Prior to our 1,500 mile passage from PNG to Australia, I hit up a storm in the galley to prepare for the trip. While many find the exercise therapeutic, I find the work true to the term, “slaving in the galley.” I like to cook, don’t take me wrong. There is nothing like the earthy smell of garlic and onion sautéd over melting butter, the floral hint of rosemary and thyme filling the air around you, the kick of cayenne and red chilies pricking your nose. But herein lay my problem: I hadn’t seen sight or smell of these culinary building blocks for many, many months. In fact, in our six-month stint in the tropics we’d occasion to purchase rudimentary essentials in very few places along the way. Three towns held their promises of selection and variety (Port Vila and Luganville in Vanuatu, Honiara in the Solomons), but we’d hit these grub stops early in the trip. We also had a weevil epidemicon board that stripped us of many of our dried stores, leaving a larger hole in our supplies than planned for. Thus, when it came to cooking meals for the passage there was no mouth-watering aroma spilling out from our galley.
While we had very little opportunity to provision at stores along the way, the locals did lend a hand in keeping us fed. While we never lacked opportunity here, we did lack variety. You could cross anything green off your list, unless limes fulfilled this dietary requirement. Keen on yams? Not a problem. Starch was easy to come by; in fact, is seems local diet is comprised of exclusively fish and root. Two of my favourites were on ready supply, and but I quickly tired of pawpaw [papaya] in the morning. Every morning. And if you thought you could never get your fill of bananas, let me assure you – you definitely can.
And so, we wasted little ink and paper when filling out our list. As goes, this is all you can expect when filling up that shopping basket:
You like it? … You got it. But don’t dare dream of adding anything else to that shopping list!
Of course, seafood was on plentiful supply and lobster was a popular “meat of trade.” Our freezer was filled with a selection of eye fillet, scotch fillet and sirloin which made a great accompaniment to this saltwater delicacy. Rumor had it that I was purported to be a vegetarian, which made us laugh given the excessive number of nights we had “surf and turf.” After rationing meat earlier in the trip, we had excessive quantities remaining due to the shortened cruise and we didn’t want any of it to be confiscated by Australian quarantine. Unfortunately, neither steak nor lobster are convenient meals to cook at sea, and therefore I was a bit limited on culinary options. As such, we ate beans.
I prepared two weeks worth of ready-made meals out of the dried kidney beans we had onboard. Bean a la Pasta, Bean a la Chile, Refried Bean a la Mexicana, Bean a la Just for the Hell of Being Bean, Sopa Bean, Bean a la Boring Bean, Bean a la Going Mental Bean. Bean a la Bleck Going to be Sick Never Going to Eat Another Bean, Bean.
With a dozen coconuts and every concoction of bean you could think of, we set to sea. Heading south, we didn’t know if the trip was going to take us four days (a quick sprint to Mackay) or two weeks (in for the long haul to Sydney); it would depend on the conditions when we got out there.
While the cruising season was not yet closing, John and I decided that time was of essence in getting down to Sydney. Our intention is to try and find work in Australia over the summer and restock our travel kitty, and we deemed Sydney the best city to try and do so. Given we are quickly heading into the holidays, the sooner we are get there the better are our chances of landing something before the Christmas shut-down begins.
It took me two days out before I starting feeling beans oozing through every inch of my body, seeping out my pores. I could have taken knock-down seas, 40-mile headwinds, back-to-back squalls and a pirate attack, but I simply could not handle one more meal of bean a la anything. Before mutiny, we agreed that we’d head into Mackay, our nearest port of entry and treat ourselves to a white fluffy coffee and a meal of Not Beans.
We pulled into Mackay marina after four and a half days of open-ocean sailing across the Coral Sea. Our first 24-hours had Atea and crew bouncing through some of the biggest swell either of us have come across, rocking up out of one trough to slide off its peak and crash into the wall of the next wave. John was sick from the haphazard motion, I was exhausted from taking care of two men and a vessel, and Braca, nonplussed by the seas, carried on in his usual manner. After an initial hard run, the seas calmed and the weather settled and we slid our way south in what is termed, “champagne weather.”
Sailing into Mackay, we pulled up to the custom’s dock and not five minutes later heard my name called out from a neighbouring dock. Low and behold, friends of ours from New Zealand were on a work dock fixing up their own yacht after a rough sail north from Sydney a few days earlier. Such pleasant surprise! After clearing customs and agriculture, we raced ashore for our first cappuccino in many moons. I won’t belabor our disappointment in a receiving a shit coffee – perhaps too much hype – but the first item on our wish list was satisfied. Next: A hop to town to hit up the local grocer.
Now let me tell you, there is nothing so Purely Spectacular as a green grocer after months denied these succulent beauties: Red apples that shimmer in their wax coating, grapes that drip their vine juices to the touch, oranges that gleam their vibrant orange colour, just to reinforce the beauty of their name. Grapefruit. Kiwifruit. Starfruit. For that matter, fruit by any name was thrown in the cart in reckless abandon – the randomness was bliss in itself. Carrots. Cucumber. Cabbage. Broccoli and cauliflower. Avocado and artichoke. Spinach. Rocket. Mescaline. We were seeing green around each corner. Fresh, beautiful, succulent, glimmering green plucked straight from the heavens and delivered to our greedy palm.
We spent $200 in the fruit and veggie isle, never making it to past those fresh stalls to fill our cart with any of the other necessities – practicality could come later. We were depleted in items down every isle in the store but we couldn’t see past our immediate craving to put order in our spree. For the moment, we were like kids in a candy store with mum’s bill-lined wallet. I know we made a spectacle, as no ‘normal’ shopper was so gleeful when picking an apple out of the pallet. But hell, dampening our enthusiasm would have been near impossible, and who would’ve wanted to anyway?!
We recouped in Mackay, running on three café lattes a day, filling ourselves on an exclusive diet of fruit and vegetables, and catching up with old friends. On day three we decided it was time to press on. After tossing all the beans in the bin and boasting a galley full of green, we press on southbound for Sydney.