Pack A Better Picnic: For The Boat, The Dock, The Island

BetterPicnic2Food just seems to taste better when it is eaten outside. Whether a picnic takes place on the boat, the dock or on a Smith Mountain Lake island, it is guaranteed to be a fun event with a beautiful view.

BetterPicnic1Lunch Cruise

A picnic on the boat makes it easy to take a long boat ride to a new part of the lake. With its 500 miles of shoreline, there’s a lot to see at SML. In spring or fall, picnics can be enjoyed on board without even going ashore, avoiding chilly water. Before setting out on a long trip, be sure to: 

  • check the local weather
  • tell a friend or neighbor trip details (departure time and expected return time)
  • gas up the boat
  • take a charged cellphone
  • make sure to have a lake map
  • check for adequate life jackets for each crew member 
  • bring extra sweatshirts, jackets, towels or blankets in case it is cooler on the lake than anticipated.

For the actual picnic, you’ll need food, drinks and minimal equipment—napkins, plates, cutlery, cups, trash bags and packaged moist towelettes. Food could be packed in a picnic basket or, if this is hard to fit in the boat, the food might go into the cooler along with cold beverages. A plus for a large rectangular hard-sided cooler is that it can also serve as a table in the boat after the food and drinks come out; a minus is that the cooler can become too heavy to carry and load into the boat. In that case, a small cooler for beverages and an insulated bag for food is preferable.

Most skippers prefer picnics of premade, individually wrapped, non-gooey sandwiches or pieces of chicken. Leave at home the ketchup, mustard and sauces that might stain the boat’s carpet. Many skippers also ban red wine (and dark colas) on board. Stick with water, flavored or not, some of which can be in half-frozen bottles that double as ice packs.

When deciding where to break out the lunch, give preference to coves within a few minutes of a marina or near the home of a friend for that post-lunch bathroom stop.

BetterPicnic6Dock Dining

A picnic on the dock or on the deck can be pure heaven, being up close and personal with the lake—hearing the waves, feeling gentle breezes, seeing the water views and ducks, geese and herons flying. Dining al fresco is a preferred activity at the lake, and it’s much easier than picnicking elsewhere because most docks already have a table and chairs, a bar, storage areas, electrical outlets and a refrigerator. Keep the dock stocked with refreshments, paper plates, napkins, plastic silverware, wraps, foil, bottle/wine openers, tablecloths, sharp knives, matches and moist towelettes. Also handy are a microwave, toaster oven and a couple of hot trays.

Whether your “picnic” is a simple lunch, hors d’oeuvres for 40 or a five-course meal for eight, it is important to get food, drinks and ice to the dock in advance for a stress-free gathering.

To transport food and equipment, use deep, heavy-duty plastic dishpans that can be loaded with everything from flower arrangements to food and drinks. For cleanup, the same dishpans are loaded with used plastic wine glasses and everything that needs to be carried back to the house.

The only cooler needed is one filled with ice and beverages for guests to make a selection. A large decorative bucket is a prettier version of the open cooler.

BetterPicnic7Come Ashore!

A picnic on an island should only be undertaken in summer when wading from boat to shore is comfortable and playing in knee-deep lake water is appealing. Be sure to pack sunscreen, sunglasses and visors or hats. Because there is no guarantee your island will be unoccupied, have a Plan B in mind—a secondary location, boat picnic or dock picnic—in case someone else has already grabbed your favorite spot.

When considering food and drinks, options are a bit more varied than a boat picnic, as there will be no worry about staining the boat’s carpet. Build a campfire for chicken and veggie kabobs or even good old hot dogs and marshmallows cooked on green sticks from trees. Containers of vegetable salads and fruit salads round out the meal. BYO firewood is suggested. Yes, it’s messy, but most SML islands have long ago been stripped of firewood. (And be sure to practice fire safety, making sure fire is fully extinguished before your departure!)

A heavy blanket, quilt or a special blanket with waterproofing on one side (or even a separate waterproof tarp) serve as both table and chairs. Here’s a tip: Sprinkle talcum powder, a natural ant repellent, around the outside of the picnic blanket to keep the crawlers away.

Easy-to-pack games like Frisbee, Nerf balls and sets of Velcro catcher’s mitts with fuzzy balls can come out of their storage places in the boat to provide fun in the sun. Noodles and blow-up rafts are fun floaties for the swimmers in the crowd. Don’t forget the moist towelettes and the trash bags to leave the picnic area even cleaner than you found it!

Picnic Food Tips:

Avoid mayonnaise-based salads. They must be kept at 40 degrees or less to avoid spoiling. A good alternative is vinegar and olive oil or sesame oil-based salads. Use this for dressings on coleslaw, pasta, tuna and potato salads.

BetterPicnic9Avoid deviled eggs made with mayonnaise. Consider making them with Greek yogurt or avocado, since these tend to hold up to spoilage better than mayonnaise.

Put condiments like mustard and ketchup in small containers. A ketchup bottle adds unnecessary weight to your basket.

Soft fruits (peaches, bananas) do not travel well. Apples, pears and oranges hold up better.

Other good fruit/veggie choices are cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, cut raw peppers, celery, grapes and figs.

The best fruit and cheese platters feature hard cheese (Brie becomes a soggy mess). Good combos are Gruyere and apple slices, watermelon and feta, tomatoes and mozzarella.

Transporting chocolate is messy. If you want cake, take angel food cake and top with fruit.

Sodas can go flat, and insects love them. Instead pack partly-frozen bottles of water, lemonade or fruit punch.

Don’t Forget:

  • BetterPicnic5picnic basket, thermal bag or insulated backpack for food
  • cooler with drinks
  • paper goods (plates, napkins, paper towels, cups, plastic wine glasses, trash bags)
  • extra zipper bags to bring home leftovers
  • blanket to sit on
  • individual moist towelettes
  • matches and firewood, if making a fire
  • corkscrew or bottle opener
  • eating or serving utensils
  • knife and cutting board, if needed
  • sunscreen, sunglasses, visors, hats
  • camera/cellphone
  • toys such as: Frisbee, Nerf ball, Velcro mitts and balls