Thirty-eight years ago, a Frenchman named Henri Wauquiez built our 43-foot Amphitrite ketch Ganesh with an emphasis on the culinary arts. This is one of the reasons my wife, Carolyn, and I purchased her. We’re unabashed epicureans.
What other production cruising sailboat has a dedicated baguette drawer, two sinks with three faucets or three built-in wine racks — one of which is illuminated by a 12-volt light wired to a hidden door switch? Ganesh even boasts three extensive dining areas: the main dinette that spans the entire width of the cabin; a commodious folding cockpit table that can accommodate four to six; and a pullout aft cabin table that’s stored athwartships under the double bunk and is perfect for holding the grapes we eagerly peel for each other.
Sailing is a sensuous pursuit. We’re sensuous people. Why shouldn’t our Ganesh reflect our joy at being alive, in love and hungry for the taste of tomorrow? Food is vitally important to us, not only for nutrition, but also as holy sacrament. Carolyn’s ancestry is Sicilian. She is driven to feed people.
While our relative poverty doesn’t allow us to match many of our wealthy cruising friends in picking up the yacht club bar tab, we make up for it by throwing dinner parties aboard nearly every week. If we love you, we want to break bread with you. Family, friends and food are forever interwoven in our hearts.
The cruising lifestyle involves both the yin and the yang.
Alas, our French galley builders went a tad too far during Ganesh‘s construction. In a desire to replicate a typical country kitchen, they used small tiles as a counter surface. Tile and boats don’t mix. Fresh water soon worked its way under them and rotted the plywood underneath. We knew the entire galley was waterlogged in 2012 when we purchased the boat but could not afford to do anything about it while repowering, rerigging and circumnavigating.
So what if the entire galley counter was spongy, the rig was stout.
Carolyn is a strong gal who makes fresh bread every other day while offshore, even in huge seas, and eventually she began to knead the entire galley counter into the bilge. She repeatedly requested a new work area, but it was wasn’t until our port sink started to heel at an odd angle in relationship to our starboard sink that I realized I had no choice but to grant her wish.
However, our cruising kitty happened to be low, so the first thing I did was to start a “Jah list,” the kind of thing a young child might write to Santa. Why? On the simple premise that the gods can’t give you stuff if they don’t know you need it.
Ask and receive. Visualize!
Is life that simple? No. But desire has to precede accomplishment or no effort is expended. We knew that we’d never have enough money to commission a new galley to be constructed by local shipwrights. We’d have to build it ourselves from scrounged and discarded boat bits. We simply won’t allow the silly little fact that we lack sufficient funds to stop us from accomplishing our dreams, whether galley or transoceanic.
Step one was making a list of things we’d need. Step two was deciding to do the work in New Zealand during our fourth circumnavigation. New Zealand is very can-do; the blokes here don’t buy stuff, they build it. Call it fate, but right across from the boat in Whangarei are a number of custom cabinetry shops with locked dumpsters. I’d often stroll by and peer in longingly at the discarded lumber. One day, a carpenter on cigarette break explained to me that the trash bin was locked to prevent people from putting stuff in, not taking it out. He said I could have any of the discarded wood I wanted.
We became friends. He appreciated that I made no mess during my dumpster dives. I explained about our endless voyage toward Nirvana. He mentioned his father-in-law was building a Wharram catamaran. Soon he was taking me into his shop to see if there were any shorts in the lumber pile that I might be able to use.
More than half the wood I used in the galley project was free.
Of course, marine plywood doesn’t grow on trees, so some parts of the new galley had to be paid for. But the good folks at Scooters Plywood & Joinery supplies sold half-sheets, one of which had some water damage on a corner. I purchased it for a quarter of what I was expecting.
Instead of buying new sinks, we patched and polished the old ones. Both had holes but judiciously placed bolts solved that.
