Cookies Won’t Keep Us Going in The Liferaft

Phyllis and I are in the middle of our annual check and update of all the safety equipment on Morgan’s Cloud:

  • Abandon ship kit;
  • Flares, rockets, etc.;
  • Liferaft (more to come on that);
  • EPIRB and its hydrostatic release;
  • And on it goes.

And because we are not going far this year, other than a local COVID-safe cruise, we have had a bit more time to mess with this stuff, rather than the usual scramble to get everything back in-date prior to leaving on a long cruise.

So I was ordering new emergency rations and water for the abandon ship kit since both went out of date over the winter—why, or if, that even matters is another discussion—when we decided to do something I have never done before: open up a pack of emergency food we keep in the abandon ship kit to supplement that in the raft.

Good News

The stuff does not actually taste that bad, kind of like greasy shortbread.

Bad News

This taste made us both suspicious about what’s in this shit…err stuff:

  • Wheat Flour
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Cane sugar
  • Water
  • Coconut
  • Salt

Yup, you got it, the survival industry expects us to live off…cookies…in fact, one cookie every 6 hours. No wonder they tell you to “eat in small pieces”.

This little lot (one package) is supposed to keep two people alive, and presumably functional, for 36 hours.

Sugar Bad

Now, I’m no nutritionist, but one thing I do know after years at sea is that a diet of simple carbohydrates just doesn’t cut it. In fact, a hit of sugar, or refined flour that ends up as sugar, can be, in my experience, actually worse than eating nothing at all, because of the crash that comes after the initial surge.

Protein Good

If I’m going to keep functioning for the long haul, particularly if sea sick, I need protein and fat. My personal favourite, especially right after I puke, is a hard boiled egg, the eating of which I call “smashing back a bullet”—keeps me going for hours.

Real World Experience

By the way, a story to substantiate that. Some years ago Phyllis and I were heaved-to south of Bermuda in a gale—that’s what you get when you wait until January to head for the Caribbean—and we decided to have pasta and bottled tomato sauce for dinner. An hour later we were both on our last legs with exhaustion. Just totalled.

Admittedly, it had been a tough passage, but still, we were comfortably heaved-to and resting most of the time, so there was no good reason for this except that dinner was all sugar and simple carbs with almost zero protein—with the amount of sugar they add to bottled sauce, we might as well have eaten a candy bar for dinner.

A hard boiled egg each and we were set to rights. Ever since that day, we have been very careful to limit carbohydrates and sugar at sea and have made sure we get enough veggies and protein-rich foods—one of the reasons we love having a big freezer, since we can make tasty wholesome meals before we head offshore. Yeah, I know, we could always get into canning like all the cruising books tell you…I know, how about you get into canning?

Anyway, back to the emergency rations. Anyone who ends up pulling a Steve Callahan better not rely on liferaft emergency rations…might as well pack shortbread cookies.

I’m not sure what the alternative is, but I do know that indigenous North Americans, and those explorers of old who were smart enough to emulate them, kept alive and functional on pemmican, even when doing brutal work like hauling sleds or portaging canoes. There are a bunch of recipes online, or you can even buy the stuff ready made from several vendors.

Probably worth thinking about for the abandon ship bag, even though the likelihood of spending 76 days in a raft like Steve is much reduced in these days of satellite phones and EPIRBs.

Bottom line, a diet of shortbread cookies is not going to give us the get-up-and-go we will need to function in a rescue situation, like having to climb a scrambling net up the side of a rescuing ship, even after just a day or so in a liferaft.

A Learning Experience

There’s also a bigger point here. Doing as I have done for over 30 years and just going along with this “food” the survival industry sells us, without really thinking about it and investigating further, was not smart—I, of all people, should know better.

Can’t Do It All

That said, getting properly ready for a long offshore voyage is hugely challenging and time consuming—I call it death by a thousand details—so it’s simply not possible to check every single thing, particularly stuff like liferaft rations that purport to be fit for task.

I guess, as always, it comes down to prioritization, so I comfort myself with the thought that figuring out good person overboard prevention systems and heavy weather tactics was, and still is, a lot bigger contributor to our safety than fussing about every detail of liferaft survival.

Further Reading

Comments

Does anybody have any suggestions for emergency food for the abandon ship bag. Obviously it must keep for a long time without spoiling. Pemmican was my best shot, but maybe there are other alternatives?

Good Books

By the way, if you want to learn more about the incredible feats of endurance pulled off by indigenous North Americans and explorers, I can highly recommend these two:

Both great reads and informative, too. And if you fancy yourself a bit of a hard man or woman, read Shoalts’ other books—he raises the bar on tough!

Like what you just read? Get lots more:

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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