Dinner ladies are my new heroines

My appreciation of dinner ladies has gone gone up beyond all measure! Until I landed the job of providing food for a cast of thousand over an unknowable time period (ie. victualling for my crew for a race of 5 weeks +) I had absolutely no idea of the range of skills + the emotional steadfastness required!

Planning a menu comprising nutrious one pot meals for 22 people with a range of carbs (beyond the usual pasta + rice) + flavours was one thing … but ordering + overseeing the logistics of food acquirisition was altogether on a different level of stressfulness. Especially when the wholesale company you have been directed to towards delivers a fantacy shop of ingredients not neccesary related to what was ordered.

I think it is fair to say there was a brief period on the sidelines with total melt down … then I pulled myself together + with the help from a couple of fellow crew (who subbed as the food elves) we got an unbelieveably large volume of food into day bags + stowed on the boat under the bunks.

It is the shear numbers + volumes that are mind-blowing … 22 people stuck on a boat for 5 weeks potentially can eat their way through an unbelievably large number of muesli bars!

Three days to go + now my biggest problem is finding a way of stopping the prep week crew from eating all the yummy food snacks they like most! 
But we’ll manage. Three days until the off … my tactic? To buy the popular stuff (ie the triple choc cookies) last thing Saturday so the consumption window is short + remind the crew that Mr Tesco doesn’t normally do helicopter mid-Atlantic ‘shop ‘n drop’ deliveries … but I am sure foodwise we will survive!

Knowing the ropes

DSCN7788That last week of training (Level 4) – the dress rehearsal before the show – when I finally got to sail with both my skipper and some of the crew. Exciting, edgy, digging around in the bottom of my memory to get the knots and techniques right. Bit light on winds at the start of the week so some excellent time for contemplation and some on-board CX workouts … but in that just right ‘Goldie Locks’ window by the end for an ace spinnaker drop/gybe manoeuvre round that west cardinal and back to Gosport that totally jelled us as a crew. This adventure is going to be fun!

 

One month to race start!

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I can hardly believe that it is one month to race start.
It seems like forever the race has been two years away – knowing it was ‘hence’ I had sort of parked the thought – I had signed up to have an adventure in the future. I was excited by the idea of the adventure but at the same time it was sort of unreal. Even undertaking the race training didn’t make the prospect of the race any more real as each level of training was an isolated mini adventure in its own right. I met new, interesting people; learnt new skills; rehearsed old ones that had become rusty with disuse; familiarised myself with boat-living and acclimatised generally to boaty ways. The build-up to the race in itself has been one girl’s-own adventure including an exciting Tartan Socks outing at Easter 2017 under the command of former crewmates Duncan Wills and James Lawlor (JGAR 13/14) … a hint of what’s to come when the Scottish weather rolled in …
Things began to get real with Crew Allocation back in May 2017 – how things unfolded that day would decide the flavour of the year to come. I remember walking to the Town Hall feeling like a three year old at Christmas …. what would I get from Santa? … would it be my heart’s desire? … And then I found out I was sailing with Chris Kobusch on Qingdao … Yes! Yes! Yes! my heart did gymnastics round the inside of my chest.
Since then two things have happened. Firstly, I was asked by my skipper to be the crew victualler – a role that I have accepted with trepidation since being the victualler is right at the top of the list of jobs you cannot get wrong and I although I have several skills, I didn’t get my Brownie badge for ‘expedition catering’! Second up,  I have done my level 4 training with some of the other members of Qingdao. Verdict?  Ace, but tiring week when the crew began to show some of our metal and I tried out my victualling talents for the first time. I came away buzzing from our time at sea – we sailed well and (slightly to my amazement!) we came out of the week not too badly fed!
Each day now the race gets more real. I feel a heady mix of over-excitement (life is there to be lived!), responsibility (getting the food right is a serious business and 20-odd people for 5 weeks (Race 1) is a lot of food!), anticipatory terror (I have never sailed in a really, really big sea!) and reality (packing the remains of my land based existence into boxes).  Mostly it is the excitement that carries the day – Bring it on! I want the adventure!
I know it will be hard sometimes, I know sometimes I will have to dig deep, but also sometimes it will be pure fun! Learning to sail  – I had never been near an ocean-going boat before – has taught me great respect for all who sail and have sailed in the past, for the sea and for our planet.
We have an awesome world and I want to be there to watch the sunrises and the sunsets, I want to marvel at the wildlife and ever changing personality of the sea, I want to visit places that I have never been to (the field is pretty open on that account!), I want to meet up with friends from former times now scattered round the world, I want to learn to really be able to sail and read the weather from looking at the sky. I guess I want a lot of things!
Sometimes I just want to jump around I am just that excited …

