Bringing holiday spirit cruising


If you’re cruising, you must be flexible. The weather doesn’t adapt to your plans. Familiar products you know from home may not be accessible. And yes, the familiar must have features of your traditional holiday probably don’t exist in far flung places.

Thanksgiving 2015 in Lesotho: kicked off with a donkey pub crawl and nothing familiar at dinner. Still excellent and memorable

Next week Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. Except in flexible cruiser tradition, we decided to celebrate it a week early. Why? Because right now we’re with my dad, and next week we won’t be. But Thanksgiving, being food centric, is a relatively portable holiday that lends itself to cruiser adaption. There may be some creativity involved; there are usually substitutions. Our daughters associate duck with Thanksgiving more than turkey because canard is more readily available in most countries. But there is no adequate substitute for cranberries. So each year in late November, we search the back corners of Totem’s pantry for a dusty can of cranberries purchased well in advance of the annual need.

Bahía Tortugas, Mexico; first Thanksgiving as cruisers. Cranberry sauce assuredly from a can.

Because… cruisers are adaptable, right? We tend to think so. That flexibility (to see a turkey in your duck, to enjoy LED light strands as much as cedar garlands, to trade celebration with extended relatives for the extended found-family of other cruisers) is part gift, part survival skill. So leaving Totem in Mexico for 1,500 mile road trip to Seattle for an unsubstituted, normal, predictable, family gathering and end up preparing a meal by candlelight due to a neighborhood power outage is what you call ironic.

Losing power on land is somehow more complicated. The toilets may not flush (no power to the well’s pumphouse). It’s not a battery-based low-power environment. No Honda 2200i generator on the aft deck. The planned dinner centered around using grill and oven, neither of which would ignite without electricity (despite being propane gas based).

But we are an adaptable bunch. And one of the ways we adapt is in how we bring holiday spirit into the changeable venues and limited storage of cruising.

2020’s Early Turkey Day cranberry relish among the spread, made from fresh berries for a change!

In anticipating holidays while cruising, people seem to fall into two camps:

  1. Embracing local customs 100% – a fresh start
  2. Replicating the traditional day aboard – bring or buy
Uncommonly land-based with the Waters family in Virginia, 2016

Our dock neighbors the summer before we sailed from Bainbridge Island had freshly returned to the USA from a couple of years in Mexico and central America with their young son. We lapped up their stories and learned from their experience. The first year, they skewed to option one: planning to enjoy a Mexican-style Christmas, and anticipating the pleasure and learning of experiencing it through the lens of another culture.  Decorations, foods, and events would be found in a Mexican harbor or anchorage and add an exciting new dimension to the season. 

What happened?  They did discover new traditions to add to their own; they delighted in the differences, and expanded their ideas about how to celebrate. That’s #winning! Well… not quite. Turns out, their son was saddened by the absence of familiar hallmarks of Christmas from their home in California.  It was a wonderful holiday, but something was missing. 

More typical scale: 2019’s featured a turkey breast brought from the US to Mexico by friends.

Those in camp number two – bringing the holidays with them – are madly querying forums and making lists and might have more space dedicated to holiday kit than foul weather gear. “It’s a choice,” Jamie would say. And it’s a marker of someone who hasn’t been cruising yet. While it has the appearance of playing it safe, it’s going to be different and still require substitutions. But that’s OK!

Here’s the deal: once you leave the land of mass-marketed holidays, where commercial pressures of must do evaporate, celebrating the holidays gets a lot simpler while being no less joyful. It’s easier to center on what’s most important, which doesn’t take all the accoutrements to realize. Our celebrations take very little in the way of Stuff, to decorate or to gift; the focus instead is time together to take stock, revive family traditions, and share experiences and traditions with our found family.

This weekend, our road trip back to Totem begins. Another 1,500 miles behind a different kind of helm that means passing, but not visiting, with so many friends that we wish we could visit. Irony strikes again, in a Coronavirus spiked world. Back in the shipyard, we’ll be reminded again; missing the potluck Thanksgiving gatherings we enjoyed there the last couple of years.

Pig roast at Cabrales Boatyard, a gift of the management to celebrate with cruiser residents

Meanwhile, what’s in my online shopping cart? MORE HOLIDAY LIGHTS. Irony again! Are we unable to resist the consumer siren song? This trip home has been, more than anything, a really wonderful chance to spend quality time with my father. His newly pacemaker keeps the ticker ticking, and he healed like a champ. We’ve had lot of good meals (Jamie and I love playing with his commercial range and kitchen tools). We’ve played a lot of Chicago rummy. And at the tail end of a lovely stay, it’s been a chance to bring back to Mexico things that are easier to source stateside. So we’ll add a little extra luminescence with LED lights to share holiday spirit with an anchorage this year.

Coronavirus has thrown a lot of holiday plans off this year. Responses range from passing on the holiday (if the usual traditions can’t be indulged) to the other extreme. My brother and his family showed up for our Zoom last weekend with elf hats, reindeer antlers, and tinsel-tree deely bobbers: they’re starting NOW as a way to add fun into their lower-key year. Next week we drive back to Totem with Niall, and having our whole nuclear family together for the next couple of months is reason alone to celebrate.

Thailand, 2013… no cranberries.
…and the year I had to learn how to gut a WHOLE chicken.


Friday, Nov. 27th: release date for 80° North! Last year in Annapolis we had a chance to preview the filming our buddies on SV Delos did aboard Swan 48 Isbjorn with Andy Schell & Mia Karlsson. We’ve had a peek at the final documentary series and it looks awesome! As in, I’ve been looking into diesel heaters for Totem awesome (although as Jamie reminds me… I don’t like being cold).

Brian communes with bergs from the bow of Isbjorn

They have a pay-what-you-wish pricing plan which resonates with us (our coaching service has karma pricing, too). I love these guys even if I can’t handle icebergs – the footage is simply stunning. See:

Sunday, Nov. 29th: TOTEM TALKS – media on board. Back to chat and this time – with friends! Cruising buddies who are behind the the cool new tech setup on Totem. Without on-demand access to the cloud, cruisers manage media differently. Graham and Sam will talk about how they put together a media server using a Raspberry Pi to make images, books, movies, charts, etc. available to…whatever device on board needs it! Grab a cocktail and share some holiday spirit with us – 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern. This server setup fits in a Christmas stocking! Register here for Sunday the 29th.

Graham and Jamie setting the Pi device up on Totem.

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