Cruising boat renovations

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“I may have broken the aft cabin.” This is the text I get from Jamie a few hours after I’ve departed Totem for an overnight road trip to Miami. The smoky-green smell of sawdust wafts to me from half a state away and the disarray of a deconstruction project easy to picture. The critical path project for our departure from the US for the Bahamas is to replace the soft sides for our hardtop dodger, so of course, the aft cabin is going to be torn apart.

It comes down to this: cruising boat projects are more likely to be done when you can than when you want to. Those you do when you must often leave something to be desired based on local limitations. And over time, these done-as-you-could projects accumulate into something that stands to benefit from a re-do.

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Kid / candy store

Here in Florida we have easy access to well-made, relatively affordable goods. It’s a short ride to a spectrum of lumber options and hardware. A selection of dying tools were readily replaced: drill, orbital sander, and a jigsaw Jamie’s had since he was 17. Quality wire at great prices was available with help from a friend. So a combination of two needs based in the aft cDSC04203abin—getting our batteries wired up correctly, and dealing with mold in the bamboo paneling—pushed this one to the fore.

Breaking the aft cabin stems from a must-do project that wasn’t done entirely right, based on local limitations. Nearly three years ago we replaced our battery bank back in Malaysia. Moving the bank location under our bunk helped address weight distribution on Totem, eliminating a port list. That move required different wiring to connect to the bus bar nearer the old nav station location. We didn’t have access to the right sized wires, so Jamie made it work by patching long cables.

The knee bone’s connected to the shin bone: charge controllers wired to the battery bank had been installed on a piece of bamboo paneling that got moldy thanks to the damp on board (possibly starting from this unpleasant passage, but condensation during the recent cold months was a kicker). Blinking lights reflecting off the headliner over our bunk at night doesn’t make for a romantic atmosphere (and is just kind of annoying!), so there’s a whole new utility closet being built in the cabin to house these in beautiful organization.

This might have been postponed, but access to the right materials to do it right bumped it up. The kicker was some very nice wires that friends helped us source (Asif’s a rocket scientist, a pilot, and a boat owner– thus knows not just a few things about wiring but a great place to buy quality marine-ready stuff for less).

There are a lot of concurrent projects on Totem right now, and while I’m dreaming about getting the dodger and bimini done (it will happen! It has to) it’s pretty exciting to see the improvements in our cabin.

Life rolls on! The roadtrip was relatively spontaneous. My friend Patricia Leat takes special needs kids and families out sailing on the healing waters of the ocean: she wanted to meet with her friend and Active Disabled Americans board member, Kerry Gruson, in Miami. As it turned out, I’m the one who lucked into a sail with this inspiring woman: Kerry has been paralyzed from the neck down for decades, but despite the limited mobility in her arms she helms the boat with tenderness and intensity. Team Paradise is the Miami-based organization that helps people of all levels of ability get out on the water. Wheelchair? Other needs? No problem, they figure it out.

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I also met up with Pam Wall in Fort Lauderdale. Pam and I are delivering a two-day Cruising Women seminar alongside the spring boat show in Annapolis and had some coordinating to do! Between those two priorities, Patty and I worked in some meetups (Halden Marine, with the supremely helpful JT who provided watermaker troubleshooting for us from halfway around the world, and at Strataglass, to get materials for Totem’s dodger). Of course, you really should have a Cuban sandwich in Miami, too.

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We’ve been lucky to spend time with special people, like my old nanny / au pair, Jorunn, who visited from Norway. I haven’t seen her in at least 40 years, but the face and the voice – I knew them, and it was wonderful.

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Or hanging out with our friends on MV Cortado, who we can’t wait to see again down in Miami soon.

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The ocean beaches, where hunting ospreys flaunted their catch, are best visited with a friend.

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There are homemade pasta dinners with the McMermaids, another family who feels at one with the ocean.

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Spontaneous visits by neighbors Kristen, Hans and their daughters, via dinghy, keeping our psyches closer to cruising while tied to a dock.

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Getting to know Jacksonville a little: Anne Frank’s diary facsimile, in an exhibit at the Museum of Science & History.

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Yet another Amazon delivery,.

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And yet another sunset.

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Guns and cruising

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“What kind of guns do you have on board?” This was the opening question from a new acquaintance at a cocktail party. Loaded with assumptions from someone who doesn’t know us, and who has no intention of traveling the way we do. Walking down the dock the other day, a woman was overheard talking about practicing at the range because they were going to Mexico, and she’d need her gun there. It’s a big scary world out there, gotta protect yourself!

Or…it isn’t, and you just have to ditch the paranoia and think about it a little. The reality of our personal safety risks as cruisers is out of scale with those perceptions. But I guess in the “if it bleeds, it leads” media, a lot of people are lead to believe that the world outside the US borders is a dangerous place. It’s just not right. With only a couple of exceptions, I’ve felt safer outside the USA during our years of travels than I do back at home. The scariest moment in our eight years of cruising came in California and had nothing to do with malicious intent…but that’s another story. What I wish the guy at the cocktail party had asked is “how do you stay safe?” This is something we think about all the time! Besides a healthy appreciation for our own lives, we carry our most precious cargo on board – our three kids. Any impression that we are cavalier about safety is misplaced.

Piracy hotspots are well known and easy to avoid. Our encounters at sea are so minimal they’re almost not worth mentioning. We were scouted in the South China Sea, a definite hotspot, but only for commercial vessels. There was a fishing boat in Sri Lanka that followed us for an entire day. We know it was a bunch of fishermen, and MAYBE it could have spun into something more than that, but that’s pure speculation. When the sun got low and they were still tailing us, we radioed our buddy boat and they basically beelined to our position… the fishermen left. (FWIW, these same guys traded us gorgeous fish!)

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Just countries get an unwarranted bad reputation; others simply need to be understood as more complex than just “bad” in general. O on couple of times we’ve chosen to travel in places that were so-called “dangerous” after our research concluded we’d be able to visit with minimal security risks. Papua New Guinea is one of those countries with a terrible reputation. It can be dangerous and has some crazy violent crime, just like the USA. But with a little bit of research, and understanding both where and why crime occurs, we made a plan to avoid problems and spent an unforgettable three months with few concerns. We had basic rules: we mapped locations with positive first-hand reports (I wrote about it here), we avoided places that were trouble hotspots (unique dynamics to PNG with extraction industries for mineral/timber/fish, or population centers), and we always trusted our gut: if a place didn’t feel right, we moved on.

Mexico is a more familiar for most Americans, like the woman down the dock who thought she’d need to arm herself. I chalk this up to lack of understanding and media influence. Staying safe in Mexico mostly comes down to “don’t be stupid” (walk around Tijuana drunk at 2am? Involved in drug trade of any kind?). We paid attention to the coconut telegraph and local reputations (watch your dinghy in Mazatlán, and your outboard in Barra.). Pretty sure most cruisers who have been to Mexico would agree with me: we feel safer there than we do in the US by a wide margin!

