Instant friends, a cruising family atmosphere and turkey to boot are what make Vero Beach, Florida, the place to be on Thanksgiving. For the past two plus decades, cruisers from as far away as the Canadian Maritimes, the UK and Germany have joined with those migrating from the U.S. East Coast en route to the Bahamas and Caribbean to celebrate this thankful holiday in such a cruiser-friendly city. This year, the Cruisers Thanksgiving Potluck takes place on November 26 at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina.
Vero Beach’s long-standing popularity with cruisers lies in its location. First, it’s regarded as the ‘gateway to the tropics’ due to its balmy climate that supports a mix of pines and palms. Second, this town of 15,000 people sits right on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, the popular thoroughfare many cruisers use to travel south each fall. The Vero Beach Municipal Marina, in fact, is located at ICW mile marker 139.
“Everywhere we sailed down the ICW, whether it was Charleston or Elizabeth City or Savannah, we heard people say that if they missed their families and couldn’t practically visit for the one day holiday, there was a place they could go in Vero Beach,” explains Kathie Bergen-Grove, from Sea Bright, N.J., who cruises south each winter with husband, Charlie, first on their 44’ Gulfstar and now on the 45-foot power Med yacht, My Time Too. “The Cruisers Thanksgiving Potluck has grown by word of mouth by leaps and bounds. A lot of first-timers don’t like to be tied up three boats on a mooring at the marina, but there’s nothing like it. You soon become best friends for life with your mooring mates, plus it’s a way for first-timers to go over charts, talk anchorages and discuss their upcoming sail south with veterans.
“The Potluck started several years ago,” Bergen-Grove tells, “when seven cruisers were serendipitously marina-bound in Vero Beach over Thanksgiving due to a storm. The informal septet has grown into a party totaling 175 cruisers last year.”
One of the big reasons for the growth and success of this all-volunteer holiday meal is marina manager and harbor master Tim Grabenbauer’s securing of a municipal building stocked with tables and chairs that is five minutes away by walk or dinghy ride from the marina. This enables all festivities to go under cover in case of rain, a curve ball Mother Nature threw at some of the first Thanksgiving Potlucks held at picnic tables outside. Another huge element that makes this feast so fantastic is a strong community of CLODs (cruisers living on dirt) ashore.
“Cruisers don’t have enough room in their ovens to cook a turkey or ham, so I put out an e-mail to our fellow CLODs asking for the donation of this main course,” says Ann Catchick. She, with husband Jim earned the 2015 Bateman Domestic Cruising Station of the Year Award from the Seven Seas Cruising Association for their work as Vero Beach Cruising Station hosts and especially the Thanksgiving meals they have orchestrated. “It used to be four to five turkeys and a ham. Now, I ask for seven each of turkeys and hams and I always get them. Our fellow CLODs buy, roast, carve and deliver on time to the municipal building. Some bring gravy, or a special stuffing. One last year also brought 15 pounds of homemade mashed potatoes. The cruisers each bring an appetizer, side dish or dessert. There’s a sign-up list in the marina office.”
This year’s Cruisers Thanksgiving Potluck, like those in past years, will start off with a morning Flea Market outside the municipal building where the big meal will be hosted. The holiday dinner follows, starting at 2 p.m. Afterwards, many of the musically-inclined cruisers grab their instruments and put on a post-prandial jam.
Bergen-Grove proudly boasts, “Last year we had tables out on the porch and some cruisers went back to their boats to bring more chairs. We never turn anyone away. There is always room for one or two more.”