Holiday gift ideas: inspired by social side of cruising

boats at anchor in tropical blue water off a beautiful beach on a lush Bahamian island

  

The cruising lifestyle shimmers with a wide social streak; gathering for cockpit sundowners or beach barbecues is routine, and comes with distinct practices. Using these rituals as a springboard for holiday gift ideas spurred a fun conversation (and opinions!) around the boatyard lounge this morning, one which will probably be reprised around the firepit tonight. Here are a gift ideas for your favorite sailor to enjoy or anticipate cruising, bundled with insight into a few unwritten rules of cruiser etiquette. 

Why are cruisers such social creatures? Probably because we have time for it. As a species, humans are wired to make social connections. It was just harder to find time to accommodate the drive when we were juggling two jobs, shuffling kids to school and activities, travel for work, etc. Our lives are simpler now, and while our plates still get pretty darn full there’s an entirely different level of freedom to make time.

How do you meet cruisers?

It could be helping someone pull their dinghy up a beach or striking up conversation at the laundromat nearest the dinghy dock (those waterproof laundry bags could only belong to another cruiser). It might be paddling by another boat in a SUP and hailing “hello aboard!” or knocking on the hull from a dinghy.

What do you bring when you’re invited to another boat for sundowners?

Unless the boat is schmancy enough employ staff it is de rigueur to arrive with your own supplies. At a minimum, that means you should bring your choice of beverage. Why does this matter to cruisers? We typically carry limited provisions centered around meeting our own needs. It’s a function of space (can’t support a full bar), and budget (can’t afford a full bar), and availability (might be metering the rum because we’ve literally counted the months until a place to resupply and stocked accordingly). We didn’t appreciate behaviors we took for granted until sitting in the cockpit of SV Fortytwo in Langakwi, Malaysia, a few years ago. Invited for sundowners, we showed up with our usual kit – to the amusement of the European crew. 

Gift idea: Soda Stream makes bottomless fizzy water. I’ve never been big on carbonated beverages because 1) too sweet 2) packaging. Solved. 

Gift idea: homemade bonus! Package a syrup or infusion to make that fizzy water an awesome mixer. Ginger syrup is about as simple as boiling up ginger and sugar in water; voila, ginger ale! Just add rum for a Dark & Stormy.

Because Totem’s crowd is, well, a crowd – we also bring our glasses. Many boats are minimally supplied; and if we show up with five people and four others already aboard are using their glasses well… we may strain the available drinkware supply! This turned into an unexpected discussion (debate?) on better barware for cruisers this morning.

Miss these faces! Note: stainless wineglass, custom kooozie, and polycarbonate champagne flute.

 

Gift idea: Jamie loves our insulated stainless-steel tumblers for wine or a rum drink.

Gift idea: I prefer drinking wine from actual glass, favor these virtually unbreakable Duralex tumblers.

Gift ideas: Boadyard judge opinions were strong! Hydro Flask tumbler is the popular favorite for keeping beverages coldest; Govino for wine if glass scares you and metal doesn’t appeal, although glass must be kept full, because these lightweight glasses might blow away. Wait,is that really a downside?! A another denizen offered that material quality and weighted base mean Strahl’s glasses are better…or less likely to blow off the cockpit coaming.

Apparently we spend a lot of time thinking about this. But remember: most cruisers are also minimalists. If you’re only going to have one set of drinking glasses, you want to love them.

Keeps our snacks from sliding all over the dinghy!

Other cruiser code for sundowners: it’s nice to bring a nibble for sharing. This doesn’t have to be much, but if you bring the same dwindling jar of salted peanuts every time people will talk (singlehanders, you get a bit more leeway). Our choice is usually based on location: here in Mexico, chips and salsa. In Martinique, that saucisson is so good with a little cheese. Far from anywhere? Olives are pantry staples, as are ingredients to mix a dip or spread for crackers (bake your own) or veggies; recipes for those and more ideas in The Boat Galley.

Gift ideas: make something special from one cruiser to another to brighten a sundowner spread. Papaya is common along most of our cruising path and my chutney recipe is really easy. Onions are nearly universal too, ad cooking up a batch of onion jam is even easier. I use a method like this one.

Beverages, glasses, snacks… starting to turn into a bunch of stuff to carry! I love our collapsible Meori carrier. Easy from dingy to boat or beach, stable space to , and folds down to almost nothing when not in use. We take the Meori to boats, to beach barbecues, and this week to the Thanksgiving potluck hosted by the Cabrales Boatyard (who provided mouthwatering carnitas – cooked on the grill by tables where we gathered – with at least half a dozen different salsas to accompany. 