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Petty theft happens. If you think disguising your outboard to look beat up and old will make it less appealing, think again. It’s an outboard. Our US flag was probably stolen off the back of the boat in Seychelles, but we’re not even positive that was deliberate vs slippery line and knots coming undone. Our horseshoe was taken off the back of the boat in Labuan, Malaysia…probably. I think it was secure? Know the reputation of places you go, what to do or not do, and then be open. We’ve also noticed that folks who assume people are out to get them until proven otherwise are more likely to have problems with petty theft. There’s no statistical significance to the observation, but something demonstrated often enough.

With a return to the Caribbean ahead, we have a lot to learn about staying safe. Once again, it’s an area with risks to learn about and decide how to approach. Should we put bars across the hatches? Are there destinations to rule out? There’s a lot to figure out, but we’ll do our best, and we sure don’t think we’re safer by staying at home.

Back to the question we had at that cocktail party about how many guns are on Totem. Diplomatic me wants to say that guns on board are a personal choice and your choice is fine, but I’m not feeling very diplomatic. Guns aboard are a bad idea for a pile or reasons. Had the German boat recently boarded in the Philippines not had guns aboard, the woman aboard would probably still be alive. So would Sir Peter Blake.

While cruising in Mexico, we met a former green beret colonel out cruising with his family. His training is extensive, and his opinion- which I respect- was that the training needed for a gun on board is WAY outside the realm of the typical cruiser. It’s not just about going to the range, and how to handle it, but the microdecisions about when to use it. Even with all of his training, he felt he was safer without a gun on board than with one.

Aside from the fact that the best way to be shot by a gun aboard is to have a gun aboard, it’s a hassle. You have to declare them on entry in a new country. That country will almost certainly take them for you until you clear out, and your port of entry and intended port of clearance could be a long distance apart. Lying and hiding guns? Laws vary of course, but can mean incarceration or death if they’re found! Go ahead, cowboy. If someone is determined to target us and to take our stuff, I’d rather just let them take it than risk greater personal injury to my kids or myself.

Maintenance: neither routine or exotic

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One of the aphorisms of cruising describes our lifestyle as performing routine maintenance (or repairs) in exotic locations. This rings true, for better and for worse. “If you can’t fix it, be able to live without it” is another truism for voyagers, and a good reason to go simple. Bundle these with the additional reality that most tasks in our floating life take more time than they do in a normal (fixed, land-based, connected) existence. That’s a good summary of life on Totem right now, although northern Florida is NOT exotic, and this particular outboard fix has proved to be anything but routine.

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Jamie does all our outboard maintenance and repair (ably assisted by #1 grease monkey, Siobhan). A service manual is key: those exploded diagrams and part number references. He’s become very capable, but this time, the unshakable problem (and shifting symptoms) ultimately flummoxed him. Here in Jacksonville, Florida, professional servicing is affordable, parts are available, and we can finally be warm! We have no interested in going any longer without a dependable outboard. Totem’s Our RIB doesn’t row well–none of them really do–and we can’t wait to be liberated from the necessity of docks to get ashore.

The “fix it or deal” aphorism is all too true: when you’ve become accustomed to a creature comfort that suddenly goes away, your everyday life may go from comfortable to camping in a swoop.  It’s a good reason to try and equip minimally, even if you think some choices skew you towards camping. It is so much easier to add than it is to take away. We’ve also seen people who probably over-equipped, then later dropped out of cruising because the reality of constant maintenance to support that gear was more cost or time (or both) than they anticipated. Simply put, cruising involves a LOT of this maintenance/repair thing, and when you’re doing it right, it’s in exotic locations.

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Totem is middle-of-the road in terms of gear. I’m grateful Jamie has the hands-on mechanical skills needed. Shop manuals (like the one for ourourboard, top photo) should be on essential gear lists. Because when we finally had a diagnosis on the part (or maybe, two parts) which are behind our outboard woes, Jamie can see in the exploded diagram how to install it himself, and use the part number to source spares/replacement affordably.

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With hindsight, I also appreciate that some of the things I thought were essential to a happy life aboard…weren’t. For example, back on land, we had a big chest freezer in the garage (gotta put that steer share somewhere!) as well as a standard upright in our capacious kitchen. I never would have dreamed that life without a freezer wouldn’t be a problem. But that was one of the early adjustments to life aboard, and although we installed a small freezer a couple of years ago, I’ve never quite gotten used to using it. At this moment, it’s entirely empty!

Staying put to get this done (whyyyyy must it always take so long?) opens other opportunities. Like giving a presentation to a standing-room-only group at Jacksonville University: I love sharing our stories! And hanging out after with families who have dedicated chunks of their lives to cruising or full-time RV travel. Some long anticipated meetups, like Sara, Tim and kids– coaching clients we’ve gotten to know over the last few months–and the family from Ditching Suburbia who I’ve been in touch with for years now. They’re six year RV life vets currently WWOOFing on a Salatin-modeled farm a couple of hours away. Isn’t their name great?! It says so much in two words. And this family – they are ALL that.

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I don’t even want to know! (Jamie with Mike, from Ditching Suburbia, and Tim)

Jennifer and I started emailing each other when we were on opposite sides of the world a few years ago. Following the route she’s taken with her husband Mark on their Nordhavn, Starlet, has been my dream fodder for places to go in the Mediterranean and Red Sea. It was great to finally intersect, and no surprise to find her as fun and positive in person as she is over the internet. I wish I could say we’ll be seeing them again soon, but this boat is South Pacific bound. Give me a year or so…

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When not making plans to meet up in the marina, we’ve been hosted “off campus” by a local family I hoped we’d connect with on the way south. Here’s another great name: McMermaids! It was inevitable when the McCarthy took their water-happy girls cruising. They’re JAX residents and marine scientists who brought us into JU.

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There have been happy hours lost in the maze of books at Chamblin’s, just steps from the marina and the first bookstore I’ve ever seen which might just rival Powell’s. Besides the sheer joy of exploring books, I’ve found some winners to help our travel plans (or just dream with), and we’ve unloaded at least 1o0 lbs of books from Totem there. It is a maze: there are occasionally “you are here” signs with a floor plan to assist. It is FULL of temptation.chamblins

I AM SO EXCITED! Thanks to contributions from my brother and my aunt (and a killer year-end sale), Totem’s deck is now decorated with a paddleboard and SUP excursions are in our future. Our marina neighbor Kristen and her daughter picked me up for the inaugural jaunt. I think I’m supposed to share this SUP with the kids… going to have to work on that.

