You’re crewing on a Japanese-owned boat? You much catch a ton of fish!
Well, not so much. Not a one in the Bahamas. We did catch a ton of barracuda in Cuba, but we’d thrown all of them back. It may have been open water but we had absolutely no desire to mess with ciguatera, the fish-borne illness that’s featured in various places on the spectrum from wish-you-were-dead to actually deadly. We had caught a king fish and a few little things in harbors, but fish seemed to be keeping clear of Umineko.
Toshi San cleaning bonito
But our luck seemed to be changing on our long passage. We caught our first big(ish) fish. And a tasty one too, a bonito, and perfect for a Japanese boat. Japanese cooking uses bonito, or katsuo, flakes and stock in a whole lot of their dishes. I just had never tasted a fresh one.
When Toshi San, our resident fish expert, deftly cleaned our catch I found out the 10 pound catch had red meat. I’m not sure why I’d been expecting it to have white, but the dark red meat looked good. For this catch we had a real Japanese feast, curtsey of Toshi San, or as I like to call him, my sakane sensai (fish sensai).
He showed me how to trim all of the edges off of the fillets, leaving only the “beautiful” meat, for sashimi and chirashi sushi. We waste all of the scraps? I asked him, horrified. Not at all, he replied, putting them in a small pan.
He chopped up some fresh ginger and arranged it over the fish. Then he poured a little mirin, a little soy sauce, a few spoonfuls of sugar, and enough water to cover the fish.
“I’ve been cooking fish since I was a child,” he told me. I never measure anything. I don’t have to!”
The dish was delicious but as I’m still not up to judging how much of what goes in I won’t put the recipe up. I’ll just have to experiment a bit more.
For the “beautiful dishes,” we made easy sushi rice, cooking the rice, folding in a sushi powder packet, and then training a fan on it: The modern take on hand-fanned sushi.
Then we thickly sliced the most beautiful fish rolls, each piece about 1” thick. He explained to me that dark meat was generally sliced more thickly in Japan.
He sliced the meat and arranged the pieces one after the other in elegant lines on a plate. Each one fit together perfectly. Next he chopped 3 cloves of garlic and spread it over the bonito. Finally he sprinkled finely chopped spring onions over the top, wrapped it in plastic film, and refrigerated it until dinner time.
I was in charge of arranging the toppings for the chirashi sushi. With the three dishes we had a glorious bonito feast that day.
Blue Water Bonito Sashimi
Blue Water Bonito Sushi
3 cloves chopped garlic
Bonito Chirashi Sushi
Slice bonito in 1” slices and arrange on plate
Cover with chopped garlic
Sprinkle with spring onion
Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate for 4 hours
Serve with wasabi, pickled ginger, and rice, or as a starter for a meal
What is the most famous band from Cuba?” Sato San asked me over lunch.
It was our first day in the country and we were exploring Varadero. So far the famous beach town had offered little but street vendors and tourist traps. Even the locals had told us emphatically that this was decidedly not Cuba. We had found the least touristic-looking restaurant we could and had a meager lunch of bean soup, rice, and fried fish. Sustenance, not much more than that.
“Buena Vista Social Club,” I answered without hesitation. I had seen Ibrahim Ferrer, one of their original members, almost a decade earlier in Slovakia and was eager to see the entire band. More than a band Buena Vista was a phenomenon, I tried to explain to my captain. They were amazing. They had won international music awards, there was a film about them… Yes, they were definitely the most famous Cuban band.
After lunch we wandered back down the main strip and stopped in a dance studio on the way. One of Sato San’s main reasons for stopping by Cuba was to learn salsa after all. A slim woman sat behind a podium-like desk to the left of the entrance, her hair pulled back in an elegant bun. She was clearly a dancer.
There was a concert tonight that dancers from her studio were performing at. Buena Vista Social Club was playing with another salsa group at the open-air concert hall. Tickets were $5 CUC if we bought them at the dance studio but $10 CUC at the door.
It was at the other end of the island from Gaviotta Marina, where we were staying but buses ran late that night because of the concert…
She had me at Buena Vista Social Club. Getting to see them in Cuba? On our first day?! I couldn’t believe my luck.
After dinner we caught the bus to where the woman had said the concert hall was. It was the same double-decker bus we had taken downtown that morning. I confirmed with the driver that it really was running late that night. To my relief it was.
The streets of Varadero were uncannily dark as the bus rolled past. Some of the restaurants and bars had patrons in them, but not a streetlamp nor shop light was turned on. This didn’t seem like the Cuba I had heard so much about with its vibrant night life. Was there a power outage?
We arrived at the concert hall at 9:00. Right on time, or at least when the concert was supposed to start. We had to wait 20 minutes for the beautiful sheet-music metal gates to open. The box office wasn’t even open yet for Mori San and Taira San to buy their tickets! Cuban runs on the same time as most of Latin America.
