Here’s an article I wrote for the November 2020 issue of 48° North magazine about several of the unforgettable Thanksgiving’s we’ve had aboard over the years. 2020 marks our ninth Thanksgiving since buying Yahtzee, and we’re immensely grateful for all the special memories we’ve made along the way. Happy Thanksgiving from our crew to yours!
The sweet smell of pumpkin pie wafted through the cabin and out of the companionway as Jill hoisted the tasty dessert up to me. Admiring it, I gently placed it under Yahtzee’s dodger on a folded towel to let it cool in the late November air. Ready to take its place in the oven was the traditional turkey dinner, along with green bean and corn casseroles. Atop our Force 10 stove sat potatoes ready to be boiled and mashed, the preparations for gravy were underway, and a colorful salad waited to be dressed.
Yes, Thanksgiving Day was upon us, and — with due respect to the heartwarming traditions of most landlubbers — there was no place we’d rather have been than right there on the dock at Blake Island.
Fifteen minutes later, the park ranger came by to say hi on one of his jaunts around the premises and remarked, “That pie smells delicious. But if you want to enjoy it tonight, I’d put it down below to cool before the raccoons get into it.” No way were Blake’s famously pesky raccoons getting our pie, and it was quickly and securely tucked away in the cabin to finish resting.
That evening, we devoured a savory Thanksgiving dinner aboard our beloved boat home for the very first time. We’ve certainly dabbled in more customary shoreside holiday festivities, too, but we’ve now done Thanksgiving on the boat several times, each in a different location with a slightly different twist on the fare. That first one at Blake Island, though, was memorable because we were figuring it out as we went along. While Yahtzee’s galley is plenty big for preparing most meals, cooking a full turkey smorgasbord was a new ball game. Without the convenience of a large kitchen, it took some planning and creativity to get it all right.
Fortunately, we did get it right and, despite the threat of sharing our scrumptious meal with curious raccoons, we revelled in the joys of spending our favorite holiday on our boat as a family. We also savored all that Blake Island has to offer in the offseason. When not preparing food, we hiked around the island, stopped to skip rocks, and had a fire in a warming hut on shore. For central Sound boaters looking for a Thanksgiving getaway, Blake is hard to beat.
The fun of our Thanksgiving weekend didn’t end there. From Blake, we caught a southerly breeze and skimmed up the west side of Bainbridge Island and on to Poulsbo. Winter holiday cruises around Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea seem to have a choose-your-own-adventure nature — especially for those working a traditional 9 to 5, as we were at the time. With an extra long weekend, you can play the winds and tides. There are so many options, no matter where your homeport is. Had there been a northerly, our plan was to sail for Gig Harbor.
As one would expect, the feast continued in Poulsbo at Sluy’s Bakery and a couple of our favorite local eateries, all washed down by beers at Valhöll Brewing. Full and happy, we then set sail for the top of Bainbridge for our last night out and anchored at Port Madison. With our diesel heater keeping the cabin cozy and rain pitter-pattering on the cabin top, we snacked on leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner and talked and laughed about various highlights from the weekend. The next morning, we made our way back to Shilshole and felt pangs of triumph as we tied Yahtzee up in her slip. Our first Thanksgiving aboard had been a success, and we were excited to see what future adventures would bring.
Having celebrated many holidays aboard in the years since, experience has taught us that the key to a stress-free celebration is preparation. For liveaboards or full-time cruisers, this can be a bit easier because you’ll probably have most of the spices and many ingredients in your ship stores already. And you’ll likely already have all the pots, pans, and cooking utensils that you’ll need to whip up your holiday delicacies. It’s a good idea to take stock of what you have so that you can grab anything you’re missing—last minute trips to the store get more difficult once you’re underway. Even with a pantry and galley stocked with the essentials, you’ll need to make a heavy holiday provisioning run before setting off.
For those who don’t liveaboard and are stocking the boat for the occasion, it’s imperative to make detailed lists of what you’ll need and plan well in advance. From every last ingredient to the cookware and utensils to go with them, you don’t want to forget anything. A traditional turkey won’t fit into many boat ovens, so plan accordingly. One suggestion is to go with a turkey breast or smaller cornish game hens.
Another tip for those who are coming to the boat from home, rather than living aboard, is to prep as much as possible beforehand. Putting together your casseroles or other larger dishes in advance can save time and you might not have to pack as much. You can also do a good bit of chopping and prepping things like salads before coming to the marina and setting sail. If you know you’ll be on shore power when cooking your meal, using a crock pot or similar cooking device can help spread the load from your stove and oven. And that grill on the stern pulpit isn’t just for summertime steaks, it can be indispensable when the galley gets overstuffed on Turkey Day.
And don’t forget the drinks. Whether you responsibly imbibe a few adult beverages or prefer other refreshments, having a plethora of drink options will keep things feeling festive. Take your pick of regional craft beers or wines to pair with your meal. And, given that it’s late November in the Pacific Northwest, hot drinks such as coffees and teas are imperative while sailing or just hanging out. When docked or anchored, a steaming hot toddy is a favorite of ours and can be made with whiskey or rum — and a good Irish coffee will do the trick as well. Hot cocoa with marshmallows or hot cider with a cinnamon stick are great options for the kids.
TAKE YOUR TIME
While Thanksgiving is technically one day, we’ve come to view the holiday as a days-long event and have treated it as such since that first foray to Blake Island. A couple years after that inaugural adventure, we found ourselves cruising the San Juan Islands for the holiday, delighting in empty anchorages and marine parks throughout the week.
With a ‘take-our-time, be flexible, and see what happens approach,’ we stocked up in Anacortes the weekend prior and then hit Obstruction Pass State Park, Blind Island, and West Sound before stopping in Friday Harbor early on Thanksgiving morning. We made it there in time to run in the town’s Turkey Trot 5K and then watched the first Thanksgiving day football game with friends before heading home for our family’s meal. Still digesting, we set sail the next day and spent the weekend at Patos Island as the only boat in the cove.
We were full-time cruisers at this point, with no homeport, so our approach was much more laid back than it had been in years prior. Having the time to explore and change plans on a whim meant we weren’t planning every little detail but rather enjoying each day as they came. I highly recommend the take-your-time method to Thanksgiving cruising. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to work from your boat — which is more common now than ever — or can take the full week off, do it. The extra time will allow you to account for any hiccups in the weather and can give you another night or two in a favorite anchorage or port, if you’re so inclined to stay put instead of moving to a new spot every day.
From appetizers to dessert, at the dock or on the hook — having Thanksgiving on your boat is pure gravy. Whether you make a traditional turkey feast or opt for something different, what makes the holiday special is those you share it with and the places you visit. And for mariners in the Pacific Northwest, there is certainly no shortage of potential marine parks, secluded anchorages, quaint towns, or bustling cities to spend your holiday. So fill the boat with food, friends and family; make a thoughtful plan, toss the dock lines aboard, and head out — you won’t be disappointed. Have a safe and warm Thanksgiving!