Sailor & Galley: For the Love of Baking

Sharing the recipe for her Foolproof Focaccia is one cruiser's way of giving thanks to fellow sailors.
Marissa Neely
Marissa Neely, a dedicated baker, lives and sails aboard her Cheoy Lee 41, Avocet. She and her husband are currently in Mexico. Courtesy Christopher Neely

This would really be a lot easier with stone counters,” I said to my husband as my fingers clawed at the stubborn dough adhered to our galley’s Formica countertops. Chris responded with a wink and a smile, jotting notes for our upcoming galley remodel. 

We’d been living aboard Avocet, our 1979 Cheoy Lee 41, in Southern California for three years, planning to head to Mexico and beyond in the near future. We’d always had an issue with the fridge failing to stay cold, causing the compressor to run nonstop. Ironically, the fridge had been a huge selling point for me because it’s large in comparison to those on other 41-footers. “It fits eight large pizzas” is how Chris describes it. Although we loved the space, we couldn’t ignore the inefficiency, and finally got around to planning a remodel centered on reinsulating the fridge and freezer.

I’m a dedicated baker, so space in the galley is important to me. I grew up watching my mom bake—family recipes that were then handed down to me. In my family, cooking and baking are a love language. Treats are gifted as love letters of sorts, so it’s only natural that I inherited this sentiment. Now I regularly bake for friends and family every chance I get. 

During our remodel, I had the opportunity to make some other key galley upgrades, from simple sink hardware to a new Force 10 oven, but the shining star is the real quartzite stone countertops. Although stone countertops are heavier than Formica, our boat is able to carry the ­additional 150 pounds well because our galley is near the centerline, parallel to our head and above our ­below-cabin-sole diesel. The added weight doesn’t cause us to list (unless one of the water tanks is empty), and the boat sails just as the designers intended—gracefully and relatively quickly.

Stone countertops are a dream surface for bakers. Quartzite is heat-resistant and generally holds an even, consistent temperature, which is important; if the countertop is too warm or too cold, dough will stick to it like glue. Stone also doesn’t need to be treated with chemical sealants, so you can work with dough (or anything) directly on the countertop without worrying about exposing food to toxins. 

When Chris finally packed up his tools and deemed the project complete, the first thing he asked was, “What are you going to bake?” I answered without hesitating, ­simultaneously pulling out the necessary ingredients: “Foolproof Focaccia!”

This recipe is one of my favorites because of how versatile it is. I’ve made it for years aboard Avocet in varying climates, with differing measurements, and even different rest times for the dough. I’m always pleasantly surprised by how tasty the bread is. You can dress it up or down, leave it plain, or add whatever toppings you’d fancy in addition to the standard salt and oil. 

As the dough magically transformed into focaccia in our new oven, the cabin was infused with the tantalizing aroma of fresh, baking bread. Chris and I patiently waited, mouths watering, while we tried our best to stay busy with other tasks until we could dive into the fluffy goodness. Finally, the timer went off. 

The focaccia had a beautiful brown crust, the sign that it’s been baked fully. Carefully, I removed it from the oven and placed the pan directly on our new, scar-proof quartzite counter before transferring it to a cutting board for serving. It was a divine reward for a day spent doing unending boatwork.

Even though I bake this bread for just the two of us, it’s also a surefire crowd-pleaser. Friends often ask me to bring it to potluck raft-ups, dinners and other casual get-togethers. 

Living on a boat and moving around so much means there can be a lot of trial and error with baking, but that also means I have the opportunity to pass down what I’ve learned to other cruisers who find themselves wondering where to start.

Sharing this recipe is my own love letter to my fellow cruising bakers, or wishful bakers, wherever you cruise. I hope you enjoy the warmth and comfort that this classic bread will bring you and yours, wherever you find ­yourself sailing.

Foolproof Focaccia

focaccia on cutting board
Foolproof Focaccia Lynda Morris Childress
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 ⅛ tsp. active dry yeast 
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus 1-2 Tbsp. additional

Combine flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl, then add warm water. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated.

For best results, cover bowl and refrigerate overnight. If you’re impatient (like me) or in a time pinch, let the dough sit out while you clean the galley (20 minutes, but it yields flatter bread) or for 3 to 4 hours or more (for fluffier bread).

Lightly butter a round, 9-inch cake pan, line with parchment paper, and add a tablespoon of olive oil into the center. Form dough into a ball, and coat in the oil. Place dough ball in the center of the pan, cover, and let rest and rise for about 1 hour more.  

Heat the oven to 450 degrees ­Fahrenheit with a rack in the middle. (If your oven doesn’t have a reliable temperature ­setting, get it as hot as you can.)

Drizzle a bit more olive oil on top of the dough, and press down with your ­fingertips to create deep dimples.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 24 to 28 minutes, or until it turns golden brown on top (check periodically). Remove the bread, and let it rest for as long as you can resist it before cutting into it and indulging.

Prep time: 2 hours to overnight
Difficulty: easy
Can be made: at anchor


Our favorite toppings are cherry ­tomatoes, feta and basil, or tapenade. To keep it ­simple, use an infused olive oil and ­sea-salt flakes. If you do add toppings, first drizzle the dough with olive oil, then add the toppings and press them down lightly into the dough so that they are more incorporated into the bread. 

Do you have a favorite boat recipe? Send it to us for possible inclusion in Sailor & Galley. Tell us why it’s a favorite, and add a short description of your boat and where you cruise. Send it, along with high-resolution digital photos of you aboard your boat, to