The concert was more of a welcome to tourists and visitors to Cuba. Buena Vista Social Club preforms several times a week in Varadero but this was the season opening. Umineko’s crew sat in the second row of folding chairs sipped our $2 CUC mojitos, one of my favorite classic Cuban drinks, and watched welcome speeches given in Spanish, French, Russian, and English. Then came the fireworks kicking off the start of a new season.
Professional dancers, representing the dance school put on a show, followed by buxom women in feathered costumes I am pretty sure were strung together with red dental floss filing through the crowd and dancing with men in less-risqué costumes . The rest of Umineko was far more enthusiastic about the latter than I.
By the time the first strains of Buena Vista’s set started the venue was packed and we were on about our third mojito. The energy crackled as the dancers came alive with their fiery quick-footed salsa steps.
Whirling and spinning their bodies moved in perfect time to the spicy, sultry strains of music to stir the soul and show the essence of Cuban culture. The new incarnation of Buena Vista is as talented and dedicated as the great musicians who came before them. Trumpet solos to break your heart and move the feet. You can’t not smile when listening to the salsa-y strains of Cuban music.
We took a taxi back to the marina our spirits high. Everyone had told us that Varadero wasn’t really Cuba, but this had been a more perfect welcome to Cuba than I could have imagined. If this was the country I had heard so much about I couldn’t wait to see more of the art-music-filled country.
I gave the dinner that night a Latin twist: quesadillas and Latin Landfall Salad. We hadn’t gone provisioning yet and didn’t have many fresh vegetables left. This salad is fantastic for long passages because most of the ingredients are long-lasting or can be used out of a can. Not to mention that it’s extremely simple to throw together and tasty as well. You technically don’t need to use an avocado but it’s a lot better if you have one on hand.
Latin Landfall Salad
(Black bean, corn, avocado, tomato salad)
2 c (1 can) corn
2 c (1 can) black beans
2 c cabbage
1 c onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice from 2 limes
¼ c salsa
1 t salt
1 t pepper
Mix all ingredients (except avocado) in large bowl
Spirits were high motoring out of Gaviotta Bay. We were going to Cuba! Cuba… home of the mojito and the daiquiri, with salsa, fabulous music and better cigars. The Bahamas had been lovely, but we were ready for a little culture and some fabulous night life. Maybe some lush jungle treks as well. Who knew everything Cuba had in store. We were more than ready to explore all that it had to offer.
I was in the galley making grissini for the passage when a spirit-crushing crunch shook the boat. The guttural scrape of metal on rock tore at your very soul. It was sound that made fingernails on a chalkboard sound like a choir of angels. What had happened?
“It was so shallow. There were so many rocks,” Sato San said numbly.
Sato San went into the water. He didn’t come back with hopeful news. The starboard rudder was bent. Not just bent, the fiberglass had been shattered. We motored to a mooring ball and tried to think. Plans can change in an instant.
The Spanish aptly named the Bahamas – Baja Mar because the sea is so shallow. We hadn’t thought anything would happen just coming out of the bay. Accidents always happen when you let your guard down.
Umineko is a catamaran so we did have another rudder but what if something happened to that rudder?
No, we needed our starboard rudder.
Would we have to go back to the States to haul out and replace the rudder? What could we do in the Bahamas? We’d even had problems finding places to haul out a boat with a 24″ beam in the States.
There couldn’t be somewhere to haul out around here, could there? At least we were at the St. Francis headquarters so it would be easier to order a new rudder here. If they even had a rudder for the 23-year-old first hull.
I was near tears when we dropped the dinghy and headed over to St. Francis Resort to talk to George. If anyone could give us advice it would be him. In his jovial South African accent George managed to cheer us up a bit. Apparently, we had tried to leave
at low tide, the worst possible time. He could talk to St. Francis headquarters in South Africa, but he wanted to look at the rudder first. They had to straighten one or two rudders a year, so it was possible he could fix it in his workshop and get a nearby boat yard to repair the fiberglass.
George is a legend. He straightened the rudder shaft in an afternoon and by that evening had the thing being fiberglassed at the boat yard. It would take some time to set though, he warned us. I shuddered to think what that might mean in Bahaman time.
George must have bribed, threatened, or implored the boat yard because three days later we had our rudder back. On the fourth day we were underway to Cuba (again). Though the stress was dreadful, having those extra days in Gaviotta Bay was lovely. We met some delightful people and managed to have a classic Umineko karaoke party the day before we set sail. If you go to George Town, Bahamas I highly recommend stopping by St. Francis Marina. Great drinks, some of the best calamari I have ever tasted, and lovely people.