Victual virgin

This is the taste of things to come … organising the food for our coming level 4. I have now realised that what I have to be really good at is long multiplication … like the ingredients of a one pot meal x the number of the crew x the length of the sail. Man! is that a great deal of food … and the having bought it where to hide it on the boat. Well first shop done and now learning on the job ….

It’s the end of the world as we know it …

Well not quite! 50 days until race start and it’s time to start saying cheerio to people and winding up land-based living. Weird knowing you’ve just done something for the last time …

Over the last year I have dedicated my Monday + Wednesday evenings to getting a boat-ready body!!!  Last night I took my leave of the incomparable Rach & Izzie who between them have inspired me and a room full of others to lift weights + generally exert ourselves to music! CXWORX – total killer + the washboard abs are still hidden somewhere inside … but ready or not sailing here I come.

Getting fit has been serious fun! Crippling on occasions … track 5 … there are bits of my body still recovering from track 5!!

So guys a serious shoutout – Izzie, Rach & Kieron thank you. When we are languishing in the doldrums with nothing to do and ‘Bang my Head’ comes on over the boat sound system I will be able to launch straight into the ‘starfish’ routine!

Next week it’s the real deal – Level 4 race training! Bring it on!!!

Victualling is possibly not for novices!

I knew I was probably in trouble when my mobile went off unexpectedly at work and it was my skipper. This was our first conversation since our initial meeting at crew allocation.

“What would you say if I asked you to be the victualler for the boat?” asked my skipper.

Gulp!

Being the victualler on a boat is right up there at the top of the ‘you-cannot-get-this wrong’ list when it comes to crew roles! Being the victualler means that I am responsible for organising everything to do with food; deciding what we need (ie writing the menu), buying the stuff, packing the stuff into bags to survive the journey, deciding where to store the stuff in hiding places on the boat, retrieving the stuff when it is needed for cooking and eating, making sure we have enough stuff, and buying more stuff and repeating the process before the start of each race.

OMG!

I said ‘yes’ and then sat at my desk slightly terrified (actually more than slightly terrified), wondering what I had done!

The ‘rabbit-in-headlights’ fear and the feeling that I must have indeed been evil in my last life were not assuaged by attending the victuallers’ training day provided by Clipper. It just told me that eleven other total novices were in the same boat metaphorically! I came away from the day just feeling overwhelmed and wondering how many potatoes were enough potatoes for 24 people for 5 weeks (the duration of our first race)! Somebody suggested the answer was 75kg … but I have no idea what 75kg of potatoes looks like let alone where am I going to store them.

AGHHHHH!

But all mountains are climbed by taking the first step … so I contacted my crew to discover what were their food preferences and allergies. Possibly not a good idea! The good news was that none of my fellow crew were likely to go into toxic shock if they had to share the boat with a peanut (just as well because my peanut butter addiction is alive and doing very well) but the flip-side of the coin was people’s totally mutually exclusive food dislikes and preferences. All I can say is ‘chaps please view the food and its vagaries as part of the overall adventure … it is going to be an interesting ride, let’s hope you like the majority of the grub … and if you don’t well please just eat it anyway!’

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So I have been menu planning!  I’ve gone for an 8 day rotation – I am still haunted by school dinners where inedible substances manifested themselves the same day every week!  Draft mark 1 was ably improved upon by Mols (with her chef’s hat on) …. not home and dry but the menu now has the potential to be edible and varied!

I now have to do the sums – potatoes twice a week for 24 people x 5 weeks … does that equal 75kg?