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175 Totem Art Kids FilterMeanwhile: the On The Wind podcast we recorded with Andy Schell & Mia Karlsson of 59 North went live! Our whole family sat in on the session around Totem’s main cabin table back in Annapolis not long ago, and we talked about everything from the myriad of ways to get started cruising (and our advice on getting started), how we did it, and other shared experiences on the big blue. Play from the link below, go here for iTunes, or here for Stitcher / Android.

This marina we’ve tucked into has convenience. The grocery store is walking distance. There are gobs of available services and resources. It’s an easy place to take care of paperwork and bureaucracy (Cuba permits, new passports for the kids) from a comfortable position. We’re really enjoying meeting up with people. And we’ll enjoy it to the fullest… but meanwhile, to a one, this crew cannot wait to put our homeland on the horizon and find new adventures again.

 

From Cape Town to Connecticut: Totem’s 2016

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Looking back on the milestones, adventures, and misadventures of 2016: what a year it was! Jamie’s a database guy: thanks to him we have some serious metrics and some silly ones. We closed out with 3,057 days as cruisers, one of our biggest mileage years yet, and a host of unforgettable experiences.

14 – countries/territories visited in 2016: South Africa; Namibia; British Overseas Territories of St Helena, Ascension, Montserrat, and Bermuda; Barbados; Dominica; overseas departments of France: Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Saint Martin; territories of the Netherlands, Saint Eustatius and Sint Maartin; USA

11,027 – miles in 2016 (9,582 NM)… a daysail less than our 2010 miles sailed.

50,244 – miles total (43,661 NM), yeah, we passed 50k!

266 – miles of best 24-hour run (231 NM), Ascension Island to Barbados

3,570 – miles of longest passage (3,102 NM), Ascension Island to Barbados completed in 17 days

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Somewhere in the Atlantic. March or April

1 – number of kayaks lost at sea, between Bermuda and USA – big waves + broken stanchion = sad day!

1 – number of medical events, when a barefoot Siobhan stepped on a cactus on Ile Au Cabrit, Guadeloupe. Spines removed and patient remains a staunch barefooter!

8 – bells tolled for Totem’s beloved first hamster, Jiaozi, who joined us in Thailand and ended her watch in Martinique

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Ghost town of Kolmanskopp, Namibia. February

90 – kilograms of propane (198 lbs) for cooking…and some cabin heat, late in the year

13 – presentations given from Cape Cod to the Chesapeake

66 – fieldtrips! – epic hikes, rich museums, fascinating people, incredible experiences: a mid-Atlantic BBC relay station, Napoleon’s (first) tomb, JFKs birth home, sea turtles laying eggs at dawn, the White House’s West Wing, science lessons from The Global Dude for starfish, ghost towns in the desert, etc. Lucky humans we are.

1 – number of boats we watched sink for an artificial reef in Barbados

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What a kid! Guadeloupe. May

11 – cuteness rating (1 to 10 scale) of baby goats on cactus-laden Ile Au Cabrit that certain barefoot girls liked to chase.

0 – number of elusive f@&#ing whale sharks seen in St Helena, at yet ANOTHER place “everyone” sees them (that’s four hotspots now)

500ish – number of visitors on Totem in 2016. Total speculation, and probably low, between a couple of open boat parties and a general bias for socializing with our fellow humans

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Legal capacity? Noank, Connecticut. August

55 – degrees Fahrenheit (12.8  C) of the Benguela Current along the edge of the Namib Desert made for amazing animal life: sea birds, whales, dolphins, sea lions, PENGUINS, and jellyfish

3.9 – depth in feet (1.2 meters), the least we’ve been ever (by far!), is the marina we’re now in – dock master said we may touch at low tide with Totem’s draft of 6.0 feet – he was right…

3.6 – number of feet (1.1 meters) by which we did NOT fit under bridges Totem was required to pass under, engendering creativity to squeeze beneath.

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Rooftop drinks with Mike & Kim before the White House. November

This is about the numbers… but the year was really about people. The new friends, like Mike & Kim (above)  and fellow traveling souls Matt & Wendy & family (below) who gave us indelible memories along the way.

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Veterans of the full-time traveling life! Charleston, December

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It was about the many reunions with familiar faces, and thanks to the internet, all the “old friends” we could meet for the first time.

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Manhattan. September

The data on 2015– 365 days, 7,988 miles, 2 oceans, 1 boat–is posted here for giggles and judgment.

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South Carolina. December

Are we in Florida yet?

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Apologies to those I’m about to offend, but the ICW is boring as ___. Flashes of pretty, the odd dolphin, aren’t enough of a tradeoff for the monotony of motoring day after day along narrow channel. If the weather was fine, it might cross into the realm of pleasurable for a short stretch, but in conditions we’ve had these miles are just something to get over with. To answer the question in the title: no, not in Florida yet! But Charleston for Christmas, along Totem’s slow path south down the ICW, is going to be great.

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So foggy we couldn’t see from one mark to the next

Waking to temperatures in the 30s is getting old. But it’s Jamie has taken the overwhelming brunt of the chill, standing for hours and hours on end at the helm. Hand-steering is the  norm: partly because the autopilot isn’t a good match for curvier stretches of the ICW. It’s also more tuned for offshore use, and tends to fish around too much for the narrow channels. But these factors are trumped by our failing spray dodger. You can’t see through it any more, so punching buttons for +1 / -1 on the autopilot while gazing out from a more protected spot isn’t an option. Meanwhile, Niall and I had a good laugh when we learned the itchy/sore spots we developed on our feet weren’t actually some fungus or infection, but a product of cold exposure (check) and poor circulation (lots of sitting around the boat while motoring).

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The bridge tenders are often a treat to talk to

Shoaling (we draw 6′) and bridges (with everthing stripped, we’re 64’4″) take patience and awarenss. South of Beaufort SC, the ICW water level is tidal (above, it’s influenced by wind): when Totem’s rig is too tall, we wait. We had to wait for THREE HOURS one day, and still needed to rig up the full kit of ballast to get under, but at least we fit.

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Pretty scenery, and pretty weird spec McMansions along the ICW

The weather has changed our eating habits, too. Salads normally feature, and being back in the land of mid-latitude veggies means bingeing on lettuce and other greens that were harder to find in the tropics. But now the cucumbers and tomatoes purchased in Beaufort are languishing because, well, they’re cold and cold is not very appealing. Instead it’s soups, stews, casseroles… basically anything we eat to keep warm! There’s something in the oven every day, because an uninsulated boat oven is a pretty good proxy for a heater on board.

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Did I mention the rain? Horizon level…Totem still in “induced heel” mode.

Is this whiny? That isn’t my style, but I’m also not going to paint a rosy picture of what’s been an uncomfortable stretch. Ultimately though I’m an optimist and believe it’s a choice to be happy, to find it wherever you are. In that vein, although these last couple of weeks haven’t made me a fan of the ICW, there are plenty of bright spots.

