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Monday, May 13, 2013

Feeds Across The Atlantic Ocean

For 32 days, Sara Hajdu served as the First Mate and Chef on Jennifer Figge's latest continuous stage swim from Cape Verde off the western coast of Africa to Antigua in the Caribbean. As Figge swam a total distance of 257.5 nautical miles (477 km) over the month-long traverse across the Atlantic Ocean, Hajdu keep busy helping out on the catamaran Pearl and cooking up a storm on deck. The logistics, operations and planning behind any crossing of an ocean is daunting, but doing so with a swimmer in the water for hours on end is mind-boggling to say the least.

[Figge's daily distance is posted here.]

But we wanted to go behind the scenes and check out what was happening in the galley where Hajdu worked her magic on a daily basis.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How many meals did you plan for over the course of the voyage?

Sara Hajdu: Usually I plan one meal per day - dinner. Jennifer always eats pasta or potato with parmesan cheese and olive oil for breakfast. Until she ends the swim for the day, she does not eat, only drinking every 45 minutes. I try to cook every dinner to have some leftovers for next day's lunch for the crew. But on this trip, nothing was usually left over so I prepared a light lunch, healthy-filling soup with homemade bread for the crew. For the whole trip, I put together a menu for 5 weeks in order to play it on the safe side. Each week, we had twice chicken, twice meat, twice pasta and one time fish.

As I am the chef also on board for our charters (www.xta-sea.com), it is not so hard for me to put a menu together. Although this swim is very different - to cook for 6 people for up to 5 weeks - what can I say? I have a big oceanic family. Also provisioning can be a problem in Cape Verde or other remote places. For this swim, I had to provision 99% of the food in Cape Town, South Africa for both the relocation part (31 days sailing from South Africa to Cape Verde) and the swim part from Cape Verde to Antigua too. Also provisioning a brand new boat means I had to buy really everything from spoons and plates to eggs, meat, toilette paper, etc. The hardest part is if I forget something there is no shop to go to, especially if the trip takes all together 60+ days because there is not much in Capo Verde to re-provision

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you prepare certain meals in advance?
Sara Hajdu: I don't prepare meals in advance. I have time because she is usually finishing around 3 pm with dinner at 6 pm. Also, I get some help from the crew peeling potatoes and we take turns of cleaning up the kitchen before we go to sleep. Anyway it is constant cleaning for me on the boat, so it is not much to clean up at the evenings.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you prepare a certain rotation of special meals?
Sara Hajdu: My motto is 'never repeat a meal' so I was cooking different meals every day and we never repeated a single one. Not even on the Pacific swim which lasted 45 days. But also I like to try new recipes and I have a cooking blog in Hungarian with my sister (www.izextazis.blogspot.com). I post recipes and stories of all the places we sailed. My sister looks for the ingredients in my country (e.g chutney's or palm hearts) and cooks it herself to give advice of "how to do it and where to buy it". So I had some of those recipes to make on board and take nice pictures for the blog as I did not have time before to prepare them. We could enjoy even a nice ostrich steak as well as malva pudding with homemade banana ice cream (a South African recipe) together. Also I cook some Hungarian meals like gulash soup or chicken paprikas.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Can you give me an idea of a special meal that Jennifer really enjoys?
Sara Hajdu: I have to say her favorite meal was still the Hungarian bean soup, although she loved all meals. I know her by now very well, I know what she likes and dislikes, so it is not so hard to please her. But you should ask her about her favorite meal.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What are the key ingredients for your breakfast, lunch and dinner plans?
Sara Hajdu: The key ingredients of her breakfast is the pasta or potato and lots of parmesan cheese. On her previous swims, she had a nutrition bar also, but on this swim she switched the bar for two potatoes or more pasta instead. I don't blame her - nutrition bars are not so yummy for 30-some days, every day. When she finishes the swim, I always serve some snacks - popcorn, hummus dip, chips or crackers with some dip on it. It is weird, but after so many hours in the ocean she still craves salty snacks. For dinner, it is mostly meat with different sides and lots of it. Protein and carbs are very, very important for a person who burns that much calories each day, every day for more than a month. For us, the crew, we just simply gain a few pounds each swim because there are delicious desserts twice a week also.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you make any really special or unique?
Sara Hajdu: This trip was full with very special or unique meals as I was planning to try out a lot of recipes. But also I cooked the big-time favorites: breaded chicken with fries, gulash soup and the Hungarian pancakes. I would say the most unique was the ostrich kebab. I don't think I have ever heard about anyone who was having ostrich in the middle of the ocean. Also I had a nice "surprise" sauce for a freshly caught tuna made of coconut cream, curry, mango chutney, tomato and onion.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Please explain the importance of food and food preparation on such a long trip.
Sara Hajdu: As I mentioned before, food is very important to help to get back the "lost" calories, but we follow our crew motto: "we are not here to suffer"! So instead of having nutrition bars or prepacked food, you can have the same calories in a delicious meal. This needs a lot of preparation (meaning thinking) before each trip. I start to put together my shopping list months before, but still I always freak out one or two days before we start the swim. Do I have everything?!? Also, I have to be prepared for technical problems on the boat. What if my freezer breaks down with all the frozen stuff and we still have two weeks to go? So I have to have backup food plan: cans. My shopping list was 12 pages this time.

Also the dinner on the boat is our "together-time" when all of us are able to sit down at the table and chat, eat good and have some wine, every day, like a true family. It was a very long trip, but very successful. She beat her record and swam every day. We saw a humpback whale only a few meters away from the boat dancing for us and a marlin trying to catch the tunas hiding under the boat, so it was the most amazing crossing up to now.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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