Our Cruiser Christmas

Our First Cruiser Christmas alongside the dock in San Fernando, Argentina
Has it really been four years since the day we officially became a cruising family?  It was Christmas Eve 2011 when Field Trip became our home.  While heavy bins and suitcases were moved from our storage unit in San Fernando, Argentina to the dock then onto the boat, I carefully kept track of one very important piece of luggage.  It wouldn’t quite feel like Christmas without it - a secret sack containing our tiny tree, stockings, ornaments, and wrapped gifts I’d kept hidden!  Somehow, even with all the change and transition, I wanted to hold tight to the joys and traditions of Christmas.  Since that night, we’ve celebrated four more Christmases.  One back in the states with family, one in Santa Marta, Colombia, and last year here in a very rainy New Zealand.  

How would we celebrate this year?  A few days prior, chatter started on the radio among our fellow family boats to coordinate a Christmas anchorage.  The ladies took final trips to the grocery store and last minute gift shopping sprees.  In Russell, a quaint town reminiscent of Martha’s Vineyard, the kids climbed a huge mulberry tree to gather berries for a homemade pie and then started rehearsing for a Christmas play they’d written.  The guys continued working on boat projects and did their best to steer clear of all the holiday agenda planning.
Picking a potful of mulberries!
At the last minute, plans came together, and five of us anchored together off Waewaetorea Island in the Bay of Islands.  Elizabeth and I decided to be crazy and get into the chilly water without our wetsuits - it had been a long time since we’d been in 70 degree seas - brrr!  After dipping my toe in and almost losing confidence, I just leaped right in, like ripping off a Band-aid.  Elizabeth eased in, inch by inch, until she finally got the courage to dunk her head beneath the surface.  It didn’t feel cold for long.  In fact, after a minute or so, we were both too numb to feel anything!  It was like we were back in Colorado again on a snowy ski day!  Elizabeth’s friend Ella showed up a few moments later in her wetsuit, ready to join the fun, which gave me a chance to sneak back on board and start the kettle for hot chocolate.  It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Waewaetorea Island - Our Christmas Anchorage
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I had my pot roast cooking in the pressure cooker, all the presents wrapped, and was as excited as the kids for Christmas to finally be here.  I imagined everyone in the other boats readying themselves for the much-anticipated holiday - tidying up, wrapping gifts, cooking - but I was just ready to be together.  I didn’t want to think that we’d rushed over to this bay, anchored right next to each other, and then would be too busy making our own family Christmas merry that we would miss the chance to celebrate with our cruising family.  After all, Christmas is about so much more than all the to do’s.  I called out on the VHF, “All kid boats, all kid boats.  This is Field Trip.”  And one by one, all the boats called back.  “Fluenta here.”  “Honey here.”  “Nirvana listening.”  “Perry’s on.”  

“Anybody up for an impromptu Christmas Cocktail Hour on Field Trip?  Come on over!”

Within the hour, our stern was crowded with dinghies and our water line was a bit lower.  Field Trip was full of friends and families for Christmas.  Some we’d known for over a year, and others we’d just met.  The kids didn’t waste a minute.  All the girls busied themselves working on the mulberry pie crust, and the boys piled into the guest bedroom interacting virtually via a multi-player Minecraft game.  The adults gathered in the cockpit and enjoyed some adult conversation, sipping Mark’s traditional holiday wassail.   

Matt and Jen from SV Perry getting in the Christmas spirit!
Tim and Jude SV Honey feeling festive!
We barely managed to get everyone to stand still long enough, but here's the kid crew!
A few hours later, the party died down and everyone headed back to their boats.  I warmed up the roast, and the four of us sat down together with full hearts. As we enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner, we recalled all we had to be thankful for.  Our little tree was glowing in the corner among a pile of carefully wrapped presents.  Ornaments from our travels hung from the branches as little reminders of places we’d been and people we’d met.  A hand-woven flax fish, a wooden kiwi, a handmade wreath, the glittery red star from our Argentina tree on that first Christmas Eve aboard, and a dried gourd from Colombia with a miniature nativity scene inside.

After dinner, the kids took turns reading from Luke about the most special reason we have to celebrate.  That night long ago when Jesus was born.  A child who would change this world and who continues to change me.  When I was young, my family always read the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve.  It settled our hearts on Him and reminded us how much God loved us.  Truthfully, back in those days I used to want to rush through the reading, just so I could get to the presents, but as I grew, that tradition gained more and more meaning.  And now, hearing my own children read it aloud brought sweet tears to my eyes.

The elves at work, passing out the gifts!
The following morning we all stayed in our pjs and exchanged gifts.  Being in New Zealand meant we could treat the kids to luxurious gifts like Legos and new clothes, rather than seashells or local island trinkets that usually get wrapped up.  Michael was so excited to buy Elizabeth "real toys" this year as he browsed around The Warehouse (kind of a kiwi version of Target stores) searching for the perfect gift for his sister that was within his allotted price range.  He finally decided - hair chalk and Legos.  He knew she'd love them.  And Elizabeth couldn't wait for Michael to open up the Minecraft book and mini figure she'd found for him.  I got such a kick out of watching the thought they put into each gift!  They even helped Mark pick out some presents they knew I'd love!

That day was a wonderfully lazy day.  I'm not even sure I got out of my pjs!  I got busy on my annual puzzle.  Mark was in the cockpit putting the Brownie Snuba compressor back together.  Michael and Elizabeth were tucked away with a friend constructing the newest Lego set.  Before I knew it, it was 5:30 and I hadn't even started roasting the chicken!  Sure, I could have thrown it into the pressure cooker, but I was on a roll with my puzzle and just couldn't stop!  Oh well, cold cereal and yogurt for Christmas dinner?  Sure!  Why not?  There were absolutely no complaints from my cereal-loving family, and we all could work on the puzzle while we ate!  Perfect!

Santa's workshop!
Lego mania!
Boxing Day (the day after Christmas, for my American friends reading this!) was full of activity - hiking, forts on the beach, and a potluck under a huge Pohutukawa tree.  This iconic New Zealand tree flowers around Christmastime along the beach with gorgeous, deep red blooms.  They refer to it as the New Zealand Christmas tree!  What a magical setting in which we could wrap up our cruiser's holiday.  And the beginning of our fifth year aboard!  Cheers from the southern hemisphere once again!  
Potluck under the Pohutukawa tree
Michael and his best buddies, Conrad and Mark, just being boys.
And Elizabeth and the girls enjoying a foot soak and a chat
Me and Michael hiking.  He showed me all the bush walks and hideouts he'd discovered the day before.
Our Christmas bay - we had it all to ourselves until the local holidayers came!

A view of our anchorage from the Pacific side of the island. 


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