The Hunter/Gatherer Gene

Apr 19, 2020| 4 Comments

Over 3 weeks on the boat we are, and we are starting to run low on certain food items. Fruit has all been eaten except for 2 oranges and a mango that absolutely refuses to ripen. Fresh veggies are down to just root ones: white potatoes, kumara (sweet potato), carrots, pumpkin (yes, pumpkin is a veggie over here and not solely for pie and bread), and winter squash. Of those, The Captain will only willingly eat white potatoes and carrots. The disguises she has to invent to get pumpkin to go down that gullet! He will eat the winter squash varieties if they are slathered with butter and brown sugar, but that she considers more dessert than veggie dish. Generally, the food in New Zealand is right on par with the US. The exception is frozen vegetables. Oh, how she would salivate at the sight of a package of petite frozen peas or sweet baby corn! Neither has she found here. Peas are large and mealy. So is the frozen corn. Both are only good in soups or stews where other ingredients disguise their mushy taste. Her freezer still has plenty of the usual run of protein – chicken, beef, pork and lamb, but with her cuisine creativity genes stymied due to the lack of other ingredients, dinner dishes are looking very uninteresting and mundane at the  moment.

The First Mate has discovered, however, that her dormant Hunter/Gatherer Gene is kicking into action. The problem is that the knowledge that once was imbedded in said gene has been lost over centuries of non-use. On days when we are anchored off islands offering hiking trails, she has found herself fixated on the surrounding vegetation. Is this or that edible? She wonders if those ancient Hunter/Gatherers would be laughing at her ignorance. Here she is walking past or, worse, stomping on missed opportunities to add something good and healthy to the larder. What a shame! She needs a book, a veritable encyclopedia of long-forgotten edibles found in nature all around us. A friendly naturalist would do, too.

Look at these beautiful mushrooms! She was told by a Kiwi friend that the white ones with brown undersides are good to eat, but watch out for the brown ones. She sees brown ones, but white ones are scarce. These here are neither all white nor all brown. More like creamy beige. Dare she try them? Dice them up, cook them in butter and garlic, add them to rice? A mild hallucinogenic trip aboard the good ship to while away a do-nothing day might be a neat diversion, but no, she dare not risk any other possible malady. The mushrooms are reluctantly left to spread their spores unmolested.


Look at these greens! Vibrant, fresh – what a great salad they would make! How we long for the taste and texture of a good salad. Should she pick them and gently carry them back to the boat where washed, sprinkled with salt, tossed with a little olive oil they will add joy to our taste buds? No, she does believe The Captain would not appreciate her causing him intestinal distress with a bunch of greens that were only meant for 4-footed vegetarians. She passes them by.


Vegetation from the wild is thus nixed. She knows it is out there, growing all around her, but the knowledge of good and evil is lost with that distant gene. There is, however, another source of variety for the menu. The sea! Teaming with edibles it is.

There are fish swimming below her. Snapper seems to be the predominant catch here in the bay. The Captain is not an enthusiastic salt water fisher person where all you do is drop a baited hook in the water and wait for a dumb fish to bite. He prefers fly fishing which requires cunning and expertise to tempt a trout to go after the fly. The First Mate is not really all that enthusiastic about “going” fishing. It’s a messy process in her mind, but that dormant Hunter/Gatherer gene of hers itches at the opportunity.

She convinces The Captain to take her out in the dinghy to fish. This activity we discovered a week later was in violation of Level 4, as no recreational boating is allowed, and motoring around in one’s dinghy is considered a recreational activity. Unaware of this, we innocently head out into the bay. The First Mate has a container of slimy squid for bait and her small, baby blue $50 child’s fishing pole The Captain bought for this activity of hers because he would not spend anymore than that on it. She does not mind. It works, though she does wonder what would happen if she ever had a really big fish on it. He is fussing, for he sees no reason why she will not take off in the dinghy by herself. She refuses to do so saying that fishing from the dinghy requires 2 people. “It certainly requires one who knows how to competently operate the motor,” silently mutters The Captain. “No,” she counters. “When a fish is brought on board, it takes one to unhook the fish and the other to hold the pole.” She knows for sure if she were alone, in her scramble to free the fish, the pole would end up on the ocean bed, and she also knows that if that were to happen, that would be the last pole he ever bought her! So, it is two people to go fishing in the dinghy. No argument, and having nothing better to do, he consents to her demands.

We motor out a fair distance from Avante toward a reef marked by a buoy. Initially, nothing bites. Then we get a few small snapper which do not meet the 30cm size limit we have marked on our pole. Finally, one bites that is longer than the mark. A keeper. We just need one more for dinner tonight. An hour goes by with nothing but undersized fish. Dusk is upon us. The Captain gives a 10-minute warning, and then, WOW!, something heavy and strong is on the line. The pole is bending into a “C”. Will it hold? She asks The Captain to take over. He refuses. The wrestling goes on, but finally she swings the fish into the boat with a great, looping arc that just misses The Captain’s head.


A big, whopping Snapper she has caught, and it is more than big enough for 2 for dinner. The first snapper now looks so very small next to our big one. She feels sorry for it now, but it will do for lunch tomorrow.


Along certain beaches, there are cockles and pipis for the picking. Different variety of clams they are, but if you catch the low tide at the wrong time, these edibles are not exactly laying around on the sand waiting to be picked up by greedy hands. Arriving too early or too late in the low tide cycle means that harvesting these bivalve mollusks requires one to dig in the sand. The First Mate calls it “mucking”. Squat down in the water, dig in and work your fingers through the soft, mushy sand to feel for the shells. Secure one in your hand, bring it up, rinse it off and place it gently in the mesh bag you brought to hold your finds. It is not exactly her favorite activity, but it is one that The Captain is always eager to do. In fact, he is the instigator of these Hunter/Gatherer forays.

