People get faddish in the food department once at sea. Quite why, I haven’t twigged, but I’ve observed it often enough to persuade me that it’s an irrefutable rule of life. Those who hoover up virtually anything even remotely edible ashore suddenly get very picky once the deck begins to rock beneath their feet.
Now, I offer this not just as an intriguing insight into the human condition but also as a potential headache for the shipboard caterer. We have a good friend whom I shall call Bruce, following the precedent set by his parents. He was once a professional chef, remains what you might call a hearty eater, and is in no danger or wasting away through any lack of enthusiasm in those regards. Many years ago he joined us for an upwind passage across the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean – a region more abundant in fresh food than anyone could wish or fish for. A cornucopia, no less.
But Bruce would have none of what nature could bestow. He reviewed our stores, frowned his disapproval, and made a quick sortie to the shops to supplement them with his own preferences. From then on he survived almost exclusively on tinned sardines (in olive oil) and condensed milk which he sucked from a pierced tin or squeezed from a toothpaste type tube (the milk, that is, not the sardines). He was the picture of contentment.
Bizarre though it might seem, who can blame him if that’s what he wanted? And, unless you think me critical, I have to admit that I have my own foibles. I rarely eat oranges at home but consume them voraciously on board. Months go by without a single morsel of chocolate passing my lips, and then later at sea I find slabs of the dark variety absolutely irresistible – indeed, I suffer withdrawal symptoms and I'm told even scowl as darkly as the chocolate I crave. Not even booze escapes a skewed perspective. Wedged into the snug at the Dredgers Arms, thoughts of a Campari and soda never enter my mind (and would doubtless have the locals edging along the bar if they did) yet sunset in the cockpit would seem bereft without a glass or two. And Chele is just as guilty. There are towns without number that we’ve trudged through in search of quails’ eggs, and she has a weakness that teeters on the obsessive for pimientos de padron – those small, usually innocuous peppers with the occasional ferociously eye-watering exception. At times we have gone as far as engineering our passage plans to embrace likely sources.
But, of course, we’ve been sailing together for nearly thirty years so are well adjusted to each other’s gastronomic eccentricities. Compiling shopping lists is a relatively easy matter when there are just the two of us – it’s the potential weirdness of guests that challenges us the most. I mean, you don’t want to be inhospitable, do you?
So, we do try – taking what advantage we can of prior knowledge. Decades later, Bruce in company with his wife Martha, joined us in Mallorca aboard the truly wondrous Laurent Giles cutter Fairlight, entrusted to us for the purpose by her owner George Hayes. In anticipatory mood, Chele raided the local supermarket and stocked up on both our regular staples plus what delicacies she knew he would relish. We sailed the next day.
“For lunch,” she announced triumphantly as in windless conditions we motored the few miles towards the anchorage in Formentor, “as a special treat I can offer sardine sandwiches and condensed milk”
Bruce looked mystified, as if he had never heard the words before or had been witness to some astonishing obscenity. His brow furrowed. “Sorry to have to say this,” he said in the sort of compassionate tone used to placate the mentally afflicted, “but that sounds like a disgusting combination. Why don’t you let me put together a nice tossed salad?”
P.S. : I scraped this account out of the archives but thought it appropriate since Bruce and Martha are at this moment on a cruise ship heading for Rome. While wishing them the fairest of passages, I did think about texting the Head Chef with a few warning words.