The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Cruising Christmases

Stephen and Nancy Carlman

January 19th, 2021

Perhaps the title conjures images of huge passenger ships cruising through turquoise waters to sun-drenched islands — something far removed from our rain-drenched British Columbia in 2020 and our inability to cruise on our own boats as the Pandemic prevents easy movement among countries.

What a different Christmas we all had here in 2020! People stayed home, communicated online with family and friends, played games, had smaller turkeys, put up additional Christmas lights outside, sent more real Christmas cards than usual, watched old Christmas movies, and tried to stay safe.

As we have stayed at home in our own bubbles, I’m reminded of unusual Christmases we enjoyed while cruising for fifteen years on Fairwyn from 1999-2014. Several other BCA members have also contributed their Christmas experiences.

Christmases Aboard Fairwyn

Some holidays we were alone on the boat, some we were with cruising friends, and for others we were in Vancouver, the UK, or once in Hawaii while the boat was safely moored.

Fairwyn under sail.

Our first cruising Christmas in 1999 was definitely unusual.  We left British Columbia in September, then entered Mexico at Ensenada, after sailing south from San Diego in mid-December. On Christmas Eve we left Ensenada for Isla Guadalupe, a Mexican island 185 nautical miles SW of Ensenada, populated by only a few fishermen.

We were at sea all of Christmas but anchored at the south end of the Island on the morning of December 26. Once we were anchored off the barren cliffs of the Island, we were approached by some fishermen who asked if we liked lobster and abalone.  Of course, we said “yes” and the next day they turned up with both.  When we asked them what they wanted in return; they asked for canned goods and chocolate.

We enjoyed the lobster on Boxing Day and put the abalone over the stern of the boat in a bucket for the next day.  Unfortunately, something got into that bucket overnight.  It was empty in the morning.

Lobster and abalone, off the cliffs of Isla Guadalupe.

Work on the boat never stops when you are cruising. In 2000, low oil pressure caused us to postpone a trip south from Puerto Vallarta, so we spent Christmas anchored in La Cruz, changing oil and cleaning the waterline.  The upside of that decision was that we saw the fireworks displays all around Banderas Bay on New Year’s Eve.

In 2001 we “followed the turkey.”  Several boats had been in the Barillas Marina in El Salvador, but decided to head south in early December.  As Christmas approached, we were in northern Costa Rica.  Lady Tamora, crewed by Barb and Ernie Taylor, had a big turkey and a big oven. Several of us decided to “follow the turkey” to Playa Iguanita, an uninhabited bay just west of Playa del Coco, for Christmas.  Crews of Tackless II from St. Thomas, Sandi Lee from Alaska, Örnen from Oregon, and Lady Tamora from Victoria had a potluck Christmas Eve dinner aboard Fairwyn and then a proper Christmas dinner with all the fixings aboard Lady Tamora the next day.

Ernie and Barb aboard their boat, Lady Tamora.

Twice we enjoyed potluck Christmas dinners with other cruisers, the first at the Puerto Lucia Yacht Club in Ecuador.  We put some tables up between two boats on the hard and all brought special dishes from our countries.  Some French cruisers had never been to a potluck, but enjoyed themselves immensely trying the different dishes, including a dessert featuring Canadian maple syrup.

Christmas at the boatyard.

The second Christmas potluck was at Club Nautico in Cartagena, Colombia, again with a variety of nations represented.

When we were cruising in Central and South America, we spent Christmases on the boat, but once we had crossed the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, we tended to travel ashore during the holiday season. No one sails in the Med in winter.

However, one Christmas we were in Malta, enjoying a party at the Royal Malta Yacht Club and then more Christmas celebration with smoked salmon aboard Fairwyn.

Smoked salmon and Christmas tree made of lighted balls in Valetta.

When we sailed back to the Western Hemisphere during the winter, the easterly trade wind season of 2013-2014, we were rolling, rolling, rolling on December 25. I had filled warm sailing socks, standing in for Christmas stockings, for Stephen and our friend Chris, that they had to open in the cockpit while I steered since our autopilot had quit.

Christmas stockings!

We later had a Christmas dinner of turkey breast cooked in a pressure cooker. A friend on Meredith from Ontario, whom we met originally in Tunisia but again in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Canary Islands, gave me the recipe.

Here is the recipe, in case you are ever at sea at Christmas.

Christmas Turkey Breast

    1. Brown the thawed turkey breast in oil and butter in the pressure cooker.
    2. Liberally coat the breast with thyme, rosemary, and black pepper.
    3. Add a cup of chicken broth.
    4. Pressure cook for 15 minutes

Note: Potatoes take longer than 15 minutes to cook with the turkey breast, so either cut them into small pieces or cook them separately.  The broth the turkey breast is cooked in makes excellent gravy.

Other Cruising Christmas Stories

Other BCA members have shared their Christmas experiences while cruising.