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The marshes look on fire in early morning light

Like the day we lingered in Carolina Beach to see old friends Frank & Karen from Tahina Expeditions. We first met in Tahiti, later hung out with in Australia, and last said goodbye to in Thailand nearly three years ago.

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Long history of card sharking with the Tahina crew

Beaufort, NC’s Homer Smith Marina offered unexpected hospitality. We picked it because it was the cheapest dockage in Beaufort where we could plug in to run our space heater overnight. Homer Smith came with a helping of friendly assistance, free laundry, a loaner vehicle, and offers to help with propane or whatever we needed. Shrimpers offload their catch here, and sell to the public, but the manager wouldn’t let us pay for the 2 lbs of fresh Carolina shrimp I wanted (thank you Matt, they were so sweet!) and gave us a free night when weather delayed our departure. The guys sorting shrimp in the shed pretty much made my day, joking around with each other and warmly answering my questions.

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The SSCA’s cruising station hosts in Beaufort, Normandie and Michael, treated us to lunch at a Mexican restaurant, where over horchata and margaritas (oh sweet memories!) we traded stories and discovered we had been in the SAME ANCHORAGES at pretty much the SAME TIMES, back in 2009 and 2010 in Mexico! It is a small, small cruising world — for real. (Normandie writes women’s fiction, and I love–LOVE–that she nails descriptions of cruising and sailing. I mean, of course she does! But that’s unusual to find in books that aren’t about sailing per se.)

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dsc02924We’ve had a good time with the Rockhopper crew, who leapfrogged us after Oriental, and sent back reports on bridge height and shoaling that were a great help for anticipating where we’d have issues to anticipate as we followed in their wake. Suzanne isn’t big on personal pictures so we took one of our feet instead!

There’s something about the sight of spanish moss hanging from trees cropping up as if a sign we’d crossed some invisible line in South Carolina. Spanish moss and frosty weather seem incongruous: this bodes well for warmer days ahead. Until then, Jamie’s cockpit lounge wear includes wears a one-piece fleece suit under a full set of foul weather gear, plus a hat and ski gloves that Frank passed along. Our hamster, Mochi, builds herself an igloo from cotton wadding and an old sock. We hibernate below deck as much as possible. We cuddle up together to watch a movie and share body heat in the evenings. We have actually used a hot water bottle at night.

Smart birds flying SOUTH.

Smart birds flying SOUTH.

A few hours ago, Totem tied up at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina. Welcomed by the dock staff and one of the liveaboards on arrival, with an expansive facility decorated to the hilt for the season, this is going to be a sweet spot for a holiday week….and it’s forecast to be in the 60s and 70s again!

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How to fit a 64’4″ rig under a 64′ bridge

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We’re never going down the Intracoastal Waterway, I said. We’re too tall for the ICW, I said. Totem’s rig is about 68’ over the water, when everything is attached. The ICW is sprinkled with bridges; many of them open, quite a few do not. The controlling height over water for those fixed bridges is 65’ (and, there’s a 64’er in there just for fun). Totem doesn’t fit, but that’s fine, we’d rather sail offshore anyway. Besides being more fun than motoring, it’s faster. We’d get to Charleston in two and a half days going offshore; motoring down the ICW takes a multiple of that.

…And then we headed down the ICW anyway, motoring about 185 miles from Norfolk, VA to Beaufort, NC.

Why? Because we made that fatal error in cruising: we had a schedule. Only one week to get from Norfolk (where Niall sat for the SAT on Saturday Dec. 3) to Charleston, SC (where he was due to take the ACT exam the following Saturday). For non-US readers, these exams are THE two standardized tests that high school students take for college/university applications. One week of time to make what should be a two-and-a-half-day offshore passage. No problem, right? Well, big problem if the forecast isn’t right. And it wasn’t. So with a gloomy weather outlook and the SATs over, we strategized how to squeeze our 68’ tall boat under 65’ bridges. Oh, that 64’ bridge that doesn’t fit the mold. Dangit!

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Stripping all instruments from the mast to prepare included Maretron weather station, windex (wind direction indicator), anchor light, and VHF antenna. The windex was brought down; the rest were taped up aloft. We filled all of Totem’s fuel tanks, water tanks and jerry cans to add ballast; then we measured, carefully, once again. Final height over water: 64’4″. When it came time to go under the 64′ Wilkerson bridge, we’d induce heel. And no, you can’t wait for the tide to go down. Water levels in that part of the ICW aren’t influenced by the moon, but by the weather. Wind from the south or storm systems can elevate levels, but there’s no tide to help us underneath.

More than a few people shared this video of a boat with forced heel in order to fit under a bridge. I swore we’d never do something like that to our Totem. Thanks to the 64′ air draft at Wilkerson, and our 64’4″, well… we were going to induce heel, too. When will the lesson stick that I should never say never?

Changes in plans bring silver linings. An extra couple of days in Norfolk meant finally meeting a friend in person. Always fun to bring out the weapons ceremonial cultural tools from PNG as props behind sea stories.

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We were treated to a fabulous raclette dinner (and a trip to Costco!) with the French-American family of a blog reader that has their own plans to go voyaging with kids someday.

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Departure from Norfolk was a gray drizzly morning. On the first day motoring “the ditch” had fifteen bridges and a set of locks to pass through.

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In company are two boats: our old friend Bill on Solstice (we’ve crossed two oceans together!) and the new-to-cruising Gromit crew. Mike, Brittany and their three girls (blogging here) bought the boat circumnavigated by a Canadian family that we met back in Malaysia. It’s slightly surreal to see Gromit again! Good company, but we had to leapfrog them the first day to get Niall to his exams on time, via rental car from Beaufort, NC.

It was a slow slog of bascule bridges, trestle bridges, fixed bridges…lots of rain, and not much traffic.

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Most of the bridges have a gauge so you can judge the available height based on the water level. Some are easier to read than others. At least we know this one is well over the 64’4″ we need!

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Besides being rainy, it’s cold. 30s overnight, 40s in the daytime. The channel dredged to depth that accommodates Totem’s 6′ draft is narrow, requiring constant attention at the helm. And because the old question of time and money has delayed replacing the dodger sides, the helm is exposed to the elements. Jamie is a champ: I kept him company and took the wheel now and then, but he did 99% of the three and a half days of motoring to Beaufort in less than comfortable conditions. At least on a few stretches the headsail gave a nice pull.

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The scenery is beautiful. I’ve heard people love this aspect of the ICW; of course,they mainly travel when it’s at least 20 degrees warmer and there are still leaves on the trees. I hadn’t given the it much thought since the route was written off as “not what we were doing” in my head. Absorbing the landscape of the inner banks was a gift.

