It is not that far away! Time to think about Christmas on board

Every Christmas my dear old Mum would scour the shops for anything with an anchor on it.

She cornered the market on paperweights, letter openers, pencil boxes and bon bon dishes. The really sad thing is, they all went in the garage sale when we sold up to cruise round the world.

As you shop for presents for your cruising loved ones, here are my best Christmas present ideas.

Food and drink

Bearing in mind limited space, especially for live aboards, this is a good choice.

Even the most Scrooge-inclined cruiser is going to entertain more over the holidays. Apart from extra bottles of grog, boxes of fancy nibbles are a welcome change from the cruiser staple popcorn.

Dips in jars which do not need refrigerating, after all who has room? I make batches of chutney aboard to give as Christmas presents.

Boxes of chocolates and sweets to help pass night watches are another great idea; they do not need storage as they never make it as far as the lockers. I like big tubs of liquorice allsorts, they do not melt in your hand and the lidded tubs are great as bench top bins for galley scraps.

If you are buying gin, avoid those fancy square bottles: they do not fit the grog locker holes.

Music making

Now that you have the party going with the drinks and nibbles, it is time to bring on the music.

There is usually at least one guitarist in an anchorage and they do not need much encouragement to break out into ‘Hotel California’, which lasts most of the evening. We currently have seven instruments on board, some of which we can play quite well on a good day.

We abandoned our daughter’s quarter-sized violin in 2000 in the Canary Islands, it is still there. That experience taught us that, in the confines of a cruising boat, the choice of instrument is really important. One cruising friend decided to take up a little-known Chinese stringed instrument, an Erhu. There is a guy on You Tube whose sweet playing brings tears to your eyes. Do not be tempted.

At least with an electronic keyboard, the player can wear earplugs and your shipmates do not have to. As the Erhu was not working out, her husband bought her a violin last Christmas. Some people never learn.

A better bet for a harmonious cruiser’s Christmas is a harmonica. It is small, portable , sounds reasonable and you can whip it out at parties before anyone has time to protest. Maybe even join in with the last five minutes of Hotel California if you are quick.

Similarly, a ukulele’s not a bad choice and has become quite fashionable in recent decades. It is reasonably cheap, takes little space and again, is portable. If you get it in tune it can sound good, even by playing open strings you have
a C6 chord.

Sheet music is easily downloadable and by New Year’s Eve, you will be ready with some party pieces to wow the anchorage.

One Christmas, my husband, affectionately known as ‘The boat ogre’, wanted a concertina. Possibly he felt the electric piano and alto saxophone he already played on board not suitably ‘Captain Ahab’. After many phone calls ashore (premobile era) and a two hour drive in a hire car, I had one, complete with tutor book. Let me report, over a decade later, it lives permanently in a dark locker behind the nav station and has never been out to a party.

My clarinet at least gets an occasional airing at a yacht club busking session and we have heard a few flutes wafting from cockpits during our travels. With practice and a good tutor book, both these can both be sounding quite good in a relatively short time.

For cruisers who prefer their music ready made, an mp3 player is a great gift. Yes, smart phones have taken their place but who wants to risk being swamped by a rogue wave out in the cockpit?

Incidentally, I have found music played through headphones somehow helps to combat seasickness.

For less musically-inclined cruisers, or those just wanting a change, MP3 players are also great for listening to audio books and radio podcasts, all easily downloadable and often free.

Reading matter

This brings us nicely to e-books. Our daughters bought us a Kindle for Christmas a couple of years back and we were deeply sceptical.

I now must admit that it has transformed our reading aboard. Yes, we still swap with other cruisers and rummage through the ad hoc libraries in laundries, yacht clubs and marina offices, but it means that we are no longer desperate enough to read a coverless paperback with tiny print and the last two pages missing.

Also, if we discover a new author we like, we can download more of their books, or get the next in a series which we have enjoyed. I still enjoy tales of sailing before GPS, when every voyage was an adventure. Rosie Swayles’ ‘Children of Cape Horn’ takes some beating; Peter Nichols’ ‘A voyage for madmen’ is aptly titled; the Smeetons’ ‘Once is enough’ always puts our little cruising problems into perspective; Jack London’s ‘South sea tales’ brings alive a lost era; as does Erling Lamb’s ‘The cruise of the Teddy’.

Of course, another great Christmas gift idea for cruisers with a postal adress is a subscription to this fine magazine.

Personalised boat images

Everyone loves their own boat, so it follows that they will love a Christmas present featuring it.

If you have a fat wallet, a half model of the boat is a lovely souvenir and something to hang in the saloon. Or, as I generously did for Anthony one Christmas, commision a painting of the boat. Our artist friend Alan produced a lovely water colour of Willy Bolton, which now hangs in the quarter berth on our current boat, Cobalt.

