Food on the Sea recipes: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Some of our cooking tricks while sailing and living aboard may be useful to others that are interested in this lifestyle. Plus they are usually very simple and can be done in every situation, not only on a boat.

The picture of the spaghetti plate from the previous post generated many requests of recipes that I decided to write about it. Thanks to Hubert’s comment I am going to start a new section of this blog with posts about the food we cook aboard Tranquility called Food on the Sea. Some of our cooking tricks while sailing and living aboard may be useful to others that are interested in this lifestyle. Plus they are usually very simple and can be done in every situation, not only on a boat.

Life without a fridge

On Tranquility we don’t have refrigeration. This choice comes from our limited power generation which mainly consists in one 60w solar panel. This still allows us to be totally self sufficient on our electrical power demands. If we are careful we can run lights, fans, radios, pumps, instruments, laptops, tablets and other appliances/devices without need to plug into the grid or to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Refrigeration would take a big toll on our system,and we will be forced to put more solar panels (where? surface on deck is limited) or to find alternative source of power to charge the batteries. As we learned that many people do without refrigeration, we decided to do the same. We also decided to renounce ice and to use the icebox as storage instead. Other cruisers can’t really believe that we are doing it, but the main excuse we hear about having refrigeration onboard is “I have a fridge because I like my beer cold!”. Well, we don’t have alcoholic beverages on our boat, so that solves the problem!

Without refrigeration, we are forced to use the groceries in order of spoilage and to buy groceries more often. We also rely on canned food and other shelf stable goods. Looking for dehydrated cat food for Beta, Kate bumped into a website which is a favorite among “End of times” preppers . Harmony House Foods sells freeze dried and dehydrated food of any kind (broccoli, onions, peppers, berries, literally everything!). We tried them and now we are hooked! For the future we would experiment with drying food ourselves, especially after we fish or bump into a bounty of fresh produce.



“Spaghetti alla Puttanesca” recipe   


The ingredients in this recipe are all shelf stable. Of course you can substitute any of those with fresh ingredient, it would only improve the result.

Ingredients for 4 people:

Tomato sauce (1 can)

Pitted black olives (1 can)

6 Anchovies

Capers (1 tablespoon, minced)

Garlic (3 cloves, minced)

Extra virgin olive oil (3 tablespoon)

Dry parsley flakjes

Dry hot chili flakes

Spaghetti (1lbs)

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add the minced garlic, capers, hot chili flakes and anchovies. Stir until the anchovies dissolve into the oil, paying attention not to make the garlic turn brown. 1-2 minutes should be enough. Then add the tomato sauce, bring the heat to low and let the mixture simmer, steering periodically for at least 20minutes. As a final touch add parsley and the black olives chopped to your taste.

Separately bring a pot of water to boil. If we are in the open ocean where the water is cleaner we use half sea water half fresh water to save our water (and salt!). If you use all fresh water add two teaspoon of coarse salt ( a little more if you use fine salt).  Throw the spaghetti in and steer often to avoid they get glued together. Wait for the recommended time on the package but also taste them 1 or 2 minutes earlier to see if you like them. When it pleases your taste drain them in a colander, mix it with the sauce and enjoy it!!

The above recipe is just a guide. The actual pasta pictured above was made by Kate during a day when we were very low on provisions. She was able to literally open cans and in half an hour the magic was done. It was one of the best pasta I have ever tasted. Parola di italiano!




Keep the paint flow

The itch of going back to the ocean has often disturbed my ability to see all the gifts the Golden Isles provided us with, from wonderful friends to work opportunities, all surrounded by beautiful wilderness and by the warmth of a great sailing community.

Two coats of epoxy primer wrap Tranquility’s deck as I walk the dock in the cold morning, the first sunbeams reflects on the pure white forming little drops of dew on the surface. The hard work is slowing paying off and the grey tormented deck is already a memory. One more coat will hide any further mark of underlayer with an immaculate cloak, then the sexy two-part polyhurethane paint will have the perfect stage to play its glossy role.

Painting and sanding punctuate our days. The weather rules our schedule, as we are doing everything in open air, vulnerable to atmospheric change. We look for dry days, the warmer the better, but this time of the year in Coastal Georgia warm means humid and we have to adapt to good enough conditions. It’s always a little too windy or too humid or too cold. We don’t have the luxury to wait for the perfect day and we do the best with what we get. Other events, from family visits to work obligations, decide when we are able to continue working. We keep pushing but we can’t always walk at the pace we would like and our March deadline is getting closer every day.

