What is the issue?A boat is a world which is not the most hospitable place for breakables. So some consideration has to be given to the durability of plates, dishes, cups, and glasses etc.
Why address this?The glasses and cups you drink out of and the crockery you eat off make a surprising difference to the amount you will enjoy your food. But it can easily get broken and glass particularly can cause injury. If you have tailored fitting retainers that keep the dinner set intact, to replace breakages you may have to refit the galley to snugly accommodate a set of a different size.
How to address this?The choices for plates, dishes, cups, and glasses aboard comes down to three products, Melamine, Polycarbonate and standard domestic crockery. You can get low-cost camping orientated acrylic and aluminium camping sets but these are not serious products for long-term use.
Melamine crockery provides a very safe option and looks like ceramic dinnerware. Although it is not totally unbreakable it will withstand almost any fall on a vessel. The highest quality melamine has a double pressed coating to make it scratch resistant. You can detect this typically by it price, but also by tapping your fingernails on the surface, the double pressed version gives a clicking sound closer to that of China.
Photo: Kleon3 via CC ASA 4.0
Melamine comes in a wide range of colours and designs although some can overdo the nautical theme to a significant degree. Upmarket nautical melamine products can also come with a non-skid ring to help protect tabletops and prevent sliding at sea. It is lighter than conventional tableware and easier to stow.
The big problem with melamine is you will never quite escape the feeling that you are eating off plastic and that somehow never feels right. This is particularly the case when it comes to drinking from it.
The second disadvantage is that it wears quickly and takes in deep stains. Knives mar the surface of plates and manufacturers expressly prohibit the use of serrated knives on melamine products. Melamine does not take well to boiling water which tends to make it craze, allowing tea/coffee into the cracks to make an unpleasant looking stain. Within a few month's of constant use and everyday washing, melamine products will have typically become dull. This will in no way reduce its serviceability, but the set will look tired and lacklustre.
Melamine is also slightly harder to clean as no abrasive cleaners such as steel wool or metal scouring pads nor chlorine bleach can be used upon it. Stubborn tea stains, however, can be taken out with a bit of baking soda. Another issue is, being plastic based, you cannot 'warm the plates' in a conventional oven nor use them in a microwave and they are not dishwasher safe, even for a final end of season clean down.
We struggled with this problem when setting off on our circumnavigation. We had an unusually shaped light and attractive set of China aboard, and the galley was tailored with slides to snugly receive it. We knew that if we broke any we would never find an exact replacement and would have to refit the galley to suit a new dinner set. Not knowing what to do and finding the tableware so enjoyable we prevaricated until I read in an old dog-eared sailing book... do not trouble with any of those patent unbreakable products, china is much more pleasant and you will break no more afloat than ashore. That was the nudge we needed to do nothing and carry on.
Photo: Courtesy of Suck UK
Sure enough, this old wisdom turned out to be a perfectly good observation for us. During our three year circumnavigation, we used only domestic tableware and glasses. In three years of sailing, where we encountered several beltings, which included passing through the eye of two cyclones, we only broke one small dish. This was dropped by accident in a sleepy, flat calm anchorage. We were not careless with the tableware but we were far from fastidious. So I would tend to agree with the old stoic, there is no particular reason why normal domestic tableware should not work on a vessel.
To ensure good service and convenience it is desirable to specifically arrange the galley area to have tightly tailored slots and seats for the china to be stored in.
The benefit of using conventional tableware is that it does not cost a lot so you can be less precious about it and it is easier to clean. If the galley is tailored to the tableware it makes sense to choose a set or brand where replacements can be bought in the future to replace those accidental breakages that occur. Alternatively, as it is inexpensive, buy a second set on the day to be stowed in the attic for the occasional replacement.
Corelle is a brand of glassware and dishware made of Vitrelle that is the best of both worlds. It was introduced by Corning Glass Works in 1970, but is now manufactured and sold by World Kitchen and sold under the brand name Corelle. Vitrelle is a tempered glass product consisting of two types of glass laminated in three layers. Although they are thinner than the other dinnerware, they have strength due to thermal bonding of the layers.
Photo: Courtesy of Corelle
Corelle looks and feels like real ceramic, it is safe to use in the dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave and pre-heated oven, and like melamine is almost unbreakable and chip resistant. Because Vitrelle is also lighter and thinner than typical ceramic plates, when stacked they take up less space than conventional plates and bowls. But unlike melamine, they can stand up to the rigours of everyday use and still look great. It even has a three-year replacement warranty against breakage and chipping and after this period replacement pieces are usually available should you get unlucky.
In short, it is simply perfect, save for one very important factor. It is vastly more expensive than conventional crockery by a factor of three to four times.
Of all the tableware, glassware is the most pleasurable item to drink out of. This is even marked by what is being consumed and when it comes to a wine even the quality and type of the glass comes into question. Try sipping your next fine wine out of a fruit juice glass tumbler or a crystal glass and draw your own conclusion. So if you enjoy your wine it is worthwhile setting aside a locker to create
a bespoke rack especially tailored for stem glasses and glass tumblers.
Tumblers for water above deck are typically made out of acrylic and are fine. You can get a polycarbonate tumbler that is nice and heavy and very close to the experience of glass. Although not glass, polycarbonate is both lighter and genuinely unbreakable.
However, returning to one of the least favourite chores aboard, washing dishes, acrylic and polycarbonate are much harder to clean as they may be scratched or damaged if cleaned with abrasive brushes. Buffing with a microfibre glass polishing cloth may remove light scuffs. Aniseed based drinks cannot be used with polycarbonate as they will leave a permanent stain; Pernod, Anis, Ricard, Raki and Ouzo - so there goes some fun too. Good polycarbonate glasses are not overly expensive but you could get a set of normal glasses for the price of one good quality tumbler.
If expense is no option there is a much more durable product made by Fusion Glassware. Similar to Corellle, Fusion Glassware use a special process to fuse European crystal with super-strong magnesium to form a durable, lightweight, graceful wine glass. The result is a glass that truly is more robust and more capable of dealing with the trials and tribulations aboard a yacht. Most importantly, if you drop one it is shatterproof, dramatically reducing the danger of scattered broken glass. Fusion also comes with a 10-Year Limited Warranty which they honour.
Crockery is always nicer, plastic is less unbreakable and when you try to bring these properties together it becomes disproportionately expensive. So there is no silver bullet here for everyone. The one outstanding advantage that melamine and Vitrelle based products have is that they are significantly lighter than a solid domestic tableware set. This could be very important if you have a vessel that, needs to shed weight wherever possible such as on a catamaran for instance.
When selecting a set try to aim for products that do not taper and have wide supporting bases so they have a good footing and are less likely to topple. A really helpful addition is to get mugs with big differentiating numbers on them, so when they are put down together or are getting topped up it is easy to know which mug belongs to who. Also, don't forget a clutch of thermal mugs for cool weather sailing.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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