Guest post: Feeding the offshore racing or delivery crew

By Billy Cullen

(Bill Cullen has been a professional captain & delivery skipper, for over 40 years, and has owned and restored over a dozen sailboats. He has over 100,000 miles of offshore racing, cruising, and delivery experience. You may have read his “How To”, and “Gadget” articles in various sailing magazines.  See more on his website

Imagine tossing a chicken carcass into a cage of hungry wolves, I think that’s a good idea of what feeding time looks like on a lot of offshore racers and delivery boats. As cook, on a sea going racer, you need not worry about comparisons to the finer restaurants in town. The ingredients for success are simple; two large deep pots, garlic and onions, a little planning, and variety, and watch your fingers at feeding time.

If you are cooking for a large crew, I suggest two large deep pots that fit catty corner, or side by side on your stove top. Take measurements before you buy. I use “stock pots” because they are typically more narrow and deeper than most other pots. Most meals can be cooked in these two pots. As common sense would suggest, the heavier weight pot the better for cooking.

If you’re feeding a large crew, I’ve found the best way to do this is with either a rice or pasta filler with something over it. One pot for the rice or pasta, one pot for the topping. This also saves the skipper money, as you can provide a lot of volume for the money. I alternate the rice based dinners with the pasta based dinners, while alternating beef with chicken or seafood. A typical menu might be Beef Stroganoff over egg noodles, Shrimp Creole over rice, Spaghetti Bolognese, Ropa Vieja over rice, Chili Mac, Dead Chicken Primavera, Sweet and Sour Pork, Red Beans and Rice and so on. In all the years I’ve been doing this, the crews have never figured out this pattern of rice and pasta.

Just about every one of these dishes entails sautéing garlic and onions. There’s something about the aroma of this combination that instantly gets the attention of the crew. It must be like the smell of a wounded doe to the pack of wolves. They’re ready to devour anything that you send topsides.

Another rule would be to serve meals that can be eaten with just a fork. Most of the time the crew is up on deck, and they will be eating off their laps. They need one hand for the plate, and one hand for the fork. So I never serve anything that needs cut with a knife. Also, as I tell the skipper, with the guys we sail with, it’s better not to pass out knives to entire crew. That would be like arming the inmates at a Looney farm. Makes me think that perhaps I could check with the local prison for some recipe ideas too.

Lunch is usually a sandwich or wrap (see recipe), sometimes served with potato salad or chips. Those stacking chips take up less room aboard, and don’t blow away quite as fast. Brats and dogs are also an easy one for the cook and crew. Besides cold cuts, tuna salad, chicken salad, and dogs, don’t forget the old standbys of gourmet grilled cheese or simple PB&J’s.

I keep a snack locker full of snacks that the crew can eat anytime. The rule is, eat anything out of the snack locker, but do not go hunting for something to eat anywhere else because you may be eating a key ingredient to tomorrow’s dinner.

If you want to serve a healthy snack in the afternoon, send a couple of plates of cut up fruit, cheese, vegetables, sausage, and crackers. Let the crew on deck pass the plates around and munch at will.

Breakfast is another story. In multiday passages, with crew coming and going off watch, chances are that you will not have everyone ready to eat breakfast at the same time. Some of the crew may prefer to go to bed instead of eating breakfast if they have been on watch from 4 AM until 8AM. Some things can be prepared and left warm in foil in the oven. Breakfast burritos, biscuits, or hotcakes for instance. But more often you’ll find it easier to serve a cold breakfast of cereal, fruit, sweet rolls, and so on. The crew can serve themselves whenever they get around to it.

As a crew member on an offshore race or delivery, the best thing you can do is show a little appreciation towards the cook. You will find that this is all he or she needs to keep up the up effort for you.