Kate is also taking the lead in re-organizing our stuff to re-enter the boat with our long discussed PileSystem©. One pile is named Back to the boat, one is For Sale/Donation, one is PermanentStorage and one is Trash. There are more complicated subpiles that I still quite don’t understand, but I have a blind faith in Kate’s skills and I simply make myself available to follow orders, which for today consists in migrating everything we don’t need from inside the boat with the same formula: Store, Give Away or Dump.

As we work to change our mindset and we go through our belongings I am feeling a profound appreciation for the place we have been living for the last two years. The itch of going back to the ocean has often disturbed my ability to see all the gifts the Golden Isles provided us with, from wonderful friends to work opportunities, all surrounded by beautiful wilderness and by the warmth of a great sailing community. We and Tranquility went through a lot during this time, more than we could have possibly hoped for when we first launch from New Bedford, MA.

My parents recently visited us from Italy. It was their first trip to the US and  we showed them around and took them to our favorite spots in this part of Georgia. We weren’t able to see them all, as they are too many. Through their amused eyes I could see once again how wonderful this coast is from many different points of view. There will a be time for goodbye and as we approach it the feelings of gratitude and nostalgia begin to pay us a visit. But it’s not time yet, we are still here and we have to keep the paint flow.

Restoring an old companionway: the sea hood

The sea hood is a curious feature on the deck of a sailboat. You can picture it as the shell of  a turtle and the sliding hatch as its head, coming in and out. When open the hatch slides underneath the sea hood, when closed it comes all the way out.

The sea hood covers and protects the opening between the cabin top and the hatch deflecting waves that otherwise will put the hatch under siege making it a very good feature for a blue water boat. Water is so good in finding its way into things that trying to stop it requires the help of multiple agents, and here the sea hood comes into the game.

On Tranquility, our 50 years old Columbia 29 mki, the sea hood is built in solid teak, like the rest of the companionway. Functioning as partial beams the longitudinal elements of the structure strengthen the deck, which on Tranquility is fiberglass laminate with no core, and so it’s a bit springy. Beside being bulky heavy and complex, a fully restored watertight seahood contributes to the sturdiness of a boat.

The project steps are very similar to the ones I described in the sliding hatch post, with the difference that I had to work on the deck instead this time.

The old teak of the companionway

At first I worked caulking all the gaps around the sea hood, using Teak Decking Systems product. The effort has the objective to avoid that water running on deck would sip underneath the wood.

The frame of the sea hood re caulked

After that I proceeded rebuilding the plywood support. Again, I used 1/4 inch plywood because the sea hood has a curve and thicker plywood won’t allow to bend as easily. To reach the desired thickness and strenght I laminated two pieces one on top of the other.

First plywood board installed and ready for laminating. This time I had to use small screws to set the plywood to the frame as there was no way to use clamps. The second plywood board goes on top of it and it’s coated with at least two coats of clear epoxy resin.


Teak strips routed
Teak strips routed

To save some expensive caulking and to make the job easier I routed 1/8 inch slot into the teak strips with a table router I borrowed from Fernando. Fernando is a good friend of mine and a talented guitar maker, check out his work on his website.

Teak strips dry-fit
Teak strips dry-fit

I had to shuffle around the teak strips to find the best match. For how hard I tried to get the most precise fit, the curved surface put some challenges to this job.

New Teak installed and set in place with epoxy resin and thickener

Such an asymmetrical shape required custom ideas to cajole the pieces into shape. In this case some hevy weight and flexible plywood strips did the job.

Caulking operations underway

I proceeded filling the slots using the same caulk product. After taping the wood to make an easier clean-up, I used a cheap caulking gun (still on a budget…) to fill the slots. Following with a spatula I pressed the caulk hard down into the slots working two strips at the time and removing the tape along with the progress.

The finished Sea Hood

A final sanding to remove excess caulk left a smooth surface. I then washed the teak thoroughly with a solution of water (75%) and bleach (25%) plus a couple of tablespoon of Sodium Triphosphate and finally applied three coats of Semco Teck Sealer.

I am glad another piece of the companionway is completed. It’s amazing how complicated it is. With components sliding into each others and pieces that have to be reinstalled in the correct sequence it resembles a puzzle game and I am very glad there are less and less pieces to get to the final picture.

Restoring an old companionway: the sliding hatch

This is my first attempt to write a blog post directly from my phone. I am moving around tranquility speaking to my phone and I feel very weird. If somebody was looking at me now would think I’m a total dumbass. Which may be true. Anyway I am here gathering the necessary tools to complete my next task which is to epoxy the top of the sliding hatch.


