On October 18th, 2011 a 57 foot Lagoon catamaran named Discovery tied up in Ibiza, Spain after a five year, 54,000 mile circumnavigation. The Best Odyssey Expedition, a floating timeshare created and captained by American chief executive officer Gavin McClurg, had finally come to an end.
In all, the Odyssey, whose primary objective was locating new and uncharted surfing and kite boarding destinations, would call into 50 countries over the course of 90 trips to some of the most remote destinations our planet has to offer with the journey’s 148 documented virgin kite spots its testimony.
Heading up the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” list would be the wide open Pacific and Micronesia islands where McClurg says, “we went almost four months without ever seeing another recreational vessel.”
At an atoll in the far north Cook Islands they were told they were only “the 18th boat that been there since 1985” and in one far-flung Marshall Islands outpost, “the villagers told us we were the 2nd recreational boat they’d seen in ten years. That was pretty special.”
Yet for all the numbers racked up over their five year jaunt, one of most impressive tallies lies, perhaps, with this one; 986 days. That would be the number of days the Discovery entertained guests on board.
Guests that, rain or shine, surf or no surf, wind or no wind, needed to be fed.
Considering most of the Discovery guests were part owners, many paying $300 or more per day for the privilege of painting themselves into some of the most pristine and serene landscapes imaginable for trips of up to two weeks, Ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese simply wasn’t going to cut it.
Judging from the frequent choruses of “best food ever” reviews, McClurg happily acknowledges such expectations were more than met thanks to a long list of nine chefs which worked the Discovery’s galley in the course of the five year expedition.
Yet even the best culinary trained chef will be hard pressed to work their magic when confronted with a pantry with access to the culinary delights of remote outposts. That said, we tap into the vast wealth of provisioning experiences of the best Odyssey captain to help assure your next meal has the potential to be on par with that long sought after anchorage of your dreams.
It’s a scenario more than one aspiring blue water cruiser has been forced to confront. After a lengthy shore side shopping run: one that involves managing to secure multiple rides in dilapidated taxis dodging numerous over-zealous touts; an impressive amount of fruits and veggies has been procured. A quantity that should last for a solid week or more by any conservative estimations.
Why then, only five days out, do the apples and bananas look like they belong in a compost pile rather than any galley? According to McClurg, it’s a predicament that can be headed off with just some of the practical tips offered in Liz and Larry Pardey’s ‘The care and feeding of sailing crew’. More than 400 pages ranging from how to select fruits and veggies for offshore passages (page 94) and buying meat in foreign countries (page 83) to storage arrangements (page 238) and, if a bit of grog tempts your pallet, there’s even a section on wine and liquor around the world (page 135). “An extensive literary buffet of tips and ideas for making eating on board easier” says McClurg, who, however, adds the suggestion by the Pardeys of stowing 60 days of canned goods for passages does strike him as a tad excessive.
Yet the veteran sailor is quick to take even his own critique with a grain of salt adding “I guess if it all goes to hell and you find yourself floating upside down in the Pacific for a month and a half, then you’re going to be pretty happy you have all those canned goods!
“But every time we bought canned goods we ended up giving them away at the end of the year. We lived off fresh food.”
Respecting the sea’s bounty
The Discovery crew and her maximum of six guests lived off fresh food and, judging from the five year total of their food and beverage budget (just a little more than US$120,000), quite a lot of fish.
On board, they carried two Shimano 80s with 600 metres of 90 kilogram (200lb) line and a very wide range of lures as well; as the personal spear fishing gear of its captain, an avid spear fishing enthusiast himself.
But along with the gear came a general set of parameters, according to McClurg. “we never fished for sport, only for food. So once something was landed and we had enough for the freezer either by line fishing or spear fishing, that was it.”
At anchor the same general philosophy would apply with captain and crew quick to check in and find out the specifics on the local fishing scene in an effort to keep from possibly riling up the locals. As for lobster, McClurg says that in most places where locals would bring their catch by the boat, the lobster were “pathetically small, so in most places we couldn’t get any anyway and we never bought small ones or females.” He is well aware that there are plenty of boats which do purchase undersize which, essentially, encourages more of the same behaviour with long lasting ramifications.
In regards to ethical trading and bartering behaviour, modern day sailors have come a long way since 1626 when Dutch explorer Peter Miniut “bought” Manhattan Island (New York) from the Lanape Indian tribe for all of 60 Dutch Guilders. Or when Captain Cook regularly traded food for a few iron nails with Hawaiian islanders in the late 1700s.
Even so, there is still a subtle, almost ingrained tendency of our human nature to want to get something for next to nothing with more than one western boat owner today inclined to brag about getting a metre long yellow fin tuna and two lobster tails for nothing more than a few out of date boxes of long life milk and a small bag of rice. For the crew of Discovery, blazing their own, off the beaten paths came with a heightened level of responsibility to avoid this tendency at all cost.
“We bartered all the time,” says McClurg. “Coconuts and papaya for coffee and perfume. Manioc and limes for paper and magazines. Our policy was to never use alcohol, suggestive magazines (i.e. pornography), or candy for the kids. We travelled with loads of stuff for the schools, lots of books in various languages. Things we hope will be useful and not have a negative impact on the community.”
