When one door closes…

…another opens. I hope.

It’s with a heavy heart that I sit at Miami International Airport, waiting to hear the call for my ‘repatriation’ flight to London. My time onboard Sirona III has come to an end.  How dramatic that sounds! After eight months, it’s fair to say I’ve come a long way. I think back to those first days, when making the fruit salad and a juice took me a full hour. It would all of a sudden be nine o’clock in the morning, and I’d have three frantic hours to get lunch out. To say that I spent the day chasing my tail would be exactly right. But eventually, over the passing months, my days got smoother, the jobs became easier, and it wasn’t so much of a hectic struggle anymore. But the one thing that never quite eased up was the weekly, daily, heck, even hourly task of choosing what exactly to put on the table. My days off were spent scouring the internet for recipes, Pinterest got a hammering for inspiration, and a collection of cookbooks piled up in my cabin. I’m certainly not one of those chefs (yet), who can simply look at a bunch of ingredients and rustle something incredible up. If I did, the result wouldn’t be anywhere above the skill level of an omelet, or a stir fry. Hopefully improvisation is something that will come with a bit more time, and experience.

My heart is feeling particularly heavy right now, mainly due to the outpouring of love between me and the special people that I’ve just said goodbye to. Now, I know that the boat is affectionately referred to sometimes as ‘the revolving door of Sirona’, and really I am a mere speck of dust in the great scheme of things, but this was my first job in yachting. My first Atlantic crossing. My first real cooking job, which came with a hefty chunk of responsibility compared with what I was used to. Just the fact that it was up to me to provide food for this amount of people, every day, knocked me sideways for the first few weeks when I really thought about it. Most of them are totally used to it, but for me, it felt like a big deal. It taught me an incredible amount, from how to provision like a boss, to keeping your galley clean, and rotating your stock. But there is still a long way for me to go. I am by no means a pro at any of these things yet. Someone still needs to remind me when to deep clean the ovens, when to use up the asparagus that’s ‘on the turn’, and to blimmin’ check the temperature of the meat I’m cooking with a thermometer. I have a substantial way to go yet.

As for my imminent plans, there are a few ideas floating around. I’ve booked myself onto a five day advanced course at Ashburton Cookery School, where I donned my first chef whites all those years ago. It’s mainly directed at yacht chefs (one of which, I am not), to refine your skills and inject some inspiration and passion into your work again. My over-arching goal is to work towards cooking fine dining food. Michelin star standard. One day. To achieve that, my plan is to complete some ‘stages’. My understanding of a ‘stage’ is that it’s the French word for working for free in a restaurant kitchen for a short period of time. So if anyone wants some cheap labour, hit me up. It looks at the moment that my summer will be filled with temporary chef jobs here and there. The most exciting imminent stint will be up in the most remote estate in Scotland, which I’m travelling to on an overnight sleeper train from London. I don’t know what I’m more excited about, cooking at a prestigious shooting lodge in breathtakingly beautiful surroundings, or the mode of transport to get up there! Needless to say, this blog will be filled with food of a newly higher standard, so expect a lot of pretty plates, artistic smears of sauce, but mostly just substantially smaller portions. Now, time for some random photos that have been accumulating.

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I won’t miss the times when this is a sixth of your shopping list.

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Being productive on watch.

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But then your captain moans that it’s not just plain vanilla.

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Ridiculous birthday cake requests.

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Utterly ridiculous.

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Seeing The Chainsmokers opening night of their Memories tour – unforgettable.

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Riding to pilates in style on the back of Rory’s moped. Smile made up of 90% fear.

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Impromptu shopping trips with Heather, my shopping queen, when by some kind of miracle we were allowed to use the crew car.

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Chillin’ with some of the most amazing peeps.

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Post-gay club uber lolathon.

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Putting the world to rights over a much needed bottle of vino with this beautiful girl.

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Sat in the airport writing in my most perfect leaving present from Heather. Feeling a lot of love from the amazing gals I’ve got to know over the past 8 months. They were their usual thoughtful selves and gifted me with an amazing set of hair straighteners and running shorts, left on my bed for me to drunkenly come home to on my last night. I totally wept.

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Ending on my favourite photo. What a ride, I’ll miss you all, but as we’ve said…this isn’t goodbye!

Cruising round Miami, on a red double decker

Being in South Beach, it would be highly rude of me to not embrace all things ‘brunch’. The crew love a brunch day, just as long as it contains crispy bacon, Heinz baked beans, eggs (preferably scrambled), and the rest is all for me to play with. Surprisingly, making waffles a while back didn’t go down as well as hoped, with it highlighting that the crew tend to swing towards a more savoury, over sweet, brunch. My tastebuds have always had a penchant for both, hence my winning combination of bacon, berries and maple syrup sitting on top of fluffy ricotta pancakes.

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A bit of a labour of love, I doubled the recipe and took extra special care to cook them individually in a small pan, each with their own little pat of butter.

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They came out really well, and despite not all being eaten in the one sitting, were surprisingly tasty eaten cold out of the fridge. With Nutella.

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Thai red lentil soup, one of the many recipes from a book about spices that I have on loan from the local library.

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Paul Hollywood’s ciabatta. Simple, speedy (it only requires one prove), a perfect go-to bread if you’re in a hurry.

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Chicken satay, a classic, a crowd pleaser.

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Broccoli with peanuts and a mango slaw.

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Asian slaw, filled with crunchy vegetables and covered in a dressing made from my homemade chilli jam. It didn’t really end up setting like a jam, so it morphed into more of a sweet chilli sauce, still delicious even though it wasn’t intentional.

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Maneesh, a Middle Eastern flatbread usually found accompanying a smorgasbord of mezze, to scoop up baba ganoush, hummus and the like. My goodness, this was one of the best things I’ve eaten all week! Crunchy on the top, soft and fluffy in the middle, covered in a mixture of dried herbs, seeds and olive oil (otherwise known as Za’atar, but this one you don’t buy in a Bart’s jar from Waitrose). Again, an easy bread, perfect to ease oneself into the magical world of all things yeast.

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Salted tahini & dark chocolate chip cookies. The tahini flavour in these cookies was everything I need in life and more, but sadly due to a touch of over-baking they were crunchy and snapped, rather than being soft textured and crumbly. A must make again, to perfect the timing and yield the cookie of my Middle Eastern flavoured dreams!

We’ve had a rather turbulent past week in terms of plans being made, broken, made again, flipped on their head and thrown out the door. Our owners were due to go Paris on their hollibobs, so to minimise USA time (we are all capped by our visas to a certain amount of time in the states per year) we were scheduled to sail for the Bahamas, to spend those two weeks in the island of Nassau. Now, one would think we’d feel that all our Christmases had come early, what a treat! The Bahamas! But in actual fact, those of us who were well on our way to cultivating lives here in Miami just wished we could stay. Our prayers were answered, and our exodus from American waters was cancelled at the very last minute. To make our lives even more complete, Captain told us we’d all have the long weekend off. Four, entire, days. This is unheard of, so I really struggled to contain my excitement in that crew meeting.

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Myself, Jhel and Maria decided to do what we’ve always had our beady eye on doing. Get ourselves tickets for the open top bus tour of the city.

