Chef Joni: My Story
It all started in a small coastal North Carolina town... Joni Dennis is a native of the small coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina. Growing up on the Outer Banks, Joni has always felt a strong bond with the ocean. As she grew into a young girl, sailing and photography were the things that caught her interest, and soon her passion for them garnered her a perfect nickname, Breeze. Barely able to keep her mind on dry land through her high school years, she couldnâ€™t wait until the day when she could pursue her dream of sailing the world and taking photographs of all the beautiful people and places along the way. It wasnâ€™t long before she found her way onto a sailboat heading for the islands, but she soon discovered that working as crew on a sailboat paid poorly. It was then that she rekindled her childhood interest in cooking. She had always loved inventing recipes and learning new styles of cooking, but now she was determined to transform her cooking skills into an art form. Despite the challenges of cooking while underway in 8 foot to 40 foot seas, in some of the most remote places on earth, Joni rose to the occasion and delivered hot gourmet meals again and again, quickly becoming an
indispensable part of each crew she worked on. From port to port, as the scenery and cultures changed, new languages were embraced, new recipes were created, and more stunning images were captured on film. She found that as long as she tried to speak the language of a country, itâ€™s people would gladly open their hearts, homes and kitchens to her, often sharing their favorite recipes and their culturally unique culinary wisdom. At age 24, Joni found herself living a dream that started to form when she was only 9 years old. As a little girl, she read every sailing magazine that she could find, and started following the adventures of a Maxi racing yacht named Kialoa. She promised herself that she would one day sail on Kialoa. Fifteen years later, she was being flown to Italy to live that dream. She was to be the chef for the captain of the original Kialoa, on his biggest and best racing yacht yet, Kialoa III. During Joniâ€™s stint aboard, the Kialoa III and her crew raced in the Maxi World Cup and several other regattas, taking first place in each one. While the crew spent several months preparing Kialoa III for another series of races, Joni packed her Canon AE-1, and took off on a backpacking trip through Switzerland, Holland, Italy, the Greek Islands, and Africa. Over several months she found a new appreciation for the world, and for photography. The Beaufort Waterfront
The years after the Kialoa III were spent as chef aboard a series of boats, from old classic wooden sailboats, to giant mega-yachts. Each boat was itsâ€™ own unique adventure - some adventures lasted for only a couple of days, some of them lasted for years - each one was filled with a lot of hard work, a little hysteria, a pinch of love and a healthy dose of excitement. The garnish for each was the beauty of the ocean and the islands. The love of photography was her incentive, cooking her tool; sailing her passion. Today, Joni resides in her home port of Beaufort, NC, although she continues to travel and cook. She ventures to new parts of the world every year, seeking the inspiration of new foods, new friends, new experiences and new images.
Chronological Outline of My Adventure Lena Lena was the first boat I delivered. She was a 41 ft. Tartan sailboat. We sailed her from Beaufort, North Carolina to St. Thomas, USVI. It took 10 days, the entire time in really bad weather. We lost all electronics, meaning refrigeration, and navigational aids, the third day out. I felt safe because the dock master in Beaufort told me to wait and go with this captain because he was as salty and safe as they come, so I did, and here we were, and I was learning how to take sextant fixes, instead of satellite fixes, to navigate.
Thinking it was supposed to be like this all the time, because I’d never done a delivery before, I thought these people are crazy. I lost 17 pounds that trip. I didn’t know if I got seasick, so before I left port I got a trans-derm patch from Dr. Brady, which you put behind your ear for 3 days at a time, and applied it. On the full moon, in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, on Halloween night, my watch, I saw a purple dragon behind the boat, rise up out of the water and come straight for me. I ripped that patch off my neck and never had any use for them again. I saw the lights of St. Thomas on my watch and we anchored by Red Hook around 4 am. Daybreak came and I looked down into the water, which seemed 12 feet deep, only to find it was 60 feet deep, and everything I had experienced that 10 days melted away as I dove into the Caribbean Sea for the first time.
Since I wasn’t paid for the delivery, being a novice, and had $42.00 to my name, I had to get a job right away. Everybody I met the first day in told me to go to Yacht Haven Marina in Charlotte Amalie to the “Bridge,” the bar at the marina, and I’d have a job before happy hour was over. They were right; bars where crews hang out are definitely the best place to find a job as crew.
Dolphin I met the cook on board Dolphin, a 105 ft Sailboat, at the Bridge, and she hired me, as stewardess, and I moved on board the next day. It was a charter sailboat, and chartered in the American and British Virgin Islands.
My job was to make the beds, clean the heads, keep the interior of the boat Spartan, make lots of cocktails, do the dishes, and help sail the boat, for a whopping $100.00 a week. Always make sure you get fed, crew cannot live on rum alone. After our first charter, I went downtown to mail the crew’s Christmas presents, and stepped into a pot hole, and sprained my ankle, so I had to move off the boat because they had another charter, and I couldn’t work. That was weird, because I didn’t have anywhere to go. Some other crewmates toted me up to the Bridge, and people started buying me tequila shots, for the pain. The happy hour crowd thinned out, and I realized that I need to eat, and took a taxi downtown to a breakfast place, and one of the waiters said that I could crash on their couch. There were 8 people living at this house, up a very steep hill, and everybody worked at various bars and restaurants. So I commenced to set up camp in their living room. I was better in a few weeks, and went back to the Bridge to look for another job. Thank God for compassionate strangers.
