Counting Boat Blessings

 by Carolyn Corbett

Author in cockpit for festivities.

When Thanksgiving rolls around, I am always particularly thankful when I am cruising in the Bahamas. It's given me the opportunity to substitute lobster for fowl as the featured protein, to count boating blessings and life blessings, and to call home to find out if the water back in Minnesota has transformed from liquid form to a solid state!
Godspede's Log: Thanksgiving Day 1992 ~ West End to Great Sale. We left West End at 0730 in company with five other boats ~ a veritable flotilla! Threaded our way through Indian Cay Cut and then hoisted the sails for a close-hauled cruise to Mangrove Cay. Sunny, warm, and windy. I soaked up sun like a nature baby and it felt terrific! Motorsailed from Mangrove on to Great Sale, cutting the corner by Mangrove and creating consternation among the Magenta Line Followers. Arrived at Great Sale at 1550, where we dropped the dinghy in Bahamian water for the first time this year. Dave went whooping and hollering around the anchorage to celebrate our return to the Abacos. Over cocktails we discussed our perfect day and planned our holiday dinner: turkey that I had home-canned back in Minnesota last summer, real mashed  potatoes, and canned green peas. It was wonderful ~ almost as wonderful as being back in the Abacos! I was so worn out that I hit the v-berth at 2000 hours.
The next morning I awoke an hour after my husband only to discover he had single-handedly, without any obvious signs of guilt, remorse, or self-control, consumed the final three cigarettes remaining aboard the good ship Godspede. While I am delighted to be among the ranks of non-smokers today, he was lucky at that point to live to see December 1st!
Godspede's Log: Thanksgiving Day 1993 ~ Fox Town, Abaco. Ron and Gloria Carlson, a very delightful, very Australian couple, took it upon themselves to sponsor a Thanksgiving celebration for the four boats anchored off Fox Town in the Abaco ~ the participants in their "Snow Bird Rally" to the Bahamas. As a trough passed overhead, we joined Bob and Terry Ingalls from Vigilant, Igor and Gertrude Klaehre from Island Song, and Ron, Gloria and their son Glen on their 40 foot Naut Yacht, Yaraandoo II, for a great Turkey Day. The Carlson's hospitality was unparalleled, their stories fascinating, and the feast was complete with the traditional (canned) bird. Over champagne I asked this couple, whose boat name means "Southern Cross" in aborigine, why they were celebrating this very American holiday. "Any reason to party," said our friends from Down Under, " is a good reason to party!"
Godspede's holiday menu has always included the traditional mashed potatoes and stuffing, but the featured protein was more likely to be lobster than turkey. Since boat galleys don't lend themselves well to pastry production on a grand scale, Thanksgiving desert aboard Godspede up until this point had "traditionally" consisted of pudding, not pie. I just couldn't see myself in a hot galley rolling out pie crust to the motion of the ocean. But all that changed this Thanksgiving day in 1993, anchored off this tiny town in the northern Abacos. For Vigilant's first mate, Terry, showed up aboard Yaraandoo with a pumpkin pie ~ a lovely, tastebud-tantalizing pumpkin pie ~ leading me to conclude that Terry had been a pastry chef in a former life and no doubt boasted state-of-the-art galley equipment in her current incarnation!
