Crewing on Totem

For the 800 mile run from Puerto Peñasco to Puerto Vallarta, two coaching clients responded to our spontaneous offer for sharing the sail; Sam shares their experience in this guest post.

David read the email before I did. And he’d already made up his mind not to go when he came upstairs to tell me.

“It’s too close to Christmas and too long to be gone.”

“Where would the kids go?”

“What if I can’t get the time off of work?”

“What if the plane tickets are outrageous?”

And my response to these arguments?

“Of course we’re going.”

Two weeks later we were on our way to Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico to crew on Totem for the 800 mile passage south to La Cruz. Normally one doesn’t blast their way past all the wonders of Baja or spend cold nights on the Sea of Cortez in winter, but Totem’s got a fancy new paint job on her newly dry bottom, and she made it back in the water just in time to retrieve Niall from Puerto Vallarta on his winter break.

Schedules are typically frowned upon in cruising—for good reason—but the weather gods acquiesced to these unusual circumstances, and we were able to leave the dock and head south on Friday morning, December 14th.

My husband, David, and I became enamored with the idea of sailing about a year and a half ago. It came out of nowhere, really. We’d never sailed. We don’t know anyone who sails. It just happened, and it’s awesome.

After we’d made up our minds to cruise with our two young kids, we took the plunge and became Jamie and Behan’s coaching clients in May of 2018, shopped for boats all summer, and bought our vessel in November.

Told you it was serious!

Serendipitously, we were actually scheduled to sign all the purchase paperwork for our boat the same day we received the email asking if we could come crew on Totem. Clearly a sailor’s life is the life for us. We’d taken every bit of email and video chat advice the Giffords had given, and now we were on our way to learn from them firsthand.

After a long day of travel by car, plane, and shuttle bus, Jamie and Behan invited us aboard. Climbing down Totem’s companionway was the first time I felt I was descending not just into a boat but into a home, with evidence of their happy memories and hard work everywhere I looked.

So there we were, work, parenting and holiday preparations put on hold to take advantage of our first crewing opportunity. As inexperienced as we are, I’m not sure we were much help, but I have a feeling that was kind of the point.

David and I learned so many things about ourselves, about passage making, weather, sail trim and so much more, that I believe this was a better investment than any class we could have taken.

Just a few of the things I discovered:

  • The magic of butyl tape
  • I get queasy the first 36 hours on passage
  • Good food helps
  • So does Dramamine
  • Lee cloths are a delightfully cozy cocoon
  • A Barber Hauler is superior to a jib sheet at every point of sail except close hauled
  • Baja is 100% worth coming back for
  • Just not in winter
  • Old gray pelicans look like wise wizards

But this wouldn’t be a full review of my experience if I didn’t mention the day that made me want to reevaluate this lifestyle. It was a nasty 24 hours of steep-ish, closely patterned waves when we left the southern tip of Baja and headed east to Mexico’s mainland. Totem was treading a fine line between keeping her sails full and keeping the waves astern of the beam. It required near constant steering and eyes on the water.

I found myself in a dark mood after that, questioning if I was making the right decision to one day do this with my kids…and without the Giffords by my side. If this is what cruising is like, maybe it’s a little too much adventure for me, I thought.

I knew I was too exhausted and frayed to think reasonably about it, so I told myself to wait it out. Don’t make any decisions about my future until I’ve had some rest and a chance to see the big picture.

I’m glad I listened to that voice instead of the anxious, overly tired one.

The truth is, passage making is only about 5% to 10% of the cruising life, and cold, winter passages with a schedule to adhere to are virtually unheard of. After 10+ years of cruising, the Giffords only had 3 or 4 stories to share with us about less-than-ideal conditions…all of them manageable and none of them even close to resembling a storm at sea.

This is the biggest decision we’ve ever made. It’ll change our entire lives and give our kids a very different childhood from the one they might have on land. So I don’t take it lightly. And neither do Jamie and Behan. Every decision is carefully calculated, and they’ve planned for all contingencies.

I already suspected we’d chosen our cruising coaches well, but after seeing them in action, practicing what they preach, I know with certainty my family will be successful in our cruising life if we continue to heed their words.