I wrapped my foot up and hitched a ride into town to the Bridge, to look for another job. I met a French chef, in her late 50â€™s, which seemed real hippy like, and she needed a sous chef, so I moved on board Port Bouganville, a 165 ft. three masted schooner. We had a charter in a few days for two weeks, for a family from California, 24 of them. We were doing the American and British Virgin Islands, and we had a crew of 16. The Chef drank Elephant beer all day long and smoked these little black cigarettes called beanies.
We put out the food. That’s all I can say. I didn’t have much time to eat, but I licked the cake bowls, and skimmed an occasional piece of fruit. I learned so much about French cuisine from Virgine, it was like going to school, but better, with a view to kill for! The crew’s quarters were down 20 steps, in the bow of the boat, there were 4 sets of 4 bunk beds for everybody, and you had to climb a ladder to get to yours. We all shared one head, except the chef and captain, they had their own quarters. The one thing I’ll never forget, as long as I live, is New Years Eve 1983. The guests had invited us to join them, in the main saloon, when we were finished with out duties to bring in the new year, so we were all dancing, and having a good time, and all the sudden there was the sound of breaking glass. It got real quiet, real quick. The captain had had too many Stolis, made a rude comment to one of the guests in his 20’s, gave him a shove, the guy hit him, the captain hauled off and punched him, and then the guest took the Stoli bottle, broke off the bottom part, and slashed the captains face up. Needless to say, at 1:00 am all of the guests were jumping ship, and so did the captain…I never saw his face in the Caribbean again, but did run into him in Norfolk, Virginia, on a delivery a few years later, and he had changed his name. I moved off the boat, stayed with friends on another boat, and four days later, Port Bouganville burnt to the waterline. Nobody was on board. You don’t get tipped when the captain is a drunken fool.
Lollipop I met the Captain and cook on Lollipop, a 62 ft. Gulfstar, and the cook had lived in Beaufort, and knew lots of the same people I did, so they hired me onboard as stewardess, another $100.00 a week job, which ended up being enough for beer money, and an occasional taxi. She was privately owned, and we cruised from St. Thomas to St. Barth, and all the islands in between Little did I know, but the owners were nudists, so I didn’t have to do hardly any laundry, really only the linen napkins. When you have limited amounts of water, you don’t let the water run when you’re brushing your teeth. 11
Isabelle When we got back to St. Thomas, I realized that $100.00 a week was ridiculous for a week’s work, and my friend Michael and Murray convinced me to take a crew cruise on Isabelle, a 83 ft. Classic Wooden Fife…so I did. We were going to Guadeloupe, but kinda got held up in St. Croix, because we were taking on water, so sailed back on a tack that didn’t allow the water to do much damage. The Rolex Cup was getting ready to be held at St. Thomas Yacht Club, and I got an offer to race on a 90 ft. French Design Maxi, called Must. We had 27 people on board, taking every one of them to sail the boat. The wind was perfect, the crew worked well together, we had a great time sailing all day, Mount Gay Rum and the St. Thomas Yacht Club sponsored wonderful parties, including a killer Reggae band. I was glad I was in shape, because it was a very physical time. Life was good. We made grinders for lunch for everybody, which is a normal lunch for racing crew, a one handed meal, consisting of every meat available, lettuce, cheese and tomatoes, on a good French baguette. It’s quite an assembly line to make this monstrosity of a sandwich. Bananas are bad luck on a boat…hence what’s the deal with banana boats? It was the time of the season when crews were changing boats, to go to their next chosen destination. I personally had made my mind up when I started this adventure that I’d be going to the Mediterranean for the summer season. trans Atlantic bound. 13
Loon’s Lace I had a friend who was going back to the states, and she was on a 51 ft. Swan, called Loon’s Lace. She introduced me to the crew, we hit it off, so I took her place as chef, for the transatlantic, a 40 something day trip excluding stops to Bermuda, and the Azores. I provisioned for the first 5 days to Bermuda, and a little more in case of bad weather, and stocked the bilges with cases of liquor, and beer, since it’s so cheap in the Virgin Islands. Cruzan Rum was $ 1.30 at the drug store if that tells you anything. There were 5 guys and me. I cooked 3 meals a day, a stew for the night watch, and a desert, all from scratch. I also did as many watches as everybody else. You could say I had double duty. 16
