Sunday, 29 April 2012

Washing Off The Damp

It's peculiar how you have to wash damp off. I have just come down below from my evening 7-10 watch and I've had to wash a clingy layer of damp from my face and hands. It's not enough to just dry it off with a towel. Hot water and soap and then you're sweet.

The wind has gone from a lazy 10 knots to a dashing 21 in the 3 hours of my watch, the sea from oily flat to 3 foot waves and although that's not huge cause for concern we're headed for port to hide from bigger things happening the other side of the Gibralta Straights. And as usual it's all coming to us bang on the nose. Bummer.

We had the sails up today. Wow (with sarcasm attached). It was a beautiful day on the water, a good breeze, sunshine and we all had a bit of excitement pulling on some halyards. There wasn't quite enough speed to turn the engine off however. This has been the story so far on our journey to the UK; massive sea's and robust winds so that we can't put the sails up or the boat will break, or not enough wind and when there is an acceptable puff, it's coming at us bang on the nose so we can't put the sails up.

Or, old wooden boats, more to the point.

The Spanish Coast

So I'm crawling into my bunk which is situated just starboard of the engine. It's a bit like trying to sleep underneath the bonnet of your car ('lid' for the Yanks), with the engine at about 3000 revs. Funny though, you do just sort of accept the noise and manage the miracle of sleep. I did have a dream last night though, I was shouting and shouting but nobody could hear me...

I guess the anchor being lowered will wake me around 4 in the morning and then we shall see where I get to go shopping for food supplies tomorrow. How exciting. New Spanish port, new shops and a bit of an explore. The Thai fish curry I made today went down very well. But I'm running out of fresh veg and have no fresh herbs left. The crew are at no real risk of getting scurvy as yet but I'm pretty pleased for the opportunity to stock up on some fresh vitamins.

Well I'd best close my eyes now and think exceptionally quiet thoughts in an attempt to drown out the noise.
Billy doing something pretty nautical...

You have no idea how many of these sunset shots I had to sift through to decide which one to put on this blog

Thursday, 26 April 2012

A Bit of Calm After Lots of Storm

The sun is finally out as we cruise past Spain on our passage to the UK on Mariquita. The sea has a definate attitude about it but compared to the last 24 hours worth of behaviour, it's quite pleasent really. Foulies are hanging out to dry and the salt chucked at us during last nights assualt is emerging as encrusted white swirls of a gentle reminder as to who's boss.

I had to use one of my rough weather meals last night as it was physically impossible to cook in the galley. That and I felt absolutely sea-sick. Which happens once in a while but thankfully not that often. Never let sea-sickness beat you! I Just about managed to spoon one of my pre-made meals, a chilli-con-carne in a pan, added extra kidney beans and served that with nachos, hot baguettes and grated cheese. Apparently it was delicious...

Turns out we leak like a sieve when water is flooding the deck at the rate of yesterdays show-down. The water didn't just drip through into the interior of the boat - it poured. Layers of putty and cat-wrap have since been applied to suspected areas of leakage, the bilges pumped and with any luck, we wont be doing any more impressions of a boat thats in strong danger of sinking.

And I am feeling a whole lot better after a good bowlful of chicken, fennel and noodle soup. I filled it with tarragon, garlic, fennel seeds and leeks and life is good once more. It's funny how quickly you can forget how crap it was, bashing into a huge sea slowing us down to sometimes only 2 knots of speed, the constant spray and cold, wondering when the old sea-legs might decide to kick in. But they have and Spain looks lovely from here but I hope we keep plugging on so that we can make up for lost time and get to the UK as soon as possible.

A brief stop into Barcelona for some fresh stocks and fuel. I made me hasty way to the Barcelonetta market. Awsome.

I need to dive into my vegetable stocks whilst the sea is not too huge and I can actually prep real food in the galley. So I think tonights dinner will be a huge cauliflower and broccoli cheese with a good mustardy sauce, some gruyer cheese and crispy fried lardons served with some hot freshly baked bread. And ketchup. Gotta have ketchup with cauliflower cheese.
Thanks for reading, hope your floor is nice and still.
Stay tuned.

Jim, our fearless leader.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Give Peas a Chance!

I arranged this blog to be posted whilst I am otherwise engaged in the gruelling process of sailing an old wooden boat in hefty seas (forecast) with strong wind on the nose as we head West towards the Gibralta straights on our way to the UK. Whoopee!  I do hope that my sea legs are not failing me in the galley as I attempt to cook for ten hungry (or not) crew. And before you turn green at the thought, here is the besest, tastiest, easiest, cheapest and most wonderful recipe for soup that should make you smile, with a little poem to serve it with. Calorie free (the poem that is).

This poem must be read out loud with a frightfully-frightfully British accent to your kids or your partner, or whom ever is around you to enjoy it, right before you dive into a bowl of pea and mint soup. Serve this wonderfully green pea soup with some warm soda bread straight out of the oven and some feta cheese marinated in chilli and lemon zest and rejoice that spring is here and that means it’s almost summer...