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We hopped on conveniently just outside our marina, actually missing the legitimate bus stop, but thankfully encountering a kind enough driver who pulled over in the middle of a busy road and let us board. We were taken to Bayside, otherwise known as Downtown, where we were given headsets and sent on our merry way, on the green route to Wynwood. Our bus tour guide was a cheerful, chatty fellow, with the catchphrase, “Oh yes folks, oh yes indeed.” He regaled us with tales of the vibrant history of Miami, its complex relationship to Cuba, but namely its emergence from flat, barren swamp land, to the concrete jungle it is today. Every so often he would shout, “Get down, folks! That tree was not there two weeks ago, oh yes indeed.”

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We hopped off in Wynwood, the neighbourhood made famous for housing Miami’s renowned art district. Galleries line the streets, alongside truly breath-taking graffiti.

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A must-do is to explore Wynwood Walls, a project that showcases the world’s greatest street artists.

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There are more photo taking opportunities than you can shake a stick at.

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After a hefty dose of culture in the sweltering midday heat, we needed to re-hydrate.

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Yoko matcha is a pop up van, serving all things matcha. Matcha cookies, matcha lattes, it is a green tea powder lover’s dream.

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I went for the iced matcha with coconut milk to cool me down, sweetened with about twenty tablespoons of agave. It was all sinking to the bottom, so I kept adding more, not realising there was an inch of the sweet nectar settling down below, not getting mixed in by my donut self. It ended up gloriously over-sweet, which is luckily just how I like it. *Enters sugar coma*.

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My new wheels.

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After that wholesome drink, we all wanted something a little bit more alcoholic. So we waltzed underneath a secret garden-esque wreath with the title, ‘La La Land’, to find an exceptional mojito bar. They were juicing real sugar cane, which is something I’ve never seen before, to use instead of the usual sugar syrup. We were even given long sticks of the stuff as stirrers, which we happily chewed on.

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We caught the last bus back to Bayside, where we sweltered in the ever present sun and got a bit sleepy, before heading to Bubbagump.

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Famed for their coronaritas, we ordered one of each flavour and happily slurped away. Verdict being that a mixture of corona and margarita is something that really, truly works.

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We quite horribly over-ordered, with an onslaught of coconut shrimp, fries, calamari, grilled shrimp, spicy chicken, tortilla chips and the most beautifully decadent spinach, artichoke and cheese dip coming our way. That dip was so good, we ordered another portion, and couldn’t finish it. Putting everything leftover (admittedly, not that much) into doggy bags, we gave it to a nearby homeless person so that it didn’t go to waste. If only we were allowed to do that with the food we throw away onboard, we could quite possibly feed the entire homeless population of the city.

After a tipsy meandering of the shops, we hit up Victoria’s Secret for the sale, wreaked a bit of havoc and Uber-ed back to the boat. Our ticket lasts for 48 hours, so the aim is to use it again, maybe for the night time tour of the city. There’s so much to see, and only three days of freedom left.

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Did someone say free tickets?

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Rising with the sun for my morning run meant being treated with this beautiful view on my return to the boat. But sadly, since the clocks went forward by an hour, this heavenly vista is no longer part of my morning ritual, as it’s still pitch black when I get back at 7am. Still, we are lucky enough to be in a position that allows us access to the entire boardwalk, morning and night. Jogging past Nikki Beach in full flow is an experience and a half.

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Chilled cucumber, avocado & buttermilk soup from Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite.

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Roasted peppers with capers & burrata. My problem with roasted peppers is as follows. When you pop them whole into the oven for forty minutes or so to blacken the skins, take them out, put them in a bowl, cling film the bowl so that the skins come away easily, all is fine and dandy up to that point. But the problem arises when I try to cut my strips but get assaulted by all of the innards! I try to pull the pepper apart in a fashion that leaves me with just the outer flesh, but it inevitably becomes a mess of a million tiny seeds. It is just a massive faff, and makes me want to buy roasted peppers in a jar. If anybody can shed any light on this issue of mine, please get in touch.

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From Ottolenghi’s Plenty More, a frankly delicious wild rice salad with nuts and sour cherries. Actually cranberries in this case, because even though yes, you most probably could find elusive sour cherries in Whole Foods, as the lowly crew chef I feel morally obliged (not to mention contractually obliged) to do my shopping in Publix. Whole Foods is just hideously overpriced, and truly IMHO, not particularly ‘whole’. It is an admittedly exceptional shopping experience, but honestly, that cannot warrant slapping on an extra few hundred dollars on the ole shopping bill. In saying this, I could probably wangle a small trip to stock up on those frankly essential but unobtainable items, e.g. miso paste (both red and white), pomegranate molasses, Medjool dates…basically all the things that grace the aisles of Waitrose.

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The most squidgy and decadent triple chocolate brownies. After years of dry, cake-like hideousness created from trying what feels like hundreds of different recipes for the ‘perfect’ brownie, Hummingbird bakery’s is honestly the best of them all. It was actually seeing a friend’s beautiful looking heart shaped brownies on Instagram that introduced me to this recipe, and no other has ever come close to beating it. Although people seem insistent to try to convert me to their chosen recipe, I shall never waver. To make them into triple chocolate brownies, just add chopped milk and white chocolate chunks. To make salted caramel brownies, melt together a tin of condensed milk, 100g butter and 100g dark brown sugar, and pour that in between two layers of brownie. To make peanut butter brownies, just do the same but with a layer of peanut butter mixed with icing sugar. The possibilities, not to mention calories, are endless!

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Laura’s incredible coconut, banana and berry bread. Check out her page if you want to see some gorgeous looking grub. Laura was the crew chef here two before me, and people are still raving about her food, she was that good. We met over Christmas and New Year when both of our boats were in St John, USVIs. We went to free yoga, had a hoot eating pita chips and drank bubbly by the pool. When I saw her bread, (and everything else she has made in the last few months), I had to ask for the recipe. This treat would probably fall under the category of ‘whole’, if it were masquerading as a healthy product at Whole Foods. Yes, it’s made using wholewheat flour and coconut sugar. But coconut sugar is really just another type of brown sugar. Despite me knowing this full well, it still prompts me to claim the treat is ‘good for you’, just to entice people into eat it.

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Quinoa crunch bars. Again, a nod to healthy baking.

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The gals paying me a welcome visit in the galley.

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If I’m lucky, sometimes the sous chef gets a sous chef…

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^^ Expert mixing of the fattoush salad being done. Maria is also extremely talented at scrambling eggs in the microwave, and introduced me to the winning combination of sliced avocado, with condensed milk. Don’t knock it!

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Steve’s back! Our three head chefs do a rotation of two months on, six weeks off, so Steve was fresh from a holiday spent in his hometown of Australia and actually came back on the day of his birthday (his 39th in case you were wondering). On our list of birthday requests, next to his name said, ‘surprise me’, so surprise him I did! From my work last Summer at Harper’s catering company in Jersey, as well as making canapés and mains, I did a lot of meringue making. We’re talking thousands of the buggers in the space of a morning. When I closed my eyes, I saw mini meringues. But one of the desserts that stuck in my taste buds’ memory was a chocolate truffle meringue cake. The base is a chocolate meringue, with a rum spiked chocolate ganache layer sitting above it.

