Life Onboard – 1000 Potatoes

It was a pleasant day. The sun was shining and a slight whisper of wind was blowing up from the Halifax harbour. I stepped on board, my big rucksack in tow, absolutely clueless as to what I was getting myself into. Perhaps we would have smooth seas and subtle waves as we sailed off into the sunset. Maybe… we were about to face fierce storms a

nd long nights of no sleep. Your guess was as good as mine. All I knew was that the crew was full of friendly smiling faces and we were bound for France!

I had never travelled to Europe before, but with the salt in my veins it only felt appropriate to experience it first hand, by sail power alone,… by tall ship! We were about to race across the Atlantic and I would be happily earning every step that I was about to take on the new soil of France. We would be leaving the famous Nova Scotian port in less than 48 hours and I was signing on as the cook. Blue Clipper is a three-masted gaff rig schooner. I was thrilled!

I had cooked before, but never for 30 people and never in the middle of the Atlantic! Heck, I hadn’t even stepped foot on a tall ship before. Off I went to provision for the voyage and as you might have assumed, I had never done something like that before either! I was handed a four-page long grocery list and I was accompanied by my now great friend Cat. How hard could it be right? It must just be like shopping for yourself…. right?

We were power grocery shopping for four hours! We had acquired fresh produce, meat, dairy, canned and dry goods!  We had it all, about 11 carts full! Most notably we had potatoes, lots and lots of potatoes… I picked up 1000 potatoes and put them in my cart. I was simply following the list!!! As the morning went on, Cat and I eventually came to the consensus that we now had everything we needed. We loaded up a van with the help of our Port Liaison Officer and back to the ship we went. The receipt from our one transaction was as long as the ship! Thank goodness for the patient cashier. I didn’t realize it at that moment, but this was actually one of many big trips to the grocery story. When we got back to the ship and it was time to pack all our stores away.

We loaded up all the stores. In the galley, in the fridge, in the freezer and under the seat cushions, the ship was absolutely stocked full! We were not about to pass away from scurvy or starvation on this trip and I was going to make sure of that. It came down to the potatoes. Where were we going to put the 1000 potatoes? These round vegetables, though a staple, were a nuisance from the very beginning. The only space left was up at the front of the ship in the bow cabin, where no one usually sleeps. 

***

Fast forward two months later. I know, I know… I have really jumped ahead in this story but to save some trouble I will have to save those stories for another day. At this point we had completed the race, coming first in class and second overall. Now we were making our way down to Portugal to take the ship out of the water for refit. Cat and I had moved up to the bow cabin to make room for a few new crew members. If you ever find yourself on a ship, please remember to thank the cook. I think we can all underestimate how hard it is to cook on a ship let alone on one that is rocking and rolling offshore with the swell. I sure know I did! Cat and I used to joke that if we could cook on a ship like this then we could certainly cook in space, that would be easy…

So anyway, it’s about 11 o’clock at night and I am exhausted. I can hear Cat’s faint voice whispering “psst…Olivia…. Olivia…” I open up one eye. I asked her what was going on? Unsurprisingly, she looked just as exhausted as me and with a small smirk on her face she told me to sit up in my bunk. What I saw was those pesky potatoes, about 500 of them, rolling back and forth on the floor of the bow cabin. In amongst them are our boots, our harnesses, our gloves and whatever other sailing gear we had that had flown away in the middle of this storm. Cat and I could only laugh hysterically at each other as we swayed back and forth with these potatoes. We desperately tried to catch all of them and lash them back down in their baskets. We just wanted to go back to bed. 

***

About one month later with a few stops along the way, we finally reached Portimao, Portugal. This was where we would be hauling out Blue Clipper for the winter refit. We had taken on a few new crew members to help us with the refit. Erik had joined us and he had moved into the bow cabin with Cat and I. I remember he was looking for a place to store his bags when we heard him shout up the companionway. “Did you guys know there are potatoes in here?” Did we know? At one point yes. Clearly, a few months later we had forgotten. There were so many of them that it was near impossible to keep track. However the bow cabin did have a slight musty potato smell so how could one really forget? I still remember that lingering smell. If you have even opened up your grandmother’s potato bin and found a potato withering away, it smelt like that.

Alas, we had reached our final bag of potatoes, just when we thought we would never see the end. We pulled our weary ship up on the dry dock of Portimao so we could have some well deserved rest and rejuvenation. Rest assured, I did change our grocery list for the next long voyage so that our future cook would not have to endure the same difficulties we had.

 

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