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Pot Luck Raft Ups

The basic ingredients for a pot luck party: a raft up and friends.

The art of the pot luck raft-up dinner is one that I remember approaching with trepidation my first time many years ago.  What should I bring? How does it work?  Do we cook together or bring prepared food?  Will the food go together or will it be a terrible mess?

Well, many years later, the answer is simply, “Yes.”  Relax. Somehow it all comes together whether anyone plans for it or not. The key ingredient is friendship!

Some pot-luck meals happen spontaneously when two or more boats of friends meet up in a local anchorage by chance. Then it's simply 'whatever' on the menu. There are also times when serendipity causes fellow cruisers to visit and suddenly you have reason to invite them to stay for a meal. That's when you have s-t-r-e-t-c-h on the menu (Alex is really good at thin slicing!) There is also the planned mini-cruise or meet-up among club members or regional friends. That's when you can organize the menu to some degree. In each case, it provides an opportunity for friends, either old or new, to share a meal and a story or two or three.

Because you are usually underway and away from stores, the meal you had planned is the meal you bring along.  Since everyone else brings along a full meal and usually more than they can eat, everyone ends up sharing.  Rule of thumb is to pre-cook as much as possible and bring it ready to serve. 

What is really interesting is that you may end up combining foods you wouldn’t normally have together.  Spaghetti with steak, for example. Most onboard meals are fairly simple so they tend to work well in different combinations. More often than not, you have a nice new experience. There have been a few strange combinations we’ve experienced over the years, but generally, it has all been edible, and usually more fun than being alone at anchor.

Examples of dishes brought one weekend:

  • Boat 1: Cheese and crackers, Chicken breast for BBQ, beans and rice, salsa
  • Boat 2: Chips & dip, Steak, mashed potatoes, salad
  • Boat 3: Guacamole & tortilla chips, freshly caught striped bass filets, boiled new potatoes, green beans
  • Boat 4: Whole roasted chicken, couscous, corn, italian bread, and watermelon

That weekend we had a feast. We turned on the oven and threw in everything that needed heating aboard one of the boats while we snacked on the appetizers. Party revelers brought white wine and red for sampling. It was a 'water, land and air' combination that we thoroughly enjoyed.

You can, however, make it more organized by prescreening contributions and letting people know what’s on your plate.  If you are the anchor boat, you have a large enough BBQ, and your raft-up is pre-planned, you might also consider cooking all the meat onboard your vessel and inviting everyone to bring side dishes prepared on their boats.  You don’t have to supply the meat, just throw it on the grill.  That makes it easier for everyone to enjoy cocktails together while the main course is cooking, and your galley doesn’t get overtaxed if the side dishes come ready made. 

One weekend we organized a chili tasting. Three homemade chilis and breads, one large salad, on deck in the nice fresh air. As we have a three-burner stove, we could keep three chilis equally warm for fairness. We named a winner and toasted to a successful tasting, then broke off the party and the raft-up before the propulsion got too serious.

One rule we have is that we break up the raft before nightfall.  “Things” usually happen during the night and we wouldn’t want the wind to suddenly pipe up unpredicted causing the raft-up to start dragging.  We have never had this happen but we’ve heard horror stories from others.  We have on occasion had one boat alongside for the night on calm evenings with success, but we make that the exception. The hardest thing to do is break up a raft while fighting to stay off a lee shore. This has happened to us but luckily it was midday and we were all able to successfully break up and re-anchor in a better location. Sure did break up the party though!

So relax and get ready to share. A pot-luck raft-up is waiting to happen!

Cooking steaks on the barbie. It looks much more dramatic in the photos than in reality. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher close by and know how to use it.


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