So my patisserie attempt started off well. Just to be sure of a smooth release, I not only thoroughly greased the cake tin but lined it with a circular piece of greaseproof paper, too. A bit of an effort with the pencil and scissors, but I was fancying going the extra mile. Well, wasn’t that the biggest blunder I could have made! When it came to releasing the finished product, the paper had literally fused itself to the caramelised sugary base of the meringue. If left alone, once the cake was cut to serve someone, the paper would be left behind on the plate, or fused to the slice, and just be utterly horrendous in every possible way. So I immediately radioed Michael over on Mylin, and he gallantly rushed over to lend a helping hand. He saved the day! His advice was to set it as solid as possible in the fridge, then use a myriad of flipping using more sheets of greaseproof in order to invert it upside down, but all the while trying not to damage the extremely delicate ganache topping. It was a somewhat fraught success, and a bit of a mess after all that man-handling. He kindly offered to decorate it, and boy oh boy did he do a good job of it! I can only dream of having such panache and flair some day in the future.

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Much like the face of Colin the Caterpillar, we all fought over the shards of the solid piece of white chocolate.

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One of the perks of our job is free tickets to the Miami Heat basketball games. Now I know nothing about basketball, but they are playing a lot of home games at the moment to try and get through to the ‘playoffs’. Whatever that means. Me, Lovely and Maria signed ourselves up for an evening game, venturing over to downtown Miami.

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Now it’s an ongoing joke that the tickets we get are the ‘nosebleed seats’. But what I didn’t realise is that in a stadium with thousands of these, we didn’t even get given seats. They were for standing room only. But still, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. We arrived about an hour late due to work, and left about an hour early due to thirst, probably spending 10-15 minutes watching the actual game. But it was a truly exhilarating and worthwhile 10-15 minutes.

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We found ourselves at the mojito bar in Bayside. Sharing a pitcher of the passion fruit flavour, the game was actually playing on every TV screen around us. So at least we got to see the game to the end (sadly the bitter end, because they lost).

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So much love for these girls, but even more love for my new denim jacket (sorry huns).

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On my oh-so-precious one day off a week, it is paramount that I sample yoga/pilates/sunshine/shopping/every single thing possible to make the most of these hours of daylight. Groupon had a deal going for 5 yoga classes at $39 at Green Monkey, where one class is normally $25. What a billy barg! I wore my new sparkly pilates socks just to try them on for size, and aren’t they marvellous?! My leggings are also new, from L!VE on Lincoln Road Mall, in the half price sale. A man next to me at this class was quite handsome, but when we did the ‘happy baby’ pose at the end, he parped. As in, had a case of the windy pops. I hear of people ‘passing wind’ during yoga, but this was the first time it’s happened so close to home, aka, one metre away from me. Everyone was very adult though, and pretended it didn’t happen. At Green Monkey, we ‘honour our divine selves’ at the end by turning to each other and bowing, whilst the instructor plays a bizarre instrument that reminds me of the annoying sound of a finger being ran around the rim of the glass. It’s utter tripe, but I love it.

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Afterwards, I hopped across the neighbourhood to sample the best vegan, gluten free, fad-filled fare on offer. That small cup of turmeric latte set me back $6, and I make my homemade own in the galley erry day. But I definitely don’t serve it to myself on a wooden board, with a freshly picked sprig of plant sat next to it. That, my friends, is some serious added value.

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The pancakes. The pancakes! Gluten free and vegan, she told me. Does that mean they’re healthy? I can’t think so. They were the most filling pancakes I’ve ever ingested. I silently questioned, were they made with 99% cornflour, or something similarly claggy and dense? Cornflour is, after all, both GF and vegan. The pot at the top was filled with a so-called ‘cashew cream’. It tasted primarily of maple syrup, which was strange, as it sat next to a pot of maple syrup. Even though it is supposedly ‘cashew cream’, the taste and texture was nigh on identical to the Co-yo brand of yoghurt. Especially sweet, and a bit tangy. I smelled a shop-bought rat. The three slices of banana topping the three high stack seemed a bit tight. I mean, there’s not even half a portion of your five (seven?) a day on that plate, is there.

But still, I revelled in becoming a newly fledged Miami-ite and embraced all things over-priced and ‘healthy living’. After a wonderful FaceTime with my mum in the cafe, I did the British thing and told the owner how simply amazing everything was, and cycled to the beach. Despite my trusty SPF 15 being sprayed liberally over me during the five or six hours I was in the relentless sun, I did manage to tinge myself rouge over the entirety of my back half. The boat’s communal Hawaiian Tropic aftersun has now made its way into my cabin for a more permanent residence, as I can’t even bend a knee without grimacing in pain. Bring on the next few days spent working safely indoors!

As Will Smith once said, ‘Welcome to Miami’

After an incredible, jam-packed month at home/in London/up North, it was time to return back to the boat. By a huge stroke of luck, they made their way from the Caribbean to the USA without me onboard. Supposedly it was calm plain sailing, but missing any journey over moving waters is great news for me, considering I’m possibly the queasiest traveller ever to be born. Decked out in my warmest clothes, I made the trip from Jersey to Gatwick, Gatwick to Heathrow, Heathrow to Miami.

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Changing my seat on the 10 hour BA flight to the emptier upstairs level of the plane was the best decision I’ve ever made. There was a row of four empty seats entirely for me. So despite it being a daytime flight, I hunkered down and lay horizontally, just because I could.

Arrival into Miami was utterly dreadful in every which way. We arrived a few hours late, and the immigration queue took two hours. Two whole hours! I had been warned of Miami airport’s shortcomings, but I didn’t think it would be quite that bad. About ten flights appeared to have simultaneously come in from Mexico, holding what looked like hundreds of single young men, all standing at five foot tall.

Expecting the boat to have organised a pickup for me was a big oversight. There was no one. Uber pool answered my prayers, but have you any idea how difficult it is to identify a car by its number plate in America? The front of the car is devoid of any identification. You have to awkwardly peer behind the car to confirm that it is, in fact, your Uber, which makes no sense, as by that time the vehicle in question is already moving away from you. Nightmare.

Eventually I arrived, more or less in one piece, to Miami Beach marina, only to be told immediately on arrival that my covering crew chef’s food was waaay better than mine. Well, what a happy welcome back that was. After five minutes of sulking (more like a few hours/overnight), I resolved to buck up and just work harder, to bring my food up to her standard. There are always going to be people in the world who are better than you. It’s perhaps not so nice to be reminded of the fact straight after a lovely month away, when you have missed everyone and are eager to get back in the kitchen. But anyway.

Onto the food!

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For the carnivores, lamb rump cooked in lashings of butter, rosemary & garlic.

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Gizzi Erskine’s slow cooked pork carnitas with pink pickled onions. Pinkled onions?

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Tuna tataki with crispy ginger & garlic, in a soy & yuzu dressing.

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Grilled pineapple salsa. Grilling the pineapple was admittedly an extra faff, but gave it so much flavour and took away the painful sensation that some get when eating the fruit raw. It may well be a necessary step from now on in my Mexican repertoire.

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NOPI’s burnt spring onion dip with garlic & chilli kale. Not worth the effort of burning the spring onions in my opinion, they just became stringy and difficult to cut and incorporate into the dip.

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Crushed potatoes with capers, pink peppercorns & roasted garlic. Crisp, salty, pillowy soft in the middle, a recipe to definitely make again.