I wanted to do a transatlantic that summer, and sail the med, but I wanted to do it on a Swan, Hinckley, or Maxi. So I got my wish. The trip sucked. We were in 30 ft. seas, and the boat was always wet inside I mastered cooking at a 45 degree angle. When we got to Bermuda, the first thing I got was a shower, not to say I didn’t bathe during the trip, we took bucket baths with joy soap, because it’s the only soap that lathers with salt water, and our fresh water supply was minimal, so 6 people taking fresh water baths wasn’t in the program. Dark and Stormys was my new favorite cocktail, Gosling’s Rum and ginger beer. The owner flew into Bermuda, took us out to dinner, at the White Horse Tavern, and I had South African Lobster tails, a very memorable meal. When you’re the only female crew, you learn more about guys then you, the non-crewmember, will ever know. I heard it all, and I MEAN IT ALL. Next stop the Azores. That leg was 16 days. People get weird when they haven’t seen land for an extensive amount of time, and I was first handedly experiencing the weirdness. Thank God for the Dolphins. The dolphins rode our bow wake for days. I always felt better when they were around. The seas were 20-35 on that leg. Horta is the town we docked at on Fayal, in the Azores. The people were small, most wore black and brown, and there were dozens of empty nun convents all over the island. It was real cheap, cheeseburgers, 35 cents, and beers 5 cents, so you can imagine how much the sailors loved this port! 17
The Mecca that people flocked to was Peter’s Café Sporta, the local pub. Sailors from all over the world went there. I met small children from Australia there, as well as Maxi racing crew. The ultimate thing I got to do there was, (besides taking a tub bath, in a extra long bear claw bathtub) was to meet Othon Silvera, the world renown Skrimshandler. I went into his basement and watched as he did his art, like nothing I’d seen before. I looked around his basement to see boxes everywhere with unpolished whale’s teeth, all sizes. Whaling was still a way of life for them, and they utilized every single thing from one. You’d see men walking the streets with their harpoons, to these small narrow boats, which was amazing that they could bring back a whale on such a small vessel. They drank Pico wine, which was a blush wine that tasted more like brandy, and ate small oily fish, squid, and mussels, and did I say wine? I had to provision in Horta, and felt eyes on me at all times, feeling like an Amazon Woman, being that they weren’t over 5’2 and I was wearing a pink miniskirt with white cowboy boots. I had to wrap each egg in Vaseline, wrap the lettuce in paper bags, and I could only buy just what we needed, because of storage. We always had the token can goods for emergencies. Next leg, Spain. We were in major shipping lanes, the Straights of Gibraltar, so everyone had to be on their toes at watch. Those 900 ft. ships don’t even see us, and they definitely don’t change their course even if they could. The weather and seas were great. Crew moral was up, and after 10 days, lots of cooking, and reading, and journal time we were in Porto Banus, Spain, the Costa Soiel. 18
And what do you think I did first? The bathrooms in Porto Banus were the finest Iâ€™d seen yet! The guys would always go straight to a bar, and me to the shower! I was over the guys (wonder why?) and set out to meet new people. It was the punk rock era and I wasnâ€™t exactly dressed to fit in. Coming from the Caribbean, I had sarongs, shorts, one pair of jeans, and the token black dress. So I was feeling kinda out of place. Then I turned to go back to the boat, and there sitting at an outside bar, was Randy Ives.
Roshi II My dad coached Randy little league football, back in Beaufort, and his parents were great friends with my grandparents…not to mention we were buds. I ended up drinking red wine with Randy, and crewing with his crew on a 78 ft. Benetti, called Roshi II for the summer, and fall, doing another transatlantic to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We shared all the duties, so I wasn’t the only one cooking, and it was only the crew, no guests. We had a blast, then back across the Atlantic. It’s a lot different in a power yacht. You are beating your brains out most of the 24-hour day. Sailing, you glide with an occasional beat, stinkpots just beat. It’s a lot more fun when you get to share such a unique experience with real friends. Back in Fort Lauderdale, there’s a place that crew goes, like the Bridge in St. Thomas called Chucks Steak House. On Friday nights everybody in the business, that’s in port goes there to catch up. This is an office for many people; lots of deals have been made there, from crew hook ups to the brokering of yachts, not to mention some of the best looking people you’ll ever see under one roof, anywhere in Fort Lauderdale. So that’s where I went the first night in town after the transatlantic. It’s so cool to see the same people all over the world, in different ports.
Night Crossing I was staying at my friend Norma’s house, another Chef, which shared a house with her sister, and got a call for a job on a 110 ft. Lloyds of Australia Benetti, named Night Crossing. The Australian crew was still on board, and they trained me for some of the systems, so when they left to go back to “Roo land” somebody would know something about the boat. I was kinda wearing all the hats, as far as crew went at that point, because there wasn’t anybody else on the boat but me. Little by little, more crew were hired. We were at Pier 66, in Fort Lauderdale. 25
We had lots of wild parties for the owners, and their guests from Miami to Key West. The boat was for sale, two interior designers from Ft. Lauderdale designed the interior, had it built and brought over to sell from Australia. Everything on the boat was mirrors and glass, and lots of glass etchings, very detail oriented. One of the stairways going up to the bar had mirrors on both sides of the walls, and the front panel of the steps as well. This was cruel punishment for the poor guest that had too many cocktails! The boat sold to a couple from Oklahoma who were wearing cowboy boots and hats. There is no better way to cook, than with gas.
