I’m not sure, but I think there was quail. There had to be pies and potatoes — mashed or roasted. And some vegetables, which may have been fresh, since Christmas came soon after we left Bali and were in the Indian Ocean.

We were on a ship at sea and recently had visited Christmas Island, north of Australia and were on our way to Capetown, South Africa. Fifty-plus souls. On a ship there is always a sense of isolation, no matter how many in the crew. On grand holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah and Ramadan, even folks in a city can feel isolated because of the lack of the presence of loved ones. It is so much more so hundreds of miles from land and thousands of miles from home. In fact, you are probably the loved one someone else is missing. So the only thing to do is to love the ones you’re with.

That’s what we did on the Picton Castle. As cook, it fell to me to make sure the meal on Christmas Day was bountiful. I think there was quail. I don’t quite remember where I got them. I just remember that I bought enough to feed the crew and threw them in the freezer for just such an occasion. It is possible that they were Cornish game hens, but I’m stuck on quail.

There are other Christmas meals and Christmas days that I remember were spent at sea, but this one in particular comes to mind. I had the great good fortune to have been the cook on the Ernestina years ago for a voyage to Newfoundland from New Bedford. Part of the purpose of that trip was to visit the hometown of a previous owner of the ship, the famed Canadian Capt. Bob Bartlett. Bartlett was well known for a number of things. He was the navigator for Robert Peary when he reached the North Pole. Some say it was actually Bartlett who did the hard work and may have been the first at the pole, which makes some sense given that he was the navigator.

One of his most famous exploits, akin to one that the famous Vineyarder George Fred Tilton accomplished, was to walk (mostly) from Alaska to Siberia to find a ship to rescue his crew that was stranded after it became stuck in the ice and was threatened with being crushed.

Before Bartlett left, he did have the occasion to have Christmas at sea, or in the ice that is. He and his crew did not despair their isolation — rather they celebrated in high style. They held sporting events, sang songs and had a great feast. As I ponder this, I wonder if the cook had planned in advance for such a day. The menu included: mixed pickles and sweet pickles, oyster soup, lobster, bear steak, ox tongue, potatoes, green peas, asparagus and cream sauce, mince pie and plum pudding, mixed nuts, tea cake and strawberries.

Bartlett’s boat eventually did get crushed, and in the ensuing struggle, half the crew of 25 perished before he arrived on another ship to rescue the survivors.

So at this time of year when we gather with our crew of various family members and stragglers and remember those who can’t be with us, we can hope that none are stuck in the ice somewhere, that sporting events are occurring on this feast day, that there will be pies in abundance.

And maybe, just maybe, there will be quail.

Joe Keenan is a musician, writer, baker and shingler living in West Tisbury.