This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Who, when it comes to boat crossing, does not immediately think about a refreshing rest in a natural harbour, a nap during the day’s hottest hours, refreshing dips, aperitifs and barbecues at sunset?

Doesn’t everybody? Of course they do. Because sharing pleasant moments of close togetherness such as relaxing breaks and lunches increase fellowship and team spirit.

Well, let’s forget all this for a moment and move to a totally different scenario: a 40-foot sailboat with 8-9-person crew is about to sail an offshore regatta. 300-400 miles to sail in the shortest time possible, safely, and, of course, without intermediate calls to have some rest.

“Regattas are won on land” is what we frequently hear. Surely a paradox, but also the best way to say in just a few words that a successful performance is never achieved without planning and organizing, be it an around the world regatta or the less “demanding” Mediterranean regattas, such as the “151 Miles” or the “Giraglia Rolex Cup”, or the “Palermo-Montecarlo Regatta”.

Today, these few lines focus on two closely related and strategic aspects: how to manage food-stocks and watch and rest periods during a regatta. This is a series of broad indications drawn from the writer’s experience as well as regatta racers and experienced sailors’ talks and tips.

An old saying states: “When you are sailing you have only two enemies: cold and hunger” ….And tiredness, I would add to complete the picture.

So let’s figure out how the correct management of food-stocks and watch and rest periods can turn into a valuable ally and a key to a satisfying performance.

We are talking about regatta racers, of course, but this is not enough to identify a diet suitable for any and everyone. The energy requirements and the athletic training of those who take part to sailing competitions vary a lot as well as their metabolic needs.

Although involved in the same competition, each member of the crew has different needs e.g. a grinder consumes more than a helmsman and much more than a tactician. And, last but not least, season and weather conditions heavily affect the crew’s requirements.

These are athletes that can easily consume 3000 calories a day. How to provide the required food stocks without turning the boat into a “refrigerated truck” and, above all, how to ensure the right amount of liquids, carbohydrates, proteins, lipids and vitamins?

First of all we must be aware (and make sure our crew is aware, too) that our food-stock is not like a buffet where you choose what you want, when you want and how much you want. In a boat, space is limited and when sailing a regatta, also weight has to be saved. A careful food-stock planning (plus an extra quantity for any eventuality) together with a forecast of per capita daily requirement will help to avoid to run out of stocks 24 hours before the arrival o to pile up tens of kilos of unnecessary food.

Meals will be scheduled at regular times (closely related to the watch and rest periods) and prepared based on the daily need of each crew’s member.

Preference will be given to light food with a good caloric intake and easily digestible. Do not exceed in fats. Alcoholic drinks shall be absolutely avoided! It is better to be resigned and have a “Third Half” bear in a pub when the regatta is over. 

A “standard” 4-day food-stock (i.e. “Palermo-Montecarlo”) will include rice, cereals and couscous used to prepare in advance cold dished served with raw or boiled vegetables, fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel) or white meat (chicken, turkey). Pasta with tomato sauce can be cooked on board. We suggest to season with aromatic herbs to add flavour and reduce salt intake.

Also dried soups or canned legume soups will be very useful on board as “comfort food” to be consumed in a cold watch night.

Sandwiches with cold cuts in sealed containers (bresaola, turkey, smoked fish) will be a quick, yet gratifying meal. It therefore goes without saying that a sufficient amount of bread will have to be provided on board. Any Italian region offers at least a type of bread that is kept fresh for four or five days. Still talking about bakery, crackers, rusks and dry cookies served with jams and marmalades will be perfect for breakfast.

In addition to a “standard” food-stock, a series of snacks to be consumed by the crew at the beginning or at the end of their shifts have to be provided on board such as: parmesan cubes, better if in single-portion packs, dried fruit (e.g. almonds and pecan nuts), chocolate and energy bars, which help to face cold and fatigue.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are necessary of course! Although they require a lot of space to be stored, their intake is anything but minor in terms of vitamins, mineral salts and hydration.

Water intake deserves a special mention: as said before alcoholic drinks have been banned and each member of the crew should be provided with at least 2-3 litres of water a day. In the marine environment the risk of dehydration is very high and even during the winter you should drink as much and as often as you can. Finally, there must be also tea, coffee and energetic drinks to be consumed in the coldest nights. Also condensed milk can be useful.

On a boat the rhythm of the day is not only marked by the meals but of course by navigation activities. Even a 4-5 day regatta (about 500 miles) in the Mediterranean Sea in summer can be extremely demanding and the managing of watch and rest periods is of great importance to ensure the highest efficiency and safety.

Suppose we are sailing on a 40-foot boat. To sail a regatta like that mentioned above, a crew of 8-9 people is required if you want to push harder and sail safely during the whole regatta.

As said before about food-stocks, the skipper, again, will have to make his crew realize a basic rule: respecting watch and rest periods is of the utmost importance as fresh energies are constantly required to steer a boat.

Should someone suggest to skip his rest because “I can manage, I’m not tired, yet”, he/she should be invited to take some rest since tiredness will necessarily come out and hamper e.g. a quick sail change, when you need to be alert and maybe you are not.

2/3-hour shifts will be scheduled depending on weather conditions and on regatta steps. In my opinion 2.5-hour shifts should be taken into consideration so that in case of a long regatta (4-5 days) crew members are not operative always at the same time of the day or night. However watch and rest periods are customizable also according to each member’s habits and skills, which the skipper must be sure he knows before he schedules rest periods.

Normally shifts are arranged so that three people are “ON”: a helmsman, a trimmer and a bowman, busy to steer the boat. Three crew’s members are in stand-by (normally the same roles above mentioned) and may rest in the dinette or gunwale and be ready to intervene in case of maneuvering. Three people are complete “OFF”, taking a rest.

It is important that the skipper, even when he is off shift, always has the situation in hand: maneuvering, course, weather conditions. Of course some hours of rest are required also for the skipper, but it is crucial he always knows all information concerning every navigation and regatta step.

One last note of fundamental importance: no heroics, please!

If you are encountering any difficulties, please tell! Heroes or Superman are not necessary on board. Fatigue, stress, tension and latent fear (this, too, must be taken into account) can play tricks. A skipped shift causes far less damage than a not alert yachtsman. The regatta lasts long, there is room for everyone.

Fair winds to everybody!

Renzo Crovo