Boat life part 1: Sustenance
On this four part entry, we will give a little insight on to life on board Exiles. Certainly not as interesting as adventures in and on the land, sea and ice but nevertheless it equates to a significant amount of our day to day existence, particularly when living in a confined floating box in the Arctic.
Here are the 6 S’s of life aboard Exiles:
Part 1 : Sustenance
It goes without saying that the options for provisioning a 3 month sailing expedition in the Arctic are few and far between. Despite the abundance of wildlife, we did not plan on living off the land and sea during this trip – none of us having the need, desire or frankly skills to be self sufficient. With the exception of catching the odd fish and picking some mussels, we opted for the less romantic option of bulk buying from a supermarket before leaving Canada.
It was therefore left to JL to do the 3 month food consumption calculation prior to departure. He could be seen furiously scratching his head and scribbling calculations on the back of a cigarette packet before heading off to buy huge quantities of canned vegetables, fruit, sauces, pastas, rice, biscuits – the bulk of our nutrient for the trip, and which will store and last a long time. Thereafter we have been able to sporadically buy bits of fresh food: bread, eggs, cheese, some meat and a bit of fruit and veg, at the small villages and towns that dot the west coast of Greenland and within the Canadian Arctic.
We cook on board in a small galley (kitchen) with a small gas stove, taking it in turns to knock something up. Resources are limited so we need to take care how much gas and fresh water we are using. To juggle cooking whilst holding your balance and preventing all the items you are working with from flying across the cabin, as the boat heals and rolls, is no mean feat. Add 4-5 other people moving in and around you, and it can look more like a game of Twister down below.
Breakfasts usually consist of porridge, a filling, hot start to the day or occasionally spoiled with scrambled eggs or pancakes. On other days, we might go for an early morning fish and live it up with delicious fresh fried cod for breakfast. Lunches and dinners generally consist of quantity rather than quality, and we take it in turns to cook. Ingredients are limited, and competence even more so – forget ‘haut cuisine’, most of us won’t even get a job making school dinners. Nevertheless, a hearty warm pasta, rice or potato based dish goes down well.
All of us have re-acquainted ourselves with our cooking ‘skills’ – some even dabbling with some ‘ambitious’ baking (ie, carefully following emailed instructions from mothers or the step by step recipes of the ‘Fannie Farmers Cookbook’), while others are discovering how to cook certain things for the first time. Our resident American Peter will be ready for a job in a diner or bakery when he returns from the trip, as he has been knocking out some delicious banana bread and American pancakes. JL has ‘discovered’ the potato which now accompanies every possible dish he makes. Nick bashes out a mean veg curry although would surely prefer to live off a diet of crisps (‘chips’ for N American readers) if we had enough of them. Will pushes the limits of what is appreciated, re-using the left overs and expired food, and trying to convert the team to merits of Marmite. And we all miss Pippa’s meals, which were rich and delicious
In essence, we don’t go hungry nor will we need to. But we do remain humbled and in awe of how people before us, during arguably less privileged times have sustained themselves in this part of the world: the Inuit who have lived and mastered the land and seas well before the ‘discovery’ of this part of the world and continue today to possess highly adept skills despite today’s reality of imported food. Then there were the courageous men of early centuries who set out from Europe on often perilous expeditions of discovery, in search of the fabled North-West passage. Of course not as skilled and adept to the environment as the local population, these pioneers of Arctic exploration sometimes had to survive months on meagre rations of mouldy bread and if lucky some seal meat. They were pushed to the limits, and many a soul were lost to starvation, crippling scurvy or illness. Heroic feats were recorded of men surviving brutal Arctic winters crammed together in the shelter of a small hut or caves, with perhaps as little as some candle wax oil or leather boots to survive from.
As with so many ways of expeditions made these days, we’re really doing alright.