The issue for her is that if one is forced to “muck” for these clams, in a very short while, it becomes back breaking, leg burning work. “Do we have enough yet?” is the thought that runs through her mind. It really does not take as long as it feels it does. In about 20 minutes, we come away with a nice bucket of clams. Next, back on the boat, we scrub each shell to get off sand, grit and these small, round slimy things that cling to them. After that operation, which takes about 30 minutes, all clams are left to soak in sea water in the refrigerator until dinner. Obviously, one has to have leisurely time on one’s hands and a love of clams to view this activity as a great source of sustenance, but in the end, it is.


Linguini con Vongole – The Captain’s favorite Italian meal, and eyeing a heap of clams on his plate, far more than any restaurant had ever given him, is worth the effort. This Hunter/Gatherer meal is now added to our menu at least once a week.


Wednesday, April 15th – Enough with going native with the Hunter/Gatherer gene! Schweppes Tonic for our G&Ts does not grow on trees, and neither does the soap to wash our dishes. We need to restock. After a very windy day and night sheltering from it all in Opunga Bay, today we will motor the one and a half hours to the anchorage off the marina in Opua. On shore, we will drop off 3-weeks accumulation of trash, pick up a friend’s car and drive into Paihia to the Countdown grocery store.

We have been told by yachtie friends who have ventured forth on such exploratory trips that the grocery stores are pretty well stocked. There are limits on what one can buy at one time. No hoarding of TP allowed here, and the same applies to such items as eggs, hand sterilizer and potato chips. We hear that there are no set limits on meat, veggies and fruit as long as one does not go overboard on any one item. Shop for a few days, a week or three, but not for months on end. Still, we wonder what we will find. Our list is long, 3 weeks worth of goods, and we have some additional requests from 2 other boats.

Boat anchored, trash dumped, we drive into Paihia. Though we have spent lengthy periods aboard Avante before, there is a child-like sense of freedom being off the boat and out and about. There is also a weird, eery feeling with so few people and cars around. Paihia is a tourist town, and at this fine fall time of year, it should be tourist-crowded with perhaps a cruise ship anchored off shore. Arriving at Countdown, the line to enter snakes across the front of the store and down its side, but to our surprise, it does not take us as long as we had expected. The 6-foot spacing made the line appear longer than it was. Wiping the cart handle and our hands with the sanitizer wipes handed out by the store, we enter separately. With so much to buy, we know 2 carts (trollies as they are called here) will be needed.

As we were told, the store is well-stocked. Look at all those beautiful, vibrant vegetables and fruit! The First Mate is delighted. Her modern-day Hunter/Gatherer gene springs into action as she eagerly gathers in what she needs.


All items crossed off on our lists, we head to check out. A line is taped on the floor 6 feet from the cashier. Unnoticed by The First Mate, she steps over of it and is told to retreat. That she does. All goes smoothly until the 4 dozen eggs are questioned. Who needs that many? The First Mate replies that she is shopping for 2 other families. Oh, okay. The eggs are checked through as are the 3 large bunches of bananas. The First Mate pulls out her bags to start packing the goods. “No!” That is not allowed. All her items are dumped willy nilly into the trolly as she works quickly to keep the softer items from being squished. The Captain in his turn has the same experience with eyebrows being raised at the sight of so many bottles of wine in his cart. “Multiple families,” he says innocently. The bottles are checked through, but there are no multiple families for these bottles. They are all ours!

Out to the car we go with our 2 almost overflowing carts. Everything is sorted and loaded into our bags and then into the car. Back to the marina, we drive where everything is loaded into marina carts to wheel down the gangway to the waiting dinghy. All is then offloaded into the dinghy, motored out to the boat, lifted up onto the boat and then down into the galley where all must be sorted and stowed. Contemplating this rather tiring exercise, The First Mate feels a déjà vu moment with those ancient Hunter Gatherers. To harvest today’s food has taken the crew of Avante all day. We had to get to the hunting grounds. Then we had to forage for the food, though, unlike those ancient ones, we were fortunate to find what we needed. Upon returning to the cave (ie: the boat), our gathered items require further handling before food gains entry to mouth. It was a long day. Hunter/Gathering on Alert Level 4 is a time-consuming task!

    Comments (4)

  1. Always enjoy your blogs! The accompanying photos really show what you are experiencing. I feel as if I’m with you. Your wit and explanations add to the fun reading of your adventure. Always good to hear from you. Now I’ll go back to my coffee, newspaper, and dog. Stay safe. Love, Linda


  2. I enjoy your writing very much. I feel like we are on the trip with you both. I also respect what you have been doing.
    don freedman


  3. Georgiann Carroll

    Sue and Bill,
    In many ways your experiences sound like me here in Tucson. I only go to the market when it first opens at 6:00 AM or later in the day, when most people are having dinner. At Bashas, they have fresh squeezed orange juice on Wed. and Sunday. I arrive at 6:00 AM. Good fresh vegetables enclosed in bags, are limited and there is not much selection in fresh fruit. I have a freezer full of meat and Mexican food to take to Telluride next month.
    On Memorial we have a traditional family gathering at the cemetery. John is coming down from Telluride for the weekend as it is also his wife’s birthday.
    I remember one time when we were on a trip to Alaska, near Homer, and learned how Oyster’s are grown!! I learned how to swallow a raw Oyster!!!
    When you make it to Colorado; I’ll know what to fix Bill.
    Missing both of you.


  4. Hi Sue, This is Crystal from DaLee in Montrose! How random, I am sure. My family and I have been dreaming of living on a catamaran for years now and I thought to look at your blog to show them some of your adventures. If you would be willing, perhaps, we could email and do some Q&A? What a wonderful year to live on a boat!
    All the best!


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