I’m grateful for all of it. The night we anchored in Honeymoon Cove will be fodder for my future cruising dreams, and that last day in Banderas Bay before our flight home gave me the rest—and perspective—I needed. But I’m especially appreciative of that long 24 hours of grumpy seas and practically no sleep. It was hard, but we did it. And we know we can do it again.

I can’t tell you how much comfort it brought me to do my first passage under the full guidance of the Giffords. I wish everyone on the path to family cruising could have this same opportunity.

Sam, David, and their kids are counting down to cruising! Bookmark their pending blog, Muse and the everyday epic, to follow along. Totem and crew are now in Barra de Navidad, revisiting favorite haunts with Niall while’s aboard for winter break. Find out our schedule for boat shows in Toronto, Seattle, and Puerto Vallarta area seminars on our Events page.  

Give the Cruising Dream! Last minute, no-shipping gift ideas

Need a little something at the last minute? Here are a few ideas to help inspire the hopeful cruiser in your life… or, put a smile on that cruiser across the anchorage from you! My favorite elves above, three years ago, on our mad road trip across South Africa to catch up with family in Yzerfontein.

Gift certificate

Give the Gift of Cruising: our mentoring service, for standard durations (monthly increments) or our holiday special: a one-time session (up to an hour and a half) for $50. Several versions of gift certificates are available to personalize! Contact me for availability (limited number offered); printable PDFs will be mailed for gifting. See rates at TRU Coaching) and contact us for a certificate.

eBooks

While a general gift certificate on Amazon is awesome, you can also give a specific ebook to someone – and, time it to work for a holiday surprise! Here’s how:

  1. Go to the Amazon Kindle store, and search for the book you want to buy – maybe Voyaging with Kids?!
  2. On the right side of the page, below the “Buy Now” button (or in this case, Read Now – I already own this book!), click on the button that says “Buy for Others.”

3. The next screen provides options to personalize you gift message, then — choose your delivery date, so you can keep the surprise intact! You can also have the gift email sent to yourself instead of the recipient (see that tiny text under ‘Recipient email?), then print to give them directly.

Make something!

While we were in Puerto Peñasco, we were gifted a bag of citrus from shipyard friends (thank you Nicole!). What bounty! Enough to enjoy and make citrus-based gifts in return. Oranges and lemons became marmalade, lemon peels turned into a percolating jar of lemon essential oil infused vinegar (fantastic for cleaning), lemon curd for holiday baking; a tasty bottle of limoncello came our way too. You don’t have to be skilled at canning or DIY boatkeeping. Things you can make and give are myriad: prepare a mix for your fave sailor to make hot buttered rum (just add rum/hot water), or chocolate chip cookie mix in a jar for example.

Donate

One of the best kids our kids ever got needed no wrapping paper. Our friend Brian of the MV Further (now based in beautiful Philippines) gave them funds with Kiva. The kids then browsed for micro-lending candidates to choose which to support. A great gift for our kids while supporting fellow humans! Our 2016 holiday gift guide includes a list of marine-related charities and foundations, one of which might just hit the mark.

Hope this was helpful for you! 

Schedules, cruising, and the 800-mile passage nobody wants to make

Sailboat motoring with distant coastline ahead

“After this, no more schedules!” Jamie ranted a little while coiling lines at the mast possibly a little more vigorously than necessary while we motored into Banderas Bay yesterday morning. It’s a basic principle of cruising to avoid a schedule. Usually we’re pretty good at it, but this last week we sailed Totem more than 800 nautical miles, passing stunning cruising grounds, all to make a deadline. Jamie is over it.

pinterest image schedules and cruisingWhat’s the problem with schedules, anyway? Our pre-cruising life was run by schedules and routines that kept life nicely on the rails for a busy family. But for cruisers, schedules are incompatible on a few levels.

Weather. This is the primary enemy of the schedule: weather is unpredictable, and non-negotiable. The catchphrase for many is “weather always wins,” and it does. Want a current example? Check out the Golden Globe Race, where competitors are dropping like . Plan to depart on a particular day if you want: the weather may cooperate, and it may not. Weather does drive our big picture schedule: anticipate hurricane season, and be somewhere that minimizes risk. Swapping hemispheres is a nice way to do that.

