Turkey on the Taffrail

Preparing a Thanksgiving feast on board takes planning and ingenuity—especially when the bird’s too big for the oven! This cruising cook came up with a delicious solution.

November 5, 2012
Turkey Avalon
Turkey Avalon Lynn Nelson

Cooking while under sail has always daunted me. I was first introduced to preparing meals on a sailboat more than 20 years ago, when my husband, Mark, and I chartered in such exotic places as Tahiti and Tonga. I loved the fact that our boats were pre-provisioned with supplies that I might turn into some elegant meal, and I spent long hours inventing recipes. While I’ve never mastered onboard bread baking and confess to using dried herbs rather than fresh on long cruises, I’ve loved the challenge of cooking on a boat—although I still prefer to do it at anchor.

Mark and I have sailed more than 5,000 miles on our Bavaria 42 Ocean, Convergence. On one Thanksgiving that we spent in the Golfo de California, our menu consisted of fish, canned vegetables, and white bread. Now we try to stay close to home for the holidays.

For the last several years, we’ve been sailing at Thanksgiving to Avalon, on California’s Catalina Island, where we meet up with our children on their 42-foot Californian motoryacht. Often we’re able to secure moorings so close to each other that we barely need to give the dinghy a shove in order to ferry dinner items between boats.


Timing the preparation of a Thanksgiving dinner in order to have all dishes cooked and ready at the same time is challenging enough in a single kitchen that’s on land—coordinating the meal between two boats and two galleys adds to the proportions of the task! To cut down on cellphone and VHF usage, we bought walkie-talkie radios so we can chat about our dishes and manage our cooking so everything is done at more or less the same time.

With the two boats, we have enough burners to cook almost all of the traditional turkey-day treats, but neither oven holds an entire bird. We thought about cutting it up and roasting it in parts, but we figured that three to four hours of cooking would use up a lot of propane. In the past, I always cooked the turkey at home, then sliced it and packed the pieces for warming up later on board. Last year, however, I decided to try a different approach.

I bought a fresh whole turkey breast that the butcher quartered. I rubbed the pieces with a mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs, placed cut sweet onions and apples between the slices and on top, then wrapped it all in foil to roast on the barbecue. Cooking time in the wind was about an hour. The meat doesn’t brown inside the foil, but guess what? We enjoyed one of our best, most moist turkeys ever.


Grill-Roasted Turkey Avalon Recipe

  • 1 whole 5-pound turkey breast or whole boneless turkey breast, cut vertically in four pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup combined fresh basil, thyme, chives, mint, rosemary, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 large sweet onions, sliced
  • 2 or 3 Granny Smith apples, sliced
  • Strong aluminum foil

With the foil, create two packets for the turkey. Place two pieces of turkey in each packet. Drizzle and rub with olive oil and chopped herbs. Salt and pepper each piece. Place onion and apple slices between, under, and on top of turkey pieces. Seal foil packet tightly at edges, but leave foil loose enough overall to allow room for steam and juices to collect. Roast on a low-to-medium grill for 60 to 90 minutes or until done. Use a meat thermometer; turkey is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 F. Let the meat rest for about 15 minutes before slicing further. Serves five to eight. Happy Thanksgiving!

Preparation: At Anchor

Time: 2 Hours


Difficulty: Easy

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