Cooking Aboard Hokule‘a

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - January 10, 2007
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Kai’ulani Murphy and the Hokule‘a
Kai’ulani Murphy and the Hokule‘a

When I heard of the departure of the Hokule’a to Japan, I was reminded that I think about food way too much. My first thought was “what do they eat?”

No one seemed to know, so I went down to the boat dock last week as final preparations were being made for the voyage, to check out the culinary scene on this world-famous canoe. The five-month voyage, via Micronesia and covering more than 7,000 nautical miles, will be the first time that the Hokule’a will explore the Western Pacific. And as always, the crew will use the opportunity to educate, motivate and advocate change in the way we approach the environment.

But how’s the food? Is it gourmet? Are the meals enough to make you want to stay at sea forever?

Well, let’s put it this way, if you’re not keen on Spam, saimin and canned vegetables, put your navigational maps back in the closet and don’t even think about voyaging as a career.

Kai’ulani Murphy is the program director responsible for the mammoth task of organizing goods and supplies, and she seemed unfazed when I turned up with dozens of questions about her diet.

“Obviously, we take a lot of canned goods and noodles because we need things with a long shelf life,” she says. “We can take fresh fruits and vegetables for the first week or so, and after that we hope to catch fresh fish.”

When you think of catching fish every day and surviving on a diet of sashimi, grilled ahi and poke, then life doesn’t seem too bad, really. Add to the healthy eating a nice, quiet sail and the silence of mile upon nautical mile broken only by the occasional spin of a dolphin tail, and it almost sounds idyllic.

But read a little of Hokule’a's cookbook, Recipes of Hokule’a, and you’ll soon see that life at sea is no picnic. Unless of course, your idea of a great meal is Creamed Tuna (canned tuna, cream of mushroom soup and canned peas. Ugh). Food has to fit into waterproof, airtight containers inside the hull, each one numbered from day 1 to 39 and packed with enough food for three meals each day. Supplies for days 40 and onward are sent ahead by container to Ponapei and Palau. Treats, as you would imagine, are huge.

“Snacks are a really high priority,” says Kai’ulani, laughing. “This trip we’re taking cashews, and trail mix with M&M’s.”

And if you think you work in a small kitchen at home, spare a thought for Hokule’a's cook. His kitchen is 17 inches tall by 17 inches wide . The “galley” is really just a box that covers a propane burning stove where the cook takes care of about 36 meals a day.

I asked Kai’ulani what luxury item she’d take on board, if it was weightless, limitless and took up no room. “Ice cream,” she says without hesitation.

Most crewmembers will travel for a month before trading places with a fresh crew, but Polynesian Voyaging Society president and master voyager Nainoa Thompson will travel for 80 days or more of the trip. He was in serious preparation mode when we met the other morning, but I couldn’t help but ask what was the first meal he’d have on his return home. He stared at me for a moment, furrowed his brow slightly, looked incredibly serious and then broke into a huge grin. “A big green salad, a cheeseburger, an ice-cold Coke and some ice cream,” he says, as if tasting the moment already.

And I’ll bet he doesn’t want to see another can of Spam until the Hokule’a's next voyage.

To support the Polynesian Voyaging Society, you can purchase Recipes of Hokule’a

($10) by calling 536-8405.

Happy eating!

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