December 2019


Author: Becca Edwards

Traditions. We seem to hold on to them as much as they hold on to us. Sometimes obligatorily.
For years, my family followed the same Christmas tradition timeline:

The Day After Thanksgiving: Decorate a Greenery Christmas tree with a hodgepodge of ornaments collected, homemade, and or literally hanging on by a thread and Griswold our neighbors with an inflatable Santa, Rudolf and snowman.

December 1: Stock the drawers of our wooden advent calendar with trinkets and chocolates and, going in birth order, the kids take turns counting down to the December twenty-fifth with a daily treat.
Throughout December: Put most of our family presents under the tree and watch countless corny, romantic, Christmas-themed movies on the Hallmark Channel.

Christmas Eve: Host a family cocktail party from 5 to 8 p.m., give the girls matching, goofy, holiday-inspired pajamas and watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Christmas: Begin with Santa’s gifts, then stocking stuffers, before the frenzied unwrapping of every conceivable present, followed by my husband Lee’s famous banana pancakes.

Early fall 2018, Lee asked me to re-create the magic of the season for our three daughters in Exuma, a group of islands in the southern Bahamas, and spend the holidays on our 62-foot schooner Leopard. I had two months to get all the presents (including birthday presents for our youngest), provision the boat with essentials like antibiotics and FitVine wine, and—most important—figure out how to carry on our traditions in an untraditional way.

December 20-22: Stocking Island
Our journey began on Stocking Island, where my husband and a few of his male friends had previously delivered and moored our boat in early November. Because men are inherently dirty and the boat had been uninhabited for six weeks, when our family and our best friends/crew members Brucie Holler and Greg Schenkel (also known as Breg or Grucie) stepped on to Leopard, there was no doubt in our minds we needed to dingy to the nearby local hangout Chat ’N’ Chill and get a cold beverage and fresh conch salad before tackling the task (really tasks) at hand.

Salty and sated, we returned to Leopard and commenced our chores which entailed:
Putting too much trust into quasi-stale Clorox and Walgreens-brand baby wipes.
Arranging all the food, booze and other beverages in the galley, only to realize we did not have enough food supplies and a shocking stockpile of wine.
Making a very wet and wild dingy trek over to Georgetown for groceries.
Fingers-crossed, checking the engine and other mechanics.
Listening to my girls quarrel while unpacking their bags and trying to navigate in close quarters.
Playing Band of Horses and Imagine Dragons to drown out the bickering and perhaps louder than probably cruiser kosher.
Being greeted by other cruisers moored by our boat and trying to remember everyone’s name.
Me unsuccessfully trying to find the Christmas stockings.
Greg saving the day with a string of turtle lights that made our boat finally say, “Merry Christmas.”
Lee pouring dark ’n stormies.
Brucie making a yummy dinner.
And all of us singing happy eighth birthday to Camellia as the sun set.

The next two days, we contemplated weather windows, Lee regaled us with tidbits from cruising guides about the area, and we mapped out our island-hopping wish list. We made a gourmet beach picnic that got washed out by an afternoon squall, made a rookie mistake and forgot to close our hatches so the same squall drenched our boat, and spent hours trying to dry the boat and all our belongings. We explored, snorkeled, drank, drank some more, and located the Christmas stockings. And finally, on a hike, Ruth Love (my middle daughter) and I discovered three pieces of driftwood randomly near each other on the beach that, almost like a premonition/Christmas miracle, told us we had found our boat tree.

December 23: Rat Cay
Our first passage was to Rat Cay, a remote island with no inhabitants, great snorkeling and a menacing (as in a Bubonic plague kind of way) name. There, operation Christmas began. We started amassing shells to make into ornaments, played Christmas Carols on my cell phone until it died, and, since there was no cell service or way to charge our laptops, developed an affinity for Go Fish.

December 24-26: Staniel Cay
Christmas Eve was like no other—and will hopefully never be repeated. We had a very rough six-hour passage to Staniel Cay. Camellia threw up on me. Ruth Love threw up in a bucket. Ransom went into a Dramamine coma. Even the indestructible Greg looked like he might heave-ho his breakfast. And I discovered that canned grape leaves and fumé blanc could cure anything.

Christmas Eve, we had an amazing dinner at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. The girls, who had previously received their Christmas pajamas a week before, wore them with cheer. And we all fa-la-la-la’d to bed.

Christmas morning the kids woke up as they do every Christmas morning: full speed. It actually felt like Christmas, even though we were anchored, and nothing resembled our normal traditional setting.

Graciously, the rain did not set in until after we finished our stockings. Lee made his famous pancakes minus the bananas, and much of Christmas was spent stuck in the galley waiting for the bad weather to lift. When it did, we dinghied over to Pig Island and made friends of the “sus” sort. That night we roasted Cornish hens and vegetables in the galley’s new oven and, thanks to Brucie, quite possibly had the best dinner ever.

Normally, the few days following Christmas, I feel this weird sense of incompletion or sadness that “the party is over” or that I did not do it all perfectly, but not this year. On December 26, we learned about Boxing Day from locals, wore/utilized our new Christmas wares as much as possible, and frolicked through Thunderball Grotto.

December 27: Compass Island
We motored over to Compass Island. There, we swam with nurse sharks, made friends with really interesting people, became like Beeker from the Muppets trying to scientifically scrounge together meals with what little provisions we had left, hiked aimlessly, and continued to explore the depths of Go Fish.

December 28: Staniel Cay
This was a sad day, because we said goodbye to Breg/Grucie who had to go back to Hilton Head.

December 29: Little Farmer’s Cay
We motored to Little Farmer’s Cay, a small blip on the radar with only 55 people. We “happenchanced” onto the island when the weekly boat delivery arrived, which gave us great insight into the Bahamian culture. We chatted with a deaconess, a shopkeeper and her grandchildren, the local drunk/conch guy, and a young female restauranteur.

December 30: Emerald Bay
This place was a miss, except for the fact that my family had the first true hot shower in 10 days.

December 31-January 3: Stocking Island
We returned back to our original mooring, and the neighboring cruisers that we were sure we had offended with loud music were actually happy to see us.

They invited us to their potluck New Year’s Eve celebration on a nearby beach. We all snacked on the best food each boat could provide, as people danced, sang and played the guitar. My family, including my daughters, independently spoke with our new friends about their 2019 resolutions, and there was a simplicity that enveloped the night that made me wonder, “Do we sometimes over-think/over-complicate life?”

Our last few days on Stocking, we begrudgingly counted down our return to the bump and grind of real life as we reiterated resolutions, tried to pretend like we were clean by jumping in the ocean, and made our final hikes and snorkels.

In the end, during Christmas 2018, we only adhered to three of our normal traditions: quirky Christmas pajamas, stocking stuffers and Lee’s pancakes (minus the bananas). Our take-away from the trip was that traditions are what you make of them. We also learned that one of the main reasons why people travel is to observe and learn about other cultures’ traditions. And, ultimately, just as clear as that Exuma water, we saw how big our hearts could grow if we were receptive to allowing them to expand.

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