Well, I didn't know if the causerinas were any greener on the other side of Fox Town, but I knew without a shadow of doubt that the cuisine was superior on Terry's side of the anchorage. My admiration for this woman only grew when she told me her creation was called "Impossible Pumpkin Pie" and promised to share the recipe with me before we set sail once again.
True to her word, Terry delivered first thing the next morning. I was sitting in the cockpit, sipping my first cup of coffee, when I heard a splash from the direction of the Ingalls' Bristol 36. A moment later I spied Terry, swimming the stretch of water between our boats, with the recipe safely sealed in a Ziplock bag clenched between her teeth!
Bifrost's Log: Thanksgiving Day 1996 ~ Green Turtle Cay, Abaco. Dave came home! I did laundry, made macaroni salad, cleaned the boat, cleaned the dinghy, bought groceries, and then Bolo arrived and Dave was home! We were invited ashore to the Other Shore Club to share holiday ham and turkey with Babs, Alan, Trudy, Huddy, Bob, and Christy. I baked the Impossible Pumpkin Pies this year.
This was definitely a November to remember. On November 16 Huddy motored out to our mooring with a message for Dave to call home. Papa, Dave's 81-year-old father had had a heart attack, was in the hospital in Florida, and was facing 5-way bypass surgery. Dave spoke with the head nurse at the hospital who recommended that he not come home yet ~ that his parents would need him more during the recovery period after the surgery. A very short time later there was another phone call from Papa's doctor himself, telling Dave he should come home that day.
We had one hour and fifteen minutes to unearth appropriate clothes, bags, passport, cruising papers, cash, and phone numbers from their assorted lockers. Babs, bless her heart, made all Dave's travel arrangements from her phone ashore while I helped him pack. Before we'd had time to genuinely comprehend all the circumstances, Bolo arrived to ferry Dave across the Sea of Abaco to the taxi land at Treasure Cay, and Mizzen and I were onboard alone.
We indeed had much to be thankful for when Papa was removed from the critical list following serious complications, and after 10 days away Dave returned to Black Sound and Bifrost on Thanksgiving Day.
Bifrost's Log: Thanksgiving Day 1998 ~ Norman's Cay, Exuma. I did the morning chores, baked two pumpkin pies, and dinghied around to invite the three other boats in the anchorage to join us ashore later to eat the pies. Then we headed off in the dinghy to explore nearby Shroud Cay, part of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. We left a new notebook in the Cruiser's Mailbox, read notes of those who had visited before us, and took a bunch of photos. And sure enough, some stretches of it do look like scenes from "African Queen," just like the guide says!
Back to Bifrost for Thanksgiving dinner in the cockpit ~ lobster, stuffing, sweet potatoes, wine, and freshly baked bread, courtesy of Music. We were stuffed! Ashore later to share wine, pumpkin pie, and sand fleas with six just-met friends and a pretty white pooch.
Fellow cruising folk are our family on the water ~ our home away from home friends. We share ordinary days, special days, and holidays. So I asked other cruising couples to share their holiday traditions and their most memorable Thanksgiving Days…

