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! 

Archetypical Bahamas, sort of

sailboat tropical sea cruising the bahamasCruising boats flow back to the US for hurricane season this time of year. Our path is counter-current thanks to our seasonally late departure from Florida and slow pace through the Bahamas. It’s less than 300 miles to Florida from where Totem lies at anchor near George Town; more than 1,100 nm of sailing stand between us and our hurricane season destination of Grenada. Compounding our situation: it is against prevailing conditions (easterly breezes) instead of with them. Yes, it really is time to get a move on!

Being off-sync means missing out on some of the expected (and anticipated) experiences of these beautiful islands. I have a long list of “must see” spots, favorites from respected friends seeking to share their love of the Bahamas. We’ll miss most of those spots. I don’t know how to justify our acceptance of this without sounding jaded, but we aren’t too fussed at the prospect of missing many of lauded Bahamas cruiser experiences. We’ll do we do best: make the most of where we find ourselves.

Meanwhile, Totem crew is hardly missing out on the rituals of Bahamian cruising life with various rituals and shenanigans to indulge in though a handful of stops in the Exumas–near Staniel Cay, and at our current anchorage near George Town.

At Big Majors Spot, sundowners were hoisted each evening on “Pirate Beach” (there’s a sign and everything) at 5 sharp.

Jamie brings in our Meori trug: nibbles on one half, beverages in the other side's nested compartment.

Jamie brings in our Meori trug: nibbles on one half, beverages in the other side’s nested compartment.

3- beach gathering

Sailboat 50 50 underwater photo Bahamas clear blue water

Boston whaler, Float toy, and red wine: what could possibly go wrong?

6- Pirate beach view 3b- float toy 3c- what could possibly go wrong

The same setting held a handful of health-conscious cruisers gathering to exercise in the morning.

5- vessel relics hang over the potluck buffet

The gentle workout is led by former nurse and unfailingly upbeat Laurie from MV Forever Young, who lends her considerable positive energy to make fun for all: she organizes potlucks periodically too, typically to share from the bounty of mahi she and her husband catch.

Anchor lights come up as dinghies head home

Anchor lights come up as dinghies head home

Game time on the beach: whiling away an afternoon in the shade playing Mexican Train dominoes with new and familiar cruisers.

7b Mexican train dominoes beach

Beautiful view, cool drink, good conversation, and a fun game—OK!

A few minutes dinghy ride away are the pigs. THOSE pigs, the famous Bahamian swimming pigs, which now crop up on Cays all over the islands but reputedly originated here. They’re cute—I guess? Juvenile piglets are charming, but the bigger pigs—and they get BIG—have a reputation for literally biting the hand that feeds them. I think I know more people who were injured by the pigs than not! We had to check them out but with some apprehension.

pig girls beach bahamas

Mairen and Siobhan’s body language express how we all felt

swimming pig bahamas

This large sow (300 pounds?) did an effortless lap around the dinghy hoping for a handout. Pork belly!

The anchorage would fill and drain cyclically with weather forecasts, as boats took advantage of good conditions to get across the Gulf Stream. Silver lining: as boats intersect heading in the opposite direction, we’ve been able to have some memorable meetings. Many moons of following Allison and Bo from Sailing B+A, messages traded, and they were even more fun in person than I ever imagined.

Love meetups with people we've 'known' online!

The dynamic and engaging crew of Selah: love meetups with people we’ve ‘known’ online!

Snorkeling with them and the awesome Ruby Rose crew, Nick & Terysa, to Thunderball grotto and taking advantage of Bo’s skill for the “us-ie” to get a group shot:

12 Us-ie with Selah and Ruby Rose

Biggest treat for the kids: TEENS, as we converged with multiple kid boats in their age range. A real treat and one that buoyed their spirits.

dinghy sailboat thunderclouds

Speeding their way to hang out with other teens on Allegro

Tracks that converged, intersected, and moved on in different directions refreshed an aphorism of the cruising life. Goodbyes happen all too often. It can be especially hard on the kids, who have fewer opportunities to hang out with peers.

beach sunset

Teen conversation circle on the beach

The flip side: these encounters grow a circle of amazing people in our lives. Goodbyes aren’t forever, and the other reminder is that in a round world there are ample opportunities to meet again. Next to Totem: SV Infini, who we last shared an anchorage with in Thailand more than three years ago!

kids dinghy exumas bahamas

Land your dinghy by the kiln-looking rock, then look for cairns to find the path

I do wish we could have stopped in more of the “amazing—you’ll love it!” spots along the Exumas. We made a few and tips from friends and readers here lead us to great spots, like the cave north of Little Farmer (thanks Jessie!).

cave swimming stalactites swimming

20 sweaty uphill minutes later, Mairen cools off in a stalactite hung cavern

But the out-island experiences we hope to find ahead draw me even more! We’re stocking up in George Town, with an eye on winding through out islands on our way to the BVIs. This is THE scene for cruisers in the Bahamas, with over 300 boats during peak season a couple of months ago. Organized activities cover every day and night of the week, from “beach church” to water aerobics and poker / hold-em nights. I’m pretty sure there’s a coconut painting class. The small-scale taste of this near Staniel Cay was a lot of fun–the bigger cast, not quite our bag. A blast for folks who make this their home-away-from-home but the quieter, more remote islands ahead are what I’m excited about. That said, WOW is George Town convenient for getting things done! We filled a propane tank, topped up some diesel, and chose from a grocery store spread that included such Bahamas-luxury-items as asparagus, leeks, shallots, and mushrooms… and the best price on lettuce I’ve seen since we arrived in the Bahamas. I think there are 11 heads of romaine in our fridge right now!

With luck we’ll have weather to go offshore from Mayaguana and make easting; the route is as certain as the forecast two weeks out! Along the way, enjoying wherever Totem’s anchor drops.

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