Over twenty sailors covering a round-the-clock watchstanding schedule; a couple dozen scientists and engineers pulling fieldwork-level hours — making sure all these people have a variety of hearty healthy food available when they need it is the challenge facing, and admirably met by, the galley.
Thanks to chief steward Matt for a generous overview of the role of the galley
“Galley” (referring to the kitchen) is a term used to name a particular space onboard the ship, along with “mess” (the dining area), and “scullery” (the area devoted to cleaning dishes and disposing of food scraps. The word “galley” is also used to refer, collectively, to the chief steward, steward, and mess attendant who operate these areas.
The galley is responsible, before departing port, for provisioning the ship. This entails, essentially, grocery shopping. The ship’s stores are not totally emptied and preplaced from scratch at the end of each voyage; rather, a permanent stock of supplies is maintained on board and is supplemented as needed at each port of call. This means a steward’s job can include some fairly long-term planning: for example, the favorable midwestern meat and poultry prices encouraged stocking up on these items in Marinette following the ship’s launch, rather than in subsequent, more pricey ports like Puerto Rico or Honolulu. No matter where it happens, “filling the box” involves acquiring a lot of food. According to Matt, this is by far the most difficult aspect of the steward’s role. Depending on the port, logistical support for obtaining produce, dairy, dry goods, fish, and meat can range from a dedicated procurer per category to one big solo trip to Costco. In the end, this shopping trip has to top off a store capable of feeding thirty or more people for up to as many days.
For our leg of the Sikuliaq’s journey, the stores were augmented, in part, by eleven 15-dozen egg crates (as well as two 40-lb boxes of liquid eggs), several hundred pounds of fish, and enough steak that after twenty-plus days underway there is about 1000 lbs remaining. We’ve also been struck by the continual availability of fresh fruit, including of course an ample supply of excellent Hawaiian pineapple.
Keeping this fully-stocked pantry makes it possible to indulge in a great deal of variety and innovation. Every galley is different; on the Sikuliaq, the steward and cook prefer, instead of planning out each meal in advance of departing, to choose menus on the fly, and peruse a couple of huge comprehensive cookbooks to expand their repertoires and our palates throughout the cruise. The result is a vast and varied slate of favorites punctuated by expert experiments and deft first tries. (What none of science party could have suspected was this galley’s first ever beef stroganoff was widely regarded by all to be a great beef stroganoff).
Depending on the geography and velocity of a particular cruise, a ship’s galley may have the option of preparing fresh fish caught from the deck. Alas, thus far, the JQZ has been quiet in this regard as well: the deep, open waters above the world’s most ancient ocean crust are not widely inhabited, and the Sikuliaq’s comfortable 11-knot cruising speed isn’t quite enough to attract the attention of the adventuresome mahi and ahi who can sometimes be found biting on lines moving at 12 to 14. Nevertheless, we’ve been treated to an extensive range of seafood as well as meat and poultry in the course of the cruise. Marlin, lamb, salmon, steak, shrimp stir fry, veal, chicken, lasagna, macaroni, casseroles, quiches, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, squash and cucumbers, asparagus, cheeseburgers, turkey burgers, barbeque wings, pulled-pork sandwiches, grilled chicken sandwiches, all manner of entrees atop rice, couscous, or noodles, pizza, or chili; each followed by a full salad bar, with dinner rolls, several varieties of cheese, and usually some fruit as well. This is after a morning of eggs to order, French toast or pancakes, sausage and bacon, fruit, yogurt, and granola, and a big hit, almond butter, for breakfast.
To partake of this bounty, all that is required is that you show up to the mess at one of the three daily hour-long mealtimes. Of course, running a ship or a science dive sometimes takes priority, and this is just one of the ways the galley shows us all a great deal of accommodation: any person who will be on shift, sleeping, or otherwise engaged during a meal can alert the galley in advance and have a plate of their choosing prepared and saved in the fridge for later. (The galley is also sensitive to and prepared for all dietary restrictions, and will work within these constraints when producing at least a portion of the day’s fare).
For everyone else, the dining experience begins at the aft entrance to the mess, where we glance at the whiteboard listing the meal’s menu and make our way through the short cafeteria-window line and, with a possible diversion for juice, water, coffee, or tea, arrive at one of the six tables. As we have found especially useful on this particular vessel, the mess tables are equipped with slip-resistant placemats, which can be the difference between a peaceful meal and an orange-juice-based calamity in the presence of unpredictable swells.
After eating and enjoying the conversation with your tablemates and the respite from watch or work, politeness dictates you vacate your seat to make way for the next wave of diners. It’s your responsibility to bus your table and appropriately dispose of all refuse: recycling to be saved for processing on shore in the blue can, incinerator-bound burnables in the black, and food slops in the designated bucket. The handling of food waste on board is the final stage in the galley’s management of all edible materials onboard. Within a twelve miles of shore, food slops are stored for later disposal. Outside this limit, with permission of the bridge, the scullery dumps the slops overboard to be dispersed with minimal impact by the ocean currents.
All in all, the dining experience on board the Sikuliaq is not conspicuously ocean-bound in any way — aside for the consideration that must be given to rolling of course. The variety and quality of food, the depth and endurance of fresh produce stores, and amicable personal investment shown by the galley in the crew and science party alike make for an extremely agreeable experience. As the menu whiteboard recommended a few days into the cruise,
Tip your cooks.