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Asparagus with romesco sauce. I’m enjoying the whole putting the sauce on the bottom of the plate thing at the moment. It’s admittedly a bit trickier to serve up as part of a buffet, as the sauce is welded to the bottom, but it is more aesthetically pleasing than having it blobbed over the top, covering the vegetables.

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Simple Caprese salad with basil pesto.

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Caramelised balsamic pear & lentil salad, adapted from Honestly Healthy. Those pears! Quite a few of them didn’t make it on top of the final salad.

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Nectarine, burrata & walnut salad, with the best ever broccoli dish in the world behind it. Even if you are not a fan of broccoli, I implore you to make this dish, and you will be its No.1 fan by the end.

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Continuing my theme of pushing the boat out, we have (slightly rustic/informal) homemade pasta, to go with a slow cooked beef ragu. Making pasta creates such a mess, it’s ungodly. Days later, I’m still coming across smatterings of flour around the galley.

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Lemon curd macarons. We have a new piece of equipment to play with, a Thermomix, that you can practically make anything in. Next door, (the two boats are side by side whilst the owners move their belongings across) Michael’s been using it left right and centre to make crew food, as you can cook pasta in one section, steam fish in another and make a sauce somewhere else. So far, I’ve used it to make a lovely lemon curd, and a pretty good mushroom risotto. Anything that requires you to stand and stir for any amount of time (custard, choux pastry, bechamel, hollandaise sauce), you can make in the Thermomix by bunging the ingredients in, setting the timer and walking away. The head chefs say it is like having your own sous chef in the kitchen with you. That sounds suspiciously like I will soon be out of a job.

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Am I the only one who enjoys lemon curd on toast? With all the rest that was leftover and not being eaten, I whipped up a lemon meringue pie. Please excuse the slightly over-whipped meringue, but I didn’t mention my faux-pas to anybody, and nobody seemed to notice or comment. Thank goodness the flavour prevailed!

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More technically successful cookies. Chewy around the edges but soft and squidgy in the middle, studded with caramel and chocolate chips.

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Now that we’re in the states, we all have one day off per week. My hours are still 8-5, and on my day off I must have prepared food for the head chef to bung in the oven and finish, so an example would be lasagne & garlic bread with a couple of salads. All the other crew are working shifts, so may be on early, day or lates. Having always loved shift work, I am superbly jealous. Especially as they orchestrate working an early shift before the day off, meaning they get the evening off, plus a full day, plus the following morning. Am I bitter? Nope, not bitter at all.

Rant over, Miami is truly shaping up to be quite spectacular. We reside in South Beach, the home of perfectly circular plastic boobs and bum implants. I think every other person living here must be a plastic surgeon. My first purchase was a two wheeled beauty of a bicycle, along with a star studded galaxy designed helmet. Law in Miami doesn’t even require motorcyclists to wear helmets, so you can imagine how much of a donut I look toddling around on a pushbike with all the headgear. But when it comes to my (lack of) sense of direction and general self-awareness, I seriously cannot be too careful.

Two weekends in Saba, ‘the highest point in the Netherlands’

St Maarten is a mere hop, skip and a jump away from the picturesque island of Saba, known locally as the ‘the unspoiled Queen’ of the Caribbean. Ever since our Atlantic crossing, I’d harboured a deep desire to visit this place for its unparalleled diving. It is fundamentally an old volcano shaped like a large rock, only five by five miles, and home to 1,200 people. There is a medical school on the island which takes 500 students, so when semesters are in full flow, it feels a little busier. The beauty of the place has been so successfully maintained most probably due to there being no beaches at all. No beaches means no big hotels, therefore no masses of tourists pouring in. Heaven!

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Winair takes you the 15 minute journey across on a teeny tiny propellor plane.

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Before playing ‘spot my yacht’ in the air, you could see Abramovitch’s behemoth of a boat, Eclipse, nearly living up to its name and eclipsing our destination in the background.

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The plane swoops in above the runway at the very last minute, which is so short that the brakes are applied instantaneously. It’s a rather exhilarating landing, which undoubtedly requires some serious piloting skills. During my two trips, the pilot was the same man on all four legs. He could well be the only one capable of such a feat, but reassuringly always has a friend sitting next to him in case anything goes Pete Tong.

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My two night stay was to be spent at El Momo Cottages, recommended to me by the dive school as the most affordable accommodation on the island, at sixty bucks a night. In my aptly named Cricket Cottage, you share a bathroom with the person staying next door. It is an eco lodge with a rainwater supply, so the shower is a lukewarm dribble and you mustn’t be alarmed to come across any local critters. That’s not to say I wasn’t still extremely alarmed whenever anything buzzed or scuttled nearby.

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The cottage comes complete with a miniature terrace, which was simply the perfect spot to catch up on emails, music downloads and the all important blogpost writing. One must take each and every opportunity of good wifi, on electricity-challenged islands such as these.

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My first evening was spent watching the sun go down over the town of Windwardside. After a quick exploration, a beer and a bite to eat, I climbed back up the almost vertical hill to El Momo and fell asleep beneath my mosquito net, catching some well needed Z’s before my first day of diving.

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There are two dive centres on the island, both of which I ended up diving with. On my first visit, Saba Divers took me on a total of five dives over two days.

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We were a small group, consisting of myself, an eccentric German, and a lovely Canadian couple called Chuck and Deb. With brilliant one syllable names, I warmed to them straight away. They actually met each other years ago on a dive trip, so now every January at the time of their anniversary, they take a vacation somewhere new and exciting to explore underwater together. Serious couple goals.

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Proudly wearing my five dollar rented Suunto Zoop, a blast from the past of my Thailand days. Selling my yellow one for the same price that I bought it for is one of my biggest materialistic regrets. Awkwardly, some of the pins in the strap pinged off after my second dive, but Chuck swooped in and saved the day by handily clipping it onto my BCD (buoyancy control device, the vest that you inflate with air and has everything strapped onto it). So instead of looking at my wrist to check my depth and no deco time (the time you are allowed to stay at that depth before you go ‘into deco’, meaning you have too much nitrogen in your body), I had to continuously check the dangling watch like a timepiece. Apparently I looked like I was constantly navigating.

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With no underwater cameras, sadly none of the five dives were caught on film. But we were taken to some beautiful places. We were joined at a pinnacle by three Caribbean reef sharks for a full thirty minutes at about thirty metres deep, and at ‘Diamond Rock’ we rested on the sandy bottom to be joined by countless feeding stingrays and turtles.

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Later that evening, upon walking through the town I stumbled into Francoise and Walter. Francoise was the French divemaster who lead all of my dives, and Walter was the boat driver. They were on a mission to pick up a crate of beers and some vegetables, to cook up a feast using the fresh fish they’d caught together earlier that day. Well I certainly landed on my feet by bumping into them, as they invited me round and I was treated to a beautiful dinner of real local Caribbean fare. There were three different types of unusual potato on our plates, a delicious sauted cabbage dish, all topped off with a selection of Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, and one other fish that has evaded me.

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It was with a heavy heart that I bid adieu to the island, asking myself when on earth will I ever be able to come back? Luckily, the answer was a hell of a lot sooner than I’d anticipated.