Rushing through paradise. Time moves differently when you’re cruising, and feeling the minimum of experiential satisfaction in a place takes time; and then, there is always more to explore. Living in a world of 12 days annual vacation makes us look ridiculous when we express feeling totally shortchanged that we could only spend two and a half weeks sailing in Vanuatu before moving on to New Caledonia. But that’s exactly the conversation I had with Good Old Boat editor (my Voyaging with Kids co-author!) Michael Robertson recently; we both felt cheated by the couple of weeks we’d spent in Vanuatu. His family even flew back from Australia to Vanuatu in order to see more of the country they had only been able to cruise in for a few weeks on their way to the big land down under.

shrimp boat leaving puerto penasco

Shrimper leaving Puerto Penasco, not long before our own departure to sail south to Puerto Vallarta

Schedules are also the enemy because they get in the way of the ability of spontaneity. Being able to adapt plans on the fly because you’ve made a friend on shore and he’s like to lead you up ‘his’ volcano in a few days is the kind of flexibility you want to have in your life as a cruiser!

Kid boats. When we work with coaching clients who will go cruising with kids aboard, we try to impress the importance of flexibility so that when they connect with another cruising family and the kids (and parents!) hit it off, it’s not a big deal to make a last-minute change in plans to facilitate playdates or movie nights or whatever kid community is needed. And yet, we see new cruisers committing months ahead to places where friends or family will fly in “to see their new life!” that force the need to move on, to sail in an opposite direction from those new friends. One family wondered to us why they were struggling to connect with boats, not connecting the dots that their schedule-driven route wasn’t compatible.

Rugged Baja mountains glow at sunrise.

What about visitors?

We like to describe having intentions, vs. having plans. Of course we make an effort to match the one that lines up with their arrival, but have to impress the point that we might not be able to despite best intentions. When we’ve had crew fly in, they’re advised to consider booking a hotel for at least one night – just in case.

Next month, a production company is coming to Totem to film our life aboard (kind of exciting! Kind of scary). When we determined some weeks ago that we might not make their first choice of timing, she laughed and reminded me that when we were first discussing possibilities with them, I told her (sort of joking, sort of not) what we tell all our guests: “you can pick the date, or pick the place, but not both.” We were pretty sure we could manage the boatyard project timeline to arrive at their chosen place on the chosen date, but the weather was a wild card and entirely out of our control. The timeframe for filming was shifted to one we’re 100% sure of aligning date/place around, since we’ll spend the next few months in a relatively small range of the Mexican coastline.

Hanging out in the cockpit, mid-Gulf of California

This aspect of the evils of scheduling can be hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been cruising yet. A few times we’ve seen carefully outlined itineraries; multi-year routing plans with arrival dates and departure dates from one place to the next. Sometimes they even come with marina reservations! And sometimes I have to bite my tongue. “Your plan is never going to happen the way you imagine” is not a supportive response. But sometimes, people get so wedded to the schedule that when it fails, so does the cruise; our goal is to get people successfully, happily cruising on their terms. Schedules sabotage that success for most people. And really: when you find paradise, why rush through it, just because you laid out a timeline?

That 800 n.m. passage…

Our deadline was wholly worthwhile: meeting Niall’s flight into Puerto Vallarta, where he’ll spend winter break on Totem. But those 817 miles wound through island-sprinkled cruising grounds that many take months and even years to explore. Not gonna lie: it smarts a little! But it’s OK: we’ve been there, and we’ll be back next year, and we’ll take our time then.

dolphin spotting from sailboat bow

Yes, we have crew aboard! Sharing this passage with two of our coaching clients

This passage… it was pretty cool, honestly. A shakedown to be at sea for pretty much a week straight (we anchored one night, about halfway through) after six months on the hard. A chance to feel that slick new Coppercoat bottom. A chance to share the sail with a couple of our coaching clients, too, something new for us that enriched the experience.

Dates and deadlines inevitably creep in, but we make every effort to hold them at bay. Cruising on a schedule is an oxymoron: learning patience is the reality. Instead of rushing, we invest in our present environment as much as possible. It’s why we went cruising, after all: breaking out from a scripted life to seek the unexpected.

We did it! Decorating Totem this morning with ALL THREE kids aboard

~

Update: we have an EVENTS page now! Speaking dates / locations, boat shows, etc. at a single point of reference. Yes, I appreciate the irony of this in a post about how we avoid schedules! Ahhh… right. Embrace scheduling a little and come meet us!