Black Knight The captain was looking out for me, and told me about a boat down the dock that needed a chef, so I cruised down to the boat to meet the captain, and saw that the boat was “The Black Knight”. The boat has been the Committee Boat for the America’s Cup as long as the Cup was help in Newport Rhode Island, forever. I mean really high profile. I was a little intimidated. I got through the interview, and had another one the next day, went to it, and got the job. The job was a month charter, in the Exumas, which is the best part of the Bahamas, and our guests were a Countess from Newport Rhode Island, and a very prominent family from Providence. I was a little nervous. The one thing they asked for was a different soup with lunch every day. That meant 30 different soups! I never repeated one, except one they asked me to do, a Thai Vegetable soup. This was the only yacht I ever worked on, that had the galley down below, and we hit a rogue wave underway, and I cut part of my left index finger off. And found it, thank God! I learned how to make Conch Fritters on this trip, in Sampson Cay. Frying food on boats isn’t something you do very often, obviously for safety reasons, so if you’re at the dock it’s ok sometimes. Just because people have a lot of money, doesn’t mean they want to be treated any different than you and me. 27
Hybourne Cay, Bahamas
Spanish Wells, Bahamas 29
Covenant II I had to go home sometime and see my family, so it seemed like to good time to be a landlubber, with money in hand, summer in Beaufort, my sweet little home port sounded good. I spent the summer hanging out with family and friends, clamming, fishing, having dinner parties, riding my bike all over town, and learning how to make my Grandma’s fudge. I worked on various boats off and on that were at the town dock across the street, and had it pretty good. But it was getting chilly, and time to go south. Covenant II, a 52 ft. Pearson was run by my friend Walter, and he asked me to do the delivery with them to St. Thomas, so off to the Pak a Sak to provision and head south. This was a very out of the ordinary delivery. We never sailed. There was absolutely no wind, for 10 days. When you looked at the horizon, you couldn’t tell where the ocean and sky met and it all looked the same. We went to Bermuda (I still can’t get over the men wearing those Bermuda shorts with their suits) first because we had to refuel, being that we motored the whole way. Even when we left, there was still no wind, and it was like a mirror out there. The crew was so bored, they brought the TV up into the cockpit, and I made hors’doeuvres, at 5:00 and had movie hour. It was really crazy. After being in 20 to 40 ft. seas all these years, this was like a comedy. Never bring a nice bike to St. Thomas. It will be stolen for sure, even with a policeman standing beside it, at the bank. 31
Moonflyte I went into Charter Services, which is the office where all the crew gets their mail, and we have use of phones and cars to provision with, to check in with the girls, and they told me that there was a position on a 64 ft. French Design Mini Maxi called Moonflyte. It sounded really good, it was out on the hook, and nobody would live aboard but me, until there was a charter. I got the job, and the Capt. Lived ashore with his family, and our stewardess was a private nurse, and ended up being a sister to me. Being that I’m an only child, I adopted my brothers and sisters along the way off the boats I worked on. We had a very busy charter season, doing the American and British Virgin Islands. I finally felt like I’d found a home. The boat sailed great, the crew got along great, and most of our charter guests became life long friends. And since we went to the same places every week, I was establishing relationships that would last forever. I had my foosball partner at the Pub in Road town, Tortola, my favorite dance partner at the Bath and Turtle on Wed. night jump up, and my favorite hammock, at the Bitter End, in Virgin Gorda, for after work down time. All the local fishermen looked after me, and the taxi drivers would monitor the VHF, and catch our dock lines, always making sure to take care of our guests, and me. I felt blessed. Foxey’s in Jost Van Dyke was my favorite bar to take the guests, and Cane Garden Bay was my favorite Bay. Tortola is the only place in the world I feel totally safe. Women would pick me up hitch hiking with their kids in the car, on their way to church. Amazing! 32
God made all of this. I feel deeply blessed that I had this uncanny since of adventure, and courage that it took to do all this. I don’t know where it came from, but I knew that sailing would provide me the vehicle to do my photography, and cooking ended up being the means to do it all. It’s funny life. I had no idea when I put all my stuff in storage in Beaufort, that cold rainy October day, that I was going to embark on a life full of beauty and adventure, such as I have. All I knew at that time was that I had to get out of my small town and see the world, through my camera. It’s not for everybody…living on the edge. We all have our place, it’s what feels good, comfort levels. Mine is…if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.
Hi Ya The charter season was ending and the Rolex Cup was around the corner, and I was racing it on a 57 ft. Swan called Hi Ya. We had a great crew, and the best boat, in our class. From sun up to sun down, we breathed sailing. It was a very physical and mental week, and once again Mount Gay Rum and the St. Thomas Yacht Club sponsored the regatta. A lot of my friends were racing on other boats, which made it more fun, having a little bit of friendly competition. Steel Drum music was playing in the background as we were anchoring after the race, on land, and well-deserved rum drinks were consumed fast. I forgot to keep lip protection on, and got blistered, so any hot sauce was out of the question, which I kept forgetting. Rum helps to dance better.
Volador Antigua Race week was a week later, so I hitched a ride on a 65 ft. cat, called Furry, and met Volador, a Mini Maxi to race the week. My lips were still destroyed, so I was the zinc oxide poster child for the week. It was the best week of sailing I’d ever had. Sun up to sun down. It was the biggest race I’d sailed yet, and very exciting. There were so many different classes of boats, and crews from all over the world. I got some great photos, and had been selling them after each Regatta. It felt good. There’s also a lot of craziness going on, water balloon fights everywhere, and a lot of serious partying as well. There were some of the best bands playing on the beaches, Bryon Lee and the Dragoneers one night, then Arrow the next night. These were big name soca bands, and I just couldn’t believe they were playing for us on the beach! Always take the chance to live a dream.