The two pieces of 1/4 inch plywood have been laminated together with wood glue and clamped down to the hatch frame for one day to get the curvature. I need a drill and I have to find the right size screws so I open my screw container where I keep all the screws I find on board subdivided by length and type. This time I need 10 screws 3/4 inch long to secure the plywood to the frame. The screws are meant to press the laminate down to the frame while the thickened epoxy  sets. I can then remove them and the epoxy will hold the plywood in place. This way I will have a permanent perfectly sealed joint.

The borders of the plywood wetted with epoxy

A good practice is to wet the surfaces with resin and let it set for 15 minute before mixing epoxy with filler to the consistency of a thick cream and laying it over the ledger. An easy way to do so is to take a ziplock bag and cut one of the lower corner then fill the bag with the epoxy and use it as if it was a pastry bag. Apply epoxy exactly where you need to squeezing the bag and moving along the edge of the frame.



Once the plywood is firmly in place held by the screws it’s time to clear coat both sides of the hatch with epoxy resin, to prevent future intrusion of water into the wood.


After the epoxy cured (12 to 24  hours) the old teak strips can go back in place, having care to number each one to find the better combination. Once the sequence is chosen, we have to work very quickly and mix epoxy and filler to attach the strip to the plywood. I ended up using quite a bit of resin and filler to fit all the pieces.


The epoxy is cured and the whole hatch can be sanded down with a belt sender and the orbital sander to level any high spot. As you see in the picture old weathered teak can come back to the original color once the superficial layer is sanded off.

The right message at the right time


I want to thank Sarahbruner (as we spell it) for including this wonderful quote in her departure note. The entire note was rich of insights and mindful riddles, but this particular quote from Iron Mike literally hit me in the face.

In late October 2013 we had a special departure party in Williamsburg, New York (tank you Ashton!) to salute our friends before setting sail, including a special delegation of friends from Italy who travelled just for this special occasion. Every guest had to bring an envelope with a message for us, a sort of fan mail. The idea was to open the notes along the way, when we would feel sad or lonely or remembering our beloved people far away. Today we opened one after a long, long time, and we still have more to open. This means we have a lot of friends, and not so many lonely times.

message in a bottle

The content of the envelopes we have opened so far is various. We found heartwarming messages, poems, drawings, pen-drive with music, maps, jokes, spices, books and even clams (a particular currency you can use on the sea, thanks Nina).

We keep this messages as a special treasure, they contain more than we expected when we launched the idea. They bring us colors when it’s grey, refreshment when it’s hot, warmth when it’s cold. They send us back a positive image when we need it, as a mirror that only enhances our qualities.

We would like to take advantage of this holiday time to say THANK YOU again and again to all our friends and family who supported us and continue to do so. Today we had once again the proof that you are there when we need it.


Launching sailboat Atom

The past week I had the opportunity to help James Baldwin to launch his Pearson Triton “Atom”, a 28 ft sailboat that James took around the globe twice. Atom got back in the water after an extensive refit. The Columbia 29 and the Pearson Triton are very similar designs, so Atom it’s a an ideal example to see how to fit Tranquility as an offshore cruising yacht. James and Mei made an excellent job with this refit and Atom looks better than ever. The northerly wind offered perfect sailing conditions in the Marshes of Glynn and we made it safely to the dock enjoying the day on the water.

Tranquility Voyage: Leg 2 Block Island RI to Norfolk VA – 385 nm

I believe there are mainly three reason that made this long passage possible: Tranquility, the weather and Roberto.

Starting from Tranquility I can only be happy about her. We purchased her following a positive feeling we had when we stepped onboard for the first time in a random yard (and positive reviews, especially on atom voyages website). We were anxious about testing her offshore, to confirm the accuracy of our intuition and the reputation of the Columbia 29 as capable of offshore sailing. The crew feedback is positive and unanimous: easy sail controls (reefing is a piece of cake), no sprays on deck (and on us), well balanced rig and performing sails (made in China) that allow to reach hull speed with winds of 10-15 kts. We felt safe for the entire trip, even during the most challenging moments.

