Dock Lines: Holiday on-board entertaining

With our mild climate and typically sunny Southern California weather — despite promises of coming El Niño downpours — there’s every reason to celebrate upcoming holidays on board our boats. Space may be at a premium for large gatherings of family and friends, but smaller parties sized appropriately for the boat can prove festive and fun.

Well before the holidays, decide whether you’re going to decorate your boat so you’ll have time to select appropriate decorations. If you choose to put up a Christmas tree, you may need to purchase a smaller one than your usual tree, sized right for your boat. Arv and I settled on a small 4-foot tabletop-type tree that we erect on a counter. I went through our over-stocked decoration collection and picked out smaller, non-breakable and mostly soft ornaments that are suitably sized for our tree yet safe for our two mischievous cats to knock off and bat around the boat.

When we have friends over to the boat I enjoy preparing a generous spread of food and keep a selection of serving platters, bowls and glassware on board for entertaining. Sometimes I’ll bring extra platters or special equipment from home, but it’s also easy to pick up disposable but reusable heavy plastic serving pieces in varying sizes at stores such as Smart & Final or Target. 

For dining, preparing trays of cold food in advance is usually easiest on the hosts. Yet don’t dismiss the idea of hot food, even if you don’t have a large oven or microwave on board. You can easily prepare tasty casseroles, soups or stews on a cooktop or stove, or, for a special holiday dinner, order a hot turkey, ham or roast from a caterer or the deli department of your favorite grocery store. 

As I learned last year, when my on-board convection/microwave oven failed the day before a holiday when we were expecting guests for a turkey dinner with all the fixings, insulated bags and coolers are a boater’s best friend. I took my turkey home, fortunately only a 20 minute drive away, along with all my partially prepared side dishes and desserts and baked them in my home kitchen. 

Using soft-sided insulated bags lined with heavy towels, I packed the foil-covered turkey and the side dishes into separate bags, folded over the towels and added more towels to ensure heat retention. I drove back to the marina, returning just as my guests arrived. Just before dinner I walked my sweet potato casserole over to the marina’s microwave oven to reheat. Before putting dinner on the table I unpacked the coolers and discovered that my turkey and stuffing were still piping hot 3 hours after removing them from the oven. 

If you opt to pick up a hot bird or roast from your local supermarket or caterer, use the same trick of packing your prepared dishes in towel-lined insulated bags. Your food will still be hot when you’re ready to serve.

Again, think coolers, preferably larger sizes, for chilling party beverages, separating them by type. Alternatively, a large bowl or even sink filled with ice works well to cool bottles or cans that won’t fit in the refrigerator. 

Since nothing is worse than a red wine or fruit stain on fiberglass or carpeting, discreetly station bottles of Spray Nine, carpet cleaner and paper towels around the boat to remove stains before they set and to mop up spills. Be sure to set up trash receptacles conveniently around the party area for easy disposal.

With advance planning, on-board parties can provide a delightful change-of-pace for the holidays.

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Capt. Nicole Sours Larson

Capt. Nicole Sours Larson has spent more than 25 years boating in Southern California and Mexican waters as well as throughout the East Coast's Chesapeake Bay. A freelance writer, she holds a USCG captain's license and has been writing about boating since 2009. Previously she lobbied on boating safety and education issues for boating organizations at the federal, state and local levels.


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