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In a nod to Burns night, here we have neeps and tatties soup. Made with swede and potato, and finished with crumbled black pudding (in the place of haggis. As you can imagine, the Caribbean is not well stocked with the Scottish delicacy).

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Tatty scones, topped with cream cheese, smoked salmon and dill. A potato scone, if you will.

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Not Scottish in any way, shape or form, but scrumptious all the same. A white peach, mozzarella, pine nut, basil & parma ham salad, finished with a white balsamic & olive oil vinaigrette.

Nursing my post holiday blues, the best news possible came from our captain. We were no longer leaving for Miami that week, but instead remaining in St Maarten, meaning my month of hollibobs would start before the four day voyage stateside. It was such a relief to hear that I did a little jig in the galley. The first question to cross my lips was, ‘Can I fit in another visit to Saba?’ and the answer was yes. Yes!

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So I donned my cap that unashamedly has ‘Adventure Babe’ emblazoned across the front, and set to hiking pretty much the entirety of the rock.

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As luck would have it, the island was hosting their yearly Triathlon that very day. The ladies at the trail shop gave me a map, an emergency whistle, and sent me on my merry way to embark on the Sandy Cruz trail. The exact same trail that the runners were completing, except they were coming, in full force, from the opposite direction.

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Some parts of the path were so muddy that my pace was reduced to that of a snail’s. It became clear to me very quickly that my four year old pink Nike trainers now have absolutely no grip left. It felt like walking in Vaseline covered slippers for about two hours straight.

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But the views and scenery were magnificent, sufficiently making up for my suffering gait. The rainforest was stifling at times, intensely humid and a little bit spooky. A grass snake crossed my path, which gave me a hell of a fright, but luckily my taxi driver earlier that morning had assured me that there is nothing wildlife-related on Saba that can kill you.

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A Catholic church in the Bottom.

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Complete with a diverse mural of cherubs.

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A friendly medical student I met over lunch encouraged me to try ‘The Ladder’, a set of unbelievably steep steps leading to the water’s edge. It was the sole method to bring supplies onto Saba until the port was built in 1970. Those poor workmen.

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It took about ten minutes to scurry down, and a huffing and puffing thirty minutes to haul myself back up.

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My third and final hike of the day took me back to Windwardside, where I happened upon two lovely people I was lucky enough to meet on the flight over that morning. Brad is the second officer on a boat docked two doors down from me, and Lucy is a deckhand on a really big yacht docked in Phillipsburg (where all the cruise ships go).

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After a beer and a bite to eat, we agreed to meet up later that night after a much needed freshen up. Out of the three of us, Brad struck gold with the best accommodation in town. Poor Lucy had two single beds in hers, and my room was an Airbnb find, consisting of the spare room of a teeny tiny bungalow, owned by a Texan man and his OAP dog, Maggie. Needless to say, we reconvened in Brad’s ’boutique’ hotel, complete with a balcony, an enormous sailboat replica and (we think) a working gramophone from the 1800s. With a bottle of red the three of us watched an impromptu fireworks display unfold before our very eyes. It turned out not to be a celebration of the triathlon as I presumed, but instead to commemorate the ringing in of Chinese New Year.

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After (not much) convincing, my leg was pulled and I agreed to come with them the following morning for more diving. This time it was to be with Sea Saba, the only other centre on the island. There’s only one little dock where the boats come and go, so it required some hiding on my part. Miraculously, Brad had a Go-Pro (I must get myself one of those…) so he managed to take some pretty cool photos underwater.

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The very picture of grace!

Beaching, hiking, dining, all in a day’s work

After the hubbub of the guest trip, we were treated by Captain to a lavish Friday night dinner at a place called Bamboo Bernie’s, in Maho. It was an up-market Asian ‘fusion’ restaurant, with admittedly middling quality food but sensational cocktails. Despite being several days post NYE, for us it was our time to let loose, let our (and other’s) hair down, and throw caution to the wind. Me throwing caution to the wind was ordering not one! But two portions of coconut shrimp. It was tuh-die-for.

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Me brimming over with happiness at having Lovely back onboard, on the boat that she well and truly belongs. The captains are currently having a tug of war battle for her, and my only hope is that we come out the winners.

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After a few ‘Sexy Geishas’ and one ‘Barman’s Choice’, it became my life’s dream to transform into a blonde bombshell, by wearing Heather’s actual real life hair. All it took was a cry of, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!’ and she ever so kindly obliged.

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To blow away the inevitable cobwebs the following morning, a hike was planned. Heather is a seasoned professional of activities in whichever destination we end up, having worked onboard for an impressive six years, there is little she hasn’t come across. So it was in trusted hands that I embarked upon a hike that would leave me scratched, bruised, stung, and generally in a terrible state of disrepair.

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‘Take a photo of me looking into the distance, (so I seem pensive and interesting).’ Says anyone who ever has posted a photo like the one above.

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Truthfully, I wasn’t feel pensive or interesting at that given moment. In actual fact, my over-riding feelings were of incredible heat (note the growing patch of sweat on the front of my top), and intense discomfort having just been stung by a frighteningly exotic Caribbean wasp on the knuckle of my ring finger.

Our hike began simply enough, on the tarmac road, dodging a stream of testosterone fuelled Hummer drivers hurtling round the bends. After a mild incline, I stormed past the entrance to the ‘hike’, not noticing the five centimetre gap in the bushes that we were supposed to fight our way through. Apparently, four years ago, it was more of a substantial path, as it soon became clear to us that no maintenance had been done since that time. Each and every step was a battle through waist-high grass, some of which grabbed at you like velcro, others just leaving a light trail of lacerations across your poor ankles. After about twenty minutes of pure slog, we came across a small ladder with a little electrical box at the top. What an attractive prospect that was to me! To climb out of the overgrown wilderness and perhaps glimpse a bit of a view. It was the worst decision I’ve ever made. My left hand plunged straight into the waiting stinger of the most hideous insect ever to grace planet Earth. It looked like a hornet, big enough and ugly enough to haunt my nightmares for the rest of time. After it released its sting, it continued to aggravate me in the face, which was just ridiculous as I was clearly trying to get away. The rocks cushioned my fall, and in shouting for Heather’s help I noticed that she was running in the opposite direction, having just as much of a fear of wasps as I do. Needless to say, we lost what little confidence we had to begin with, and had no choice but to admit defeat and turn back. On our wobbly way down, we came across a group of four local men with grass trimmers, who informed us that the trail would be suitable for public use in the next week or so, once they were done clearing the obstructed path.

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Dried fruit, nut & seed loaf with ricotta and orange segments. Wholesome goodness that energises and invigorates, made even more delicious with a drizzle of honey.

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Tuna ceviche with mango, apple, coconut & lime. Light, refreshing, the tastiest ceviche recipe I have attempted thus far. It’s on the list to make for my brother when next at home.

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The proud creator of a chocolate cherry Black Forest Gateaux, made with love for Jhel’s birthday. We had no cherry jam or double cream, so on improvisation I upped the concentration of Kirsch, and made a cream cheese Greek yoghurt frosting instead. Captain was effusive in his compliments, stating it the best Black Forest he has ever had, as the others are usually too rich for his taste. A happy accident!

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Excuse my old fashioned chocolate work. I must look into more modern ways of cake decorating.

