Birthday on a boat
October 30, 2019 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for suggestions to mark a team member's birthday... while we're out at sea.

I lead a small team of folks on a project that is taking us out on a ship for a week. A new team member, who I am mentoring/training, let slip that his birthday will be while we're out at sea. I'd like to do a small thing to celebrate, with the following constraints:

-Absolutely no alcohol (ship's rules - we're not on a cruise)
-Open flames are not practical (probably not allowed inside, and it's too windy out on the deck to keep anything lit for long)
-Baked goods are available in the mess, but assume the kitchen crew will not make anything special
-Birthday is five days after we leave port (I'll be in a hotel room with a kitchenette before we leave, but if I'm going to make anything it needs to be shelf stable)

Any creative ideas?
posted by backseatpilot to Grab Bag (13 answers total)
Grab one of those fold-out Happy Birthday banners from a card store/party section, a stack of paper party plates, and a box or two of Little Debbie type cakes (Entemann's, if you want to be fancy, but check the expiration date). It's simple, packs basically flat, not heavy, and under the circumstances *anything* will be impressive. Get a card to pass around for signatures, too.

If this is the kind of trip where you end up with evening downtime with not much to do, you could also pick up some bingo cards (you can get an app for your phone to "draw" bingo numbers) or Mad Libs or similar low-tech party games.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:29 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Something pre-packaged? I'm thinking Moon Pies, of course. Very shelf-stable.

(Inferior) runners-up: Little Debbies or Drake's Cakes
posted by jquinby at 10:29 AM on October 30, 2019

BTW: they do make LED blow-out birthday candles.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:31 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

we celebrated my dads birthday at a local place famous for fried chicken and being the oldest bar in our state.

they served him a twinkie in a nacho boat covered in m&ms and whipped cream, with a candle in it. As above you could get something light up to go in it that isn't a flame. The m and m's added a nice texture to the twinkie.

makes for a great photo op. could add glow sticks made into bracelets, headbands etc.
posted by domino at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2019

Absolutely 1000% check with your team member that this is ok with them. I was organizing a major event that occurred over my birthday and also accidentally let it slip. I lived in terror that the one person who knew was going say anything to anyone else. I am terrified of having people sing happy birthday to me in all but the most intimate of gatherings. I do not have a birthday party for myself (some years I want to, but birthdays are fucking hard for me).

If the birthday person is ok with it, then you can make cake in the shop galley. There will be an appropriate pan and there’s maybe a member of the crew whose job it is to cook, unless the whole crew rotates. If there is one cook for the crew, they might do you a favor and make a cake for the special day. If tipping is allowed, definitely tip for this. Make sure there will be enough cake for everyone, not just your team. Make sure your team mate knows that you’ve thought of this.

Do not, and I repeat, do not call the cook by any nickname unless they have specifically said ‘you can call me ____,’ no matter who else in the crew uses a nickname to the cook’s face.

If you have received permission to acknowledge the date, send a card around your team. Attach a post it note inside with each person who needs to sign and instruct people with illegible signatures to print their name instead of or in addition to actually signing.

My advice would be nothing more than this. No signage, no confetti, no streamers, no crepe paper. Boats are sometimes/often hyper aware of the garbage the produce and the weight they carry. You’re on this boat to get work done. The crew may enjoy a bit of festivity, but they may also resent it. They’re human and they have to watch and clean up after this.
posted by bilabial at 10:42 AM on October 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

For Dutch children, on their birthday, the parents will decorate their chair. Most commonly used are paper garlands, small paper flags, and balloons. Getting to sit on a colourful throne for breakfast, lunch and supper makes you feel like royalty for a day.

Maybe you can bring some festive drink, such as fizzy fruit juice, and pour it into nice looking glasses for a toast?
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:43 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

A birthday hat.
posted by sallybrown at 10:44 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

N-thing asking if bday team member is ok with anything that you plan first.

Possibly adapt a "line crossing ceremony"?
posted by porpoise at 11:39 AM on October 30, 2019

Possibly adapt a "line crossing ceremony"?

According to all the examples in the article you linked, (and everything else I've ever read about naval line crossing ceremonies) they're elaborate acts of hazing that at their most benign feature a lot of physical discomfort and ritualized humiliation, and at their worst feature beatings and sexual abuse.

So maybe don't do any of that?
posted by firechicago at 12:34 PM on October 30, 2019

Yeah, line-crossing is generally intended for bonding the crew together, and the younger sailors to the more experienced crew, with some group ritual hazing, not for distinguishing an individual with same. It's also an old nautical tradition that you don't want to appropriate for a mere birthday party. Sailors have birthdays at sea all the time, to not much fanfare, so it'll be weird for them, and probably everyone else, when suddenly one of you is dressed as King Neptune in the wrong part of the ocean.

If I were you, I'd keep it simple; get the singing and cake (as described in above posts) in front of the person during or immediately after dinner or whatever the biggest meal is to be that day. A (ship-made, if the ship has a color printer and you have a group+ship photo) card which can serve as a souvenir of the trip as well as the group involved is a good one-- get the skipper to sign it with a generic birthday greeting if you can.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:51 PM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If the birthday person is ok with it, then you can make cake in the shop galley.

I absolutely cannot do this. The ship is large enough that there is a multi-person kitchen staff feeding a large crew three hot meals a day, and I am not risking my job over messing with that.

Let me try to rephrase my original question. I would like to do something roughly equivalent to sticking a candle in a brownie for the guy, but since we all have 24/7 access to all the brownies we could possibly want in the mess (and, as above, candles probably not a great idea) it seems a little impersonal. I'd like to come up with something I can either bring on board or cobble together that would be a good substitution. Nothing overly dramatic, probably no singing, mostly conveys the sentiment of "thanks for being on the team, far from home, working on a day you'd probably rather have off celebrating."

I have a good working relationship with the regular crew, but ultimately my team and I are guests and I already ask for a lot of favors to get our regular work done. I don't want to do anything that will upset that working relationship.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:58 PM on October 30, 2019

There are now a lot of “birthday cake” flavored candy items (gum , Popcorn, candy bars, etc). I think a card and an item would show “hey, we thought of this ahead of time. Just recognizing you’re here” type thing that would be approriate for all manner of work circumstances.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:28 PM on October 30, 2019

Does the galley have a freezer? Just smuggle onboard a Fudgie The Whale Ice Cream cake and stick a candle in it!
posted by valkane at 2:24 PM on November 2, 2019

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