Ocean racing leads to a rationale for food rations

In addition to all their other voluntary duress, the Volvo Ocean Race sailors forgo a basic human privilege which land-based humans seldom bother to treasure. They eschew chewing.

Wade Morgan, left, and Justin Slattery enjoy a can of nuts aboard Azzam. The crew will eat a variety of food, most of it freeze-dried and easy to slurp down, along with nuts and protein bars.
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ALICANTE, SPAIN // In addition to all their other voluntary duress, Volvo Ocean Race sailors forgo a basic human privilege which land-based humans seldom bother to treasure.

They eschew chewing.

For three-week stints on the roiling oceans, these adventurers ingest such slither-down-the-throat delicacies as freeze-dried roast beef, freeze-dried chicken tikka and plain-old electrolyte powder.

All of it minimises the weight of the yacht even if none dare call it yummy. Cans of cocktail nuts and bags of beef jerky do make it into the daily food rations even if only to remind the sailors that they do possess teeth.

"Some of it's all right, but you probably wouldn't choose to eat it," Simon Fisher, the helmsman/trimmer, said as he contemplated his third Volvo circumnavigation.

"Chilli is a safe bet. Chilli is like the cornerstone dish of any freeze-dried diet."

The planning that goes into feeding 11 men on a speed-seeking 70-foot boat would stun the disorganised.

"It's attention to detail," Ian Walker, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper, said. "You wouldn't think it. Food, how hard could it be?"

It could be hard enough to demand tackling days in advance. Four days from Leg 1 departure, behind the tents of the Abu Dhabi base camp yesterday, the watch leader Rob Greenhalgh showed the fine art of apportioning, which for him has become a knack.

He sat on the pavement filling the white bag with red numerals "11" and "12", rations for the 11th and 12th days of the 6,500-nautical-mile voyage to Cape Town.

On the ground around him lay an iridescent array of foodstuffs and kitchen items awaiting entry into the biodegradable bags, which the shore team creates from the same material as the spinnakers.

The bags of rations and accessories must weigh 25-to-27 kilogrammes, and Greenhalgh has mastered the peculiar world of vacuum-packed paper towels and the arcane vagaries of washing up liquid.

"Sometimes, when you know that every week you're going to have a new thing of dishwashing liquid, obviously that bag can get very full, so we try to spread it out a bit" among the bags, he said, the green liquid just about glowing from the side of one bag.

"So there's a little bit of feel to it. Although we try to be quite precise with it, sometimes you've got to fudge it a little bit."

Into bag 11-12 he packed plastic bags of candy bars, some of the proliferating bags of tortillas and some roast beef marked "Tastes Best Before: June 2014".

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing works with various food companies in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and Fisher believes that varying them varies the barely varying flavours.

Said Walker, while standing over a sumptuous bag of freeze-dried Kung Pao chicken last July at training in Portugal: "We'll spend about US$75,000 (Dh275,500) on food during the race. I know. We've already bought it all."

Details: chocolate, Greenhalgh said, comes to one bar per man per day, and appears mostly as a palate diversion from protein-bar dreariness.

It also, Walker reminded, cannot go on hot-weather legs.

Gummi bears, over there in one bag, enable chewing, especially helpful on wee-hour shifts. Snacks help if rough seas preclude eating the freeze-dried.

The ibuprofen and paracetamol over there in the Ziploc bag?

They play a vital supporting role given all the back and shoulder pain.

And while the tall bottle of olive oil going in just now might seem an extravagance, Greenhalgh said, "It can flavour the food a bit, and it keeps your system running well.

"We try to have some sort of luxuries."

They try to balance personal tastes, gleaned from the meetings they hold about food, which Greenhalgh calls "probably the most-discussed thing, actually".

They try to consider weight such that if they err, they err toward lightness.

"We wouldn't take extra," Greenhalgh said, so if a leg ran unexpectedly long, "You'd just ration on the other end if it comes to that".

As for that other end, Fisher, for one, has noticed something counter-intuitive.

People expect him to step on to the dock craving sleep and real food, he said, but typically his system has stopped thinking it requires long sleep, while his normal appetite has staunched in the freeze-dried mayhem, requiring several days for realignment.

Others might differ, of course.

Asked on the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing website for his first wish upon arrival at stopovers, the 6ft 4ins Australian bowman Wade Morgan replied: "Eat food that I need to chew."

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