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Steve has worked in some of the best Italian restaurants in Australia, and kindly gave me his pizza dough recipe. My recreation of the Pizza Express ‘Padana’ went down a storm. Goat’s cheese, caramelised red onion & spinach, but this special one was made using a blueberry goat’s cheese that the owners didn’t use up. It was magnificent.

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Steve’s traditional paella, pronounced pie-ey-a (I choose to pronounce the ‘l’s because I fear I sound like a moron otherwise).

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Upon opening what I thought was a can of coconut milk, I was horrified to find some sort of grey sludge residing in the tin. It was actually ‘Coco Lopez’, an ingredient used to make pina coladas. So myself and Heather set to googling how to use it up in cooking, and came across the brand website, filled with inspirational recipes. Out popped a cheesecake that tasted only slightly like coconut, which was nonetheless enjoyed by all.

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For one whole week we’ve been ‘detailing’ the galley. ‘Detailing’ is something that may well be unique to yachts. It is when you clean something to an unfathomable extent, often requiring the use of toothpicks and cotton buds. Have you ever tried to clean an oven with a toothpick? I’ll tell you now from recent experience, it can be done. We donned our gas masks and spent an entire week cleaning things that haven’t been cleaned for nigh on ten years. The crew were treated to traditional French sandwiches, Lebanese shawarma platters, a plethora of Thai curries, and I realised how lucky I am to have the full time job of a chef, not a cleaner.

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We’ve been making full use of St Maarten and its beautiful restaurants, in particular discovering the gem that is Pinel Island. You hop on a $12 boat that takes you across from Cul de Sac on the French side, to the little island in the distance, and you’re greeted with groups of young twenty-somethings paddling in the shallows, drinking cocktails at sundown, generally having a grand old time.

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Here you’ll find two or three restaurants, the best in my opinion being Karibuni, which interestingly means ‘welcome’ in Swahili. Our French waitress was simply lovely, letting us come with her to the water’s edge to choose our (unlucky) lobsters. The lobsters here are spiny, and oddly have no claws to speak of. But when grilled on the barbecue and served with lashings of garlic butter, they are a thing of beauty. After a bottle of white wine, two servings of the free banana liqueur shots on offer, a Baileys coffee, plus a mystery cocktail from the bar nearest the little pier where you leave, it was time to say goodbye to the miniature island that seemed, at times, like a mirage. (How much did I have to drink?! Perhaps sober it wouldn’t have had such a profound impact).

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Before leaving, I made sure to buy a very flattering grey tank top with the restaurant’s logo on it, to forever remind me of my wonderful experience.

Ready, steady, charter

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So there we were, celebrating Christmas with a convivial game of Trivial Pursuit followed by several rounds of cocktails at the Fat Turtle, when the bombshell was dropped. We were to expect six guests onboard for New Year.

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Our festive outfits were put back into storage until next time, and all fun and games were called to an abrupt halt. We immediately set sail for a marina in St. Thomas, BVIs, to pick up our charter.

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What came next was tantamount to a military planned operation. Two extra stewardesses were immediately flown in, one all the way from South Africa, the other a mere stone’s throw away from Miami. One of our head chefs was plucked from his rotation and immediately set into motion a mammoth order with yacht suppliers for fresh fish, all different cuts of meat and the most beautiful selection of vegetables I ever did see. We had baby kale, micro herbs and heritage carrots simply spilling out of the walk-in fridge. It was time to squirrel away my Knorr chicken stock cubes from sight, this was charter time.

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Head chef Steve swooped in like Mary Poppins and set to preparing the galley for guest mode. One of my missions was to make vat upon vat of home-churned ice cream, gunning through ten litres of double cream in no less than forty eight hours. Our monstrous machine actually burnt out on us, leaving me no choice but to radio our chief engineer to come and fix it. He kindly obliged, but only if I lugged the four stone machine down to the deepest darkest part of the boat, the engine room. He exercised the full use of his extensive engineering skills, and we ended up with just as many flavours as your local cinema. Vanilla, rum and raisin, cookies and cream, Nutella, even my personal favourite, peanut butter swirled. Throw in some mini pastries, green juice, fancy cheese and truffle toasties, and we were all set.

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Crew chicken skewers with a peanut satay sauce.

The morning would begin with me frantically trying to smash out crew food before the guests woke up. Luckily, they were late risers, so up until about 11am was all mine. But once they were up, it was a free for all. Some ordered fresh juice, others wanted scrambled egg whites (super convenient, having used forty egg yolks in each batch of ice cream, we were certainly not short of whites). Having six different breakfast orders fly at you whilst trying to prepare for lunch was no mean feat. Steve handled it like the pro he is, and everyone was left full and happy.

Lunches were a buffet style affair, often including pizzas, Caesar salad, even perfectly formed miniature burger sliders one day. My role drastically changed from crew chef to sous chef, which, as you can imagine, made me a pig in muck. My very own brioche rolls graced the table, not to mention almost every single dessert being made by yours truly. Steve would hand over his tried and tested recipes, and entrust me with making them from start to finish. My hours were the usual 8-5, but with no lunch break, and after two hours off in the evening, enough time to squeeze in a quick shower and power nap, we were back in the galley from 7 until late. By the end of it all, I was running on fumes.

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Velvety pea soup with a speck emulsion.

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Spinach and ricotta ravioli with a runny egg yolk, and a sage butter sauce. The guests quite literally went mad for this dish, mentioning it at each and every opportunity. When we all queued up on deck at the end of their trip to bid them adieu (that being my first real sighting of them, not counting my stalking of the security cameras), they all chorused again about the magnificence of the ravioli! Myself and Steve were positively beaming, as they were a bit of a ball-ache to assemble, to say the least.

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Summer berry pavlova.

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My overly excited piping of the carrot cake. This trumped any other I’ve ever tasted, the secret being a tin of crushed pineapple added to the mix. Fruity, fluffy, perfection, the only carrot cake recipe I’ll ever need in the future.

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We served it with a vibrantly orange carrot sauce and edible flowers.

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A decadent triple chocolate brownie, before it went into the oven.

The trip climaxed on New Year’s Eve, with an elaborate seven course menu and a big ole knees up. The girls put on the most beautiful display, with a table setting that blew me away in its splendour. Games galore, they had beer pong, drinking Jenga, not to mention any cocktail they could think of right at their fingertips. Heather truly outdid herself, going above and beyond to make it special for them.

But in saying all of this, I know deep down that us worker bees had the better time.

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As the clock struck midnight, myself and Steve downed tools (having just served the last course), and scurried out the crew mess door to the side of the boat. About half the crew who were still working came out too, complete with Captain carrying two big bottles of champagne. We were beyond thrilled! The guests were happy upstairs with their little shindig, and we had our very own view of the island of St John, USVIs, who put on a fireworks display for all the yachts moored in their waters. The display was admittedly a little bit lacking from a distance, but when every single yacht in our vicinity sounded their horn simultaneously at midnight, I can honestly say I’ve never felt shivers like it. New Years Eve has always been a time for me spent with my family, and although I missed them like mad, it was a moving, memorable, life-affirming experience that I will never, ever forget.

