December 1, 2005
Tiadup, Cocos Banderos Cays
Kuna Yala, San Blas
Panama
09° 30. 774 North
078° 37.008 West

Christmas Gifts for Cruisers Getting Ready to Go

By Douglas Bernon


Christmas mola

My friend Harry grew up Jewish in Brooklyn and never understood Christmas particularly well, either from a religious or commercial perspective. Then, in his early forties, he wed a Christian woman and found that first December, in his very own living room, under the eight-foot spruce tree that he had argued against erecting, was a large pile of packages JUST FOR HIM. His bah-humbug dissolved within the hour as he ripped the paper off his wrapped treasures. Later in the day he phoned me. “You know, Doug, I’m beginning to think that Christmas has been way underrated.”

As we march towards the Christmas holidays, if friends you care about are going cruising in the foreseeable future, it’s worth mentioning that your or their idea of a great present may be different than it used to be.


Christmas mola

Going cruising radically changes what folks need and want. People who are getting ready to go cruising are thinking Very-Heavy-Big-Picture-Thoughts -- wondering if they’re nuts; if they bought the right boat and the right engine and the right sails; if they have enough safety equipment and electronics. Chances are pretty good that they’re consumed with whether or not they have (both physically and metaphysically) the right stuff to pull this whole thing off. Of course they do, but what good would it do to tell them? They can’t hear it right now.

So if you want to play Santa and stuff their stockings with useful cruising goodies in various price ranges, here are some odds-and-ends that will make their new world more fun and easier, once they can slow down enough to take a breath and enjoy it. Incidentally, these gifts will make most boaters smile, whether they’re setting off into the wild blue or not.

Tools and Supplies

  • Multi meter
  • Screwdrivers: very long and very short
  • Multi tool
  • Set of “shorty” wrenches--both metric and standard
  • Set of screw extractors
  • Sharpening stones
  • Plumber’s putty
  • Hog-Ring Pliers and hog rings (for bungee chord and spear-fishing rubbers)
  • Box of surgical gloves
  • Filter-remover tool for fuel and water filters
  • Marine-Tex for steel when tapping things
  • Tap and drill set
  • Mini hacksaw, for cutting those hard-to-get-at things
  • Nylon pantyhose for use as a water filter, or emergency alternator belt
  • Bronze wire brush and slim-taper file for repairing buggered threads on bolts
  • Round bastard file
  • Calipers: metric and English
  • Right-angle drill
  • Baja fuel filter
  • Shrink-wrap tape: This is normally used for piecing together plastic sheets used for winter storage of boats; EVEN BETTER THAN DUCT TAPE—it doesn’t get gooey in the heat or the sun.
  • Loc-Tite, in medium and super strength
  • Extension “mirror-on-a-stick” for seeing underneath and behind things

Personal Gifts and Surprises


  • The King Lives---most recently seen in the San Blas strumming his ukulele and singing Christmas tunes in Kuna
    Your 12 favorite books: all in paperback—wrapped for monthly opening
  • Your 12 favorite CDs—wrapped for monthly opening
  • Your 12 favorite music Playlists on CDs—monthly surprises
  • Collection of tapes of Prairie Home Companion, or Fresh Air, or Car Talk, or whatever show you know your friends enjoy
  • Vac-pack 12 monthly snack treats
  • A handsome, strong and blank “Friends Book” for future mementos, photos, and sentiments drawn and written by new cruising friends they’ll meet along the way
  • A book for storing boat cards – most cruisers give cards out to one another

Fishing and Diving Gear


  • This fish-skinning pliers is a handy way to clean conch
    Fish filleting knives
  • Fish weighing scale (to prevent exaggerated reports)
  • Fish skinning pliers (available at fishing stores or Wal-Mart)
  • Spear gun and spears
  • Hawaiian Sling
  • 10 feet of surgical tubing for making replacement rubbers for spears
  • Pole spear and spare tips
  • Fishing lures
  • Diving gloves
  • Alcohol in a small squeeze or spray bottle for killing fish and cleaning your ears after diving
  • Fishing yo-yo and line
  • Shorty wetsuit or a very lightweight diving suit
  • A wooden kitchen mallet for conch-pounding
  • Old-fashioned, clamp-on, meat-grinder (fantastic for conch) We found ours in a thrift shop.

