On land, disparate opinions among dinner guests can be enough to send even the steadiest of hosts running for the hills. What happens when a staunch Catholic and fundraiser for the Republican party sits at the dinner table with a gay couple thrilled to finally be able to marry after 15 years together?

Now imagine this scenario on a boat, a relatively small 120-foot Maine windjammer, where these same folks spend a week’s vacation together, sharing breakfast, lunch and dinner each day? And how can you run for the hills when you’re out at sea?

All summer long, my husband and I board 24 interesting and sometimes very different guests at a time for 4- or 6-day sails on our windjammer, the Schooner J. & E. Riggin. On boarding night, while we are at the dock, we encourage the guests to explore the boat. The crew helps them find their cabin and settle in. First-timers are often shocked at the very small space in which they will berth. We want the guests to adjust to their new adventure and the feel of the boat underneath them before we head out onto the bay.

For its part, the crew uses boarding night to try to assess the characters and individuals who will be on board. We set out a coffee tray and a platter heaped with cookies. As the hostess, I try to get a sense of everyone’s mobility and abilities: who might need help getting around the first day or two? Who’s the joker? Who’s a little awkward socially and might need an advocate? Who is nervous about this “adventure” that their spouse chose?

In many ways, it’s not all that different from being a hostess on shore. And do we have guests who like to proclaim – loudly and clearly – their strongly held political beliefs?

My dad falls into that last category. He’s passionate about what he believes, and he shares his politics in a deep and booming bass. One week my mom and dad were sailing with us. We also happened to be hosting a gay couple who’d been together for many years and were excitedly planning their wedding.

For the most part, everyone was on their best behavior, until one night later in the trip. Everyone was down below in the galley for dinner, and I was on deck at the opposite end of the boat, enjoying a quiet moment with my husband, the captain. Suddenly, I distinctly heard my dad’s voice rise above the clink of cutlery and the din of dinner conversation. As if in a “Seinfeld” episode, I moved in what seemed excruciatingly slow motion toward the galley while silence settled.

The clink and din – the babbling brook of mealtime – had ceased.

This story has a happy ending: By the time I descended into the galley, my dad and our guest were laughing. I could see relief on several faces, probably including my own. Later, my dad reported that they’d used humor to ease a clear difference of opinion (always an excellent tactic).

On another trip, two couples, one from a blue New England state and the other from a red Southern state, boarded at the same time. They’d taken each other’s measure in the parking lot, and on Day 1 of our trip, they circled each other warily. But amazingly, by the end of the trip, more often than not, I saw them choosing to sit together.

At the end of the trip, when they said goodbye on the dock, the women had tears in their eyes while the men gave each other long, firm handshakes. The Southern gentleman drawled, “You know, you’re alright for a Yankee.”

Sometimes I wish our politicians were required to go on windjammer trips. On a boat, people almost have to be polite and respectful because they not only eat together at every meal, but they haul on sails together, too, relying on each other to be safe. On our windjammer, political beliefs and ideologies are, at least temporarily, replaced by a shared love of the outdoors.

This recipe – which combines Maine shrimp with Southern grits – is a culinary ode to the unlikely friendship between those Northern and Southern couples. May all of our differences ease over good food. May all of our tables be places of discourse and dialogue conducted with consideration and sensitivity.

Garlic and Tomato Shrimp with Watercress and Spinach over Cheddar Grits

I use home-canned tomatoes when I make this recipe. If you are lucky enough to have fresh tomatoes in your garden, absolutely use those.

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

11/2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)

2 cups canned tomatoes

1 pound raw Maine shrimp or 40/50 shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 cups spinach leaves

1 bunch watercress, ends removed and cut into 2-inch lengths

11/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.

Add the garlic to the hot oil, but be sure to have the tomatoes at the ready.

Sauté the garlic for 30 seconds to 1 minute, watching closely so it doesn’t burn, then carefully add the tomatoes to the skillet. Bring the tomatoes to a boil.

Add the shrimp and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until the shrimp edges are still gray, but most of the body has just barely turned pink.

Remove from heat and add the vegetables, lemon juice and seasoning.

Serve immediately over grits.

Cheddar Grits

Serves 4 to 6

51/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Pinch or 2 of kosher salt

1 cup old-fashioned (not quick-cooking) grits

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot sauce

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring the broth and salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk in the grits, slowly and steadily. Add the Tabasco and butter.

Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the grits have thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in the cheddar and set aside, covered, until ready to serve.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is co-captain of the Schooner J. & E. Riggin and the author of “Sugar and Salt: A Year at Home and at Sea.” She blogs at athomeatsea.com and can be reached at:

[email protected] mainewindjammer.com

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