Medical Chronicle

Food glorious food

Photo sent from the boat Famille Mary - Etamine du Lys, on December 13th, 2016 - Photo Romain AttanasioPhoto envoyée depuis le bateau Famille Mary - Etamine du Lys le 13 Décembre 2016 - Photo Romain Attanasio

In a half awake state, you imagine what it is like sitting down in the kitchen having breakfast with the family with toast, butter and home-made strawberry jam. You can smell the slightly burnt toast, the rich aroma of the coffee with the mild milky flavour.  You even think of what it is like to grab your satchel and head off for school. You are missing the fresh baguette and salty butter that would really take you there. Last time you enjoyed those pleasures was back in the Bay of Biscay more than two months ago. This morning you're going to have to make do with cereals to get your carbohydrate levels up. Gradually assimilated by the body, they provide regular fuel and power for the muscles to face the cold and heavy work ahead. Today, we’re going to add some scrambled eggs (freeze dried) and ham. The proteins will stimulate dopamine, the hormone that livens you up. So, let’s go. An 800 calorie breakfast is perfect for what lies ahead in the Forties.

At around lunchtime looking at what is left in the week's food bag, you plump for a large portion of pasta with cheese and tomato sauce. The meal, prepared ashore was freeze-dried. The recipe is simple: Add boiling water until you reach the line, wait a few minutes or a bit longer and it is done!  Eat up while it's hot, directly from the bag.  No plates, no washing up.  All so easy and practical! As time goes by, it gets a bit boring for the digestive system, giving you wind and constipation. But there’s nothing you can do about that. It’s light and practical. Without the water you save 70% of the weight or more than 200kg in the food taken aboard. As for the aluminium bag, that will go in the bin in Les Sables d’Olonne. Rule No 20 of Race Instructions states that the competitors must not throw their rubbish into the water unless biodegradable. Food in bags may be practical, but there’s nothing like meals cooked by grandma or by a top chef. They really cheer you up. Sometimes there’s even a little message in there too. So you sit back and enjoy it dreaming of something that happened ashore.

Now it's time to dress up to go outside.  If dress up is the right word.  We're not talking about a suit or cocktail dress, or the latest fashion, here what you need is the gear for the Forties with a tight-fitting fleece and oilskins.  One more important detail: Don't forget to keep some sweets in your pocket, just in case. Eaten just before a manoeuvre, these sugars, which are absorbed quickly by the body offer a quick burst of energy, a boost for the muscles.  This booster also calms you by stimulating the secretion of serotonin, a calming, anti-stress sedative. This will allow you to manoeuvre safely.  However, this molecule does not only have advantages.  It also intervenes directly on your desire to sleep. The advertisement announcing « a burst of energy and you're off again!» should be replaced by “a burst of energy and back to sleep!”  You need to know that when you are tired, you need to ensure you stay awake in order to be alert.

There is the danger of falling asleep at the wheel. To stay awake, it’s betetr to eat meat, fish or dairy produce containing proteins. Today’s slogan is a ham sandwich and you are much more vigilant. You have been worrying though over the past few days. The chocolate is running outs and you’re forced to ration it. There are its anti-stress virtues, as you grow impatient about getting back to land. You are surprised to eat so much without putting on weight. Here you have at least five meals a day: three big ones and two snacks, one in the afternoon and one at night. These big meals only just make up for the calories burnt. For example, just reacting to the movement of the boat with reflex reactions consumes almost 1000 calories. Add the disturbed nights, all the physical effort, the cold and damp. Then all the thinking, which also consumes energy and in the Southern Ocean you come to 5000 calories a day. You have the bags of food organised for that. There is more fat in those for the Southern Ocean to help keep the body warm.


Drink. Don’t forget to drink. Here, the source will not dry up, as it is the ocean itself.  With the desalination unit, you obtain fresh water as you need it each day. There’s still a long way to go to Les Sables d’Olonne and who knows what lies ahead?

Dr Jean-Yves CHAUVE

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