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For boat’s chef, some thrills and spills

Keeps crew happy with comfort food

By Debra Samuels
Globe Correspondent / September 23, 2009

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GLOUCESTER HARBOR - The schooner Roseway, a 137-foot former fishing boat, lurches through the waves, and doors flap to the rhythm. “It’s time,’’ announces Jessica Reale, who quickly secures the kitchen cabinets with bungee cords. The 26-year-old chef works quickly, holding a door closed with an elbow while hooking the cord under the cabinet before another wave knocks her and everything in the cupboard off balance. The next lurch pushes her into the electric stove, which has pot braces for the burners. A huge pot of clam chowder is practically stirring itself.

“The hardest part of cooking on a boat is when I am feeling seasick,’’ says Reale. A brownie batter in a large baking pan has pooled at one end.

Reale, an East Bridgewater native, cooks three meals a day for the 10 crew members of the Roseway, which docks in Boston Harbor during the warm months when guests aren’t onboard. The boat is used by the World Ocean School for education programs for schoolchildren. Today, there are 30 passengers - the Roseway is racing other tall ships out of Gloucester - and all will have lunch with the crew.

The chef was up an hour before the crew, preparing homemade blueberry pancakes and coffee. One by one, sleepy crew members climb the ladder from their bunks in the fo’c’sle (boatspeak for forecastle) into the cramped galley. Deck hand Margo Vanderberg, 30, grabs coffee and walks the five steps to the other end of the galley, descends into the dining area, piles pancakes on her plate, and tucks in.

“We love Jess,’’ says chief mate Andrew Kaiser, 23. “Hey Jess,’’ he asks, “did you grind the flour for the pancakes?’’

Reale, who has a head of brown curls and a contagious laugh, is a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef. She had managed and cooked at restaurants in Florida and Maine, but had never been on a sailboat before this job. The galley is her domain and also the universal pass-through to sleeping quarters, dining room, engine room, deck, shower, and the only toilet. Storage in the kitchen is under floor boards and behind stairs; two portholes have ever-changing views.

The boat’s food budget is meager. Reale spends $5.50 per person per day. “You can do a lot with that if you shop smart,’’ she says. The crew likes meatloaf, soups, and homemade breads. “I brought my professional books but find myself mostly using the only cookbook in the ship’s library, ‘The Joy of Cooking’,’’ she says.

The Roseway sets sail for St. Croix in November. “I know staples will be more expensive down there, but I am looking forward to the challenge.’’

Off the Massachusetts coastline, the crew dines on chowder. The chef uses canned clams when fresh ones aren’t available. She sets a pot of creamy chowder beside ham and cheese sandwiches on homemade baguettes and adds a platter of oddly shaped brownies (they baked on a sea-induced angle). Hours later, the Roseway, which finishes in fourth place in the race, returns to Gloucester.

On a typical day, Reale would prepare dinner now. She bought chicken earlier in the week and cooked it to make fajitas with corn tortillas and her own guacamole.

Tonight, Reale catches a break. All the crews have been invited to a potluck dinner.

Fajitas are on tomorrow’s menu.

Hopefully, so are calmer seas.

To learn more about the Roseway, go to www.roseway.com.