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Potluck -

 December 27, 2001 

Exchanging holiday cheer afloat in the USVI

"They sail across the ocean,
They could walk across the sea,
When they hear a rumour that the food is free,
At the potluck, piranha potluck...”

(E. Quinn, “Piranha Potluck”)

The central pillar of cruising culture is the potluck. It only takes a few boats sharing an anchorage and someone willing to take the organizing initiative to launch an impromptu gathering of sailors, food and drink. If it’s a fairly cosy crowd, the festivities might be hosted by whomever has the largest boat or most generous spirit. We recall a memorable evening in the Dutch island of St. Maarten when the owners of a 60 foot flush deck racing sloop announced a potluck “Mexican night”. You could have landed a small plane on the deck of “Great White Wonder”. There must have been a hundred of us on board. Our hosts Ken and Vesta mixed up margaritas by the bucketful and we passed around a few dozen different versions of guacamole and a similar number of hot salsa dips that the rest of us had brought. It was a great time and, miraculously, no one fell over the side.

If the crowd is too large and a nice beach is nearby, it’s time to move the potluck ashore. Some of our best memories of beach potlucks involve our friends Conrad and Kathy on “Copasetic”. Conrad is a retired fire-fighter from Rhode Island. He must have loved his job. We don’t know whether he was any good at putting out fires, but he sure likes starting them. Give Conrad a bit of sand and a few chunks of driftwood and he’ll have a beach bonfire blazing before you know it. We first got to know Conrad and Kathy in the relatively remote San Blas Islands of Panama - far from any garbage disposal facilities - when we toasted our communal marshmallows and wieners first and incinerated our trash last.

Last spring, we attended a cruisers’ potluck on the tiny public beach in front of the Prickly Bay anchorage in Grenada. Unfortunately, swarms of sand fleas joined the party and began gnawing on our ankles. No problem - it was a moveable feast. We passed around the appetizers while standing knee deep in water.

Literally in between the boat potluck and the beach potluck is the dinghy drift (also known as the “dink and drink”). This is how we spent Christmas Eve on St. John Island in the US Virgins earlier this week. Francis Bay on the north coast of the island was packed with cruising boats: some from this year’s Caribbean 1500 rally, that ended at nearby Virgin Gorda; others affiliated with the Seven Seas Cruising Association; a contingent of Women Aboard members; and the rest who simply shared the festive spirit and a longing for community when far from home.

A couple of hours before sunset a few dinghies rafted together in the middle of the bay. Soon, dinghies from all over appeared and joined the flotilla. The raft began drifting towards St. Thomas. Some anchors were thrown out. More small boats arrived, including a kayak and (briefly) a wind surfer. Our friend Gene on “Mike and Mic” pulled out his trumpet and blew some Christmas tunes. We all joined in. The munchies people brought to share were numerous and excellent. By the time the sun set and the raft broke up, several new friends had been made, a few bean dip recipes exchanged and only one guy had fallen overboard. He was saved.

Happy New Year!
David & Eileen