word “ShipMate”. The barely visible handle above the “S” is a door that can be open or closed and essentially creates a convection oven when closed, allowing the flame to wrap around the oven and provide more even heat.

The wood stove I cook on and with each day is a “ShipMate” made in Stamford, Connecticut.  She’s a great curvy, sturdy cast iron lady bolted to the soles (floors) of the galley.  The ShipMate company seems to be the place to get wood cook stoves for sea faring vessels.  Their website states “Traditional solid fuel boat stoves and accessories hand built today the same way they were over 125 years ago and made to last another century.  The Yacht and Ship wood stoves by which all others are measured.”

The firebox is quite small, maybe 10 inches wide and 6 inches tall at the mouth, though wider and taller inside and fairly deep.  I lay the fire each morning with newspaper, a small bit of dryer lint, a strip or two of cardboard, some pieces of bark or scraps from the wood shop, a few smallish logs and an organic custom-processed Ecuadorian cacao bean for good measure (Nova Monda Cacao & Chocolate represent!  I light the paper and within minutes the fire is steady and strong, except when it’s not, which is sometimes a possibility if it’s damp outside.  



Mexican-style hot chocolate for a cold, blustery day. Made with Nova Monda jar chocolate, whole milk, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, vanilla and topped with freshly ground Ecuadorian cacao beans. Rich, creamy and SPICY!

I feed the fire with smaller pieces of wood for the first hour, about every 10-15 minutes or so, til there are embers and a raging flame.  Within an hour, the stove top is at a cooking temperature and the water in the kettles is hot enough to brew the first pot of coffee.  An hour and a half to two hours after the fire is started, the oven is hot enough to bake, about 350-400 in the hot spot next to the firebox on the top shelf and about 250-300 in the cold spot on the bottom shelf all the way to the right.

While I’m tending the fire for those first few hours, I have the galley (and the boat really) all to my self.  I take that time to step out and watch the sunrise paint the sky, to adjust the menu as needed based on changing conditions and the ingredients that are most in need of being used, I also premix most of my baked goods for the day, keeping the wet and dry ingredients separate until right before they go into the oven.  



A perfectly browned blueberry pie, served with whipped cream.

There are generally at least 4 baked goods per day mixed and waiting on the counter by the time people are up and about; a pastry or muffin for the 6:30am snack (which is hopefully already baked by 6:00am), one for breakfast at 8:00am, one savory bread for lunch and one brownie or cookie or bar for the dessert after lunch.  I usually have to start prepping breakfast before I finish the baking but by 9:00 or 10:00am all the baked goods are done except for dinner’s dessert, which I do after the 3:00pm snack.  

When I took the job here, I was unsure how the wood stove cooking would go — would it be really hard? Would I burn things? Would I accidentally let the fire go out?  How would I manage the 100 degree temperature difference from one side of the wood stove to the other? How would I know when things were done?  I was full of questions, but also a great curiosity. As it turned out, it seems these wood burning cook stoves and I were made for each other.  Once I learned that most things had to be covered in foil, it’s been easy, or maybe more accurately, it’s been very intuitive for me to learn how to work with the stove and wherever she’s at in any given moment.  

The best lesson I’ve learned in working with this stove is to be in the moment.  If I was set on getting a particular temperature at a particular time or if I was intent on control, I probably wouldn’t survive this job.  Instead, I’ve had to learn to work around the 100-200 degree difference between the two sides of the oven, how to know when foil is necessary or not, how to adjust everything when all I have to burn is oak as opposed to pine, how to adjust everything when it’s been raining for days and the fire’s food is impregnated with moisture, how to use the wide open expanse of the stove top to get anything from high boiling heat to a heat low enough to melt chocolate, how to just let go when the fire refuses to cooperate for no logical reason, how to bake anything and feed the fire safely while we’re heeled over sometimes almost to 45 degrees (or so it seems), how to release the smoke when it starts filling the galley either by opening the ash box door, adjusting the fire box door or opening the convection damper (or all 3), and how to laugh it off and salvage whatever’s salvageable when I do accidentally burn something.  There are so many variables and so much surrender required to cook well on a sailing vessel over a fire.  

Next week, part 2 . . .






A Few Days of Sailing and A Song!!


Grace Bailey and most of her crew; from left to right, Mike, Johnny-tar, Jerika, Gus, John. Missing is Captain Ray and of course myself. Gus and John were along for the ride this week and not a normal part of this boat’s crew.

This past week of sailing was the first week where the weather’s been nice every day.  Also my first week on the Grace Bailey, the largest and oldest ship in the Maine Windjammer Cruises fleet.  She was built in 1882 as a cargo vessel hauling granite and lime and lumber and other things to and from the Maine coast.  She even once sailed all the way to the East Indies.  