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Long stretches held no signs of civilization; at other times, the intimacy of homes along the waterfront, where you can almost hear the TV flashing through a back window, felt uncomfortably close. And then there were the hidden gems, like this mysterious camper (Airstream?) overgrown with vines, or the hint of a classic car under cover in a back yard.

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We anchored in the water north of the Alligator-Pungo channel: turns out, military jets come here to play.

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Quiet evenings at anchor made for fun family time. The kids decided we were due to start holiday decorating, and so we did.

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What else did we do? Niall logging many hours daily on ACT practice tests and study guides. The girls did a lot of reading. There were a few rounds of Hamilton sing-a-longs. Ah, who am I kidding… that’s a nightly event currently (thank you Cindy!).

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The glassy anchorage at Alligator-Pungo was a perfect spot to finalize preparation for inducing heel to fit under the 64′ Wilkerson bridge the next day. We estimated we should have at least 6 degrees, and more was better. Talk about the PERFECT example of real-life trigonometry, just in time for our exam-cramming kid! Meanwhile, going aloft again, Jamie added a pigstick to the mast. PVC pipe, about 3″ diameter and 3′ long, facing forward. On a dead slow approach, if the stick hits the bridge — we bail out. If it passes under, no problem. All the jerry cans and a 50 gallon bladder tank filled with water were strapped on the starboard side deck.

As we got close to the bridge, further heel was induced. Additional weight at the end of the boom, swung out starboard, would further increase our angle of heel. First, our 18hp Tohatsu was tied on. Then, the spare anchor, a 70 lb CQR. This came with Totem: it’s the first time we’ve used it. Next, a couple of full jerry cans, and a heavy bag of rigging hardware.

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Then, we added the kids. Probably should have put PFDs on. Please don’t judge.

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We estimate we had 500 lbs on the boom, in addition to an extra 700 lbs on the starboard side deck. To top it all off, Jamie opened a through hull and we flooded the bilge with another 40 gallons or so of swamp water. At Wilkerson, the water gauge read a about 63’11”.

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Hooo boy. Boom OUT, heel ON!

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The pigstick test worked: a sigh of relief as it passing under the last of the girders.

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Yeah yeah yeah yeah! A very happy family.

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Jamie’s comment: size doesn’t matter. Trig does.

A few resources were especially helpful down the Norfolk to Beaufort, NC, path for the ICW:

I made a document that outlined our progress by hazard (and, what we’d do about each hazard). Inputs to these: Active Captain, the Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net, and the ICW cruisers guide. Water levels at Neuse as a proxy for what we might see at Wilkerson. It’s amazing what details are in the USCG notice to mariners and US Army Corp of Engineers sites for updates on dredging and mark placement. The human factor is always the best, and in true cruiser tradition, the best came from a roundup of “ICW doulas” who were a big help with our last-minute decision to go down the ditch instead of making an offshore passage. My friend Judy Hildebrand, a delivery skipper who has driven boats (including Totem’s sisterships) up and down the ICW many many times. Nicola, Suzanne, and many more members of the awesome ICW subgroup from Women Who Sail.

It was beautiful if chilly trip. I’d like to think that was “roll credits!” but… well, never say never. Looks like we’ll start down the ICW again, leaving from Beaufort tomorrow…

Thanks Suzanne for our picture of Totem... already sporting an ICW moustache!

Thanks Suzanne for our picture of Totem… already sporting an ICW moustache!

FUNDRAISER: a loan to change a family’s life

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Cruising offers the chance to meet people of vastly different experience in different corners of the world and find common ground. Sometimes the exchange is bounded in a single encounter.  Sometimes it’s stretched over a few days, and sometimes for years as we stay in touch. One family in Papua New Guinea is particularly special to us: once or twice a year since our visit four years ago we trade letters with Mollina and Wesley when a cruising boats stops at their island in Ninigo, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

They’re typical of many in PNG: family needs are met by bartering, building, or foraging. Theirs not a cash economy, because there are so few opportunities to earn money. Where they live on Mal island in Ninigo, there aren’t roads, or stores, or power, or water or a decent medical clinic. They must make, find, or trade for what they need.

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Fishing isn’t for fun, it’s for dinner. Kids in Ninigo; photo courtesy SV Carina.

To some this will sound idyllic: living in harmony with your environment, working with it to meet your needs. If that’s you, please take off those rose-tinted lenses and consider stomping on them, because this is a difficult life. There is a simple beauty, yet it holds few opportunities and little self-determination. Education, medical care, or basic tools require cash. You can’t trade a basket of yams to send your kids to school or buy antibiotics. But without opportunities to earn money, basic needs for education and health care are difficult or impossible.

This is the main road on Mal.

This is the main road on Mal. Photo courtesy SV Carina.

It’s hard to comprehend from our privileged position how fragile their existence is. A few months ago, Mollina was very sick (I wrote about it here). We learned about it from a visiting cruising boat, Carina, who has taken many of the pictures in this post. Mollina was suffering complications from childbirth; her local options were exhausted; it is a multi-day boat ride, in pain, to an island with better treatment available. But she did, and instead of proper care and a pelvic exam, she was just given a prescription to fill…which is like blind navigation and without the funds to pay for it. I feared for her.

Mollina during our visit with her firstborn, Finn.

Mollina in 2012 with her firstborn, Finn, during our visit. Ninigo’s Madonna and child.

The good news is that Mollina is doing better now. Following a multi-day boat trip with her husband Wesley and two of their children to Manus island, where they could stay with family and seek medical care, her illness seems to be resolved.

Being on this bigger island opened an opportunity: Wesley can make another trip (a few more days in an open boat) from Manus to a more distant island to buy betel, and bring it back to Manus to sell. The cash they can earn from will make a huge impact on their lives. It’s money for their kids to go to school. Money for medical care. Maybe they will get a roof for their house that lasts more than a couple of seasons, or LED lights for a solar panel. I don’t know, but the details are less important than the possibility of unprecedented control over their lives and options.

Baby Behan (my namesake!) scared of the camera at left... Wesley & Mollina at right.

Baby Behan (my namesake!) scared of the camera at left… Wesley & Mollina at right. Photos courtesy SV Carina.

In true Catch-22 fashion, they need money to fund this enterprise. Wesley has borrowed much of what he needs from his “wontok” (literally, “one talk”: clansmen, the people who share his dialect), but it’s not enough. I hope to raise, and loan, the balance he needs—and I hope you’ll contribute. Their goal is $5,000 Kina, which is approximately US$1,600.

First, why do they need help ? Because they can’t get loans from a local bank without identification (another complication of life in remote PNG, but remember, we’re talking about islands without roads or electricity or fresh water or sewage: really, who ID?). Also, honestly? It’s just as well the banks are out, since what we heard about their practices during our stay sounded predatory for families like this.