Fei Seen I sailed back to St. Thomas with some friends, stopping in St. Barth for a cheeseburger at Le Select and St.Marrten to stock their bilges with wine. As soon as I got back, the girls at charter services said that Fei Seen, a 102 ft. Rhodes design charter sailboat, needed a chef, so I was off to meet the captain. I got the job, and moved onboard. Within an hour I was going to the grocery store to buy a thousand dollars worth of food for our trip to Ft. Lauderdale to do a refit before we sailed to Turkey. The trip was uneventful weather wise, we did catch a lot of fish, Wahoo, and White Marlin. I cooked the Wahoo on deck on a small grill, and we smoked the Marlin. We ended up stopping in Cat Cay, Bahamas, so the owner and his kids could fly in for his daughter’s 16th birthday. We had a really cool party for her, in a cove which had a really nice stone and brick grill built right on the water’s edge, with a cabana next to it. We grilled everything, and they snorkeled and conched, while I grilled. If I were a kid, I’d love to have had that party. I never worked with even amounts of guy-girl ratio. It was a nice change. All the girls had the forepeak, which was just forward of the galley, so we had our tunes going all the time, and there was a constant exchange. The galley had a huge beam, 18 feet. I got thrown around a lot, had bruises all the time, and when we were underway, it was very hard to cook, because the galley was at the bow of the boat. I didn’t like it that much, and it was unusual because I always have loved my galleys. They had filmed a movie with Brook Shields, Endless Love, and the boat 40
was pretty well known, and really beautiful as well, lots of teak and varnish. There was a small antique tub in one of the staterooms with a 24 gold finish, very eccentric. Make sure your job description isnâ€™t to be the captainâ€™s personal chef on your downtime for him and his girlfriends.
Kialoa III Unfortunately most of the crew jumped ship in Bermuda, for the same reason, which I’ll go into in the book, so we all flew back to Ft. Lauderdale. When I talked to my agent, they said Kialoa wanted me to fly to Italy. Kialoa is an 83 ft. Maxi Racing Yacht, Sparkman & Stephens Design. This was my dream come true. When I was 8 years old, I would go to my parent’s friend Phil’s and take a stack of sailing magazines to their bedroom, get up on their bed and read for hours. I followed this man Jim Kilroy, and his racing boat Kialoa , then Kialoa I, and all her racing triumphs, and promised myself that one-day I’d sail on one of his boats. 43
I flew to Rome, and the mate picked me up and drove to Porto Ecole. We didn’t live on the boat because it was a racing boat, an 83 ft. Maxi racing yacht, Sparkman Stephens design. We were to follow a series of races all over the Mediterranean, starting in Sardinia, the 12 Meter Worlds. We also did the King’s Cup in Palma Majorca, Spain, and The Maxi World’s in Sardinia, and the Neulougue from Monaco to St. Tropez. I entertained hundreds of people, and fed the crew of 27 every day. It was a racing food fest, and I was the only one on the food end. The crew was international, some from Stars and Stripes, and it was nonstop. I don’t think I slept 2 hours each night for 8 months. You can do that when you’re in your 20’s. I always tried to learn the languages wherever we were. It is the highest form of respect to the people involved. And by doing that, I was welcomed into many kitchens in several countries to share in their local cuisine, and to share a glass of wine, or grappa, or whatever was being drunk at the moment. With an unlimited budget those guys ate the finest from every region we sailed in. Prosciutto, and fresh pasta with truffles in Italy, in Spain the Artichokes and olives, and France the pates, cheeses, fish, vongole, and no GMO meats. I never really had to buy much wine because Moet and Chandon sponsored the Neaulogue, and we had probably 30-40 cases of champagne in the master stateroom at all times, since we won all the time. I never worked so hard, but it was worth it. 44
Prince Albert of Monaco had a party for us at the casino, the King of Spain sailed with us, and I was just this gal from Beaufort, living my dream. Never underestimate the power of your dreams.
Nirvana After the year of racing and being on the run, the boat was going to be hauled out for a bottom job, and I went backpacking, first to Amsterdam, then to Switzerland, Northern Italy, Rome, Athens Greece, the Greek Islands, Egypt, Africa, back to Athens, then back to Nice, France. There was nothing for me to do, so I flew back to Beaufort to see my family. My agent called me while I was home and said that I got an offer to join Nirvana, a 65 ft. Wooden Hinckley, in Newport, Rhode Island…so off I was to New England. It was a non-live aboard, so I shared an apartment in one of the old mansions with my friend Norma. Nirvana was Hinckley’s first yacht he built for himself. Nelson Rockefeller bought her from Hinckley, with much resistance, and pretty much financed Hinckley to make lots more Hinckley’s. When Nelson died, my boss David Ray bought her. David owned Banisters Wharf, as well as the best restaurant in Newport, The Clarke Cook House. Nirvana was truly my favorite yacht I ever worked on besides Kialoa. I lost my fingerprints in her in the varnish with love and admiration. Even though I was the chef, I was also the first mate, which involved putting the colors up at exactly 8am every morning, and down at sunset, with the sounding of the canons blasting in the background. Since David owned 2 of the best restaurants in New England, the other in Boston, I was on my toes with the food. He had a farm, which raised free range and no GMO livestock as well as organic produce and bottled his own beer. Talk about living right! We were very involved with the Newport-New York Yacht Club, and did all the yachting events and racing in the area. We won the Newport-Nan52
tucket Classic Wooden Boat Regatta, and had some of the most interesting guests overall, on board than any yacht I worked on. I had to row back and forth at least 4 times a day to the boat and back to the dock. No engine on the classic wooden dinghy. I also had to ride my bike everywhere, because parking is a real issue in Newport. I also had 2 other classic wooden boats to take care of. Ahab, which was a 1927 Johnson, and Nande, which was a 1934 Hershoff. Needless to sayâ€ŚI was a busy girl, in the mist of wooden boat heaven. Fog makes wooden boats look better for some reason
Top: the classic wodden rowboat, Nandi Top and Bottom: Newport Harbor, Newport, Rhode Island