The first 3 days of this week, I was training a new cook, Becca.  Much like me, she didn’t want a whole lot of instruction beyond tips and techniques, so I mostly just had an easy 3 days of sailing, hanging out, trying to stay out of the way and generally relaxing aboard the Bailey. During my time aboard as a passenger I learned to splice rope and tie a bowline knot.  Both of these seem like they will come in really handy for the rest of my life.  A well-spliced line  will create a loop in any size rope that seems to have grown there — strong, solid, able to withstand heavy amounts of pressure but also able to be undone if needed.  A bowline knot (according to my sailor co-workers) is useful for similar reasons — it won’t ever come undone by accident but is easily undone by hand if needed.  

The second part of the week, I did my first cooking on the Grace Bailey.  Her galley has many nice features, including a larger and more well-designed icebox, an ice water tap and a lot more storage.  The woodstove is more difficult to keep going and a little more unpredictable than the Mercantile’s.  The Mercantile galley’s amenities include more counter space and a 2-basin sink with a dish drainer as well as easy access to almost anything I need at any time.  The Mercantile seems to be designed for the cook and the Grace Bailey galley for the comfort of passengers.   Sort of . . . the reality is that each galley has perks and each has downfalls, as with all things.  

The highlight of my week was the last night when our awesome passengers composed!! and performed a song for us on deck after lasagna dinner.  The meal was a veggie and a pork lasagna, green salad with balsamic vinaigrette, bruschetta and an apple blueberry crisp with whipped cream.  The lyrics to the song are here:


The lyrics to the song composed and performed by our guests on the Grace Bailey


Chocolate filled doughnut muffins for the last morning aboard the Grace Bailey.

Regardless, I will be setting sail again tomorrow morning on the Mercantile and I’m looking forward to going back to the boat where I cut my teeth on this wild adventure of sailing, cooking and tending the fire, the feast and the belly at sea. 

About to lose power and no place to plug in.  See you next time!!1



Some Photographs, Finally

I just came in from my first 6-day trip on the Schooner Mercantile.  It was a long week and I’m feeling pretty tired on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.  I’m including here a bunch of photos from my first few trips.


A glorious surprise day off a week or so ago found several of us hanging out on Curtis Island drinking gin and tonics, philosophizing on life and enjoying the view . . .


The Mercantile and her Captain, Andy, as he took me ashore to set up the lobster bake. To the left, there was a bald eagle perched in the tree.


Lobsters are called “bugs” around these parts. So, freshly steamed bugs and corn on the cob.


According to Captain Andy, “the best lobster bake yet!”


Lunch aboard the Schooner Mercantile: Vegetable Beef Soup, Green Salad, Irish Soda Bread and Peanut Butter Cookies



Sunset from the stern of the boat somewhere near Cradle Cove. There was a thunderstorm looming on the horizon.

Fish Out of Water (Part 2) — My FIRST EVER!!! Video included

Well folks, the Mercantile crew is getting ready to go back out on the water.  Tonight we load 12 passengers and we sail from Camden Harbor around 10am tomorrow morning.  Mid week, 2 passengers will disembark and we’ll add 16 new passengers (or thereabouts).  I’m excited to be going back out and to re-kindle the fire in the morning.

But, for now, I am posting this video — really my first ever attempt at video — of the Grace Bailey’s trip to the ship yard a few weeks ago.  It’s not that exciting, but it’s a little taste of what it’s like to be on the deck of the boat.  We are not under sail in the video, but instead are being pushed by the yawl boat from Camden to Rockland.

Check it out here:

After getting the Bailey up on blocks and hauled out of the water, the Captain made an assessment of the hull, which was then scraped by hand and repainted over the course of our 3 days in the yard.  The scraping was dirty work, mostly done by Jerika, Becky and Jonathan.  I spent most of the time in the ship yard touching up paint on the deck and painting the water line (enjoying the privileges of being the ship’s cook) — cutting in with a hand held paint brush the transition from green to red that is visible just above the water line when the boat is in the water.

Prior to going to the yard, Jerika, Becky and I spent a rainy afternoon “spinning oakum”.  Oakum is a pine-pitch-soaked hemp fiber that is used, along with cotton, to fill the gaps between the hull boards while the boat is out of the water.  It comes in tightly rolled bales that have to be cleaned and then lightly pulled so that the fibers are a consistent width, thickness and in the longest strands possible.  These strands get looped like thick skeins of yarn to present to Geno, who seems to be the go-to guy in New England for doing this traditional style seam repair on wooden boats, once the boat is out of the water.

He arrived on the last day we were at the yard.  The questionable seams were reamed out with a chisel and then cotton was packed into them using a hammer and chisel.  On top of the cotton, the oakum was then pounded into the seams.  Once that was finished, I think the seam was brushed over with a sort of sealer and then finally painted.  Since I just learned how to spin raw wool using a drop spindle, it was really interesting to work with a new fiber.  The personality of each fiber is so different and besides that, the intended use for each fiber also creates a whole different experience of working  the raw material.

My hand "spinning oakum"

My hand “spinning oakum”

I spun this oakum sitting on the deck of the Grace Bailey as she traveled to the ship yard

I spun this oakum sitting on the deck of the Grace Bailey as she traveled to the ship yard

I keep getting kicked off the internet at the library so sorry for the abrupt end.  I will be back in a week.  Thanks for reading!!!