The Discovery captain adds that, besides assuring swaps are of a fair and equal value, it’s often also up to the visiting sailor to do their best to see to it that the distribution of such items don’t end up in the coffers of one single greedy village chief. Yet McClurg says the most important rule in bartering and trading is this: never give anything away. “When you are travelling on a boat, regardless of your personal income, you are viewed as very rich when you anchor up in third world places. You are a subject of curiosity and potentially viewed as an easy target. People who just ask for stuff are not only annoying, but if you just give stuff away, you’re reinforcing the behaviour and making it a lot worse for people coming in your wake.”
Zen and the art of refrigeration comprehension
Saddle up to any island outpost and broach the subject of marine refrigeration to a crowd of, say, 20 boat owners and chances are you’ll probably get 20 different passionately held opinions on the pros and cons of countless different refrigeration configurations.
With the past 13 years living on the water under his belt (the past five heading up the Best Ocean Odyssey preceded by eight running his own Ron Holland 52, Sertia), McClurg has heard all the arguments and seen most put into practice at one time or another. “I’ve seen people go across there (Pacific) without any refrigeration at all and they were fine, but then after a week and a half you’re on the oatmeal and pasta diet. But you’re surviving.”
McClurg took proper measures to assure the Discovery was properly equipped in the power department before purchasing the 57 footer, by first methodically going through every piece of electrical equipment on board and sizing up their start up load and running load to confirm what he hoped would be the case. The single 14kw genset and eight 85kw solar panels were more than sufficient, helping to make a floating luxurious home away from home for its many guests.
Such amenities would include a washing machine, dishwasher and the 200 litres per hour water maker. Then there was the all important standard galley 12 volt Lagoon refrigerator/freezer which, after only the first year, became abundantly clear was not nearly sufficient in terms of space and keeping the all important end of day libations cold. Subsequently, changes would have to be made and, from the second year onward, Discovery would have at its disposal a large 80 litre unit as its dedicated freezer.
While hardly the sort of upgrade the average cruising vessel would have to consider, it points to an issue McClurg feels many cruisers should accept and be ready to properly contend with early on; this being his belief that refrigeration systems in most cruising boats are “way under built” due to builders opting for cheaper equipment “which hasn’t changed in 20 years.”
He warns that domestic compressors that are fine in cold climates (where many boats tend to be built), never have enough space around them and, as a result, suffer in warm climates. Additionally, he adds such compressors are usually air cooled instead of water cooled and the fridge boxes are built with not nearly enough insulation.
The end result is the compressor ends up running constantly in warmer temperaturess, killing the batteries. The solution to the problem, he explains from first-hand experience in refitting Sertia, is expensive and involves ripping everything out, creating proper boxes, installing a much larger water cooled compressor with built in gauges to detect leaks and all the gear for repairs and filling.
In the end all the upgrade meant little as McClurg would find soon after selling Sertia and learning his $20,000 refrigeration upgrade had been removed by its new owner who had been led to believe the system drew too much power. “A big compressor takes a lot more amps to run,” admits McClurg, “but they end up running a fraction of the time the smaller ones do and the end result is a fraction of the total amp hours.
“The guy just didn’t understand it (the system),” says McClurg. Make sure the same can’t be said of you.
Vacuum pack it
Discovery, geared towards maximising fun on the water as it was, didn’t travel light.
Far from it, actually. Its toy list would range from a plethora of 15 surfboards and 25 kites to stand up paddle boards and various parasailing gear. Yet, in the middle of a three day passage, two weeks removed from their last big shop, such gear often meant little when there were discerning, empty bellies to fill.
At these times the galley vacuum packing machine took centre stage. “For our passages and stuff, we were always eating salads 30 days after we’d left, which was pretty remarkable,” says McClurg who adds many of his chefs would cook up a storm while in port, seal it and more or less forget about it until time called for a tasty curry or other tantalising meat dish.
As for purchasing dry goods such as flour and sugar in remote island destinations, the airtight seal was equally important in combating weevils and other insects where items remain for long periods on either warehouse floors or shop shelves. “That’s just the nature of cruising, there’s not a lot you can do about [the storage issues],” says the
He adds that even in the most remote outposts in the Marshall Islands, such basic provisions were commonly found and at such times, more than ever, McClurg insists such equipment “is a very handy thing to have on a boat.”
Lastly, never forget passion paves the way
Regardless of the Discovery captain’s best efforts in doing his part to keep his vessel well provisioned, McClurg is the first to give the credit to his chefs who managed to work their magic despite constraints most land based chefs will never comprehend. “Our [galley] was horrible,” admits McClurg, who was forced to fill in as chef for one trying week due to a crew issue emergency, an experience he’d prefer to forget. “[The galley] really made it hard for chefs to turn out the calibre of meals that they did. I don’t know how they do it.”
It would be naive to imply the culinary training of many of those who worked aboard Discovery wasn’t a large part of the answer to McClurg’s question. This being the simple desire to truly want to create the best food possible and sweltering tropical heat, cramped quarters, slim pickings, third world conditions and language barriers be damned.
“The markets are always a trip,” says McClurg. “It’s always an adventure.”