The King and I Nirvana was decommissioned in November, as well as the other boats, so I worked at the Clarke Cook House as pastry chef, until it was so cold, I didnâ€™t have clothes for the weather. I headed back to Ft. Lauderdale, got a 1-bedroom apartment, and joined The King and I, an 80 ft. Burger. A couple owned her from Richmond, Virginia.Â They lived aboard 10 months a year. The Captain, Joe was in Wisconsin while the boat was being built, and she stayed as Bristol as she was the day she was launched. We were in the Abacos during the winter, in the Bahamas, and Ft. Lauderdale, Virginia Beach, via Intracoastal Waterway, for the spring, and then on to the Chesapeake, the land of Blue Crabs, and then to Newport, Rhode Island and Nantucket. 61
We did a lot of fishing, so I cooked a lot of fresh fish, which tickled me to death. I came up with my best fish recipes on The King and I. I can say that I became a good pool player on this boat, since the Capt. taught me the ropes. Thanks Joe! You know life is good, when you could eat off the engine room’s floor. I spent almost a year on The King and I, and Joe’s girlfriend joined the boat, and I headed back to Beaufort for a visit. It was always great to come back to my homeport. My mom lives right across the street from the marina, so I didn’t have to go far to be plugged in to the happenings of the yachting scene. Mom always had dinner parties while I was home, inviting my lifetime friends and family, and the food didn’t suck. She can fry shrimp and softshell crabs like nobody’s business. And her baked beans are famous, all the way down to the Exumas, and the cole slaw was the best… and last but not least. her pineapple upside-down cake. Besides the food and company, there was one thing that I always looked forward to, and that was having a hot bubble bath, in her bear claw bathtub. Thanks Mom!
Bridlewood I got a call from my agent to fly up to Newport to meet Bridlewood, a 140 foot Feadship, so off I flew. This was the shortest stint I ever spent on a yacht. The captain’s wife flew in the next morning, just before we leaving port, to join us for the trip, and I helped her with her bags, being I was the only one up, it was really bad weather, so she took her raingear off, handed it to me, looked me up and down, and said that I was too young and too cute to be onboard, and to pack my bags and be off before we pulled off the dock, which gave me all of 20 minutes. It was so foggy that morning; you couldn’t see 10 feet in front of you. I felt like I was in a movie. When I went down below to pack, and gave my farewell hugs to my new found mates, the engineer and head stewardess packed their bags and jumped ship too. Never work on a yacht, when the captains wife is aboard, but doesn’t work on it. 64
Papparazzi When you’re on boats like I’d been for so many years, having your own space is priceless. I was really digging it big time. I decided to go back to school for photo journalism, and thought a bartending job at night would be good at a dinner place, so I set out to get a job, and had one before the day was over. That’s one thing I was good at …getting a job quick. The first night, they put me on the floor to cocktail, which pissed me off, and some old man grabbed my butt, and I quit. The owner had overheard me tell a customer, that I was a chef, and he asked me to follow him to the next building, so I did, and he unlocked the door of a really cute Italian Tratatoria, and said it was mine. I looked at him like he was crazy, and told him I had no restaurant experience. He then proceeded to tell me that he had been a yacht chef for several years, saved his money, and here he was with a piece of Ft. Lauderdale. Well I was impressed! Being that the Cajun House had always been one of my 65
favorite restaurants, which made his story come to life. He told me to think about it for the weekend, and let him know. The name of the restaurant was Paparazzi. I took the job, didn’t go to school, and the first night I had 2 tables, in three weeks we had a full house with one seating, in 6 weeks I was slammed for lunch and dinner, turning the tables over and doing at least 120 for dinner, with me in the kitchen and two waiters. It was a trip. Since I’d never been in a restaurant kitchen, I didn’t know that there were usually 2 people back there. It was a great experience, one that I’d never trade for anything, and I know now, if I did that, I can do anything. I did that for almost a year, then one day I came to work, and there was a padlock on the door. The owner didn’t pay the lease, so back to the cottage I went, and gave my agent a call
Reality It was late spring, and there were lots of crews changing jobs, to get to where they wanted to be for that season, so it was just a matter of where I wanted to go. My granddaddy Harry wasn’t well, so I decided to stay on the east coast, New England. I joined Reality, a 97 ft. Broward for the charter season, based out of Newport, Rhode Island, took my bike with me, and cooked, cooked, cooked. I had a great stewardess, Jodi, and we got along great. We became sisters, and helped each other get thoughout the madness. We had some really great people charter the boat, made great tips, and on our time off, I was checking out the best restaurants in New York City, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Cape Cod, Block Island, and Atlantic City. My favorite charter was 3 days long. We met Mark in New York City, at the marina by the World Trade Center. Mark was a furrier, and had chartered the boat to have a cocktail party for the American Express Executives, in hope to getting his brochure of his furs in each cardholder’s monthly bill. There were 41 people, and it lasted for 3 hours. The party went great, he didn’t even stay on the boat that night, which was weird, but the next morning when I went up to get the coffee going, he’d already been on board, and left 2 dozen red roses, and a very large box with my name on it…”I couldn’t have done it without you”! I opened the box and in it was a black mink and fox coat! Ta! Da! It was raining really hard, so I waited for it to slack off a little, put my coat on and an umbrella up, and walked over to see Dennis Conner on Stars and Striped, topsiders and all. What a trip!! 68
Always do your best, your best will be different if you’re sick or sad, but as long as you know you’ve done your best, you can be proud of yourself. We headed south offshore, stopping in Beaufort, for one of my moms Seafood Feasts, and rum fest, and I got to show the crew my home port, and Blackbeard’s house, which was a hoot, and we were back at sea in 2 days, on our way to Ft. Lauderdale to the Broward Boat Yard. Boatyards are not the ultimate place you want to be. It can be pretty toxic. Usually the boat is hauled out of the water, and it’s just a big hassle to get on and off with groceries. But you do it, because it has to be done, warranty work, and I had my apartment to go back to, which was my saving grace. We all left the boat shortly after that.