I knew Alan’s painting style, so it was a safe bet but, if in doubt, another idea possibly cheaper would be a large photo of the boat, framed or otherwise. If framing, remember to mention it is for a boat, so no mild steel staples please. I prefer acrylic to glass for safety reasons; nobody benefits from being unexpectedly flung by a rogue wave into contact with a square metre of glass.

One of our best-used presents was a set of table mats featuring the boat at anchor in Bantry Bay, Ireland. Ten years on, I replaced them by e-mailing a signwriter a photo of us at anchor in Moorea, Polynesia. These she printed onto vinyl and stuck onto cork table mats which I supplied. Needless to say, the colours are brighter; blue skies and palm trees replacing the dour grey of the Emerald Isle.

Most photoshops these days can produce coasters from photos, which would be cheaper than the $100 my set of six large mats cost.

Our friend Sandra gave us a calendar for Christmas last year, featuring a photo she had taken of Cobalt. A useful present. As cruisers, we rarely know what day it is, as our seven year old once famously said cruising round the Caribbean, “Daddy thinks it might be Thursday”.

Clothing

Living aboard, we have limited storage space, so there is a rule with clothing; if one item comes in, another goes out.

That is the official line: small items can be smuggled and hidden at the back of my wardrobe or under my bunk. Anthony’s Aunt Mary used to knit him a jumper every Christmas; one advantage of cruising and being of ‘no fixed abode’, these cannot reach us!

Hats and caps, however, make good presents; they do not take up much space and are always useful, if only to replace those which have flown overboard.

For that reason, do not spend too much. There is a formula: the more expensive, the quicker it goes. Our friend Alisder kindly gave Anthony a smart cap embroidered with Cobalt. It lasted two weeks before finding its way overboard.

He has been wearing a freebie from a DIY store for years.

We are late converts to gloves; garments more usual in racing than cruising. However, they have saved many a rope burn and crushed finger and are worth every cent of the $50 they cost.

Cushions

It is a well-known fact that you cannot have too many cushions on board. We currently have sixteen.

The BO occasionally mutters about a cull, but then the toilet blocks or the shower breaks and he has something more important to distract him.

One of the first Christmas presents I made him was a set of three nautically-inspired patchwork cushions, well, it was the 80s, for his forty two foot wooden Hilyard ketch. They sailed with us from UK to the Azores and back.

For our first Christmas with Cobalt I sewed him a set of four cushions made from printed panels bought ten years previously when we were anchored in Barbados and hidden in what he calls my rag store, under my bunk.

Though I say it myself, they make the saloon extremely comfortable. They were also a lot more fun to sew than the usual hatch covers and sun screens. When these wear out I plan to have a photo of the Cobalt printed onto fabric and replace them with that.

Another great present idea from my friend Pat on Irene: she made cushions spelling out their boat name in flags. These could be useful for on-board communication: W to be waved when needing a hangover cure or K to wave at headphone wearing teenagers deep in cyberspace.

By the by, a sewing machine would make a really good Christmas present if there is not one on board already. I use a Singer heavy duty.

Useful bits and bobs

For smaller, inexpensive Christmas presents, LED torches and headlamps are always useful on a cruising boat.

My friend Helen presents me with scented drawer liners: this dates from living aboard a wooden boat with wet bilges, the eau d’ oily bilge permeated all my clothing. Even with Cobalt’s dry bilges, lavender is always appreciated.

Which brings me nicely to one of my favourite cruiser gift ideas; soap dispensers. No more dangerous bars of soap underfoot and liquid soap or washing up liquid is readily to hand in the roughest seas. For the shower, I recently bought a soap-shampoo-conditioner dispenser, which our design graduate daughter despises. But it is, dare I say, indispensible.

Swinging from the grab rail, taking a shower underway is now a doddle.

Useful stocking fillers for those rolly seas are rolls of non-slip matting. It is impossible to have too much of this on a cruising boat for lining cutlery drawers and every flat surface. I line my trays with it, to protect them from heat damage as well as preventing drinks from sliding. I am a great fan of trays at sea, they make those glasses of wines and snacks we started off with much easier to pass up in to the cockpit for Christmas parties.

My favourite tray is a hexagonal one, which Anthony made me last Christmas. On top of a stool, it doubles as a drinks table.

He made it from the teak decking offcuts of our previous boat, which took some doing, especially keeping it a secret in the confines of a cruising boat.

If your carpentry skills are not up to that, you could always try buying a tray, but make sure it has deep sides and will fit the worktop. You may even find one with an anchor design on, if Mum has not got there first.

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