Email subscribers: please note our events post about January speaking engagements in Toronto & Seattle included the wrong date for the Seattle Yacht Club. The correct date is Thursday evening, January 31st. Details on the events page.

 

Preparing Totem for Coppercoat

Two girls talk next to a sailboat on a hardstand.

 

Coppercoat’s advantages in durability (=savings!) and environmental friendliness (=how we live!) have made me more excited about antifouling than I believed possible. As if to complete the picture, Totem’s shiny new metallic hull is dazzling in the Sonoran sun. Once sanded to activate the copper the hull will oxidize to rich shade of verdigris, but for now it is stunning. Applying Coppercoat was an intense day of work, and an even bigger effort to prep. Researching our options confirmed how critical good prep is for this unique antifouling to be effective: here’s what we did, and why.

Two men scrape paint off the bottom of a sailboat
Jamie and Rudolpho tackling the bottom in June

  

Prepping for Coppercoat: two people examine the hull of a boat on a hardstand.

1. Stripped. Bottom paint and barrier coat were stripped to bare fiberglass last June, shortly after getting hauled in Puerto Peñasco. Totem didn’t have gelcoat left, the surprise that greeted us after blasting decades of accumulated bottom paint in Grenada. We painted on paint stripper, and scraped it off; not a perfect job of paint removal, with some visible bits in the valleys of Totem’s not-very-smooth hull, but sufficient for the summer. Boats with different substrates (e.g., gelcoat, metal hulls, etc.) get different prep.

2. Dried. From June until November, Totem’s wet hull dried out on the hard in the Sonora, Mexico. That’s Sonora, as in The Sonora Desert, where heat and low humidity provided an ideal climate to dry out during the summer months. Elsewhere (like the US east coast, or mainland Mexico, or further south) would have taken many months longer or required additional equipment (e.g. heating pads) or both.

Hull moisture meter readings were around 25% when we left. Eight blue-tape boxes were masked off to ensure repeat readings were in the same location; during our five months away, Cabrales Boatyard manager, Salvador Cabrales, would take periodic readings. He’d write the new measurement on the blue tape, then send a photo of it for us to see. Great peace of mind on progress while we were remote! The readings were at 6% to 7% at the end. During the drying period, the boatyard pressure washed the bottom to remove glycol, the sticky byproduct of a Polyester / Vinylester resin and a wet hull, that migrates to the surface as the hull dries.

 

A man writes on blue tape affixed to the hull of a boat.
Salvador updating measurement on the blue-tape reading area
Excel chart showing hull moisture readings declining over time
Homeschool bonus: charting the readings over time
Moisture meter showing reading.
Lower every time!

3. Stripped again. Totem’s bare hull was a rough surface, with flecks of paint remaining in the crevices. Brushing on paint stripper (we used Aquastrip) softened the remaining paint, which came off completely with a pressure washer.

Man brushes paint stripper on a boat.

 

Man powerwashes the bottom of a sailboat.

 

4. Sanded. The entire hull was sanded with 80 grit. After a full day of holding a vibrating sander mostly at or above shoulder height, Jamie hired a couple of guys from the yard crew to speed the job along and save his back.

Man in tyvek suit and face protection sanding a sailboat hull.
These guys helped a lot, but Jamie’s basically been in pain at night for a few weeks. 

  

5. Epoxied. If you’re at bare fiberglass, like Totem, the substrate (fiberglass) is porous and rough. After was wash and acetone wipe down, one coat of West system epoxy went on. When it was tacky, a second coat of West System with 410 micro-balloon filler to thicken the mix to work towards a smoother surface. Adding another layer of epoxy on top of a tacky prior coat is called hot coating: this creates a chemical bond between layers. The alternative is curing between coats and replying on roughing up the surface for a physical bond.

Three people measuring up epoxy to roll on a boat.
Mairen and Siobhan help mix up epoxy

 

6 – 9. Cured, sanded, washed, then wiped with Acetone. Epoxy was given a few days curing time before sanding. Sanding the thickened epoxy coat greatly improved substrate smoothness. Washing the hull got rid of the dust, and wiping with Acetone prepped for the next layers of epoxy.

 

Two people wipe rags on a sailboat hull while wearing heavy gloves
Wiping on acetone. Every once in a while need to demonstrate that I am not just behind the camera! 