A perfect Thanksgiving morning for exploring Shroud Cay in the Exuma Cay Land and Sea Park

Jim Smith and Cheryl Belanger prepare traditional holiday menus aboard Ajax and interact with fellow cruisers. Karen and Mike Grubbs find cruiser potlucks to be their main solution to handling holidays now that they live aboard Faire Linda. They are joined by many who speak fondly of "meaningful, but casual potluck picnics."
Michael and Britta Jarvis haven't found trading cold northern Thanksgivings for holidays aboard Laudance to be a hardship! What they have missed, they say, is the colorful fall foliage and the bounty from their vegetable and herb gardens.
Deborah Pfeffer enjoyed her most memorable Turkey Day in Beaufort, South Carolina. It was 1996 when Deborah and her husband sailed in aboard their Shannon 38. They met the owner of Emily's Restaurant, a former cruiser with over 20 years of experience on the water. "He knows what it's like to be out here," said Deborah. "He closed his restaurant to the public and opened it to cruisers and a few locals who are sort of out-of-the-mainstream too. He put on a magnificent feast for about 50 people."
All the tables were pushed into one long banquet table where everyone gathered around, ate, talked and made new friends. Deborah described this Thanksgiving as "stress-free and free-free. The man didn't charge a penny. No cooking and no wondering if the relatives are all getting along."
Thanksgiving also found Pat and Lori Power in Beaufort, where local church members had prepared turkey with all the trimmings and the transient boaters on the ICW were welcome. The Powers are among many who have sampled the flavor and hospitality of this waterway town and they pronounce Thanksgiving in Beaufort to be "a real cruiser's treat!"
A local Episcopal mission in Beaufort initiated this Thanksgiving event in the early 1980's. When the mission church closed, St. Helena's took the project on and it continues today. This year marks the 24th annual Thanksgiving Community Dinner. Some 400 meals are served each year, about half of them take-outs, and all leftover food is given to a local charity. There is no charge; those who are able make a contribution, those who are not able are welcomed regardless. Cruisers who celebrate the holiday at the Community Dinner see folks from all walks of life ~ the haves and have nots, singles, families, the young and the elderly. Dinner guests arrive wearing their best or their boat shoes and for two hours on a brisk fall afternoon all are family.
South Carolina is a popular spot for spending Thanksgiving. Andrew, Norma, and Ian Mellor celebrated their most memorable Thanksgiving in Georgetown one chilly November day. About 20 people from seven or eight boats combined forces, borrowed the social hall of the local Episcopal Church (it was too cold for a picnic), and had a wonderful potluck dinner. Over half of the boats had children aboard and it was a particularly special holiday for them when a single-hander revealed the balloons he'd brought to the potluck and made balloon creations for all the kids! "It was a wonderful day of sharing," said Marawuti's crew.
The reputation of the annual Cruisers Thanksgiving Celebration in Vero Beach, Florida, has spread up and down the eastern seaboard ~ two decades worth of stories of Thanksgiving dinners where food and conversation abound. This annual event easily draws 150 or more cruisers, and as its popularity has grown, so has the attendance, doubling (sometimes tripling) the number of boats per mooring at the municipal marina as the holiday approaches.
Singer/songwriter Eileen Quinn says, "Experiencing Thanksgiving at Vero is like witnessing a well-rehearsed military operation. It's a great opportunity to meet up with old friends and make new acquaintances. The only problem is that it might have become too popular." In November of 2002 the number of transient boats hit an all-time record ~ a total of 124 boats on 40 moorings!
Volunteers sell tickets, arrange for catering, rent a nearby community hall, and organize serving and clean-up committees. The turkey and trimmings (dressing, potatoes, bread) are provided with the price of admission, and each crew brings a dish to share. The giant potluck dinner, preceded by cocktail hour, offers guests the chance to mingle with boat buddies, and the day has been known to start with a book/video/equipment exchange.
Folks winding their way down the ICW from colder climes find themselves especially thankful for their first-ever holiday spent in shorts and many cruisers walk their overstuffed tummies along the beach after dinner. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this annual boater's bash, so if you can't make it to grandmother's house, you might seriously consider heading over the ICW and through the markers to Vero Beach.
"We've had Thanksgiving dinners offshore," says Diana Prentice, "then pulled into a port to find interesting strangers who were willing to celebrate again. Once we made arrangements for a delayed Thanksgiving celebration on the VHF. We were off the coast of Georgia on the day after Thanksgiving, and as I came up for my watch, I heard someone on the radio that I knew. They were just leaving an anchorage on the ICW, headed for Jekyll Island, so we decided to turn right at St. Simons inlet and meet them there. What a fun and totally unexpected special holiday!"
As Thanksgiving approaches, Diana always buys two frozen Cornish game hens, cranberry sauce, and other trimmings for a holiday dinner. If she and Randy are alone on the holiday and decide to go to a restaurant, they always eat at the bar where they meet more people, start conversations, and often end up with new friends. The hens will keep under Strider's freezer for several weeks, though they won't fit in the Adler Barbour freezer compartment itself. This way she knows she has what she needs for a special dinner wherever that are and whenever they want it at Thanksgiving time. "And we have had these quiet-just-us holiday dinners in some of the most beautiful and magical anchorages. More memories!"

Carolyn Corbett is a freelance writer who currently resides in Backus, Minnesota.