Saturday, 21 March 2009
I never bothered to study those equipment lists in the back of old sailing books. Appendix A would list technical specifications, B medical supplies and C food. How many pairs of socks the sailors took with them, the number of packets of self-heating soup or the quantity of wax-covered eggs seemed irrelevant. Though I was always mildly curious as to how the eggs got their wax coating and whether it really did make a difference to how long they kept, all I ever gave those exhaustive lists was a brief glance.
Now I find them fascinating, in part for what they convey about the age in which they were written but also for what they reveal about the sailors. The lists at the back of Sir Francis Chichester’s Gipsy Moth Circles the World show a British post-war thrift that was still prevalent in 1966. But Sir Francis at 65 years old had travelled widely and while he carried egg powder, limejuice, ginger nuts, mango chutney and packets of curry he also took Gruyere, garlic and olive oil.
Robin Knox Johnston’s single-handed circumnavigation of 1969 occasionally raises the question not of how he managed in the Southern Ocean but how he survived for 313 days on a diet of institutional stodge. Tins of stewing steak and sausages, Heinz spaghetti and baked beans and Smash instant potato—‘For mash get Smash’. Even RKJ, focused as he was on the task of circling the world in a 32-foot wooden ketch, commented that he would have liked a more varied diet. At least he had plenty of brandy, whisky and lager as well as 3000 cigarettes to aid digestion.
Frank Dye’s diet aboard his 16-foot Wayfarer dinghy, Wanderer, is predictably Spartan. Compressed dates, glucose drinks and energy bars are crammed into lockers alongside lifeboat biscuits and portioned cheese. Rum flavoured fudge, a chicken, Kendal mint cake and a bottle of whisky jostle with three pairs of socks, 12 handkerchiefs and a shore-going golf jacket. How Dye managed to fit all his equipment into a Wayfarer is a feat in its self, even before considering what it must have been like to sail a dinghy from Scotland to Iceland.
The other day I found the envelope bearing my own scrawled lists of last year. With spring arriving it is time to start thinking about a short cruise and I’m wondering if I should change my cruising diet of bacon, fried eggs and red wine to one more in keeping with a healthy 21st century lifestyle. But while I’m happy to munch on muesli and salads ashore one of the things I enjoy about being out in Onawind Blue is the legitimate excuse it gives me to emulate my heroes and tuck into a high-calorie cruising diet. Soon I’ll be loading up with sausages and chocolate, (I wish I could find some rum flavoured fudge out here) biscuits and cake. And plenty of eggs of course, though I don’t think I’ll be giving them a wax coating.