Beach vacations are honestly not my bag: the sand, the greasy sunscreen, all the things that can mutilate your feet–no thanks! However, when a friend invited me on a 10-day catamaran trip in the Bahamas earlier this year, I almost immediately said yes.
I’m on a boat– Lonely Island Boys
The Bahamas, or more specifically, the Exumas, ended up being well worth the minor discomfort of some sand vag. The islands are surrounded by clear, warm shallow waters for many feet out, creating the perfect environment for snorkeling, swimming, and paddle boarding, and decent winds mean plenty of opportunities for kiteboarding for the more athletic travelers. There’s definitely no lack of wildlife either–we saw nurse sharks, sea turtles, lizards and iguanas, and too many beautiful fish to name. It is truly a stunning habitat that can draw out the adventurer in even the most dedicated lazybones.
The catamaran we chartered had four cabins, each with its own washroom, and a captain’s bunk, which we split between eight guests. Pretty cushy digs for a boat, no? The galley was equipped with all the standard appliances you would expect to find in a land kitchen–oven, range, sink, etc–though there were a few fun quirks, like having to light the oven and range with a lighter and not being able to control the temperature on the oven. There was also a cute but effective little bbq grill on the… stern? I still don’t know boat parts. It was on the back deck place.
Despite the kitchen limitations, we managed to turn out some pretty impressive spreads, including a quiche and apple pie whose crusts were provided by yours truly.
If you know pies, you are probably pretty skeptical about the wisdom of this. Heat and humidity are, after all, the enemy of a good flaky crust–quickly turning a thing of beauty into a gloopy, unmanageable mess. So you won’t be surprised to hear that my tips for pulling this off are to start early in the morning when the sun is at its least oppressive, stay in the shade, and move fast! I also stuck the mixture in the fridge for 10 minutes or so between cutting the butter into the flour and adding in the wet ingredients, and all the moisture in the air meant only using three tablespoons of water where I usually use at least five.
All together, this was a great lesson for me on adapting. In addition to the amendments mentioned above, I also had to go pretty old school in terms of tools, using a fork instead of a pastry blender or stand mixer to cut in the butter. You do this by scraping the fork blades across the longest part of butter, dipping back into the flour, and repeating until it looks like course crumbs. Your butter absolutely must be cold and firm for this to work.
Thank god my mom delegated this, her least favorite task, to me way back in simpler times, when our fanciest appliance was an electric mixer. The tediousness of this method cannot be overstated–I really recommend investing in a pastry blender if you plan on doing this more than once; however, it does a dang good job and will definitely work in a kitchen with meager offerings.
If desperate, you can also cut the butter into 1/4 inch cubes and pinch into the flour, but be aware that this will take ages in a recipe this size.
Classic Flaky Pie Crust
– 3 cups flour, plus more for rolling
– 1 tsp salt
– 1.5 cups / 3 sticks unsalted butter
– 1 egg, beaten; optional for a little extra strength
– 3-6 TBSP cold water OR 3-5 TBSP cold water and 1 TBSP cold white vinegar for extra flakiness
1. In a large bowl using a pastry blender or fork OR stand mixer with the non-scraper paddle attachment, cut the butter into flour and salt until it forms coarse crumbs (some lumps will be larger, but none should be more than about 1/4 inches in diameter). STOP if the mixture starts to become doughy or wet, even if there are larger crumbs. You want a dry mixture at this stage.
2. Drizzle egg over mixture and add 3 TBSP of water (if using vinegar, add vinegar and 2 TBSP water). Use your hands or lowest setting to press together until a ball is just formed. If the mixture feels too dry or isn’t coming together after half a minute of mixing, add in water one TBSP at a time. Do not be too quick to add more though, because an overly wet dough is a tough dough. You may still have some streaks of butter when all is said and done, and that’s just fine.
3. Divide ball into half or thirds, press each down to a flatter round disk, cover in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes, but 24 hours is ideal. If your kitchen is hot and/or humid, move the frozen disk to the refrigerator to thaw one day in advance of cooking; otherwise, dough can thaw at room temperature for 30minutes to an hour before use.
4. BLIND BAKING – Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Roll out dough and place in pan, using a fork to make venting holes in the bottom. Line shell with parchment paper paying careful attention to fold over any gaps in the sides and fill with pie weights, beans, or sugar–anything you have on hand that will weigh it down without smushing it. I make a little valley in the middle of mine so that the sides don’t cook too much faster than the bottom. Bake for 20 minutes or until bottom is dry and even in color.
PS: Bahama trip budget and packing notes
All in, I ended up spending a little over $2,600 for the week and a half of travel, which is not outrageous but is more than I typically spend now during any month of longterm traveling. I used some credit card points for my flight, but other than that, there was really very little wiggle room to economize since our group split most costs for food and supplies and transportation once on the boat. Definitely not what I would categorize as budget travel, but probably within range for most Americans who want to get the most out of the yearly two weeks (for the lucky ones) of vacation.
Eating out on the islands is fairly expensive, $15-$30/plate to start, USD accepted, but the fresh seafood and jerk seasoning are worth it!
It’s not bragging to say I am an excellent packer. Light packing is my raison d’etre and greatest pride. For example, due to United’s new dumb $60 charge for economy ticket carry ons, I recently managed to get toiletries, clothes, laptop, water bottle, and wallet for a five-day trip into a medium-sized Longchamp tote.
For this trip, however, I was totally out of my element and ended up both over and under packing. Too many clothes, not enough hats. Water is very (very) limited, so if you’re planning on being on a boat for more than a couple of days, I highly recommend bringing micellar water if you have face needs (I do, in a big way). Don’t skimp on the sunscreen either.
Did you know that it’s pretty cold on boats when they’re moving? And really windy? Why didn’t you tell me? Pack a sweatshirt and good jacket.
On the other hand, we were in swimsuits from sun-up to sun-down, so I ended up wearing way less clothes than I brought.
Here’s what I packed, with notes:
- Teva sandals
- Dress sandals
- Tennis shoes (totally unnecessary–we barely wore shoes at all)
- Two pairs of socks (facepalm emoji)
- 7 pairs of underwear
- Two bathing suits and one rash guard (which I lost off the back of the boat)
- One pair of lightweight hiking pants
- One pair of fast-drying hiking shorts
- One pair of jean shorts (unused)
- One pair of yoga leggings
- Two tank tops
- Three t-shirts
- One sweatshirt (surprisingly useful at night)
- One dress and wrap
- One pair of sleep shorts and sleep t-shirt
- One Patagonia rain jacket (MVP — still smells like sunscreen after washing twice!)
- Microfiber towel
- Microfiber hair towel (awesome for long or thick hair with no hair dryers around)
- Water bottle
- Kobo waterproof e-reader
I’m not including toiletries in the list because everyone’s face and needs are so different, but I will say that I ended up not using my actives very much since they don’t play well with sun exposure, mostly didn’t wear makeup–but was glad I brought what I did for our nights out, and wish I had brought hydrocolloid bandaids and aloe vera for the various cuts and burns we picked up.
Have you taken a Caribbean boat trip and have some helpful tips or tricks or recipes? Share your insights in the comments!