A Thanksgiving Memory: If We Want Family, Sometimes We Have to Go Get Them

By , November 25, 2009

This Thanksgiving brings to mind pleasant memories of the past.

My brother and his wife, Dave and Anke, live aboard their home built sail boat. They base out of Sitka, Alaska, cruising around the Inside Passage, occasionally traveling north to visit us.

Several years ago, when we still lived in Juneau, they visited in early November. They stayed for a while, reprovisioning before heading south to their winter harbor. Thanksgiving drew close, and we hoped they would stay long enough to spend the holiday with us. They needed to leave before then to cover the sea miles to their destination before the winter storms began in earnest.

In fact, they delayed their departure to be in town for a visit from our younger sister, so they had already waited longer than was prudent. Reluctantly, we saw them off as they sailed away.

That week the weather turned nasty, with record rainfall and high winds from the south, exactly the opposite direction they wished to sail. Eventually we heard that someone had seen their boat, Luna, anchored in Bridget Cove, north of town. Contrary winds had blown them up the coast and forced them to seek shelter. We were interested, but tried to ignore it, knowing they were anxious to be on their way, and would seize the first opportunity to continue their voyage.

By the morning of Thanksgiving day, we missed them so much we decided we should take a drive out the road. It would be a fun outing before we prepared that evening’s meal, and we just might see a familiar sail somewhere on the horizon. We drove about 30 miles to the cove, a favorite playground of ours. There, at anchor, we found Dave and Anke.

Even then, with them so near on Thanksgiving day, we tried not to raise our hopes. They rode to two storm anchors, and tossed wildly in the waves. If they didn’t intend to leave on the next tide, and risk the storm, then surely they’d be reluctant to leave their floating home untended for the day in such weather.

They had anchored deep in the bay, about 100 yards off shore. We could barely see them as they moved around in the cabin, and even came out on deck briefly to secure a loose line. We waved, but couldn’t catch their attention. They went below without realizing we were nearby. We all shouted together, and even blew a Coast Guard whistle without success. The howling wind overpowered our efforts until, summoning all my breath, I roared out a hail in my best “quarterdeck voice,” bellowing deep and long from my diaphragm.


Dave’s head immediately popped through the hatchway. He looked around, spotted us, waved, and disappeared. A moment later he and Anke both appeared and loaded knapsacks into their dinghy. They followed quickly after, and rowed hard for shore. When they reached the beach we pulled the boat ashore, all of us grinning broadly.

We need not have worried about their willingness to come to dinner! They had been sitting in their boat’s cabin, regretting that they were still so close on Thanksgiving without our knowledge, and trying to figure out the best way to reach us! They even considered rowing ashore and hitchhiking, no mean feat in that weather, on a stretch of road that would likely be very lightly traveled on a holiday. Their small VHF radio wouldn’t reach anyone who might relay a message, and the success of cell phones had recently brought an end to the Marine Operator Service that had formerly relayed VHF transmissions through the phone. If we hadn’t missed them so much, and decided to drive out for a chance to see them again, there would have been no family gathering that Thanksgiving.

We spent the evening happily, enjoying a simple, excellently-prepared turkey dinner, with good wine and jovial company, music and laughter. They spent that night with us.  The next day, as we drove them back to Luna, the wind shifted to the north. A short time later, they set sail and headed south. We watched them disappear around the near point, then returned home, thankful for a chance to spend the holiday with family.

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