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!