by Mary Heckrotte
Thank goodness I’m a cruiser since, I confess, I love potlucks. Not that potlucks never happen to Dirt Dwellers, but they surely don’t happen as often as they do when two or more liveaboard boats share a dock or an anchorage. Whether it’s just happy hour or a full-fledged potluck dinner, I love preparing only one dish and ending up enjoying a full array of palate-pleasing variety. I love all the creative ways folks can combine everyday food items to produce something entirely different from the same old same-old I always fix. I love the laughter and sharing stories and exchanging ideas. And now, thanks to my friend Stacy, when anyone says “potluck,” my potluck pack is packed, and my pot carrier just waiting for its pot.
Stacy McCampbell introduced me to a potluck pack when we first met in the Aves Islands, just off the coast of Venezuela. We sailed in to anchor next to a little island where thousands of booby birds nested in mangroves and spectacular reefs surrounded our boats. Our friends Kathy and Jack Grafius, on S/V Dream, were with us and they knew Stacy and her husband, Dave McCampbell, from S/V Soggy Paws, the only other boat in the anchorage. Anchors secured, the guys went off hunting and gathering and returned before noon with a great haul of conchs. Kathy invited everyone over to Dream for fresh fried conch. “Bring a dish to share,” she said, five little words that precede many an evening of joy.
Carl and I arrived first. I had baked onion-parmesan focaccia on my baking stone. After covering the bread with foil, I put the stone on a wooden trivet, and then wrapped the whole affair in a big green bath towel. Carl climbed aboard Dream first and I passed up our potluck contribution and then handed him a plastic grocery bag containing jumbled utensils and plastic plates for the two of us. We were just settling the focaccia, still inelegantly wrapped in its towel, on Dream’s cockpit table when Stacy and Dave came alongside. While Dave tied off their dinghy, Stacy daintily stepped aboard Dream. On her shoulder hung a gray canvas bag and in her left hand she clutched a gray canvas carrier by its little dowel handles.
Kathy made introductions as Stacy sat her carrier on the table. I watched in fascination as she rolled down the carrier’s canvas flaps to reveal a beautiful bowl of cheerfully layered red and green vegetable salad with a container of her homemade poppy seed dressing. Then Stacy opened her gray shoulder bag and extracted glass dinner plates, silverware, a chilled bottle of wine and real glass wineglasses for herself and Dave. Whoa, now! Is this a class act or what?! Barely finished saying hello, I asked Stacy, “Where did you find that carrier and bag?”
“Oh, I made them,” Stacy said. “Some of the cruisers in Trinidad were making the carriers and I just traced the pattern. I’ll give you a copy if you want one. The bag I just made up myself from some canvas scraps left over from our sail cover.” And that was the beginning of one those special and wonderful friendships that happen to cruisers. Sadly, we parted company with Dream, which was heading back east. We were delighted, though, that our Camryka and Soggy Paws were both heading westward and we soon became buddy boats. For the next year and a half, we sailed, snorkeled reefs, commiserated over repairs, played in the mud at a Colombian volcano, paddled up jungle rivers, shopped, and shared meals and happy hours in ports in Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and all the way to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala.
True to her word, Stacy gave me the potluck pot carrier pattern. But even nicer than that, she made me two carriers for my birthday. She used printed denim on the outside and a lighter-weight printed 100-percent cotton to line the inside. Since then I’ve made a couple of dozen pot carriers to give as gifts and to sell at flea markets.
Any stout washable cotton cloth can be used for pot carriers including denim, terrycloth, broad cloth, or quilted cotton. Removable handles can be made from half-inch wooden dowels. (The handles look nicer and are kinder to your hands if you sand and varnish or paint them.) For carrying very hot pots, a wooden or other trivet can slip in an opening between the two layers of the carrier. The carrier folds for easy storage and, handles removed, can be tossed in a washing machine.
Stacy’s idea of having a potluck pack is also handy. Having gear pre-packed saves time when getting ready for a spur-of-the-minute get-together and also saves having to make a run back to the boat for some forgotten item. In Camryka’s potluck pack, we not only have plates, eating utensils, and wineglasses for the two of us, we also have salt and pepper shakers, a corkscrew, knife, and serving spoons. Two cloth placemats wrap around our wineglasses to protect them from bumps, and matching cloth napkins are layered between the plates. In a side pocket, I tuck a flashlight in case we are out after dark, and a small container of bug repellent, for which many a cruiser has been grateful. A small, insulated cooler, just large enough to keep a bottle of wine or a couple of beers cool, also fits snugly inside.
Though Stacy sewed her own bag, a small backpack also makes a perfect potluck pack. To pad the inside, cut two half-inch-thick pieces of foam rubber to fit, and cover them, pillowcase-style, with washable fabric. Put wrapped dishes, glasses, and utensils inside one two-gallon plastic Zip-loc bag and everything else in another. Insert these between the foam layers. A plastic grocery bag tucked in serves for the dirty dishes when the feasting is complete. Back aboard, as soon as the dishes are washed and dried, they go right back in their Zip-loc, a clean grocery bag folded alongside, and we’re ready to potluck party again! Although Soggy Paws and Camryka ultimately steered different courses, I don’t ever go to a potluck without thinking about my friend Stacy who showed me how to have a little potluck class.
This article first appeared in the June 2004 issue of Compass.
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