The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are."
Pussy said to the Owl "You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose, his nose, his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?"
Said the Piggy, "I will"
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
Edward Lear 1812-1888

For Pea and mint soup you will need;
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp of fresh mint, roughly chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 cloves of garlic
500 ml/1 pint of chicken or vegetable stock
500g, ½ bag frozen or fresh garden peas
200ml crème fraiche
1 lemon, zest and juice
Mince and slices of quince (but only if you have a runcible spoon)

  • Sauté the onion in a little butter and olive oil in a good sized saucepan.  Sauté gently until they are starting to lightly colour.

  • Add the fennel seeds to the pan. Turn the heat up then add the frozen peas with the garlic. Stir well as it all starts to have a good sizzle.

  • Now pour the stock into the pan and bring to the boil. As soon as it comes to the boil, turn the heat down so the soup simmers gently for ten minutes.

  • Turn the heat off then add the mint the lemon juice and a few tablespoons of the crème fraiche. Use a hand blender to puree the soup till it’s nice and smooth and the most vivid and pleasing green.

  • Mix in the rest of the crème fraiche and add the lemon zest to garnish. 

The mint goes in at the end to maintain its fresh flavour and colour. This is one of my most favourite soups of all time and is full of the flavours of a sunny garden on a weekend. Lush. And what a vibrant pea-green it is – the soup, not our boat, or us for that matter.  Although Mariquita is hopefully as you read this, dancing in the light of the moon, the moon. Dancing by the light of the moon.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, 14 April 2012

Ready to Go...

All aboard and ready to go. Dying to get going in fact. Funny how when you’re supposed to have left a place and you’re still there, it doesn’t feel right somehow. Like being in school after everybody else has gone home.

Monday is the big day. The Captain comes on board tomorrow night and Monday morning we’re off. The weather does not look ideal but we have a plan. Basically we will hug the coast so that if we need to, we can dive into a port and cower somewhere or other. Then as soon as the weather allows we will hop across to Majorca or Menorca and see how we go from there. It’ll do for now. The crew are itching to leave.

Living in the crew quarters in the forepeak. Cosy...

Good job we didn’t go when we planned to though. Good decision. We’ve heard rumours of braver boats then us, who have broken quite important parts of boat in the very weather we are hiding from. Ouch.

My food stores are ready and distributed around the boat wherethey will fit. The owners shower has been a great spot for storage. Having limited fridge and freezer space means I have to be inventive with where it all goes and how to circulate it. Fingers crossed I dont have too much wastage. Hate waste and rotten food, especially in rough weather. A situation of GET ME OUT OF HERE proportions. Mind you last time my freezer kept defrosting...

Full to the brim

Anyway! Im sure it’lll be sweet. I’ve stocked up the sea-sickness pils.

So for now it’s checking out time and hope to blog soon in pastures new. Wish us luck with the weather and stay tuned for adventures at sea. An old wooden boat with ten crew battling to get to the UK. Bon Voyage!!


Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Big Heave-Ho

This is it. This is my last night in the double bed. Tomorrow we move onto the boat and into the small cabin with its small bunk. I know I should be better person and not mind. But I do. One shower, 'heads', for ten people, no privacy, no space.

What we do have lots of is weather! In fact we have so much weather, we're not sure when we can leave now, which really sucks. Our Thursday departure has been set back to possibly Monday due to an incoming Mistral the experts are calling 'full blown'.

I need to start praying to Neptune and the weather Gods. And maybe cook some extra bad weather freezer food.

So instead we shall be living on a boat going no where for now, listening to the rain which has been at it for a while. Which is one upside; sleeping on a boat in the rain is pretty soporific and makes one feel all warm and cosy. Which reminds me, I must go and buy me some tights...

Will keep you informed. For now I shall snuggle up and starfish whilst I still sort of can.


Sunday, 8 April 2012

Chicken, Leek and Tarragon Casserole. For sea.

It's hard to imagine that in one weeks time I will no longer be sitting cross legged upon my lovely double bed with the view all flat and stationary out of the window. We will be all at sea, slowly discovering our sea legs and adjusting to the routine of watches and life aboard. As the ships cook, I  only have the one 3 hour watch to do, usually after dinner and the rest of my time will be spent preparing meals for the crew. Now if the weather is fine and the seas are calm then, to be frank, it's a pretty cushty job. But if the weather is not so favourable, the responsibility to feed the crew lies with me alone as nobody else on board would volunteer.

I've been pre-cooking these last few days at the house and taking the prepared dishes down to the boat to stuff in my tiny-wee, little freezer. These are my rough weather dishes. If it all starts to get a bit gnarly out there, then I am prepared for it. Take out a frozen meal and slap it in the oven. Easy. Otherwise it can take literally hours to make the most simple of dishes and it's exhausting.

Mariquita has been transformed from her stripped winter maintenance bareness, to her fully geared and accessorised passage coat. Complete with life rafts, passage sails and stanchions. Ooh , it's all starting to get very exciting. That feeling of impending change. A journey is afoot!