Second, what about microfinance lending, like Kiva? (LOVE KIVA!) I did research microfinance organizations , but have not found a program that’s accessible to them. Mostly, they don’t exist in PNG. But the research process and the time a few people took to refer me to contacts and resources (thank you Elizabeth at Grameen, and Joe at ONE, your support means more than you know) opened my eyes to the value of direct loans, and the tremendous success they have in changing lives.

Finally: whatever amount I can raise is, as stated, a LOAN and not a gift. This includes risks. I anticipate Mollina and Wesley will pay it back, and in turn I can repay donors, but there’s no guarantee. PayPal makes repaying donors easy. As there isn’t a bank that we’ve found which can manage it, this part goes on faith. We (Totem) are a conduit only and take no money, only share goodness. We wish the best for Mollina and Wesley, for opportunities that so many of us take for granted. I cannot guarantee this loan: I can only say know them as incredibly hardworking, honest people.

Despite never getting this button to work, enough of y’all read the comments (and Dartanyon’s helpful link) or found the blog’s working PayPal donate button on the right margin. Blown away by the generosity: thank you!

Updates to follow via Totem’s Facebook page…contact me directly with any questions.

For more beautiful pictures and stories from Carina’s visit to Ninigo this year, see their blog posts here, here, and here.

For more about our unforgettable time in Ninigo, see these posts on SailingTotem.com.

Cruising cold

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I dreamed of high latitude cruising, inspired by stories like Dave & Jaja Martin’s book about wintering over with their family in Iceland and Norway, and tales of Cape Horn by classic and modern cruisers. In soft focus imaginings of our future afloat, Jamie saw palm trees… I saw glaciers. Tropical latitudes are a fine place to start.

This past month, my romantic ideal of cold-weather cruising had a rude awakening. We anticipated the chilly weather as much as we could, choosing to pay the big bucks at Capital Yacht Club so we could plug into shore power and run a space heater down below. The cost of mooring isn’t in our budget, but off-season rates at CYC eased the decision. No regrets: they made us feel like family, access to the city made it easy to get the most from our stay, and we really wanted to be reasonably warm.

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Taking Q&A after presenting at CYC. Thanks John Stuhldreher for the photo!

There were a couple of fun little idiosyncrasies from our snug berth in the Washington Channel: like “knocking fish,” which actually made us a little concerned at first. It sounded like someone was tapping, LOUDLY, on the outside of the hull. We genuinely suspected divers at first and went looking in the water around Totem. No divers: just active fish eating bottom growth, later christened the Zombie Catfish for their relentless effort. Them there was the daily parade of military helicopters running just over mast height along the no-fly-zone waters around us, between various bases and the White House.

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Helicopters, sometimes jets, frequently in numbers. All.The.Time.

November rolled at a steady beat. Friends cracked the opportunity for us to visit the White House, garnering a private evening tour at the West Wing and EEOB (our efforts through conventional channels failed). UNFORGETTABLE. No cameras allowed, but a few permissible spots to snap pics with a phone.

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Interior pics from the EEOB; outside the West Wing entrance; in the White House press room.

My three-decades-and-counting friend Suzi flew out from Louisville to visit. It’s a testament to what kind of friend she is that she didn’t flinch at the suggestion that maybe she should bring a warm sleeping bag for her bunkbed. DC cooperated with a stretch of beautiful weather, but we made a pact to meet somewhere warm next time.

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It hasn’t even been that cold. Just a lot colder than we’ve been in a long time. Many nights in the 30s; a few lower, a bunch warmer. We ran the space heater. There was more baking and roasting (our oven is basically a heater: the ONLY time I’m glad the Force 10 isn’t insulated). My parents sent the kids fleecy blankets.

Back in October, when we met up with Andy & Mia from 59 North in Annapolis, they talked about how they love high latitude cruising. The colder it got, the more I remembered they don’t have a heater or insulation on their boat, Isbjörn. It doesn’t stop them. Swedes have a saying, related Andy, that “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.” He’s got a point (they’re also booking berths for a Leeward Islands trip in April…keeping it balanced!). So we bundled ourselves: I knitted a hat. We layered up. SOCKS were worn. Well, sometimes. There were a couple of keyed gates between Totem and street level, but I still couldn’t get the kids to wear shoes when they did the ten minute shuttle to let in visitors… chilly weather or not.

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But DC often gave us spectacular days of bluebird skies and warm sun, too.

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Walking in a park near Georgetown. Shoes optional.

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Happy reunion with grad school classmate Nick, meeting his wife Mem

CYC’s easy access to the dozens of museums and monuments along the National Mall, only a ten-minute walk away, was a gift. A leisurely stay meant we could see places at a slower pace, and enjoy them without feeling like we had to cram everything in.

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African American Museum of History and Culture: exhibit with Medal of Honor recipients

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We are asked if they are twins almost daily.

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DC fishmarket on the waterfront near Totem

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Note to self: crying in public not easier when surrounded by throngs on Veterans Day.

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We expected to be southbound sooner but fronts brought weather that would create nasty conditions in the Potomac, so it wasn’t hard to decide to wait. Meanwhile, friends who are former (and future) cruisers invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them in Charlottesville, so when it was well and truly cold (nights in the 20s) we had a home warmed with friendship, kittens, and lots of blankets.

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Serious connection with the Waters family (aka the Calypsos)

Our stay between DC and Annapolis added up to two months. Two months. Goodbyes are never easy. And here, some were a little harder than usual. Friends I’ve had for years through the interwebs extended to awesome in-person-reality. I try to keep perspective, knowing we’ll almost certainly meet again, but it’s started up an ache that had was laid to rest for a while. (Cindy nails this feeling perfectly with her article in Spinsheet this month, free to read online.)

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the Majestics…

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the Morning Glorys…

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The Fezywigs…

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more Fezywigs…

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…the Otter’s Nests.

I slipped and slid my way down the frosty dock to return our key cards before we slipped the lines on Monday morning. Mallards floating alongside, heads snuggled in their wings, cracked an eye at me as if to say: shouldn’t you should be tucked in somewhere warm? Yes. Soon enough.

On our way south from DC, it’s a motorboat ride to the bottom of the Chesapeake.

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Wool I bought in St Helena earlier this year is now a beanie (cable knitting level, achieved!).

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Sheep posing in St Helena

We’re looking a little bogan, with our no-longer-clear “clears” on the dodger held on with duct tape. That’s a job for another venue.

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We have a pace, now. Niall takes the SATs this weekend in Norfolk. He’s scheduled to take the ACTs the following weekend in Charleston. So in a hop and a skip (and weather permitting), we’ll be a significant distance south. Cross your fingers for us that the conditions are favorable for a mellow passage around the Cape Hatteras ahead. In fact, make it calm enough please for Jamie to be able to keep reading Alexander Hamilton… with our without the fleece one piece.