The Meori comes in especially handy for potlucks, because you don’t just bring your glasses: come equipped with plates and utensils, too, including any needed to serve your shared dish. Looking for something more compact? If you have the space, a hard cooler turns into a table on the beach. It doesn’t have to be big, just a stable base to balance a board.

Inflatable dinghy arriving at sailboat; two people aboard sailboat accepting dishes from the dinghy
Judy welcomes us aboard Totem’s sistership for a potluck – Mairen has the Meori

 

Gift ideas: The basic Meori carrier has a perfect-fit cooler bag accessory keeps cold stuff cold and does double duty to pack for shopping trips; or, get a carrier/cooler bundle with the tailgate Meori box.

Gift idea: bring those bevs in koozies printed up with your boat’s name or logo; these are also fun gifts for cruisers you meet. I love that we have koozies on board from Bubbles, Shawnigan, and Terrapin… good memories.

All-anchorage gatherings for drinks or bonfire or potluck (whether that’s two boats or twenty) might start with one of those personal interactions or a wider call on the VHF. A beach is the usual venue; it’s nice to have something to sit on; some popular spots have makeshift tables/benches, but more often we have to bring our own. Here in the boatyard we’ve had evening gatherings at a firepit where the chairs were again much nicer than sitting on the (gravel) ground.

People sitting around a campfire for a potluck on an Indonesia beach.
Impromptu potluck at a fishing camp in Indonesia. Betcha Jamie wishes he had a chair!

 

Gift idea: collapsible chairs like these make seating more comfortable, and if your deck is big enough, extend seating options on board as well. Look for quality; cheap chairs rust out.

Jamie sits in a collapsible chair on the aft deck of a boat
Jamie kicks back in a collapsible chair on the aft deck of 48′ pilothouse ketch, CAPAZ, Thanksgiving 2009

 

What about hosting? Catamaran owners, all that real estate means you’ll be expected to raise your hand a little more often! Seriously though: when in company with a few familiar boats, hosting gets equitably shared around (or, again, people will talk). But hosting is easy, it’s not much more than welcoming people to your space, seeing as they’re showing up with a bunch of stuff! There are a few gift ideas to up your hosting game:

Gift ideacruisers almost universally adore solar-powered Luci lights, the collapsible lanterns that cast a gentle light. They’re reasonable, but multiples add up; an lovely gift would be a series of these to string like tiki lights. 

Gift idea: a rugged bluetooth speaker like this Voombox (ours has taken a beating and still awesome, 2.5 years in) to bring tunes anywhere you are on the boat; sometimes we’ll chill out on the foredeck in sport-a-seats instead of hanging in the cockpit and aft deck.

Gift idea: have a camera to capture the moment, then remember to use it! I love my Sony a7ii; the compact cousin, RX100 series (and underwater housing to go with it), is on top of my wish list.

For more recommendations across a broader spectrum of cruising lifestyle needs (and wants!), see more than thirty awesome gift ideas in last year’s post, or archived gift guides from prior years.

four peole in the cockpit of a sailboat, photo looking forward with the sun approaching an ocean horizon
Sundowners in the Barren Islands, Madagascar: our crew Ty, plus Bill and Christine off Solstice.

 

We tend to be all about needs vs wants, being mindful of the distinction and keeping our lives free of clutter. Fulfilling the unnecessary desire becomes that much more special when done discretely. But what are holiday gifts for, if not for fun – a chance to break out of the Necessary and into the Indulgent? I hope this has jumpstarted ideas for your favorite sailor! 

A cruiser’s Thanksgiving: twists on tradition

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Harvest festivals are cross-cultural and found all over the world, but that held on the 4th Thursday of every November is uniquely American. Every family grows up with a variant, but there are themes — some make the leap to cruising, and others don’t.

Preparations for a celebration!

At home I’d probably have planned this well ahead after spending too much time on Pinterest. There may have been metallic spray paint involved, and centerpiece purchases. Yikes! Not anymore! Instead, there was a collaborative, and somewhat last-minute, streamer of watercolor “leaves” standing in as an afternoon craft activity with the kids…strung up to announce “Happy Thanksgiving!” to all who step into Totem’s main cabin…you can kinda see it, at the top picture.

getting crafty

Gathering with family

These are the biggest domestic travel days of the year, as people flock home. I do miss our family gatherings and can’t wait to have a reunion with friends and family in the US next summer. I remember our last Thanksgiving at home on Bainbridge, and think of how much we’d like to be there to raise a glass with the Pecoes & Denlingers now. I think of the great family gatherings up in Bellingham with my extended family. Anyone who saw our video on Business Insider this week knows that the hardest part of cruising, for me, is missing these people we love! And while it’s best to be in person, we had some heartfelt conversations with folks at home for the holiday. Hearing voices- and seeing pixelated faces over Facebook and Facetime and Skype- was pretty sweet.

