[the galley aboard our boat]
Living on a boat inspired Ken and Nadia to a career change, as I wrote about in a previous post. Thinking a little more about their transformation made me reflect on our own. Living in a small space makes you really question, and explore, the difference between what you truly need to live a good life and what you think you need. Dan used to own a kitchen design/remodel business. In fact, that’s how he got into sailing. Not obvious, you say?When we lived in Colorado and had the kitchen business, one of my colleagues asked if we could replace the laminate on the galley countertop of their boat, a small Catalina 24 that they sailed on summer weekends on a nearby lake. This was a small, easy job – the countertop was so small that instead of having to go to the jobsite, the colleague just took the countertop piece off and delivered it to the shop in the trunk of his car.
A few days later we returned the finished piece, and the colleague said, “Cool, thanks, what do I owe you?” Dan replied, “Well, it was such a small job, I’m almost embarrassed to bill you for it. Tell you what; this represented about 3 hours of my work. Why don’t you take me sailing on your boat for 3 hours one afternoon?”He was totally, utterly hooked from that moment on. I like to call it the most expensive kitchen project we ever undertook.
Anyway, back to my original thought. As a certified kitchen designer, there are guidelines he tried to follow when planning rooms for clients. These guidelines suggest how much space you need for each appliance, for adjacent workspaces, and for storage. Not to minimize the work of the NKBA (National Kitchen & Bath Association), their suggestions came out of extensive research into the way Americans live, into ergonomics, and into fire and building safety codes. I find it ironic just how much we had to turn those rules on their heads when we moved aboard, though. See that rule #3 that says that the distance for each leg of the work triangle in the ideal kitchen should be more than 4 feet to less than 9 feet? Hah! In our galley, each leg of the work triangle measures just two feet. And that rule #27 about storage? It says you should have a total of 360 inches of drawer fronts in a small kitchen? We have not 360 inches, not 300 inches, but just 30 inches – two small drawers. And the guideline also says you should have 300 inches of wall cabinet shelving? We have a single-shelf 35 inch dish cabinet above the sink, and another between the range and the fridge. That’s all. Oh, okay, I managed to sneak a few extra inches for chef’s knife storage in the back of the access panel for the navigation instruments, so that’s a bonus. But then again, where a normal kitchen would have a microwave, we have the VHF marine radio. Or rule #13 about dishwasher placement? (holds up both hands and wiggles fingers – this is my dishwasher!)
Of course, guidelines that make sense on land won’t work on a sailboat, nor should they. Sailboat kitchens (a.k.a. galleys) move; land kitchens don’t, last month’s earthquake notwithstanding. Those big roomy distances between appliances that make a land kitchen a spacious and comfortable workspace would be dangerous in a seaway. When I see open space I think, wow, nothing to break your fall as you’re hurled from one side of the boat to the other. In our little galley, by contrast, it’s very reassuring to snuggle into that little two-foot space and lean against the sink while cooking on the range.The most profound way that the whole kitchen/galley design rumination has turned my perceptions on their head, though, is the relationship of people to their world. Everything in a well-designed land kitchen is done for maximum ease and efficiency of movement for the cook. The kitchen wraps around the user in an utterly comfortable ergonomic way. Is this, perhaps, a metaphor for modern times, that we create our environment, and control and modify the world for the comfort of the human? Do humans really need that much pampering? For the land kitchen, they talk about the most convenient storage and work zone, at a height between the knees and the shoulders. On our boat, we have to bend and twist and flex to get things. The world doesn’t revolve around the human, the humans have to adapt to it, not the other way ‘round. It’s a compromise and a partnership between comfort and (marine) functionality. Just another way that life afloat keeps you humble!