We picked a very fortunate weather window departing Block Island last Tuesday at 11pm with northwesterlys blowing 20kts. The complicate part was leaving Great Salt Pond with the wind on the nose. We motored our way out the channel at about 1 knot, slow but steady, without pushing the throttle too hard worried about loosing charge and finding ourself stuck in a dangerous situation. As soon as we cleared the channel, we were in full sail on a beam reach passing Montauk and Long Island on our starboard side. The forecast was very accurate and we had costant NW winds with temperatures in 30s and 40s, cold but not too much. We experimented occasional light winds but for most of the passage we had constant favorable wind that made us decide to keep going and leave Cape May and Ocean City behind, aiming for Norfolk VA. A plan that SW winds forced us to abandon in favor of a stop in Wachapreague, 65 miles away from Norfolk. The perspective of having a dinner in a restaurant and a hot shower far outweighted one more night and morning at the helm. Navigating the salt marsh inlet was not a joke and we felt the mud under the keel more than once, but we eventually got there and had a great dinner, a deep sleep and a touristic morning waiting for the next high tide. The last portion of the leg was an easy and happy sail down to Cape Charles and the Chesapeake entrance where the approaching cold front got us and forced us to reduce sails and to a “sporty” cut to Elizabeth River and Norfolk; two long, cold and windy hours till we safely moored in Waterside Marina Sunday Morning at 2am.

The third and very important reason was our temporary help, Roberto. This passage wouldn’t be possible without him. Two crew and no autopilot would have been too extreme for a winter passage in the North Atlantic. We would’t have enough stamina and skills to do it. Plus Roberto is a kind of sailor I admire: even though he is a commercial licensed Superyacht captain with many years of experience he still has the enthusiasm and the feel for adventure to accept and enjoy such an unconventional and challenging trip. One image is representative of his contribution to the trip and Kate had the pleasure and the thrill to witness it: when she emerged from down below after her rest time she saw me and Roberto disassembling and reassembling the tiller while simultaneously steering the boat in choppy seas. His contribution was not only in terms of hands on deck, but he also suggested and performed important upgrades while keeping a joyful presence onboard. A fresh pair of eyes like Roberto’s couldn’t have come at a better time, when Kate and I needed a push and new ideas after the long, tiring and winding summer refit.

Now we are sitting in Norfolk, waiting for better weather, resting and upgrading our little home. We feel cozy in here and we can’t wait to continue our trip south along the Intracostal Waterway, a severe and interesting test for our electric engine as motoring will be crucial.

Liveaboard a self built trimaran

Michele and I share the same dream but follow two very different paths. I chose to refit an old slow monohull. He is building a light and fast trimaran from scratch. In both cases the vessels have the purpose to provide their owners with just enough comfort to sail the seas and live aboard.

In the warehouse

Michele and I were introduced by a common connection and started a conversation online. It’s a great sprint for your motivation when you find  someone with whom discuss your projects. Especially when your dream makes you feel like a weirdo among the people that surround you. That’s why the conversation became so intense and we shared a lot of our ideas and experiences about sailing and living aboard.

Sailing has always been in Michele’s DNA. He moved his first steps on Optimists, then he attended to sailing school. He continued to self-educate himself through a lot of miles sailed with his father on a formula 28 and 36 catamaran, and helping in building those boats.

Recently he thought of make sailing more than a hobby. He intends to  get the necessary licenses and start to work as skipper for charter boats, deliveries and teaching sailing.

Michele began the building of his trimaran three years ago, but it’s just recently that Michele is pushing harder as the project looks closer to an end. The 22ft boat named “Trimaranga” is taking shape in an empty warehouse in Bologna that his uncle decided to make available for the project. He says it’s about 70% completed but remains cautious about the final date. As we know very well, it’s hard to make plans with boats.

One thing is for sure: both Michele and I like to dream.

America's Cup in Newport

For the fair cost of 10$ I enjoyed the 2011-12 AC World Series Championship on the lawn of Fort Adam’s park in Newport RI. It was the Saturday race, with the speed trial and two fleet race, all in the hands of ORACLE Spithill that dominated the event.

Here some pictures taken from the lawn.

Fort Adams Newport RI
Lawn in Fort Adams
Race Course
Race Course, Narragansett Bay
The dominator of the day, ORACLE Team Spithill
Luna Rossa Prada Team Piranha

The importance of being legal

Scam, Ripped off, Trap

The new lesson I learned is if you can go legal, go for it. The attraction of offshore work and informal work relationships are like the siren’s call for people who like to travel around and discover the world, but it’s not risk free.

The question is: are you tough enough?

That is the question you have to ask yourself when joining a possibly illegal business, with a deal made on a handshake, surrounded by words and emails. “Tough” means are you able to protect yourself from scams and arbitrary claims? This doesn’t mean you have to develop the skills of a hitman, but it means indeed take your precautions when dealing with a business where nobody can guarantee legally for you (except for you!). Remember the best recurring villain are polite, smiling and warm.