Cistern Cay I got a call from a friend of a friend telling me there was a gig going on in the Exumas on a private island called Cistern Cay, and to give this girl in Nassau a call, so I did. It sounded really interesting. It would be a 4-day weekend party, 14 couples, and every night there would be a theme. I provisioned in Ft. Lauderdale for the stuff I couldnâ€™t get in Nassau, and flew on a private jet into Nassau to finish provisioning, and then took a boat with all the stuff down to the Cay. My Aunt Donna went with me to help, thank the Goddess. I had to anticipate every ounce Iâ€™d need of every ingredient, because there are no stores anywhere near the island, and felt very organized. 75
We had a Mexican Fiesta one night, a Junkanoo another, a real traditional Hawaiian Luau on the beach one evening, and then the Roaring 20â€™s Classic French cuisine the last night. For each setting there were 4 plates, Bakarac Crystal, Red Wine, White Wine, Champagne, and water glasses, and no dishwater and very limited cistern water. That was a trip. It chartered for $40,000.00 a week. I stayed after they left the island, and had Phillip, one of the two brothers that owned the island come for a week. He and his friends were a blast to be around, and they were always coming in the kitchen, hanging out with me, wanting to learn and talk.
I spent a lot of time on Cistern Cay. It is one of the most special places in my memories of my life. There were 6 beaches on the island, and no footprints. It was like a treasure hunt. We were self-contained, with generators, gas, and cistern water, and at 9:00 every night, the generator was turned off, so it was completely silent. Just the birds, bugs, and laughter. The Mc Taggart family bought a lot of the islands in the Bahamian National Seashore Park, just to make sure it wasnâ€™t developed. They are some of the neatest people I ever worked for. I think about them often. 76
Be open to the world, it is open to you
Jefferson Beach We had the gear and compressor on board, so people got to dive. I got to as well, since there would be an odd number, and everyone needed a buddy. I loved doing the drift dives. My agent called and said they needed a massage therapist on a 166 ft. Feadship called Jefferson Beach, so I was off with my table to join the boat in Miami Beach. I would join the boat when one particular couple chartered it, and we’d go to the Bahamas. There was a crew of 14, and since there was only 2 to 4 guest at the most, when I was on board, the crew wasn’t under much duress. It was weird not cooking, but I definitely didn’t mind, it was a nice break. Even though I traveled with my massage table on all the boats, I only did maybe 3 a week. On Jefferson Beach I did usually 2 or 3 a day, which still wasn’t much. Never get on a charter yacht, if the captain doesn’t split the tips.
Lady Swenson and Jewel of the Aisle Still freelancing.. I worked on 2 different yachts with Capt. Carl for five years, named Lady Swenson, a 86 ft. Cheoy Lee, and Jewel of the Isle, a 70 ft. Hatteras. They both chartered heavily, in New England and the Exumas. We were always busy. As soon as the charter guests left, the owners were flying in. Capt. Carl was a Dive Master with the dingy; it was like being an angel in heaven. I cooked a lot of Lobster, Grouper, Snapper, and Conch, and New England lots of Maine Lobster. On my occasional night off in Nassau, while provisioning, I’d go to the Poop Deck, my favorite local’s restaurant, and have Cracked Conch, Peas and Rice, and Guava Duff. They have the best Guava Duff in the Bahamas. If you’re ever in Hiborne Cay, Exuma, look for the Green Flash at sunset off the fish cleaning dock. It really happens.
Before the reef shark closes in!
