Nov 28 – The Port of Thanksgiving

Photo from Tribune & Georgian newspaperHere’s the myth: Sixteen years ago, some southbound cruisers were stranded by weather in Saint Marys over Thanksgiving. A couple of compassionate locals offered to provide the turkey and ham, the local hotel offered a place to get together, and the cruisers brought potluck covered-dish sides and desserts. They had such a good time, the cruisers and locals decided to repeat the event the following year, and a few more cruisers joined in. Thus began the annual Saint Marys Thanksgiving cruisers event, which has come to be known as “The Port of Thanksgiving.”

Here’s the reality: The waterfront hotel in Saint Marys has a quirky little saloon. Because it’s close to the water, it’s a great watering hole for cruisers passing through. Regular cruisers got to know the local barflys. The hotel would keep the saloon open on Thanksgiving, because the cruisers and barflys often didn’t have family nearby to spend Thanksgiving with. Sixteen years ago, the cruisers and barflys decided to have their own Thanksgiving feast together at the saloon. They had a good time and decided to do it again the following year. Cruisers. Food. Bar. You had to know it was destined for success.

One of the original cruisers taking part was a moderator of the “Cruiseheimers” SSB radio net, which is how cruisers communicated in the age before on-the-water cell phones, internet, email and Facebook. The Cruiseheimers net promoted the event, and that’s how word got out and the event grew over the early years. The Cruiseheimers moderators were the first to call the event “The Port of Thanksgiving.”

For the past 12 years, the coordinator for the event has been Ann of S/V Sea Tramp. Ann has been assisted by a small cadre of cruisers who are regular attendees. Last year, Ann, along with Mary of S/V I Wanda, tried to convince me that I needed to take a leadership role. (Mary was one of the Cruiseheimers moderators who helped promote the event in the early years, and because of the event, got to know the area, bought a house, and winters in Saint Marys.) The event has always been “for cruisers, by cruisers.” With more and more of the Old Guard cruisers dropping by the wayside each year, and the changing times as far as communications goes, the event needed to evolve into more of a “for cruisers, by local cruisers” event. Since Suzy and I are a couple of the few active local cruisers in Saint Marys, and Ann is worn out after so many years at the helm, she and Mary looked to me to take the lead. In a moment of weakness, I agreed. This year, I served as Ann’s assistant. Next year, I will be fully responsible.

The Port of Thanksgiving spans the entire week of Thanksgiving. Evening activities are held at Seagle’s Saloon in the historic Riverview Hotel on the waterfront. The days are spent in provisioning, some sightseeing, and informal socializing.

Statistics: This year, we had 192 cruisers, representing 95 cruising boats, participating in the event. There were 69 boats anchored in the river, 13 out-of-town boats temporarily hauled out at the Saint Marys Boat Services boatyard, and crews of 13 other boats drove in from adjacent states. Participating boats were flagged in 24 US states, four Canadian provinces, and the United Kingdom. Local townspeople provided 13 turkeys and four hams. Cruisers provided all the salads, side dishes, desserts and bread. Members of the Saint Marys Yacht Club provide free tranportation, ferrying cruisers to grocery and hardware stores, department stores, laundries, for propane tank refills, and — this year — even to an Urgent Care facility, for a total of 35 separate trips over six days. In all 22 local townspeople supported and participated in the event, for a total number of 214 cruisers and locals taking part.

Over the past eleven years, not counting the first five start-up years, the Port of Thanksgiving event has averaged 188 cruisers per year, representing 91 boats, and a total cruiser+local participation of 212 people. The largest event to date was in 2010, when we had 277 cruisers, representing 133 boats, and a total participation of 309 people. The smallest event in the past ten years was in 2014, when bad weather limited the event to 130 cruisers, representing 56 boats, and a total participation of 146 people. This year’s event was just slightly over the average level of participation from the last eleven years.

Cruisers started arriving for the event on the weekend before Thanksgiving. There were unofficial, ad hoc socials at Seagle’s Saloon at five o’clock each evening. The official kick-off of the event was a Welcome Social at Seagle’s on Monday evening. There was a potluck Soup, Chili and Appetizer Social on Tuesday evening, and an Oyster Roast on Wednesday evening. After the Thanksgiving luncheon, there was an informal, unofficial hoc “open mic” sing-along in the hotel lobby, featuring cruising musicians and their instruments. Later that evening, the saloon re-opened for continued revelry. The official festivities closed on Friday evening with a cocktail party sponsored by the Saint Marys Yacht Club on the dock and aboard the yacht club’s clubhouse, a houseboat, in the west waterfront marina.

A number of boats resumed their southbound journey on Friday. Most of the remainder departed on Saturday. As of today (Monday), there are a few boats still hanging around in the anchorage.

It’s time to rest… and begin the work preparing for next year’s event.