Now, before I start getting all poetic on you, let me give you a little recipe. It's a little recipe but with the potential to feed lots of hungry mouths and tastes delicious, is simple and economic, hearty yet elegant. Its the tarragon you see. Its a clever little herb that has an air of sophistication. It's grace can turn any run-of-the-mill dish into a charmer. Even a frozen chicken and leek casserole, emancipated from its tin foil and bunged in a gimballed oven swinging willy-nilly in a stuffy galley that's bucking like a bronco, will taste like it's heaven sent and all because (I reckon) of that most debonair of herbs; tarragon.

A great family sized dish served with mash, or rice or pasta! And will freeze splendidly. 

For Chicken, Leek and Tarragon casserole to serve 6 you will need;

8-10 chicken portions, a mix of thigh and breast.
6 large leeks, washed and sliced but not too thinly 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 stalks of celery, washed and roughly chopped
1 large bunch of fresh tarragon, the leaves stripped from the stalks and chopped
500ml white wine
500ml chicken stock
2 tbsp plain flour
1/2 tbsp clear honey or sugar

  • Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4. In your largest nonstick frying pan, fry the chicken pieces in some oil so that they are a gentle golden brown on both sides. This might take a few batches. Place the browned chicken into an oven proof casserole dish with a lid.

  • Once the chicken is browned and resting in its dish, add a little more oil to the frying pan and start to saute the leeks and celery. This shouldn't take too long, around 5 minutes, before adding the garlic and half of the chopped tarragon. Add the honey or sugar and saute for another couple of minutes, stirring frequently. The honey balances out the acidity of the wine.

  • Add the leeks to the chicken pieces in your casserole dish.

  •  Add a little more oil or butter to the pan and use a wooden spatula to stir and loosen any remaining leeky, garlicy goodness from the pans bottom before adding the flour. Over a very gentle heat stir the flour in to make a roux, which will look like a paste. Take the roux off the heat and begin to very slowly add the stock and wine, stirring well between additions to get rid of any lumps before adding more of the liquid.

  • Once all the liquid has been added, let the sauce come to a gentle simmer then season with salt and pepper before tipping into the casserole dish with the chicken and leeks.

  • Add  the remaining tarragon, give it all a good stir and pop into the oven for 1 hour 20 minutes. Check the seasoning before serving.
This is delicious served with mashed potatoes but also goes beautifully with pasta or rice, so it can suit any taste,  occasion or weather condition and angle at which you are serving it. Handy.

If the wind we have at the moment dies down a little, tomorrow we go out for our first sail of the year.
It’ll be a learning curve for everybody with such a new crew and it feels like its been ages since the last race at St Tropez! 

Hope I remember how it all works...
Thanks for reading,

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Queens Diamond Jubilee Pageant and Me

The big move onto the boat has started. Out of the crew house with its multiple bathrooms and copious water flow; its double bed and wardrobe space and onto the boat with - none of the above. Whoopee, she cries.

If you've followed my blog for it's first baby year afloat on the world-wide-web, then you'll be very aware of my feelings when faced with this transition. They're not filled with enthusiasm I'll admit and 'normally' I might have a bit of a moan about it all.

However, this year I have very good reason to be excited. Here's a little story;

35 years ago on a sunny day in June, 1977, a little girl was born. A bit early but perhaps she was keen to get going. Her Majesty The Queen's Silver Jubilee was taking place and the Great British Public were also keen, as mustard in fact, to celebrate. They were baking and hanging bunting and closing the streets for village parties as we Brits are pretty good at doing. You can just imagine the waft of Victoria sponges and sausage rolls, the shrieking children, overloaded with sugar and E numbers, still relatively allowed in them days and all that excitement hanging in the air.

Just as the baby sheets were doing, used as flags to hang from the hospital windows. So the baby girl, newly born and peachy, was laid upon a Terry Toweling nappy in her cot instead of the usual soft, cotton sheet which wafted around with a higher purpose out of the window.

Babies in those days were put on their tummy's to sleep. So this wee little thing as she turned her head from side to side, slowly and successfully removed the many layers of brand new skin from her nose against the harsh threads of the toweling makeshift sheet whilst the real cotton sheets fluttered in the early June breeze.

I came out of hospital with a massive scab on my snoz basically. My brand new, little nose rubbed raw in aid of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. What a sacrifice I made in my first few days.

Well my nasal epidermis sacrifice must have paid off because Mariquita has been invited to attend the Queen's pageant on the Thames for her Diamond Jubilee! We will sail up to the Thames on the 1st of June and on the 3rd of June, my 35th Birthday, we will be there to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. How exciting! Mariquita on the Thames. She will look awsome.

I've decided such an event deserves a cake; and I really don't mind baking my own Birthday cake if it's to be shared with the Queen. It's no skin off my nose.

I am therefore in the next few months, going to be designing the ultimate Jubilee/Birthday cake. The crew will , I'm sure, be up to the task of tasting the results of my inventions and I commend their commitment to the cause.

So as you can see, I am pretty excited about the move onto the boat this year and our sailing trip to the UK. It's going to be a cracker. I'm sure the Queen will approve of all our hard winter maintenance work. And Mariquita will be proudly gleaming in all her glory. There'll be a few of you watching on the telly too apparently. I'll wave.

Stay tuned therefore, for inside information, stories and cake and all things Diamond Jubilee and we'll see you on the Thames!

Thanks for reading.