So happy to see family - thanks for the screenshot Glenna!

So happy to see family – thanks for the screenshot Glenna!

Our relatives may be far away, but found family plays a big part in our lives, as it does for many cruisers (as well as folks less itinerant than we are). For us, sharing the Thankgiving holiday with our Australian friends was perfect. An excuse to raft up the boats on a calm day, where the kids could run back and forth, dishes were easily passed, and when the evening was over – no dinghy ride in the dark! These wonderful humans are part of our found family.

Rafting up with Utopia II

Rafting up with Utopia II

Sharing a feast

In places where cruisers gather, big potlucks happen, and they can be a lot of fun. There may not have been a quorum of Americans here in Martinique, but for us, focusing inward with close friends instead of outward in the community was perfect. But STILL the potluck aspect of meal-sharing is part of the holiday. Instead of cooking up a special dish to bring to share with aunts and cousins, our friends balanced our high-carb traditions with vegetable sides and brought Brazilian champagne and the last of their South African red to wash it down.

kids at the table

Much of what we had mirrored traditions from home. I’ve yet to find canned pumpkin outside the US (save the rare sighting at an expat-oriented shop) but the squash is plentiful in the tropics. Here in this little piece of France in the Caribbean the bread for our stuffing came from baguettes, naturellement! The big score: finding a WHOLE turkey, and FRESH cranberries. Unreal. That’s a first. The turkey was roasted primarily in our awesome Solavore solar oven, then finished down below for a nice crispy skin.

Prepped for the solar oven: it almost fit in the pan

Prepped for the solar oven: it almost fit in the pan

Max and Mairen make pie

 

Football! The Macy’s Parade!

Are football and the Macy’s parade just a way to pass the time with the a soundtrack on in the background? I don’t really miss the former tradition and we never partook of the latter. But one that’s stayed with us is listening to Arlo Guthrie’s classic, Alice’s Restaurant Masacree, and I absolutely treat it like a background soundtrack on Thanksgiving. I think I tallied up three full rounds of the 18+ minute song and love introducing our Aussie friends to it. Besides, railing about idiocy found in bureaucracy feels more relevant than ever.

football sorta

We might have tossed a football around in the yard before. So why not toss a ball around in the anchorage? We picked up a cheap inflatable, good for hours of fun as the kids swam behind our rafted boats. As the sun set, we told stories, watched boats ghost across the bay, and listened to music.

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Giving Thanks

However you express it: at the core, this holiday celebrates our capacity for gratitude. I feel it every day. OK, ALMOST. There was that bad day coming up from the Grenadines recently that involved a trifecta of busted headsail furler, overflowing head, overheating engine “fun” which was categorically not one I’d like to repeat. But that we could even HAVE that day, here in the beautiful Caribbean, with our family together? I am thankful for so many things. Gifted from friends is this book; it’s really titled House Blessings, but our salty friends re-christened it Boat Blessings, and Lynne re-worked selections to make them perfect on board. Niall read the Thanksgiving passage, and it was perfect. (Missing the Cortado crew now.)

house blessings

Holiday shopping

The tradition that immediately follows Thanksgiving, and based on signs all over Martinique seems to have gained global status beyond the US borders, is Black Friday. With the Thanksgiving holiday behind us we’re free to… BUY BUY BUY! SHOP FOR CHRISTMAS! BUY MORE!

Or not. You can #OptOutside. We’re off to play dominoes on a friend’s boat. And wow, but I do not miss this side of the season, and am happy not to have heard a Christmas carol through tinny speakers. Give me a few days for that! Still, as a family on a wee little income, I know the temptation to splash out on the post-Thanksgiving sales. Especially if you’re feeling a little sluggish after that big holiday meal and can get ‘er done in front of the computer! Watch this space for a guide of boaty/cruiser gift ideas next week…and for those who can’t wait, I get it! And I’d be immensely grateful if you’d find your deals if shop on Amazon by clicking through here, as it will send our family a tip without changing the cost of your cart. We’ll be thankful for you.

Totem cockpit on Thanksgiving

Totem crew is in Martinique, getting ready to head to the ABCs (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao… OK maybe we’ll skip Aruba) in the next week or so on our path towards Panama and a return to the Pacific Ocean.