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Molly being a total star + giving up most of Saturday to help me!

Victual (pronounced ˈvɪt(ə)l) – The word derives via Middle English and Anglo-French from the Latin noun victus, meaning“nourishment” or “way of living.” … There’s also vittles, a word that sounds like it might be an alteration of the plural victuals but which actually entered English a century before victual.

The beginning of a new adventure

Saturday 20th May, crew allocation day in Portsmouth Town Hall, was the day the next edition of the Clipper Race started to get really real.

The sail training (mandatory for all crew) had been instructive, certainly fun, at times daunting, we had got to learn new stuff, re-remember old stuff and meet new people, but the race had felt so far away that it seemed somewhat academic. Now life was beginning to feel a lot more immediate (and to carry on with the academic theme) a bit like collecting your exams results from school at the end of the summer.

Was I nervous? Excited? Yup! Bit like being three and it being Christmas. Crazy really because it didn’t matter where I ended up – the hard bit is sailing – but I knew who I wanted to sail under.

At the beginning of the day who wasn’t over-excited? Everybody chattering, together, fingers crossed, hoping – all in the same boat. By lunchtime we were teams, wishing our training best chums good luck for their new crew and off to the team meet to make new friends in ours.

Happy? I was ecstatic! I’m part of Qingdao under skipper Chris Kobusch!

The moment my name got read out (yes!)        Crew Qingdao assembling for a photo call.

On your marks …

Morning of Thursday 10th July + we (the crew) are all here readying the
boat for the last race. Cool, tense, adrenaline beginning to pump, mixed
emotions. The weather warm + sunny with a gentle off-shore
breeze, completely the opposite of yesterday’s foggy blustery dank blast.

Looking forward to the race with some melancholy – last race, end of the
adventure but then come London this will be the beginning of something new.

The outcome to Race 15

In the end it was an exciting finish to race 15. Nothing too dramatic but
intense in a 10 knots sort of way. We spent the last day of the race
hunting down Qingdao + reduced the deficit from 20 miles at the start of
the day to just half a mile at the finish line. But it was the same story
to other races – the wind died + in the end we just couldn’t finish them
off. So 10th. Disappointing after what was nothing short of a textbook
race start. But hey – it was a good sail + the North Sea gave us a good run
for our money (even if we did end up seeing slightly more of St Kilda than
we had ever really wanted!). Really changeable so we were on our toes all
the time.

In a couple of days we will be slipping lines for the last race – across
the North Sea to London – the nautical equivalent of the 100m dash! Cannot
really believe that in 4 days it will all be over!

Polish and other size portions

Jamaica has an international mix of crew – which makes for interesting
conversation when it comes to whiling away the hours on watch but something
of a challenge for the victuallers when it comes to buying provisions. Being
a victualler you need to have clairvoyancy on one hand + a thick skin on the
other. Mind-reading because you need to know what people want even when they
haven’t told you + a thick skin because you don’t have an A-level in second-
guessing.

The food on Jamaica – at least for the last two legs – has been nothing short
of amazing given the camping gas stove we have to cook on. At the beginning
it was all planned menus – it’s Thursday therefore it must be chilli mince
sort of thing. But that went out the window + now the victuallers just buy
food + the mothers make what they will with the ingredients. The serving
sizes are international. At mealtimes we have 3 serving sizes – ‘Polish’,
‘regular’ and ‘feeling seasick-size’.

The menu is pretty international too although breakfast is the meal when
national preferences are clung to most determinedly. But when the weather is
cold + wet hot food with a major calorie count is what we look forward to
most + this is where the British love of real puddings comes into its own.
Steamed pudding + custard – can’t be beaten. Cracking pudding Grommet!

We’re nearing the end of Race 15 – 3 hours to the finish line. The North Sea
has repeatedly thrown down the weather challenge gauntlet + we have risen to
each change. This morning clinging to the high rail it was like sitting in an
eerie looking down on the vertical drop that was the deck. Now the wind has
dropped + once more we are trundling along at 7 knots still trying to eke
what we can out of what’s left of the wind. Still trying very hard not to be
the 12th boat – Africa + Quingdao still ahead of us for the catching.