Halloween on a cruising kid boat


How do you keep holiday traditions alive while cruising? I worried about this before we took off as a family. I was afraid that our kids would someday feel cheated, like they’d missed out on the cultural rituals of an American childhood.

We’ve now celebrated the last six Halloweens in six different countries (I have to admit: this stuns me). Each time has been unique, each has been memorable, and it didn’t take Herculean effort or long term planning and stowing decorations from afar to ensure the kids didn’t feel like we’d shortcut the holiday.

One of my favorite distinctions of our Halloweens since departing is that other than the first year, while we were still sailing down the US west coast, they have been entirely devoid of consumer marketing. Halloween stuff starts showing up in stores before the kids start school at home, but here, we never saw a bag of fake spider webbing floss, a PVC witches hat, or a plastic jack o’lantern- junk we didn’t need, junk that becomes garbage. We never missed it!

It’s easy enough to make what we need from what’s on ha
nd. One holiday-specific item we have, though, is something the kids now insist on every year and is well on way to being a Totem tradition. Jack-o-lantern cookies, with custom cookie cutters thanks to the crew of sv Milagro (Michael visited us when he was in Sydney for work two years ago; as a cruiser, he definitely gets it!).

this year’s anchorage for Halloween

This year, there was even less planning and anticipation than usual. With my parents visiting, we were busy pretty much right up until the last minute. The kids had talked about costumes for weeks, but weren’t committed to anything. Not a problem: they all came together with goods on hand over a day or two leading up to the 31st. Our boat decorations weren’t over the top, but there are ghouls around the mast, fluttery bats under main cabin ports and a few spooky wraiths in the shadows.

What made Halloween this year really special was the reunion with an American family we had not seen since our time in Mexico. The crew of Love Song includes two boys, seven and nine, and Halloween was definitely a priority! They were anchored in a bay just a short jaunt from where we’d been staying with our visitors. The barrier island they face was perfect for a beach bonfire, and a gathering of  several cruising families.


cruising style Halloween party and beach trick-or-treating

We all arrived at dusk. Earlier in the day, Kathy set up a series of sheet “ghosts” along the trail that circles the small island. We walked around to light tin cans fueled with a little diesel and a rag, then led a passel of cruising kids along the dark trail in their flickering light… with parents ghouls hidden behind pandanus or palms, adding our own brand of creepiness to the journey.

Back at the bonfire, there was “trick or treating”- but it was only after grilled sausages and foil boats of veggies that we had the real treat of the evening. We had anticipated seeing Love Song for weeks, so it was the arrival that afternoon of another boat we hadn’t seen since Mexico, George and Kathleen of sv Kalalau, that was the really great surprise for me and Jamie.

the audience was rapt!

In the glow of the beach fire, George recited Derelict entirely from memory. Based on the chorus lines of a sea-song in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure island, Young E. Allison drew full lyrics from his imagination in 1891. It tells the story of crew marooned by Blackbeard on the Caribbean island of Dead Man’s Chest, leaving them with nothing but a cutlass and a bottle of rum each.

George’s dramatic telling, in the warm breeze, the light of the fire, the sky full of stars and the waving palms- well, it held us all riveted, and was the perfect salty cap to a cruiser’s Halloween.


George’s dramatic retelling


Young E. Allison
available at the Gutenberg project

Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest—
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
The mate was fixed by the bos’n’s pike,
The bos’n brained with a marlin spike,
And Cookey’s throat was marked belike
It had been gripped
By fingers ten;
And there they lay,
All good dead men
Like break-o’-day in a boozing-ken—
  Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of the whole ship’s list—
Dead and be damned and the rest gone whist!—
The skipper lay with his nob in gore
Where the scullion’s axe his cheek had shore—
And the scullion he was stabbed times four.
And there they lay,
And the soggy skies
Dripped all day long
In upstaring eyes—
In murk sunset and at foul sunrise—
  Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of ’em stiff and stark—
Ten of the crew had the Murder mark—
‘Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead,
Or a yawing hole in a battered head—
And the scuppers glut with a rotting red
And there they lay—
Aye, damn my eyes—
All lookouts clapped
On paradise—
All souls bound just contrariwise—
  Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

Fifteen men of ’em good and true—
Every man jack could ha’ sailed with Old Pew—
There was chest on chest full of Spanish gold,
With a ton of plate in the middle hold,
And the cabins riot of stuff untold,
And they lay there,
That had took the plum,
With sightless glare
And their lips struck dumb,
While we shared all by the rule of thumb—
  Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

More was seen through the stern light screen—
Chartings no doubt where a woman had been!—
A flimsy shift on a bunker cot,
With a thin dirk slot through the bosom spot
And the lace stiff dry in a purplish blot.
Oh was she wench…
Or some shuddering maid…?
That dared the knife—
And took the blade!
By God! she was stuff for a plucky jade—
  Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest—
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
We wrapped ’em all in a mains’l tight
With twice ten turns of a hawser’s bight
And we heaved ’em over and out of sight—
With a Yo-Heave-Ho!
And a fare-you-well!
And a sullen plunge
In the sullen swell,
Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell!
  Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

7 Responses

  1. Sounds perfectly magical! I love the cookie cutter idea (I have a very old jack-o-lantern cookie cutter, one of the few items I have left from my mom.) And the story telling on the beach is perfection! The looks on their faces and the look of the gentleman telling the story… wow! What a fabulous moment you captured! Thank you for sharing!

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