Bring Your Own Plates
by Carolyn Corbett

All boats in the Typical Tropical anchorage. All boats in the Typical Tropical anchorage . . . the crackle of the VHF cut through the quiet Bahamian afternoon. Please switch 73 for an announcement of general interest.

There will be a boater’s potluck ashore at the picnic tables this evening, beginning about 1700. Bring your own plates, silverware and a dish to share.

Most of the time Dave and I eat take-out. We take conch, lobster, grouper, or hogfish out of the water and we eat it. But if there’s a potluck in the planning, count us in! Food and friends are two of the best parts of cruising.

Freshly baked bread is always a hit!

One meal we reminisce about is a super supper shared with our boat buddies on Cheerio at Rudder Cut Cay, Exuma. We chowed down on hamburgers sizzling from the grill, homemade buns still warm from the oven and pickles from our garden back in Minnesota.

Okay, so maybe you can’t describe in mouth-watering detail any burgers you ate several years ago, but we hadn’t been eating a lot of red meat at the time. The nearest Hardee’s was a long swim away!

Yes! Lobster dip in its formative stage!

Another meal worthy of a Kodak moment occurred in the northern Abacos. We met Wind Willing as we waited in Florida for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream. When the window came, we topped off our fuel and water tanks, motored out the Lake Worth Inlet and parted ways. Godspede set her course for Walker’s Cay, while Wind Willing headed for West End, Grand Bahamas. We agreed to meet up at Double Breasted Cay.

It would be a shame to let this picnic table go to waste, wouldn’t it?

Dave and I promised Bill and Elizabeth we’d have lobster waiting for them, to celebrate their first cruise to the Bahamas. They assured us they had the correct bottle of wine aboard to complement crustaceans. When we rendezvoused a few days later, both crews fulfilled their sides of the bargain. The four of us toasted a giddy greeting to the land of luscious lobster, turquoise waters and tropical sunsets.
The night before, Ron and Gloria, Yaraandoo, had hosted a birthday bash in my honor. It was a touching gesture and I understand it was a lively party, replete with merrymaking. Unfortunately, weather prevented the crowd from reaching location that day as previously planned. The party took place at Grand Cay, six miles north of us, with the guest of honor in absentia!

British cruisers Richard and Joy grill squid during a Sunday gathering at Royal Island.

Of course, there are also large gatherings. The Christmas Potluck at the Jib Room in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, fits into this category. The morning of my first cruising Christmas, a dozen of us volunteered as galley slaves in the Jib Room’s kitchen. We peeled potatoes, arranged dessert trays and carved turkey and ham. (Okay, we might also have done a tad bit of taste testing, but it was just to make sure the food was fit to eat, you understand.) As midday arrived, so did cruisers, paying $5.00 each to cover the cost of meat, potatoes and stuffing. Each crew brought a dish to share. A hundred and eighty cruising folks participated in this holiday feast and we all had a jolly holiday. We shared horror stories and boat repair tips, good anchorages and outrageous marinas, tall tales and bad jokes. We caught up on news of mutual friends, exchanged boat cards, and made plans to meet again.

In the Jib Room kitchen in Marsh Harbour cruisers carve turkey for the Christmas Boater’s Potluck.

There were a dozen boats in the anchorage at Royal Island the day Nicola Hill turned nine years old, but not one had children aboard. Nasty weather prevented Nicola’s good friend, who lived at nearby Spanish Wells, from arriving for the slumber party they had planned. But cruisers are cruisers. Nicola celebrated her birthday at a party ashore, despite waves crashing against the cement pier that served as a dinghy dock. There were balloons, improvised gifts and nibbles. I made rice krispie bars that spelled out her name. (Took me about a week to get all that marshmallow-glue off my fingers!) It was hard to light the candles on the cake in the strong wind, but the feat was accomplished in the shelter of an abandoned building.

Elsie and Dave Nelson and Carolyn Corbett - members of the Clean Plate Club!

During the years George and Christl Hill managed Royal Island, they had a tradition of hosting weekly gatherings for the cruisers assembled in the anchorage. Dave and I carried on the custom when we were “caretakers” for a month while Kirtonia returned to the States. Each Sunday Dave made the announcement on VHF after he finished the weather broadcast. If newcomers arrived before the 1300 start-up time, I dinghied over to invite them. Hey, when you’re cruising, the folks on the just-arrived boat aren’t strangers ~ they’re only friends you haven’t met yet!

Dave would go ashore 30 minutes ahead of time to gather lignum vitae to substitute for charcoal in the grills. I’d whip up a dish to share, gather together plates, utensils and garbage bags, then motor in to join the festivities. Sure, there were a lot of your basic rice and tuna dishes, but, boy, there were some gourmet goodies, too! (I always harbor a lingering suspicion that Dave might one day leave me for some woman who shows up at a potluck with potato salad.)
Yes, those Sundays reigned supreme in sustenance. We broke bread, devoured desserts, grazed, gobbled, gorged, and guzzled.
Royal Island was one of the few places we found regularly scheduled sprees. Most get-togethers tend to be pretty spontaneous. But that’s no problem for us, mon. When it comes to food, we’re flexible!

Packing for a Potluck

Load your canvas bag with:

• Plates (While we prefer real ones, paper plates can be tossed on the fire when you’re done with them. Styrofoam creates boat garbage.)
• Silverware
• Napkins
• Beverages (Insulated glasses or foam snuggies are nice. Ice is wonderful.)
• Your dish to share, along with any necessary serving utensils (If you label pans, bowls, and spoons, with your boat name, they are much easier to collect later.)
• Boat cards, if you have them (It can be difficult to remember everyone you meet at larger get-togethers.)
• Trash bag (Be sure to remove your garbage when you leave.)
• Sunglasses
• Sunscreen
• Camera

Carolyn Corbett is a freelance writer who currently resides in Brainerd, Minnesota.