Posted by: wrmcnutt | June 3, 2010

Ship’s Log: September Blue – Cooking Breakfast Aboard A West Wight Potter

One of the new experiences I enjoyed on my Voyage to Tax Town was cooking the the “galley” of my West Wight Potter.  For those unfamiliar with the West Wight Potter, they’re tiny.  Like:  you can row them if you really want to tiny.  The galley consists of a one-burner butane stove, a roughly 1.5 gallon sink, and two storage cabinets that are the only convenient place to put ANYTHING aboard the boat.  So everything BUT food is stored there.

I forgot the eggs, so breakfast was bacon, 1/4 of a large onion and some small sweet peppers fried in bacon fat, and two slices of toast, also fried in bacon fat.  But first things first.  I was positive that there was some decaff instant coffee aboard, and some rooting around produced not only the coffee, but a ziploc with sugar.  SCORE!  Now too . . . um.  Where’s the kettle.   (Remember, I’m still half asleep!)  Fifteen minutes of rooting around revealed that the kettle had managed to rattle around while September Blue was under tow and get all the way over under the starboard quarter-berth.  (This is like putting your kettle away in your kitchen cabinet, and finding it in the garage.)

So I put the kettle on while I went to work chopping onions and peppers.  Once the water boiled, I poured my cup of instant java and set it aside to cool.  Then I started the bacon.  Just heat up the pan and drop in five strips of JUMPIN’ JEHOSOPHAT!  Instant smoke and curled edges.  Grab the pan and lift it up out of the cabin to let the smoke clear.  QUICKLY put the pan back down because folding pan handles for camping do NOT stay cool like All-Clad Master Chef pans.  Grab a paper towel, fold it, and lift the pan again.  And all this while adjusting the flame way down.

I’d forgotten: butane burns hotter than propane.  So the same flame begets more heat.  Good to know.  And I was quick enough that the bacon wasn’t destroyed. So bacon back in the pan while I hunt for a grease can.  I’ve not been aboard long enough to accumulate anything into which to drain my grease.  NO cans at all.  But I did have a plastic bottle.  Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Bacon grease is past the melting temp of lightweight plastic.  But. I was careful, and though the bottle shriveled up a little bit, I was able to contain the grease and tossed it in the trash.

My bacon now complete, I reached for the butter to fry my peppers and onions.  Um, no butter. I must left it on top of the eggs I didn’t bring, either. Time to recover the bacon fat from the trash basket.  There was plenty there to fry up some peppers and onions, seasoned with salt and pepper.  I wonder just how much of the plastic on the interior of that partially melted bottle got into the grease, and how toxic it is?  Now the potatoes.  Mmmmm.  Fried potato slices.  Aaaannndd . . . . I was out of bacon grease. There’s not enough fat here to properly transfer the heat from the pan to the food.  I was going to end up burnt on the outside and raw on the inside.  The answer?  Water. Lots of water.  Say hello to Poached Potatoes.  They weren’t too bad, really.  I’d gotten a good start on them before the fat ran out, so they were crispy and had that “fried food” flavor.

So I plated my (now cold) bacon, peppers and onions, fried/poached potatoes, and settled in.  I picked of my coffee, took a really big sip . . .

And turned my face wrong-side out.  Remember that ziploc of “sugar,” I found?  Kosher salt.  I’d HEAVILY salted my coffee.  Back onto the burner when the kettle, while I relaxed with cold bacon, warm peppers and onions, and hot potatoes.

Given the limitations of one burner, no fat to cook in, and only salt and pepper to spice with, the meal actually turned out pretty good, salted coffee not withstanding.  As long as I don’t get cancer from whatever amount of plastic was in that fat I used to cook with, I count the experience as an unqualified success.

