Life at sea for weeks on end is tough for the Volvo Ocean Race sailors at the best of times, fighting extreme exhaustion, facing massive physical challenges and having to constantly make major decisions at the drop of a hat. Now imagine if all you had to eat for every meal for more than three weeks came out of a packet. No fresh food, very few treats, none of life’s little comforts. That’s the reality facing the Volvo Ocean Race crews as they take on the world’s oldest and toughest crewed round the world yacht race.
"When the boys are on deck pushing the limit, 110% concentration is required and because their bodies work to keep them warm, focused an alert, they consume quite a bit of energy" - Sanya MCM Andres Soriano
To keep weight to an absolute minimum, the majority of teams’ meals come in the form of foil packets of freeze-dried food that just need hot water added to them. They’re specially designed to provide enough nutrition to the sailors but they’re hardly gourmet. Flavours range from Thai Green Curry to Spaghetti Bolognaise to Kung Po Chicken – but restaurant quality they are not.
“People are amazed by what we eat, how, and how often,” explained Team Sanya Media Crew Member Andres Soriano. “When the boys are on deck pushing the limit, 110% concentration is required and because their bodies work to keep them warm, focused an alert, they consume quite a bit of energy. Also having to wake up after only four hours of sleep takes up quite a bit of your body’s reserve as well. On average, each person on board will burn close to 6,000 calories a day.”
A typical menu on Sanya starts with either yoghurt and muesli or granola with milk and blueberries – freeze dried of course – served up around 0545. By midday it’s time for rehydrated lunch, and then another eight hours go by before it’s time for another freeze-died delicacy.
“In between meals the boys can have protein shakes, and if they are really hungry a cup of instant soup or noodles,” Soriano added. “Protein is pretty essential on board because it’s the body’s go-to source for energy and if you don’t get enough your body will start to consume your muscles as they are the greatest store of protein. We carry enough protein for everyone on board to have three protein shakes a day.”
During the long ocean sprints of up to 7,000 nautical miles, sailors develop cravings for comfort food, and usually fulfilling those cravings is top of the list of things to do on arrival in port. Steak, hamburgers and ice-cold beer are usually high on the agenda, and there’s no better place to indulge food cravings than Cape Town, known as the Tavern of the Seas.
“The quality of the food in Cape Town has been mentioned several times,” said CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Chris Nicholson, “and also the quality of food on board has been mentioned several times!”
“There’s no comparison to the food we had in Cape Town,” added Sanya watch captain Richard Mason. “The freeze dried food on board keeps us going and fills a function but the food in Cape Town is the best in the world.”
With each boat stripped back to keep weight to a bare minimum, there’s little room for even the smallest treats at sea. Rob Greenhalgh, the man in charge of food on board Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, said keeping the crew happy was “impossible”.
“The skipper has already complained there’s not enough peanuts on board. That’s why we’re coming last, apparently – not enough roasted peanuts. The crew has enough chocolate, perhaps a bit too much.
“We don’t have too many choices [with freeze dried food] but I think we’ll be getting rid of the spaghetti bolognaise for the next leg. That didn’t seem to be a house favourite. Maybe we will bring in some classic Arabian dishes.
“Maybe later in the race as we progress we might get into desserts. Once we’re off the bottom of the leaderboard we might be worthy of dessert. Until then desserts are off the menu.”
Against all the odds, a few treats made it on board Team Telefónica including a chocolate mousse that was a winner with their Spanish crew.
“Imagine the faces of Pablo [Arrarte] and Xabi when they found out: pure happiness,” their MCM Diego Fructuoso said. “I had one too and I tell you, it was very good.”
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- 4 Nov 2011Don’t forget your toothbrush