The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Cruising Potlucks

Stephen and Nancy Carlman

January 20th, 2024

The Vancouver Chapter’s Christmas Holiday Potluck Social on December 13 was, as usual, a success. We enjoyed a wide range of appetizers, main dishes, salads, and delicious desserts, including a Yule Log.  Very different from a Christmas potluck on the beach with fellow yachties many years ago!

In North America, we all know what a potluck is from church suppers and neighbourhood gatherings. However, the idea is not known universally, even among the cruising fraternity.

When we were cruising (1999 to 2014), we attended frequent potluck appetizer parties, often combined with garbage burning events on shore in Panama’s Las Perlas and San Blas Islands. Cruisers from Europe were unclear on the concept but delighted to be involved.

Where does the term “potluck” and the idea come from? Most authorities attribute the term to the 16th Century British playwright, Thomas Nashe, who referred to people who arrived at someone’s house without an invitation, but were offered “luck of the pot,” or whatever was left of the meal.

Over the years, the term came to mean “come and take potluck” for informal invitations. Then it morphed into the idea of planned (names beginning with A-L bring a main dish, M-Z bring a dessert) or unplanned (maybe a dozen pasta salads) communal meals. Supposedly, this meaning of a communal meal to which guests all bring dishes to share originated in the 1930s Great Depression, when no one could afford to host guests for dinner.

North American cruisers make use of the idea to organize shore events where you bring your own drinks and an appetizer to share, since boats are not large enough to accommodate all the people in an anchorage for a dinner.

We enjoyed an organized potluck ashore on New Year’s Eve 2001 at Playa Naranja in the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica.

New Year’s Eve 2001 at Oasis del Pacifico, Costa Rica, with Steve and Iretta Rigo.

And we had an unusual potluck meal at Christmas of 2002 in Puerto Lucia, Ecuador. All the boats were out of the water in a boatyard being painted or in some way worked on, but we managed to get some boards on sawhorses for the table. A French couple had no idea what a potluck was, but an American woman explained. They had a wonderful time.

Christmas at the boatyard, Puerto Lucia, Ecuador, 2002.

Recently, when we were in a complex of small apartments in Maui, we were invited to join other guests on the lawn on a Thursday at 1730. The suggestion was “bring your own drink and a pupu (appetizer) to share and make some new friends.”

We thought this was a great idea. With our cruising experiences in mind, we turned up with our drinks and appetizers and started to share some mahi mahi on crackers with the residents who were sitting at tables facing the sunset. After people at two tables refused our offerings, we decided this event was not what we ex-cruisers expected. Someone asked us if we could not find a table, so we realized we weren’t expected to mingle and share, but just to sit down and wait for the sunset and music played and sung by some Hawaiians.

That experience led us to the thought that Maui vacationers are not like cruisers. Perhaps that’s because there would be no common talk about anchors and batteries!



  1. leslie says:

    Thanks for the chuckle…potlucks are so great for making new friends, aren’t they? (and sometimes getting delicious new recipes to try out!)

  2. Donna+Sassaman says:

    Thank you for the delightful article, Nancy! Bill and I were introduced to potlucks in our small West Kootenay community many years ago and have participated in literally hundreds of shared meals in the past 50 years. When we were cruising down the Baja coast in 1990, we cruisers anchored in Bahia Magdalena gathered on the beach, dressed in our finest (cleanest) tees and shorts, for a magnificent Christmas potluck. That sharing of food and cruising plans with like-minded sailors was a wonderful affirmation of our cruising adventure!

  3. Nancy Carlman says:

    Thanks, Donna. Were there no potlucks when you grew up? I remember church suppers as well as family reunions when everyone contributed a dish or two. Maybe it happened only in rural areas.Stephen, having grown up in England, had never had any experience with potlucks.
    In any case, we really enjoyed such gatherings when we were cruising.

  4. Donna+Sassaman says:

    Darien, CT wasn’t the potluck capital of the world, Nancy! For holidays, my mom and aunts helped my paternal grandmother cook big family meals. That, I think, was as close to potlucks as it got.

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