Douglas hunting for dinner with a pole spear

Useful Books and Bibles

  • Nigel Calder: Boat Owners Mechanical And Electrical Manual: How to maintain, Repair and Improve your Boat’s Essential System
  • Nigel Calder: Refrigeration for Pleasure Boats: Installation, Maintenance and Repair
  • Steve and Linda Dashew: Practical Seamanship: Essential Skills For The Modern Sailor
  • Scott and Wendy Bannerot: The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing
  • Chris Parker: Coastal and Offshore Weather: The Essential Handbook—(This is a terrific piece of work for cruisers.)
  • Passport To World Band Radio
  • Dictionary, reference books (non-sailing!), an encyclopedia CD, a thesaurus, a book of proverbs—whatever will tickle their fancies
  • Paul Humann: Any and all of his four volumes of identification books Reef Fish, Reef Creatures, Reef Coral and Reef Fish Behavior
  • Kathy Parsons: Spanish For Cruisers-Boat Repair, Maintenance and Phrase Book
  • Kathy Parsons: French For Cruisers: Boat Repair, Maintenance and Phrase Book
  • Ed Sherman: Outboard Engines, Maintenance, Troubleshooting and Repair
  • Ambrose Bierce: The Devil’s Dictionary (just for good measure…)

The Galley


  • A snazzy bundt mold makes even the simplest banana cake a special event
    Cream Whipper (Williams-Sonoma carries these) and lots of extra cartridges for making chocolate mousse – a great present with a big can of Ghiardelli chocolate powder
  • A dozen cans or boxes of cream for the Whipper—no need to refrigerate
  • A fancy non-stick bundt pan for making interestingly shaped cakes
  • Hand held knife-sharpener
  • Hand-crank food-processor for pureeing, making juice, salsas and smoothies
  • Pressure cooker, spare gasket, and recipe book (This is my favorite kitchen item on Ithaka—we use it several times a week.)
  • Vacuum-packer and extra rolls of medium-size bags
  • Counter-top pump-thermos to keep drinks cold during the day – avoids opening fridge too often
  • Very large pot for lobster and crabs
  • Plastic egg containers for carrying eggs back from the market in your backpack – without breaking any or bringing bug-infested cardboard onto the boat!
  • Assorted bean sprouts in vac-pack bags
  • Several bottles of iodine for cleaning food, and purifying water
  • Sushi kit – wasabi, soy, chopsticks, seaweed wraps, pickled ginger, rice vinegar, and sticky rice
  • Several packages of green ethylene “long-life” bags for storing fruits and veggies (medium size)

Cleaning Up


  • Christmas mola
    Oxalic acid, to take away yellow waterline, and remove stubborn rust from gel coat and paint
  • Whink, to get rust stains out of fabric
  • X-14 mildew stain remover
  • Ronsonal Lighter Fluid, removes gummy stuff, sticker glue, masking tape glue. Also a good spot cleaner for fabrics (not safe for plastics)
  • Light-duty Scrubbies
  • Scotch Bright never-rust pads
  • Scotch Bright green pads for scuffing varnish between coats
  • Mega-heavy-duty, synthetic pads for cleaning the scum off the bottom of the boat and prop—available at cleaning-supply stores

Oddz’n Ends – The Practical, Mundane, and Much Treasured


  • Happy Holidays From Ithaka
    Clear contact paper for waterproofing book jackets and charts, or for making temporary or emergency plaques in engine room, first-aid locker, cockpit
  • Mace or Bear Spray: Several cans
  • Tupperware of all sizes—rectangular stores better than round
  • Zip-lock bags of all sizes
  • Portable Caframo fan with suction-mount. (We have several that we move around.)
  • Small printer for 4 x 6 photos
  • Photo printer paper and ink cartridges
  • Ben’s DEET—100-percent version (We gave up on other wussy brands with only 20-percent of the dreaded chemical.)
  • Climbing harness for easier (and more comfy) than boson-chair mast-climbing
  • Two small digital clocks, or two watches, for nav station to have local and GMT time
  • Large magnet for fishing things out of the bilge
  • Grasping tool for fishing things out of the bilge
  • Clip-on magnifying glasses for your baseball hat -- great for seeing small things up close (LL Bean has these in their fly-fishing department)
  • Gasoline filters for outboard fuel line
  • Hair-cutting scissors and hair-cutting electric trimmer
  • Hand-held depth sounder for the dinghy, and spare batteries
  • Binoculars with built in bearing compass
  • Plastic ball-jar lids in both sizes—No More Rust!
  • LOUD Kitchen Timer for late nights when staying awake on watch can seem impossible. Put it on a lanyard so your friends can wear it as a necklace and hear it every 10 minutes!
  • Silica gel packs -- sew up about 10,000 of them and store in watertight camera bags, etc, to keep important things dry aboard
  • Small “white board” and pens for making lists, and jotting down life’s crucial data in a jiffy
  • High-quality LED flashlights
  • Three-gallon garden sprayer, retrofit with a kitchen-sink style veggie-spraying-nozzle. Covered in dark fabric (to absorb the heat of the sun), this is a wonderful system for minimal water use when showering!
  • Solar heated hot-water bag for showers—these work incredibly well.
  • 2 five-gallon collapsible water jugs
  • Heavy-weather survival kit (earplugs!)