The Gohsmans' first Thanksgiving aboard was a modest affair. They dropped anchor in the Bahamas and bought a couple of chickens from a local market.
This year will be different. They plan to feast on a plump, 13-pound turkey, accompanied by stuffing, sweet potatoes, fresh vegetables, rolls and a green bean casserole. They'll have wine with dinner and pie for dessert.
It will be a carefully choreographed effort, accomplished almost entirely in a closet-size galley tucked below the deck of their 53-foot sailboat, Falcon.
"It's pretty small," said Marsha Gohsman, who lives on the boat, docked in Port Annapolis, with her husband, Dave. "It's not like a house. You don't have a lot of space. But you start to think about how to use your space, make it comfortable."
Over the years, she has learned how to balance all the food preparation and cleanup involved, refining the routine so it all goes smoothly.
The side dishes and other fixings pose the greatest organizational challenge. She will cook the potatoes in the microwave and use three small burners on the stove to make gravy. The pie goes in the oven. Vegetables are cooked in an electric frying pan in the bedroom and kept warm there until the rest of the meal is done. As for the wine, she'll keep the bottles on ice in the small galley sink. Or, if the weather cooperates, she'll store them on deck to be chilled by the crisp fall air.
"There's not much space to operate in," she said. "I have to put a lot of work into it. Then you sit down and in 40 minutes it's all over. But that's the way it is."
It pays to plan every detail ahead of time. Each year, a few days before the holiday, Dave Gohsman checks the gas canisters that fuel the stove and gets them refilled.
"The worse thing that can happen is if we run out of gas," Marsha Gohsman said. "If that happens, I won't be able to cook at all."
The Gohsmans' earlier Thanksgivings aboard were much simpler, though not always as satisfying.
About 15 years ago, after quitting their full-time jobs and deciding to sail around the world, the couple found themselves in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving. They docked their small boat at an island and searched the markets for a turkey. They ended up settling for a small chicken that they could cook on their boat.
"It was very different," Marsha Gohsman recalled. "It was a little bit on the lonely side."
Since then, the couple has learned how to plan early and juggle cooking tasks, making adjustments to their circumstances.
"I would prepare a turkey breast by cooking on top of the stove with herbs," she said. "It would look awful, but it would taste good."
To reduce traffic in the galley and eating space, she has guests seat themselves at the table below deck and serves each a full plate.
Spending holidays on a boat isn't easy, the Gohsmans acknowledge. The limited space means fewer family members and friends. And sometimes the environment intimidates guests unaccustomed to boats. This year, they worry that their son's wife may not be able to withstand the light rocking. And whether they'll be able to cast off for a sail on the Chesapeake Bay after dinner will depend on the weather.
Still, they and others who spend Thanksgiving and other holidays aboard enjoy the challenge of making each holiday special. Many reach out to other boaters who may have dropped anchor far from loved ones.
Diane Selkirk knows all too well what it's like to spend the holidays far from home. She and her husband spent five years sailing from place to place and spent their first Thanksgiving aboard in Honduras, where they didn't know a soul.
"We felt so bad," Selkirk said. "We were all by ourselves."
The couple phoned their families, but that only worsened their melancholy. "Everybody was there, but I was away," she said.
To cheer themselves up, the couple baked homemade shortbread cookies and sailed around the port delivering them to neighbors, many of whom were also spending the holidays alone. The festive spirit was contagious and the Selkirks ended up making many new friends.
"It was kind of fun," she said. "I lived in the same apartment for eight years and I never knew my neighbors. I know everyone at the port."
Last year, the live-aboards at Port Annapolis who stayed for the holidays gathered in one boat to celebrate together. On Christmas, they made homemade gifts for each other and exchanged them.
This year, the Gohsmans plan to share their Thanksgiving with their son, Jeffrey, and his wife, Becky. It will be a home-cooked meal shared with family, on a day to celebrate one's blessings.
This year, Marsha Gohsman will count among them the full-size oven at a local marina where she plans to cook her turkey.
"You work with what you have," she said with a smile. "You plan ahead."
CAPTION: Marsha Gohsman and her husband, Dave, are cooking Thanksgiving dinner aboard their 53-foot sailboat. "There's not much space to operate in," Marsha Gohsman says of cooking in the galley.
CAPTION: "You work with what you have," Marsha Gohsman says of serving a big meal aboard a sailboat. This year she will cook her turkey in full-size oven at a local marina.