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Sailors cross nation for St. Marys tradition
ST. MARYS -- Some sailboat cruisers had no idea they were starting a Thanksgiving tradition at St. Marys when they sought refuge from a nor'easter 13 years ago.

After they anchored their sailboats the day before Thanksgiving, they went to the Riverview Hotel for a hot meal at the restaurant. That's where they met some local residents who asked about their plans for Turkey Day.

When they said they would probably spend the day on their boats, the residents offered to cook a turkey if they provided the side dishes, and a tradition was born.

Riverview Hotel owner Jerry Brandon offered to let them eat in his restaurant, which is closed Thanksgiving. The next year, the cruisers returned and told others about the hospitality offered at St. Marys.

"When it first started, we were just trying to accommodate people," Brandon said. "I never thought it would turn into this."

As many as 370 people have shown up for the annual event, which is publicized by cruisers talking on their side-band radios.

Brandon says he expects about 200 people to attend Thursday's dinner because of the weather. At least 10 turkeys and two hams will be prepared for guests. The cruisers will make the breads, salads, potatoes, casseroles, desserts, relishes, stuffings and other side dishes.

"We will use all the seating we've got," he said. "The first ones came into town over the weekend. There were 30 or 40 in the bar Monday, and the restaurant was full. They keep us busy all week."

Brandon is uncertain how many will show up because of the inclement weather that may force some cruisers to ride out the storm in other areas along the coast.

"The weather isn't conducive to traveling on water, or land, for that matter," he said.

Ann Barr says she and her husband, Lynn Barr, were unable to sail their boat Sea Tramp to St. Marys because of the weather. The Houston, Texas, couple were returning from a boat show in Annapolis, Md., and were determined to show up for Thanksgiving, so they left their boat docked in Thunderbolt, near Savannah, and rented a car to drive to town Tuesday.

"People can't get here," she said. "We just kept waiting for the weather. It just didn't happen."

Another possible glitch that could impact Thursday's dinner is the controversy that erupted earlier this year when commercial fishermen complained about sailboaters taking dock space for extended periods.

"St. Marys has gotten a bad rap with the fights with fishermen and restrictions by the Department of Natural Resources," Brandon said. "Hopefully by next year, we'll work it all out."

Barr says cruisers heard about the controversy, but it didn't change her and her husband's minds about coming to town.

When cruisers come to town, Brandon says residents provide transportation so they can shop, go to movies and run errands. They also have letters and packages mailed to the hotel during their stays in town.

Kirk McGuire of Salem, Va., says bad weather helped him decide to stop in town for the event instead of continuing to sail to Melborne, Fla.

"I was going to blow by here until the weather turned nasty," he said.

McGuire says he has no regrets about delaying his voyage and is looking forward to celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

"I'm not a traditionalist," he said. "I probably would have had a cheese sandwich and a coffee, or maybe open a bottle of wine."

Charlie Jacobs of St. Marys has cooked a turkey for the cruisers the past 13 years.

"The first turkey that was cooked, I cooked that little devil," he said. "I've never missed one since then. My family is always after me to have dinner with them in Jacksonville. This year, I told them I will show up late because I have my turkey in St. Marys first."

The annual event earned the Riverview Hotel the International Cruising Station of the Year award from the Seven Seas Cruising Association.

* Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.



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