St Maarten, where you work haard but play haarder

Our home to be in St Maarten is a marina called Port de Plaisance, or PDP for short. It’s part of a hotel resort, admittedly on a far smaller scale than that of Atlantis, but nonetheless provides a plethora of activities to choose from. We were all generously given rather expensive gym passes by our captain, which includes access to the pool, bar, top of the range tennis courts, with a big ole casino next door. One night, three of us spent a grand total of $1 on a single slot machine, which provided an hour of giddy entertainment, two gin & tonics and a tall glass of Baileys. If you’re keen for a cheap night, this is clearly the place to be.

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Having had the bare minimum amount of days off since the crossing, a few of us decided to splash out and book a hotel for the weekend. We ‘Hotwired’ it, and found a cushy 4 star hotel for the night. What a treat it was, being away from the boat for an entire 24 hours!

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The cocktails were flowing, and at two for $8 who could blame us?! I overheard some English voices at the poolside bar, and as luck would have it, met a lovely crowd from Wigan. Their suitcases had been left behind in Paris so they were kitted out in all this island souvenir paraphernalia, and when I told them my aunties all lived around Wigan we got on like a house on fire, and had about 12 Painkiller cocktails between us throughout the afternoon.

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Lounging around by the pool with our free welcome drink, a Caribbean rum punch.

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The morning after the night before, nursing our Mudslide leaving drink before returning to the boat. Feeling a little bit hungover & slightly rouged by the sun.

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Pan seared seabass with a Moroccan salsa.

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Grilled tuna with a garlic & herb dressing.

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Monstrously sized pork chops, in Michael’s signature rub.

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Moules a la creme, Maria’s favourite.

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Prawn saganaki, with lots of feta and dill.

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Monkfish tacos, with siracha mayonnaise.

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From left to right we have Maria, Rory, Tim & myself, hitting up a local crew bar called Dirty Sanchez. Tim is our new bosun, an Australian chap who can make magic on Heather’s guitar that lives in the crew mess. A wonderful addition to our gang!

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Christmas angels of tree in PDP reception.

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Impatiently waiting for our taxi to take us to the next bar. Maria was trying to teach me how to pose (again), to show off my new $10 sandals. I actually got the same pair in black – what a billy barg.

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Sundried tomato, basil, garlic & cheese twisted bread. Shame that the exposed tomatoes burnt to an absolute crisp! I must make sure to tuck them in next time.

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Mum’s tomato, red onion & basil salad. Marinade tomatoes for half an hour or so in generous amounts of olive oil, salt and pepper, and you have a beauteous dish on your hands.

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Harissa marinated asparagus. Spicy, crunchy, delicious.

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A simple tomato & burrata salad. Burrata is basically a ball of mozzarella wrapped around a centre of molten cream. A winner every time.

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St Maarten is probably most famous for its airport. Low-flying planes come in from the sea, to a runway that is fronted by a small stretch of beach. This is Maho Beach, and it is a must-do for every visitor to the island.

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It’s windy as anything, and the sea swells are so strong that I worried for the few swimmers who were getting battered by endless waves breaking over their heads. For once, I was glad to have left my bikini behind at home! But we grabbed a perch at the edge of the beach, sat back and waited for the planes to come.

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And that they did! You can hear and feel the rumble of the engine before you’ve even seen them. Only a few bigger jet planes came our way, with the majority being little tin can propellers. Other, more experienced, plane-spotters were telling us that the last Boeing 747 to come through was in October 2016. Apparently the blast was so strong that you simply had to hold on tight to the railings to stop yourself from being blown away. How much fun that would have been! But apparently there were a fair few injuries in the process.

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We ended the day with cocktails at Sunset Bar. Back onboard, the department heads were all called into the bridge for an impromptu meeting with captain. That hilariously included me, being the only member of the galley department onboard at the time. So we had the chief stew, chief officer, chief engineer, and the very new, inexperienced crew chef. Captain dropped the bombshell that our Christmas and New Year ‘off’ was to be happening no longer, as the son of the owners wished to bring his wife and friends onboard, to spend their hollibobs cruising the US Virgin Islands. Well, that was a difficult pill for many to swallow. After a fair bit of blind panic and freak outs, the wheels were set in motion and it was decided that Steven, the third head chef that I’ve never worked with, was to come onboard a couple of days after Christmas, for the duration of the trip. They usually have two head chefs on for owners, but as these guests are 30 something year olds with nowhere near as sky-high expectations, it was totally fine and dandy for me to become the acting sous chef. Happy Christmas to me, I say!

Docking in Paradise Island, Bahamas

The moment we saw palm trees lining the horizon, upon what looked like an island worthy of being stranded on, I was blown away with happiness and relief after all those days at sea. We gathered on deck, pointing this way and that, exclaiming with ooh’s and aah’s every time we saw a dream future house appear on stilts. Complete with its own private marina, of course.

We’d arrived in Paradise Island, Bahamas. The name says it all, but what intrigued us the most was the fact that we would be docked in a marina owned by a resort. Our stern backed out onto a walkway that was lined with shops, Ben & Jerry’s included, but it all had a Disney-esque feel about it that didn’t quite seem real. The resort was called Atlantis, with an impressive 141 acres of ocean-themed land, and it even featured once upon a time in an Olsen twin movie called ‘Holiday In The Sun’ (thanks to Robyn G for that golden nugget of info).

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As crew members, we were given access to the whole shebang. That meant free rein of the casino (where drinks were free, naturally the betting was not), numerous bars, a full on nightclub, restaurants, fresh and salt water lagoons complete with resident turtles and sharks, indoor aquariums, countless pools, not to mention an actual water park that costs a whopping $130 just for a day pass. We had all of these amenities at our fingertips, for about four whole days. Christmas truly had come early!

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The minute we got there and clocked off, the girls and I hit the hotel bars pretty hard. A couple rounds of Long Island Iced Teas and various shots later, we were having a whale of a time and seriously loving the Bahamian (sounds a lot like ‘bohemian’ when said by me) vibe. The workers in the hotel would say things like, ‘Is this your first time in the Bahamas?’ Me, ‘Yes, yes it is.’ ‘Well then, I just want to say welcome home!’ It really gives you the warm fuzzies. Even more so when you don’t have to pay a penny for such wonderful service.

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Generous goblets of cocktails. One was plenty to get you squiffy after a spell of no drinking at sea.

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We hit up the casino, but were a bit too scared to put down a bet of any real monetary value, and made our way to the nightclub for some dancing. It opened at 10pm, and we were downing our last tequila shots and stumbling back to the boat by 12pm. We weren’t given any time off work until a little bit later, so remained on our best behaviour.

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Before the gift of a day off work was given, myself and Cristina had our hearts set on conquering the Mayan Temple slide. But the attractions were only open from 10am-5pm, and our working hours didn’t permit visitation before or after work. So we grabbed life by the balls, and on our lunch break made a lightning change into our swimmers, grabbed the all access card and made a mad dash through the hotel grounds. A handful of children and some drunken middle of the day gamblers were swatted out of the way for our mission, and it worked! We queued for about ten minutes up the six story structure, chatting to some friendly guests along the way who gave us words of encouragement, and we both made the leap of faith. You drop vertically into a tube of clear plastic, through which you can theoretically see all these sharks. But, by golly, I was going too fast and was in too much shock to register anything other than blind terror. My contact lenses went awry, but we high fived, grabbed our flip flops and flip flopped, dripping, back through the hotel to get back in time for work. Best lunch break, so far.