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Gifts that give a little more

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Among the lessons cruising has taught me: that a frugal life brings returns in personal happiness, and that seeking simplicity results not in deprivation but in a feeling of abundance. Living in our floating Tiny Home, “stuff” is the enemy. Still… once the tryptophan effect wears off after Thanksgiving, there’s an undeniable pull for a lot of folks to start looking for gifts.

In that vein, I have a different take on ideas for gifts to give your favorite cruiser this year. First, consider donating to a nonprofit that’s making a difference instead. I’m highlighting a few here that are focused on the health of our marine environment or communities that rely upon it. Second, since most of us are on the hunt for something tangible to give, I have a shortlist of gift ideas for gear that’s not just truly useful…it supports a greater good. Also: codes for discounts!

Here’s a selection of organizations (and an individual) doing good work in support of a healthier marine environment, or better lives for the people that rely upon it.

Louisiade Solar Light Project. AKA- SeaGoon. We met the driving force behind this remarkable one-boat show in Papua New Guinea in 2012. Hans brings donated solar panels, LED lights, and the materials on his sailboat, SeaGoon, to islands in PNG where he installs them in local villages where there is no electricity. He works with islanders to teach them to maintain the systems, and has brought much needed donations to support health and education to islands lacking the most basic of utilities. PayPal donations can be sent to svseagoon@gmail.com; Read more about Hans in this Australian article. (see also: his website / Facebook page)

International Rescue Group. Delivering aid by sea, IRG is currently sending boats to Haiti and using watermakers purchased with donated funds to bring potable water to communities suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Donate here to contribute to an immediate need where every dollar helps. (And because Haitians need help: Good Samaritan of Haiti, and Friends of Ile a Vache, and Waves for Water)

Sea Mercy. Sea Mercy provides health care workers, equipment, and services by boat when these events occur (like tsunami and hurricanes) and local governments are stretched to meet existing emergency needs in remote islands. We know a few cruisers who have enlisted their vessels to support Sea Mercy’s mission to provide aid when disasters occur; you can donate to support this 501 (c) (3) charity on their website.

OceansWatch. Working with island communities in the South Pacific, NZ-based OceansWatch uses their vessels (cruising boats can help, too) to develop and enact conservation plans. Educating communities to help them be self-sufficient through better management of their fisheries is just one example.  More information and a donation link is on their website.

Niparaja. ANiparaja works to protect natural environments along the massive coastline and species diversity of Baja California Sur (among other projecs!). Called “one of the most effective and locally well-loved non-profits” by a fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs. More on their website.

Most of us are going to buy some “thing” instead of donating to a cause: here’s a range of options that aren’t just perfect for cruisers, but also support fair trade products, a family business, more sustainable living, or otherwise contribute to a greater good.

Marmara Imports. Many cruisers rave about Turkish towels, the flat cotton weave that dries you…then dries quickly (leave the terrycloth at home…and beware the musty/stinky microfiber!). But not all brands are created equal: Marmara’s organic cotton / fair trade towel quality is exceptional, where others sourced via Amazon weren’t soft and had tassels fall apart. Feel good: this small business’ mission is tied to sustaining artisans who are supporting families and keeping traditional hand-looming skills alive. See the full range on MarmaraImports.com: Use the discount code “Holidays” at checkout to get 20% off through November 30th.

One of the weavers for Marmara Imports; image courtesy of the company

One of the weavers for Marmara Imports; image courtesy of the company

Sport-a-seat. These innovative portable seats have provided the first TRULY COMFORTABLE seating in Totem’s cockpit since, well, ever. Aside from the significant increase in butt happiness on board, the easily adjustable seats use SunBrella, so I know that pretty navy cover will hold up for years. Feel good: support this family enterprise, a husband-and-wife team who are overcoming low quality knockoffs from big marine brands while continuing to provide a superior product. Order from sportaseat.com and use TOTEM15 at checkout for a 15% discount.

Solavore. It’s no secret I love using our solar oven: cooking with the sun helps us go farther, live lighter, and eat well. It’s a perfect match for the cruising life. Feel good: this company actively works to incubate solar-powered entrepreneurs in developing countries. Their Solavore Works arm is making a real difference for families in Kenya, India, and Cambodia…working with local organizations to empower individuals and change lives. Buy your oven from Solavore.com.

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Cooking corn…the very, very easy way!

Outdoor Foundry waterproof backpack. A dependable drybag is essential kit for cruisers, but a backpack style with features beyond “keeping things dry” eluded us. This bag finally does it with a laptop sleeve (remember our laptop/dinghy mishap?) and other functional pockets inside, outside pockets for water bottles, bungees to strap odd-shaped extras on the back, and COMFORTABLE adjustable/padded straps. Feel good: this better backpack is the brainchild and small-biz flagship product of future cruisers Chis and Andi, who are looking for new location-independent ways to support their family for a life afloat. They’re offering another 10% off the holiday discount if you use the code TOTEMFAN at checkout. Your purchase on Amazon with this link sends us a tip.

Luci. This solar-powered portable LED lantern has brightened many evenings on Totem. I love the soft filter and colors of the “party light,” and being the only Purple cockpit light in the anchorage makes it easy to distinguish Totem from other boats after dark too! Feel good: while you bring light to your life…you can help bring it to others. This company seeks to provide clean, safe, affordable lights to people in developing countries: more retail sales = lower manufacturing costs = more affordable lights to developing world. You can give a Luci light to someone in need directly through MPOWERED, or buy one for yourself on Amazon that will tip the Totem kitty.

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This fuzzy, Luci-lit cockpit picture was brought to you by too much rum.

Check out my posts for 2014 gift ideas, the 2015 guide, see my recent post of new books for cruisers, or choose a book from our list of recommended reading…because books are never the wrong answer!

Special offer for Voyaging with Kids: I’ll personalize a book with a message based on your desires, wherever you want. Now there’s a gift you can’t get on Amazon! Book plus shipping in the continental US is $40; other destinations, just ask (shipping costs passed through 1:1). Contact me to purchase.

Jamie wearing Outdoor Foundry's backpack on during a dayhike in Maryland last month

Jamie sporting the Nootka backpack during a dayhike in Maryland last month…tossing Siobhan into the marsh…

There are so many worth nonprofits working to make a difference for marine environments! Calling out more here, in case particular missions speak to you.

  • Hello Ocean! Coordinating scientific expeditions for marine research. Good work that the Hello Ocean! crew turns into films that can educate people about conservation needs: the kind of outreach that desperately needs better funding to help inform the public.
  • Rozalia Project. Programs and ideas for individual action in support of goals for a clean ocean, a protected ocean, and a thriving ocean.
  • Ocean Research Project. Science, education and exploration to direct the sustainability of the oceans. Also, Matt Rutherford!
  • Sailors for the Sea.  Work including green boating guides, educational lesson plans, and more. On #GivingTuesday they launched a new video about their mission.
  • OceanCare. Projects supporting ocean conservation, whale protection, biodiversity, and awareness for marine health issues.