Heather Marshall:

 “In 2010, I crossed the Atlantic, from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia, with my then husband, Jonas, and crew member, Pam.  We had originally planned to leave the Canaries early enough to arrive in time for Christmas, but our weather window stubbornly refused to materialize until much too late.  We were Mid-Atlantic on Christmas Day (and New Year’s, too). 

Jonas had refused to allocate storage space for Christmas decorations, so we didn’t do any decorating.  Knowing we would be at sea for Christmas, and likely New Year’s as well, we had at least provisioned for a couple of special meals: Christmas had a vacuum-packed rolled chicken roast, mashed potatoes and gravy (as well as some sort of vegetable and a dessert, but I can’t remember what they were).  Pam surprised us with chocolate Santas that she had smuggled aboard, as well as bottles of Spanish Cava (sparkling wine).  It felt incredibly touching and special that she had thought of those details!  

Our day was quiet, spent in the sun, being pulled along by our asymmetric spinnaker.  We all treated ourselves to calls home on the satellite phone, and otherwise had a relaxing, low key day.”  

Rosario Passos:

“December 25, 2017, aboard Sea Rover II, 5 degrees north latitude on the way to the Galapagos Islands.

Skipper: Gary Peacock. Crew: Tanya VanGinkel, Denis Heinrichs and Rosario Passos

In preparation for Christmas at sea, I purchased Christmas themed ties for the guys, head gear and nail stickers for the girls, and Xmas crackers. On December 25, the guys proudly donned their Christmas ties over their bare chests, and the girls wore their headgear. The nail stickers made it to the guys’ toes, and the girls’ middle fingers!

Christmas morning on the way to Galapagos Islands.

In the morning, we opened presents that friends had packed for us, wrapped in paper that clearly said: Do not open before Christmas.  We were happy to find two Christmas flasks: one with scotch and one with Fireball. See, Sea Rover II was a dry boat, but we were allowed to drink what was in the flasks as it came from Santa!

Christmas dinner aboard Sea Rover II.

Gary cooked a special meal of carbonara — mmm bacon!  In spite of the rolling seas, we sat at the cockpit table with our bowls, cracked open the Christmas crackers and everybody reluctantly wore the silly hats. It was a day filled with laughter and fun with good friends.”

Ernst Schneider:

Reporting from aboard Patience in the Philippines in 2020:

“Sorry, can’t much report on Christmas activities here. I was sailing in my new little sailing dinghy on Christmas Day, 28 degrees, 6 kts wind, 3.4 kts SOG, grin on my face, and for the rest of the day, I played the guitar. In the evening, I got together with some other boaters for a chat and dinner.

I am still here in the Philippines, Cebu area, at the dock in a boatyard finishing off some boat upgrades. I’ve been stuck in the Philippines for a year now. I had a couple of good weeks out in Busuanga/Palawan before the pandemic hit. It’s not really my country here – least favourite of my cruising journey so far.  I made it back here in May to Cebu from Palawan for boat work and to get out of the rainy west and have been here since. It’s a mixed bag here: cheap labour of, at times, doubtful quality; incredibly difficult to get parts; dismal hygienic conditions in the boat yard; terrible air pollution from neighbouring big ship sandblasting; and the most bland food I have ever experienced in my life.

The COVID situation here is not too bad. People are generally good with wearing masks, and for malls and public transport, face shields are mandatory, too. COVID numbers are low, and the new variants haven’t arrived here yet, but life still is very much affected by COVID, with various restrictions in place. 

I am planning to head out to Indonesia in the next couple of weeks and then up to Thailand for the next Indian Ocean crossing window.  If things clog up again, I’ll bash back to Canada, but I think the cruising situation will get easier from here on and I can proceed west. At least I hope so. Indonesia had just opened up, but they closed for January 1-15 again and are currently debating extending that to the end of month. I’ll be on standby to slip out as soon as I can from Davao/Mindenao to Bitung/Sulawesi. I can’t wait, really chomping at the bit.”

Sailing dinghy.

Price Powell:

And here’s a very different take on Christmas 2020 from Panache.

“We are in New Zealand. There has been no COVID here for eight months. So, the main difference between Christmas here and Christmas in Vancouver (in pre-COVID days) is that it’s summer in NZ. No social distancing, no masks, no limitations on gatherings. No restrictions whatsoever. To give you an idea, today we put six people in our van and drove to a winery for lunch and Rosé while watching tall ship races. It’s like the virus never happened.”

It’s nice to end these Christmas experiences on a high note. We look forward to a COVID-free Christmas 2021 at sea or at anchor.


  1. Donna Sassaman says:

    Wonderful reminiscences of Christmases past and present! It reminded me of our first cruising Christmas, 1990, in a bay on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula (Magdelena, I think…) There were about 20 boats anchored in the bay and we all dinghied to the beach with our potluck contributions at the appointed hour. It was strange to be away from family and fun to be with fellow cruisers, swapping stories, tips, and cruising plans. The potluck banquet was magnificent!

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