Llamas on Marthaâ€™s Vineyard
Allanâ€™s Cay, Exuma, Bahamas
The Symonette’s The 5.5 Meter Worlds were about to happen in Nassau, and the Symonettes’ were hosting the crews in their home for dinner parties every night, so I flew in to cook. They treated me like family, and invited me to all the events that were going on. On a per hour basis, I met more people than ever from all over the world. They had beautiful home and great kids. Bobby Symonette was very into Yacht Racing since the 50’s, all over the world. I had great respect for him. I still go and visit Dianne when in Nassau. I feel like she’s one of my moms….lucky me. Sometimes you get to choose your family. I had been making “Joni’s Sassy Caesar” for about a year, and selling it to local yacht chefs, restaurants, and gourmet stores. It was going well, and my business was growing, and I was getting excited about the fact that this might really happen, so I moved back to Beaufort, where rent is a lot cheaper to pursue the Salad Dressing Business. I was flying all over the world still cooking, had a home base and the dressing was going great. All in all life was good. 104
Phantom I got a call from Capt. Ian Kerr, the Capt. of Phantom, a 102 ft. Feadship, saying they were off shore, and heading to Beaufort, did I want to work? They were going to be in Beaufort for a month, then head to Palm Beach, then the Exumas. It sounded good; I met with the crew, it all seemed cool, the money good, so I said yes. For the first month I just walked across the street to go home, and back in the morning to go to work. The boat was gorgeous, and I was proud to be on her, and to top it all off, the owners were from North Carolina. 108
We had great weather the whole winter, no guests Christmas, so we went to the beach and went snorkeling all day, and had a BBQ for dinner at Staniel Cay. After dinner we were at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, and I ran into my best friend Mary’s dad. We laughed it up, walked to the only payphone on the island, and tried calling her, the phone was dead, and too much salt spray I guess. In Georgetown, Exuma, every boat in the marina was from North Carolina, and it felt good. Even Jackie Onassis was on one of them. She told me she had been enjoying my Sassy Caesar for sometime, and to please ship them more, when I got back to Beaufort. She was just chatting away, meanwhile I must have been ghost white, then red, and thought I’d throw up…thank God I didn’t. She was so sweet to even say something to me…. but we’re all human now aren’t we! Besides that being the coolest thing that happened during that winter, we went to San Salvador, for New Years Eve and day. I needed eggs, for Chocolate Crème Brule, so the mate took me ashore, and I went to the local grocery shack to pick my eggs from the coop. I met a 94 year old woman that still had the Arrawak Indian blood line so thick, it was like going back in time hundreds of years. Just imagining Columbus discovering the new world, meeting these people, and everything that went with that era, was so cool. Always run out of eggs, when you know you’re going to a new port.
“Last of the Tiramasu”
This page and previous: San Salvador, Exumas
Christina I got a phone call from my agent, one of the chefs on a 130 ft. Broward, Christina, had to have surgery, and they needed a chef stat. I was on board within 24 hours. She was a private yacht, and the owner hardly ever had guests. We were a crew of 5, 3 girls, and 2 guys, unusual….but good! We cruised from Ft. Lauderdale through the Abacos to Harbor Island, North Eluthra, and Nassau. I cooked home-style food, which was way different for me, and he ate with the crew. The crew was very diverse. The captain had bee an Alaskan King Crab Boat Capt. in Alaska, the stewardess had been a designer in New York City, the Engineer was into Sports Fishing big time, and the deckhand was the Capt. little sister, learning the ropes. Since we only had, at the most 2 guests, we got to know each other real well in such a short time. If you don’t have brothers and sisters, it doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a few along the way! 125
Harbor Island, Eleuthera
Westport 130 Back to Beaufort for the summer season, cooking in beach cottages, and the token yacht in port, and making lots of yummy dressing. My friend Tilly had been doing the same thing as me for years, and had moved back to the Outer Banks as well. She had called the week before, and asked me what I was doing this winter…..well I wasn’t quite sure, but I didn’t want to be cold. The phone rang, and it was my agent wanting to know if myself and somebody else wanted to go to the Caribbean for the winter. But I needed to bring a Stewardess with me, so I called Tilly. We flew to Ft. Lauderdale, the yachting Mecca. It was two weeks before Christmas, and we were supposed to be in St. Marteen Christmas Eve. We did a 48-hour marathon provisioning stint, with two Christmas trees (they asked for two) and all the decorations to boot. We left port, got into the Gulf Stream, and started taking on water, so we went back to Port and got hauled out to fix the problem. Without doing a sea trial, we left again to head south, got out in the gulf stream again, and the same thing happened. By the time we got to Pier 66 back in Lauderdale, the liaison had bought a 130 Westport over the phone, and we were backing up to it and taking all provisions off, as well as two Christmas trees. It was total madness. The kind of madness that makes you wonder if you are really supposed to be here now. We headed out again, without the original Captain, who had hired us, and beat our brains out all the way to Puerto Rico, refueled, and deadheaded it to St. Marteen. Meanwhile, there’s a 41 ft. Bertram following us, which was the owner’s fishing boat. 130
Tilly and I decorated the trees from Puerto Rico to St. Marteen, and baked Christmas goodies, and was started dinner. We made it to Simpson Bay, but not in time for the opening of the bridge, that would have let us in to a safe, calm harbor. So we are 300 yards off the beach with 17 people on the beach calling us on the satellite phone telling us to pick them up. But the thing was, there was a four-foot ground swell, and we couldn’t put the tender over to pick them up, in fear of it crashing through the plate glass main saloon window. We just couldn’t do it. They were not happy campers, and it wasn’t out fault. but that didn’t matter. It was madness, on a boat with no name. When they did get on Christmas morning, it wasn’t much better, and they found their own ride out. We started distributing seasick bands to everybody, but they stayed so drunk, I don’t think they felt the movement. All in all there were 24 people on board. People were sleeping everywhere. There were only supposed to be eight guests. Thank the Goddess I had tons of stuff in the deep freezer, and Tilly and I were friends…..I just hoped she would talk to me when this was all over. When the ex-wife and girlfriend are both on board, you know it’s going to be a memorable cruise.
The rest of these are miscellaneous images collected along the way...
The Maxi Racing Yacht Congere
Whale watch station in the Azores
Marsh Harbor, Abacos
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Southern Outer Banks, North Carolina
Shiwara & Seven
This book was prepared by Nancy Toothman of Conk Point Graphix. www.conkpointgraphix or www.nanart.us
Chef Joni Dennis' travels as a charter yacht chef through the Caribbean.