I also got to make a few more tasty treats in preparation for the passage to Cuba. I love quiche because it is easy and delicious hot or cold. I bought a large chunk of feta the month before in Florida. Keeping it frozen I was using it for special occasions and I thought that we needed some tasty food in light of upsetting events.
This quiche is easy and tasty, but I do not recommend trying to make it underway because the filling has the unfortunate tendency of spilling all over the oven when there are even little waves. Fair Weather Feta Leek Quiche
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 c heavy cream
1 t pepper
1 t salt
½ t thyme
½ c feta, crumbled
½ recipe painter perfect pie crust
Preheat oven to 350 F (170C)
Whisk eggs, cream (or milk), and spices in medium mixing bowl
Roll-out pie crust dough
Put into pie tin, pinching edges into a crust
Bake for 20 minutes
Scatter feta and half leek slices over bottom of pie
Pour egg mixture into pie tin
Arrange remaining leek slices on top of pie crust
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until filling puffs up in the center and is solid to the touch
Before we could even pick up a mooring ball off of George Town a dinghy motored up, calling to us. “We have a mooring ball for you. Just follow me.,” a boy who couldn’t have been older than early 20′s led us around the island to the St Francis Resort. We had been looking forward to getting to the North American St. Francis headquarters. We had met George, the owner at the Annapolis Boat Show and it was always nice to see other St Francis catamarans; Umineko was a St. Francis. The first hull. But we hadn’t expected such a warm welcome.
I was still glowing from my dolphin encounter the day before. But one of my priorities reaching land was finding a home for the orphans I had acquired…
When I opened a interesting fan-shaped mollusk I had collected, I discovered two tiny baby lobsters, one pink, the other so young it was still clear. The pink one was about 1/18” from the tip of his claws to the end of his tail and the clear one smaller yet. I dubbed them Pinky and the Brain and put them in a make-shift salt water terrarium determined to find a home for them with someone on land.
The first thing I did when getting to the bar (well, after ordering a delicious frozen strawberry daiquiri) was ask around to see if anyone would take my charges. To my delight George’s wife offered to. This delightful woman adores animals and welcomed Pinky and the Brain into her menagerie. It was a wonderful introduction to the St. Francis Resort.
Okay, so it may be in poor taste to have a lobster spread, but it’s not like I actually ate either of the babies. Even nicer she doesn’t even like lobster so Pinky and the Brain are safe from becoming an appetizer.
I created this spread on crewing on a different boat and it is divine. You don’t need a food processor to make it but it is handy if you have one.
Luffing Lobster Spread
1 package Philadelphia cream cheese
1/4 c lemon juice
3 T milk
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T salt
3 or 4 steamed rock lobster tails (about 2-3 lb lobsters)
Steam lobster tails
While steaming tails mix remaining ingredients in medium bowl
Chop tails finely and mix into cream cheese mixture
Chill in refrigerator for a day for the flavors to blend (if you can wait that long)
Umineko is summering in Detroit. Why on earth would boat that’s doing a circumnavigation summer in Detroit, you might ask. I sure did. We’ve all heard the horror stories about the bankrupt city. But when we sailed in I was pleasantly surprised. Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Island, an island in the middle of the city is the largest yacht club in North America. With chandeliers, marble bathrooms, and even an indoor swimming pool on the second floor it was certainly resplendent in Detroit’s heyday. Though some of the opulence has faded, it is still lovely today, and the members are more than welcoming, bursting with the camaraderie and helpfulness, characteristic of yachties.
What says thank you better than inviting someone onto your boat for drinks? And you can’t very well have drinks without hors d’oeuvres now can you?
When Sato San asked me what we were having for appetizers I thought for a bit. Suddenly it hit me; we had a wedge of Humboldt Fog left in our cheese box.
Humboldt Fog is one of my all-time favorite cheeses. This brilliant cheese combines three delectable cheeses into one. Somehow the brilliant cheese makers at Cyprus Grove in Humboldt California have engineered a perfect marriage between flavorful blue cheese, creamy brie, with a crumbly goat cheese mistress on the side. I may not eat it as often as I’d like but I still tend to judge grocery stores (in the States at least) on whether or not they stock it.
Sure I could just put out this delicious cheese with the wheat thins we had on board, but Sato San had just bought a box of the tangy little bursts of flavor that are freshly dried Michigan cherries. Just thinking of the pairing of the sweetly tart, rich flavor paired with the sharp earthy bite of Humboldt Fog made me weak in the knees.
Sure enough, even with the mountain of other food around every crumb of the crackers had vanished by the end of the evening.
On Course Cherry Blue Cheese Crackers
1 wedge Humboldt Fog
Tart dried cherries
Spread a thick layer of Humboldt Fog (or a blue cheese if you can’t find Humboldt Fog) on wheat thins or other crackers