Local organizations:

  • Exumas Foundation. A small and effective organization supporting education, sustainability and more in the Exumas.
  • Science Under Sail. Bahamas-focused projects on climate change, ocean acidification, plastic pollution and invasive species. Now with  MATCHING DONATIONS! Campaign to double your gift underway – plus, cool shackle bracelet.
  • Blind Sailing UK. Helping the visually impaired sail at all levels.
  • Coastal Conservation Association. Dedicated to conserve, promote, and enhance coastal resources in the USA.
  • New England Science and Sailing Foundation (NESS): year round educational programs promoting marine stewardship.
  • Sound Experience. Envisioning “a future where everyone values Puget Sound and chooses to act as stewards of its treasured waters.”
  • Deep Green Wilderness and SV Orion. Marine science and stewardship programs in the Salish Sea.
  • Call of the Sea has been successfully operating on-the-water programs for San Francisco bay area youth since 1984. They’re building another ship, a 124′ brigantine– Educational Tall Ship project — to expand their work.
  • Sailing Angels. Getting veterans and kids with disabilities out on the bay from Kemah, TX.
  • Downtown Sailing.  Providing sailing opportunities for people and families who don’t otherwise have the opportunity- in Baltimore, MD.
  • Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (yes, that’s CRAB). Bringing boating experiences to the mobility impaired.
  • Community Boating. Boston organization providing sailing experiences to people of all ages, abilities, and means.
  • Shake a Leg Miami. Sailing for disabled kids and adults in Biscayne Bay.
  • KATS. Serving underprivileged youth in the virgin islands by providing instruction and experiences under sail.
  • Whale Time. South African database for whale tracking and guides in the Indian Ocean.
  • Warrior Sailing. St. Pete-based program getting wounded warrior men and women on the water and sailing.
  • Tall Ships America. Youth education, leadership development and the preservation of the maritime heritage of North America

Thanksgiving while cruising

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For the first time since 2007, our little crew on Totem celebrates Thanksgiving in the USA again. Over the years we’ve celebrated in destinations as diverse as the sunny bay at Isla San Francisco, Mexico, or a firelit rondavel high up in Africa’s land-locked mountain nation of Lesotho last year. But even away from “home,” this is our big holiday, and if anything the distance has reinforced traditions.

For many, it’s the impetus for a party: the holiday prompts gatherings like the annual Club Cruceros feast in La Paz, Mexico, or the giant potluck organized by residents of St Mary’s, Georgia. Local hosts provide the roasted turkey and cruisers contribute the rest to share around. Aside from the camaraderie of celebrating with the extended cruising family, this handily overcomes one of the problems of Thankgiving aboard: while there’s little you can’t do in a galley, most boat ovens are challenged to fit a whole turkey.

Our Thanksgivings have tended toward the solitary. Occasionally they’re shared with a few cruisers in a distant anchorage, but typically it’s a quiet family celebration as we are either remote (as our 2012 Thanksgiving in PNG’s Hermit Islands) or away from other Americans who share the holiday (as during the two we spent in Australia). These bring a different kind of sweetness: away from the crowd it’s easier to focus for what’s important to us, on what we’re thankful for.

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Sharing Thanksgiving with crews of Francis Lee and Capaz  at Isla San Francisco, Mexico, 2009. Photo: PJ Baker

In 2010, we’d newly arrived in Australia. With an ocean between us and our home it feels even more important to keep our traditions, and Thanksgiving dinner is the centerpiece. For cruisers, recreating That Familiar Dinner (cue the Norman Rockwell images) can be a little tricky. If anything is obligatory, it’s a turkey. Number of times we’ve had turkey for Thanksgiving during the eight years outside of the USA: hmm… let’s see… yes, I believe that number is ZERO. Apparently, it’s predominantly a North American “thing.” But roasted chicken makes a fine stand in. I always save a can of cranberries somewhere on board (they pop up on shelves every few countries, and are known to get stashed in Totem’s bilge for many  months). There are usually starchy tubers of some kind, onions to cream, something green, and I can always make gravy, and fruit to make pie from. Forget about finding canned pumpkin puree outside North America, but don’t worry. Whole pumpkins are plentiful in tropical markets, and cook up easily on the stove. Like a lot of things in the cruising life, the end result is the same… getting the task done just takes a little longer.

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Satun, Thailand: no turkey, but all the trimmings in 2013

Then there was that year in Thailand, where the chicken I picked up at the village market was whole. That’s whole, as in not just head…not just feet…but the cavity unopened and all the guts intact. At least the weekly market day was ON Thanksgiving, given the lack of refrigeration, and I remembered enough from helping on a farm as a teen to avoid the gall bladder (just a tiny slice taint and ruin your dinner). More to be thankful for, and a story that we now retell annually!

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As our distance from the US increased, so did our thankfulness for the incredible opportunity to live an adventurous life afloat. Physical separation from our extended family on holidays like this help reinforce my gratitude for the strength of our nuclear family, and the time we have to be together.

If the last eight years taught us anything, it’s to be thankful for so many things in our lives: in particular, our opportunities and our rich experiences. One of the goals Jamie and I had in choosing the cruising life was to raise our children to internalize these, in the believe that it’s a positive influence on their futures. It’s impacted not just them, but us too, bringing happiness and fulfillment beyond expectations.

Walking after dinner: Coff's Harbour, Australia, 2010

Walking after Thanksgiving dinner: Coff’s Harbour, Australia, 2010

It’s nine years since we celebrated Thanksgiving in the USA, and will share it with members of our extended cruising family in Virginia: a family that’s already been cruising twice and plans to head out again. I cannot wait to get to know these good friends better, and in true Thanksgiving spirit, Nica’s open invitation has expanded the table with several families. It’s often an uncomfortable feeling leaving Totem, but she’s securely tied against this week’s winds back in DC awaiting our return.

Meanwhile, there on cruiser-centric Facebook groups, CLODs (that’s Cruisers Living on Dirt, for the uninitiated) are reaching out to offer a place at the table and laundry machines for cruisers in their area. Active cruisers are putting out the call to share the cockpit with others in their tropical locale. I have no doubt there are potlucks being organized from Grenada to Phuket as US cruisers find each other to celebrate.

From our family to yours, wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Beachcoming in Bahia de Tortuga, Baja, Mexico, 2008...our first cruising Thanksgiving

Beachcombing in Bahia de Tortuga, Baja, Mexico, 2008…our first cruising Thanksgiving. They were so little!