Let’s take a few minutes to look more closely at the overall galley.  After glancing to make sure that your fire extinguisher is ready to hand, the first step in cooking in the WWP-19 is to throw any and all companions out into the cockpit or up on deck.  Should it be raining, you can cram them into the port-side quarter-berth or the starboard side of the V-berth.  You’re going to need every other cubic inch of space in the cabin for this job. Any surface you don’t need to place something on, you’ll be swinging a knife over or a hot pan through.

I have removed the dagger-board cable from the dagger-board trunk to open up the cabin space a little.  Further, I’ve added, for this voyage, a drinks cooler that fits neatly between the dagger-board trunk and the port-side bunker (where the sink is).  This gave me a functional seat, so that I didn’t have to try and cook stooped over.  Other people have built bench-tops for the dagger-board which serve this function.  I’ve also seen pictures of people cooking from the forward end of the starboard quarter-berth, but this means that every time you need to reach the counter next to the stove, the ice box, or the sink, you have to move.  It’s dysfunctional and I don’t recommend it.  Find something to use as a seat instead.

The next thing you will need to do clear the seats at the front of the starboard quarter-berth and, unless you have a crewman crammed into it, the port-side one as well.  Clear the “counter space” to the left of the stove, and any space on the starboard side of the V-berth that does not have a crewman crammed into it.  (I really hope I never have to cook with crew aboard and in the rain.)  You’re going to want every square inch of flat space you can find during this process.

Now unmake your bed.  The icebox is located in the locker underneath the port side of the V-berth.  You’ll need to remove two cushions, owing to either a design flaw or an execution flaw in the design of the V-berth.  Remember to keep the ice box closed when you are not actively getting food out or putting it away.  Leaving it open will seriously melt your ice.

Do all your cutting, chopping, and shaving at once, before you light your stove.  Once you have heat on, you will need to pay close attention to whatever is in the pan.  The butane burns hot, and camp cookware is prone to heat up quickly and to have hot-spots.  Cooks call this preparing a “mise en place.” While you’re at it, make sure all of the cooking tools are not buried in the bottom of the bunker as well.

Allow more time.  Since you have only one burner, cooking multiple dishes is going to take longer.  I cooked bacon, peppers and onions, and potatoes.  The whole process took about an hour.  I’m used to doing the same meal in about 40 minutes.  I think if I do it more often under these conditions, it will get faster, but still, it takes time.

I found the whole experience to be far more rewarding that running to the marina restaurant for over-priced omlettes.   Food cooked aboard a boat tastes better and is more satisfying.  The one think I will be adding to my galley very shortly will be a spatter guard.  It’s one more thing to wash, but after three days of cooking breakfast, there was a noticeable amount of bacon grease on my starboard port-light.

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  1. Okay, for those of us non-naval types, pictures would be nice. I can almost visualize the galley area, but a picture with person for scale would be appreciated.

  2. Next time I get a chance. For matters of scale, though, just imagine me in a space too small to stand up in where, if I turn sideways, I can touch both walls.

    Oh, wait, just a sec . . .

    Here’s an example aboard one of September Blue’s sisters: the Harried Potter.

  3. Come on Will, you should know by now to take the pre-prep school of thought from Roz.

    Plan your meals with the lack of space in mind.

    Keep a zip-loc of pre-sliced peppers and onions and then you don’t have any chopping, etc….

    • Yeah – I know. I just prefer to go through life with a “let’s see what’s in the ‘fridge approach, rather than planning meals tightly. Especially when no one else is counting on me. I’m also big on “winging it at the last minute.” Which makes Roz more than a little stressed when she has to work with me.

  4. That was a pretty funny story, right up until the point you salted your coffee. Then it became hilarious.

    • Glad you like it. I’m looking forward to my next trip. I’m learning more about single burner cooking. What order to cook dishes in, for example. Keeping things warm, and, of course, the ever-popular one-pot meal. Meaning that if I burn it, I have no food.

  5. My approach is to put the stove on the cockpit floor and stand in the cabin. More comfortable, safer, and easier to clean up.

    • That’s a good idea. I probably won’t go that route, though. Seems like it would be more work.

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