Carolyn wanted Corian for the countertops but I vetoed the material because of its weight. We went with Formica, which itself cost more than I would have liked. Worse, the roll of pricey countertop unexpectedly cracked diagonally as we were removing it from its cardboard tube, so I thought we’d blow the budget by having to replace it. But the gods were merely toying with us. We were able to get the countertop out of one randomly cracked half and the backsplash out of the other.
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Carolyn wanted all new hoses, fittings and fixtures, but we mostly polished the old ones or discovered better ones at Stanley’s Marine, our local used-boat-gear store.
I’m on my 59th year of living aboard, and one of my core concepts of ship husbandry is to do a major vessel improvement every year. That’s exactly what we were attempting here. Unfortunately, the ever-playful gods weren’t done messing with us. Just as we were taking an ax to the galley, our 12-volt refrigeration system quit. Damn! That’s the whole story of my cruising life: one step forward and another back.
We had no choice but to soldier on as frugally as possible. I’m goal-oriented. I know that you can’t lose if you don’t quit. And I was encouraged when the biggest lumber yard in town allowed me to dig around in its pile of discarded wood so old it wasn’t even in the computer inventory — and thus fair game for penniless do-it-yourselfers with a handful of gimme and a mouthful of thank-you-much.
I used to do stuff like this all the time when I was a 15-year-old Tom Sawyer-type and rebuilding my first vessel, Corina. But I never thought at age 66 I’d still be skipping through foreign lumberyards while whistling at planks and saying loudly, “My, ain’t that a purdy, purdy piece of timber?”
Is this scrounging of goods too much? Should I have stayed in America and frowned at my bank account instead of heading offshore? Maybe. Life is a judgment call. But I think of myself as more creative than frugal. It’s all about value. I earn money, but I’m just more careful about how I spend it than those who fail to leave the harbor.
But even I can dream — and honestly, material objects aren’t bad, per se, which brings us to the stove.
The stove on Corina in 1968 was a camping two-burner. Our next boat, Carlotta, had a salvaged ungimbaled Crawford house stove that worked OK during the 1970s and ’80s. Our previous sailboat, Wild Card, had a succession of steel RV stoves during the 1990s. And Ganesh‘s corroded stove was always a “will it work or won’t it” proposition. Carolyn had never had a new or fully functioning gimbaled marine stove in her 49 years of living aboard. And, like any infatuated, love-struck husband, I wanted to give my bride the tools (and galley jewelry) she desired. After all, a stove is her primary instrument as a gourmet sea chef. And every sailor knows the heart of a happy vessel is its galley.
Ditto, with refrigeration. The 52-foot schooner Elizabeth that I grew up on lacked refrigeration, as did Corina, Carlotta and Wild Card, the various sailboats aboard which Carolyn and I have plied the seas. A major reason we purchased Ganesh, in fact, was to have a cold glass of water on a hot day while transiting the sweltering equator.
Thus the extreme frugality of our 2019 galley rebuild wasn’t merely because I squeeze a penny so hard that Abe Lincoln cries. No, it was also because I desired to help my sailing partner to accomplish her culinary dreams just as she has assisted me with accomplishing so many of my cruising dreams.
Does luck play a part in these wacky, seat-of-our-pants DIY boat projects? Of course. And not all luck is bad. Just as I was routing the edges of the Formica flush with the marine ply, our long delayed royalty check from a piece of writing arrived. I glanced at the amount and did a double take.
“I was skeptical as well,” Carolyn admits. “So I checked. It was correct.”
We were able to immediately replace our Isotherm Compact Classic refrigeration compressor unit as well as purchase a brand-new, ultrashiny Force 10 gimbaled stove with three self-igniting stovetop burners, a broiler and a large temperature-regulated oven with a glass thermal door that locks. Carolyn has an entirely new work area to juggle her spices in. The only problem now is that she keeps singing out, “Sugar daddy, sugar daddy!” as she prepares our gourmet meals while sipping a wine cooler.
After taking a break in New Zealand, Fatty and Carolyn were bound for French New Caledonia, where they planned to gorge on escargot.