 

Thanksgiving while cruising

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For the first time since 2007, our little crew on Totem celebrates Thanksgiving in the USA again. Over the years we’ve celebrated in destinations as diverse as the sunny bay at Isla San Francisco, Mexico, or a firelit rondavel high up in Africa’s land-locked mountain nation of Lesotho last year. But even away from “home,” this is our big holiday, and if anything the distance has reinforced traditions.

For many, it’s the impetus for a party: the holiday prompts gatherings like the annual Club Cruceros feast in La Paz, Mexico, or the giant potluck organized by residents of St Mary’s, Georgia. Local hosts provide the roasted turkey and cruisers contribute the rest to share around. Aside from the camaraderie of celebrating with the extended cruising family, this handily overcomes one of the problems of Thankgiving aboard: while there’s little you can’t do in a galley, most boat ovens are challenged to fit a whole turkey.

Our Thanksgivings have tended toward the solitary. Occasionally they’re shared with a few cruisers in a distant anchorage, but typically it’s a quiet family celebration as we are either remote (as our 2012 Thanksgiving in PNG’s Hermit Islands) or away from other Americans who share the holiday (as during the two we spent in Australia). These bring a different kind of sweetness: away from the crowd it’s easier to focus for what’s important to us, on what we’re thankful for.

Thanksgiving dinner on Capaz - PJ Baker photo

Sharing Thanksgiving with crews of Francis Lee and Capaz  at Isla San Francisco, Mexico, 2009. Photo: PJ Baker

In 2010, we’d newly arrived in Australia. With an ocean between us and our home it feels even more important to keep our traditions, and Thanksgiving dinner is the centerpiece. For cruisers, recreating That Familiar Dinner (cue the Norman Rockwell images) can be a little tricky. If anything is obligatory, it’s a turkey. Number of times we’ve had turkey for Thanksgiving during the eight years outside of the USA: hmm… let’s see… yes, I believe that number is ZERO. Apparently, it’s predominantly a North American “thing.” But roasted chicken makes a fine stand in. I always save a can of cranberries somewhere on board (they pop up on shelves every few countries, and are known to get stashed in Totem’s bilge for many  months). There are usually starchy tubers of some kind, onions to cream, something green, and I can always make gravy, and fruit to make pie from. Forget about finding canned pumpkin puree outside North America, but don’t worry. Whole pumpkins are plentiful in tropical markets, and cook up easily on the stove. Like a lot of things in the cruising life, the end result is the same… getting the task done just takes a little longer.

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Satun, Thailand: no turkey, but all the trimmings in 2013

Then there was that year in Thailand, where the chicken I picked up at the village market was whole. That’s whole, as in not just head…not just feet…but the cavity unopened and all the guts intact. At least the weekly market day was ON Thanksgiving, given the lack of refrigeration, and I remembered enough from helping on a farm as a teen to avoid the gall bladder (just a tiny slice taint and ruin your dinner). More to be thankful for, and a story that we now retell annually!

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As our distance from the US increased, so did our thankfulness for the incredible opportunity to live an adventurous life afloat. Physical separation from our extended family on holidays like this help reinforce my gratitude for the strength of our nuclear family, and the time we have to be together.

If the last eight years taught us anything, it’s to be thankful for so many things in our lives: in particular, our opportunities and our rich experiences. One of the goals Jamie and I had in choosing the cruising life was to raise our children to internalize these, in the believe that it’s a positive influence on their futures. It’s impacted not just them, but us too, bringing happiness and fulfillment beyond expectations.

Walking after dinner: Coff's Harbour, Australia, 2010

Walking after Thanksgiving dinner: Coff’s Harbour, Australia, 2010

It’s nine years since we celebrated Thanksgiving in the USA, and will share it with members of our extended cruising family in Virginia: a family that’s already been cruising twice and plans to head out again. I cannot wait to get to know these good friends better, and in true Thanksgiving spirit, Nica’s open invitation has expanded the table with several families. It’s often an uncomfortable feeling leaving Totem, but she’s securely tied against this week’s winds back in DC awaiting our return.

Meanwhile, there on cruiser-centric Facebook groups, CLODs (that’s Cruisers Living on Dirt, for the uninitiated) are reaching out to offer a place at the table and laundry machines for cruisers in their area. Active cruisers are putting out the call to share the cockpit with others in their tropical locale. I have no doubt there are potlucks being organized from Grenada to Phuket as US cruisers find each other to celebrate.

From our family to yours, wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Beachcoming in Bahia de Tortuga, Baja, Mexico, 2008...our first cruising Thanksgiving

Beachcombing in Bahia de Tortuga, Baja, Mexico, 2008…our first cruising Thanksgiving. They were so little!