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When we were finally given a day off, we rejoiced! After grabbing a few sun loungers and naming it base camp, we all set off to explore what the park had to offer. The lazy river took us around the entire compound, upon which brave Jhel embarked on her first ever water slide, ultimately enjoying it after only a few tears of abject terror. Maria, who doesn’t even know how to swim, even did all the vertical drop slides with us there to catch her at the exit. What a hero!

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‘Shark bait, ooh ah ah.’ (Finding Nemo, 2003).

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The pina coladas, daiquiris and contraband beers from the boat were flowing, music was playing…we truly couldn’t have asked for a better day off.

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Sampling kahlua coladas round the pool.

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The sun started to set early at about 5pm, so we called it a day and waved goodbye to our temporary home.

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The perfect end to my first, but hopefully not the last, experience of the Bahamas.

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Slightly overdone wholemeal pita breads that accompanied pork souvlaki kebabs & tzatziki.

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Homemade cornbread, to make an all-American sausage & herb stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner. There may not be any US citizens onboard, but who could say no to a good themed meal? This dish was so tasty, that the crew requested it to be made again on Christmas Day.

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A traditional (ahem) sweet potato casserole, with a marshmallow topping. A dish so steeped in history, it simply had to be part of the spread.

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Pecan & maple pie, made with a spelt flour crust, because we ran out of plain flour mid-crossing.

Next up on our travel agenda is a teeny tiny stint in Miami, before settling into our longer term winter residence of St Maarten, Caribbean.

A swim, a turtle, and a little glimpse of land

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What certainly helps ease the potential presence of cabin fever is a string of exciting events happening onboard. Now personally, I was not afflicted by such a fever, as having alone time, reading my book and being what other people may call ‘bored’ are things that I genuinely enjoy doing. But for the more restless among us, it was great news that the latter half of our crossing was to hold some dramatic activity.

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First of all, approaching the halfway mark means one thing and one thing only. It’s time for captain to stop the boat and we’re allowed to leap into the water for a dip. For me, this conjured up images of jumping off the sun deck, maybe even doing a few front crawl laps of the boat. But in reality, it was an operation taken uber seriously, with all the proper safety precautions in place, which ultimately you’ll realise I was grateful for. The waves were rather a bit larger and more choppy than we would have liked, so just five brave souls willing to swim sat peering into the foamy waters with apprehension, as the life ring attached to a line was deployed. Captain gave a debrief to inform us of the correct way to enter and exit the water. It’s best to dive in when the boat is most level with the water, i.e. not when there is a 4 foot gap between the deck and an incoming wave. Immediately swim away from the boat to be well clear of it, so it won’t come down on your head. As you can imagine, by this time, I was one more piece of advice away from a nervous breakdown. What struck fear into me the most was the proposed method of getting back on. ‘How does one climb aboard with no swim ladder?’ I wondered. Well, it’s all about timing isn’t it! You must time it exactly  so that you approach the boat when the water is level, but be careful! If you get it slightly wrong and the boat lurches up, you can be sucked underneath the boat. Underneath! Bloody hell. But anyway, the boys threw caution to the wind and jumped in, meanwhile captain gave me the push I needed by counting me down from three, two, one…

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And it was magical! Four kilometres of brilliant blue sea glittered before my very eyes. I pretended to be a mermaid and kicked down as far as I could go, before bobbing up and being hit with a wave to the face. Beneath the water I was graceful, magestic even, but on the surface I was in struggle city. Thank goodness the line was there to hold onto, or else we all would have been in the strong grasp of the current, potentially ending up way over yonder.

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After having my fill of exploring the deep, it was time to attempt the dreaded embarkation procedure. With captain up top booming his instructions of, ‘Not yet, not yet, not yet, now, now, now!’ I gingerly swam towards the cusp of the platform and found myself with no ruddy chance of hauling myself up.

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My dad has said in the past that I have difficulty getting in and out of cars, and it’s true, my awareness of my own limbs is near to non-existent. So here I had captain above, Jhel filming, Rory and Steve all safe out of the water, while Heather and Gabriel carried on gripping the line. Basically, a lot of people were around. Steve gallantly grabbed my arm, heaved me onboard as a wave proffered momentum, and I fell at his feet with all the grace of a slippery seal. It is some sort of miracle that during the fiasco documented constantly by Jhel, there is no video evidence that I flashed my left boob to the entire crew, but a sighting was confirmed by multiple witnesses. A low point in my yachting career, so far.

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Dramatic event number two occurred a mere two days later. Our radios came alive with the sounds of Graham describing his sighting of a turtle in trouble, trapped in reams of fishing netting. Captain, being the hero that he is, immediately stopped the boat and proclaimed, ‘All crew, all crew, grab a pair of binos and come outside, we have a turtle in trouble and we’re going to treat this as a man overboard drill.’ Well, wasn’t that exciting! We had spotters all around the boat whose job it was to spot the turtle, point at it, and keep pointing with their eye on it all the time. After about 10 minutes of circling the area it was last seen, by sheer luck, Jhel and Maria caught sight of the light yellow buoy that was attached to the paraphernalia trailing behind the poor creature.

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With the boys guiding captain the entire time, he managed to manoevre the boat right alongside our ‘man overboard’. Rory fetched a stick with a prong on the end, and attempted to hook on.

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But Mr. Turtle evaded the stick and swam underneath the boat! We waited with baited breath at the other side, and sure enough he bobbed up and the boys were able to grab him.

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Graham set to work cutting the poor thing free.

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With Rory keeping a tight hold of Graham so that he didn’t go overboard, they set him free. We were all a bit giddy by this point, clapping and cheering as he swam away, happy as Larry. No word of a lie, he genuinely bobbed his head up to look back at us, as if in thanks and farewell. Michael caught the whole incredible escapade on video, which will surely surface on my Facebook page sometime soon. Wifi permitting, of course.

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Sage butter & ricotta gnudi (like gnocchi, but with no ridges) with shaved parmesan.

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Celeriac & apple soup, with toasted hazelnuts and crispy sage.

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Glass noodle salad with an Asian peanut dressing.

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Pork chops with apple sauce.

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Sweetcorn, tofu & lime leaf fritters. Everyone was happily tucking into them until someone asked, what’s in them? When I responded with ‘tofu’, there were a few forks put down, just on principle. Quel problem with tofu?!

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Salmon with a caper, raisin & pine nut salsa.

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Puffed brown rice bars with cashew butter & hazelnuts.

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Michael’s steady hand.

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Before our last glut of bananas went off, we put them to great use in a fudgy browned butter banana bar, topped with a vanilla glaze. Simply incredible in every which way. It tasted like a sort of banana brownie, and the crew gobbled them up so quickly that another batch was requested for the very next day. A keeper!

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Sweet potato mac ‘n’ cheese.

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A quick and easy soda bread. Very good if you’re in a pinch.

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Leftover ratatouille & feta puff pastry tart.

Our first port of call once the crossing is over is the beautifully named Paradise Island, in the Bahamas. Paradise Island is home to the five star Atlantis Resort, complete with 24 hour casino, numerous bars and restaurants, shops, a nightclub, water park, aquarium, dolphin centre…I could go on. We will actually be docked in the hotel’s very own marina, and as crew, we are given access to the entirety of the hotel grounds. All I can really say to that is, I love my job.