Thanksgiving while cruising


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.

What do cruisers do away from home for Thanksgiving?

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

No turkey, no problem

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.

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!


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

Thanksgiving back in the USA

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!

16 Responses

  1. Oh yeah – thankfully NZ has turkeys, pumpkin puree and cranberries readily available. I remember finding a turkey in mexico – la cruz, and the butcher cut it in half (half for evergreen, half for don quixote). was probably the best turkey I had ever cooked. Glad you have found people to share your Thanksgiving with on land.

  2. One of the things we are most grateful for this Thanksgiving is your support when we were preparing to depart from our stationary life to wander the globe 4 Thanksgiving’s ago! I could not stop laughing reading your blog as I spent the last week scouring the Portuguese coast looking for canned pumpkin. Needless to say, I have been carving up and roasting whole pumpkins for days. While we are cruising on land versus sea, we have also had very interesting takes on Turkey Day from New Zealand to Tuscany. Our favorite part about the holiday is still, and even more so, the time we have spent with our kids in this beautiful and complex world. Please have a bite of cranberries for us, as the red currant jam we found is “close but no cigar” as my grandmother used to say!

  3. Happy Thanksgiving, ya’ll! We’re in Charleston SC still, and have been invited to join Mary & Christian from “I Wanda” for Thanksgiving on land. We were also loaned a car here, by a CLOD couple, so I could make my appointments for this eye repair… The cruising community does wrap it’s arms around you!!

  4. Crasqui, a tiny empty island in Los Roques VZ, with a simple sand floored part-time beach ‘restaraunt’ run by some people we met in the main town on Gran Roques that we convinced to ‘open’ for us and 3 other US kid boats. Fresh lobster, fish, rice, beans, and whatever we all brought ashore – who needs Turkey!
    Best. Thanksgiving. Ever.

  5. I’m from the US originally but have lived in Australia for 20 years. We celebrate Thanksgiving every year. And if you were told that turkeys aren’t available here, sadly, you were misinformed. Any grocery store will have turkeys, as many if not most Australian families who celebrate Christmas eat turkey at Christmas; but at $10/kilo they aren’t cheap! Or, you can look in the frozen food section and get a turkey hindquarter for around $8.95, which is a much more economical option, particularly if your numbers are small.

    1. You’re right, they were findable in Oz! Although we didn’t in Coff’s Harbor, our landfall and first Aussie Thanksgiving…I do remember seeing it the big smoke of Sydney. Not quite as readily available as the ground Skippy though! Guess it depends on where you are.

      1. I’d say you’re definitely wrong there. It’s much easier to find turkey than kangaroo. You were obviously just looking in the wrong part of the supermarket.

  6. Another thought provoking post providing very enjoyable reading! Happy Thanksgiving to all on s/v Totem! I’m thankful you share your life and adventures with all of us!

  7. Thank you for sharing. WOW, the photos look really interesting! Consistently the very best of everything about cruising!

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