The first thing is make a contract. Even if the contract is not a standard contract or within a union.  Have both parts agree on a statement, and possibily have it validated from a third neutral party. You can do the same thing going through your records later, (emails or other documentations) to reconstruct the agreement, but that’s a hard job. In a long term work relationship there will be a lot of things taken for granted and spoken agreements that will be hard to document in case of a dispute.

The second thing is trust your instinct. If you feel something weird is going on it probably is. Irregularities can happen but they can’t be the rule. A healthy business finds the way to solve problems quickly. If you notice customers have problems to be reimbursed or your payment is delayed more than once for not clear motivations something bad is going on. Small failures can snowball into a huge mess and without the necessary precautions you can be sucked in.

Third thing is have insurance.

Fourth thing is tell people what’s going on. Having outside opinions about things that involve you very closely is important to open your perspective. If you feel ashamed and isolated that won’t help you anyway. It’s important that you find in your environment people who you can really trust and that can also give precious advice. It helps to have “friends in high places”, and also to have access to specialists who can help you understand your rights and tell you exactly what to do.

Fifth thing stay cool. No matter how it hurts to be attacked and have your self esteem injured, no matter if you feel deceived by people you were counting on for your livelihood, the best thing is to transcend your emotional response and don’t let it drive your actions. Stay cool even if you feel like a dummy that has just been ripped off. Do not react emotionally, it is often the wrong move. Swallow your pride, let people help, and have an audience for your emotions. There will always be time to act wildly later!

Surfing the unconscious

For the first time a couple of days ago I tried to surf. I mean surfing on waves (in Hawaiian he’e nalu, “gliding on water”), what you see in many American movies from 50 years onwards, with the Beach Boys as the soundtrack and Baywatch’s  towers in the distance.
I took some lessons and I found myself very capable, with great personal satisfaction. For this discipline are necessary strength in upper limbs (you row a lot to catch the wave at the right time) and of course balance.
The technique involves several steps to surf a wave. We must reach an area where you stand for “get” the wave (line up). It coincides with the point at which a wave begins to break, making a steep surfable wall. In order to begin to ride the wave the surfer swim with their bellies lying on the table, perpendicular to the wave towards the beach and when the board starts to slide independently the surfer stands up by pressing the table with both hands and pulling with a single movement (take off).
In the case of particularly large wave that is the most dangerous moment, and if dropped the surfer can incur serious consequences, especially in the presence of rocky or coral bottoms. The instructor who followed me warned me about the disruptive force of the wave and its dangers. In the event of a fall in the belly of the wave she told me to let go and not fight with the wave and curl up in fetal position, protecting the head. The wave is stronger than any swimmer, and the falling water strikes you with a chaotic incontestable force. But the wave will pass, ending its effect and in that time you can re-emerge. Even paddling into the wave, when you went to place the new line-up requires care. The maneuvers to overcome the power of waves are two: Duck Dive going under the waves by dipping the tip of the board (only with short boards);  Turtle roll is made grabbing the board on side, turning upside down 180 degrees and let the wave pass.
This long digression on techniques is to highlight that it is highly inadvisable to contend with such a powerful event. But if you take off and you can begin to ride the wave then you can be transported, make flips, surf away from breaks.
After this first experience I began to think about waves in terms of unconscious. Maybe its because of the aquatic metaphor, the power and uncontrollability, the dynamics of wave generation so tied to the sea movements in general, cyclical but unpredictable, governed by complex patterns and outside of human control: a wave, think of a tsunami, you certainly can not divert, control, manipulate. A wave breaks and modifies landscapes over time, erodes the coastline, dig her groove. Then switch back and retires leaving a calm sea. But since James Cook discovered the Hawaiian natives and saw them surfing on primitive wooden tables, humans love to confront these powerful natural phenomena, having fun and trying immense joy to slip on the water. When I managed to ride the first wave I felt a euphoric sense of control and I fell in love with surfing.
But if the metaphor holds I wonder which is the surfboard that allows us to ride without having to undergo the unconscious, which techniques allow us to get up at the right time and remain on the wall, in a precarious state of balance, but without being overwhelmed by the turmoil that follows us. What can keep us directed to a safe place and which the moves? I always thought that the unconscious is a phenomenon to be exploited, which consists of uncontrollable energy but that can be surfed managing to remain afloat and upright, without hitting obstacles on the road.