 

10. Epoxied again. Several times actually: three coats of West System (two with 422 barrier coat additive) were applied to Totem’s hull bringing the total to five layers of epoxy, minus the 80 grit sanding.

Man in respirator with sander working on hull.
Looking pretty shiny after all the West Systems was applied! Fashion by Goodwill of Phoenix.

 

Siobhan uses a sharpie to mark rough spots that need more sanding; evening guard, Federico, looks on.

 

11 – 14. Cured, sanded, washed, and wiped with Acetone…again. Very intimate with the surface area of Totem’s hull at this point.

Drying the hull after a last rinse before the barrier coat went on.

  

15. Barrier Coat. Three coats of Interlux Interprotect 2000 were applied over the West Systems. Interlux recommends five coats, but with five prior coats of West System (including two with barrier protection additive) we feel confident that the combined eight coats will serve.

Three people work together to apply Interlux barrier coat to a sailboat hull.
Barrier coating as a family affair: Mairen stirs, Jamie and Siobhan roll on.

  

16 – 18. For the third time: cured, sanded (lighter, much lighter), and wiped down– but this time, no acetone! The hull was dusted with rags instead to remove debris from sanding, and leave a surface primed for Coppercoat. For future Coppercoaters, we have done even better to gently pressure wash one or two days in advance.

Consumables list – I’m probably forgetting something:

  • gloves – decimated a box of 150, plus a half dozen heavy-duty pairs for paint stripper
  • 80 grit disks – 175
  • 320 grit disks – TBD
  • paint brushes – 4
  • 3/8″ roller covers – 10 (Interlux Interprotect 2000)
  • 1/8″ roller covers – 6 (West System epoxy)
  • Acetone – 3 gallons
  • blue tape – 1 big roll
  • rags – large bag of clean, lint-free rags
  • mixing sticks – 20
  • spreaders – 10
  • Aquastrip  – 5 gallons
  • West System – 4 gallons for 5 coats, plus 410 filler and 422 additive
  • Interprotect 2000 – 7 gallons for 3 coats

A note on safety equipment:

Toxic stuff is all over this project. One of the reasons we’re excited about Coppercoat is how environmentally friendly it is, compared to alternatives, but getting to that point is not – really, a lot of boat work is pretty nasty, and this prep is no exception. Take care of skin, eyes, and lungs!

My friend Kate Laird (Check out her expedition sails and homeschool expertise!) called out safety kit shortcomings in some pictures posted, and she’s right. We should be better about how we’re protecting ourselves, and I also seemed good at capturing moments when we weren’t! Here’s an equipment list to help with planning ahead, with products we like.

Kate Laird from Seal expedition sail sanding paint on her boat's hull.
Kate- or is that Hamish? Or one of their teenage daughters? Working on the hull of their expedition vessel, Seal.

Respirator: Jamie and Kate both like this 3M 6200 half-mask. Bad luck was the straps on Jamie’s broke just before we started. You can get replacement straps and other parts – it’s one of the nice things about the respirator.

These reusable respirators have filters for particular matter (these pink ones) and VOC fumes (white ones here). Hot tip from Kate: keep the VOC filters in a ziploc bag to extend their useful life. They actually keep filtering away in there!

Jamie decided to try these disposable Moldex-Metric respirators this time. They were easy to source, lighter weight, and relatively comfortable. However, they’re really for “nuisance levels” organic vapors vs. fumes of OSHA PEL standards.

Skin protection: Tyvek jumpsuits are the standard, and they did get modeled around Totem, but the Goodwill in Phoenix turned out to be a good place for quick, affordable cover-up (50% off on Saturdays, and help from the Jollydogs crew picking things up for us!). We needed a few warm layers, anyway: we were NOT PREPARED for cool weather here in the late fall, and didn’t have clothes for it. Jamie’s happy: he hasn’t had a single day of gritty itchy boatyard yuck.

Eye protection: Jamie wears glasses but adds goggles over them when he’s worried about exposure. We picked up inexpensive eye protection in a hardware shop in Peñasco that worked fine for the girls. For more souped-up protection, this full-face respirator (3M 6700) Kate recommended is gold standard: big, single lens for easy viewing.

Further note on toxic junk, and being outside the US: I don’t know if there are any standards for the toxic waste produced in boatyards but the practices here mean we’re doing work that wouldn’t be handled the same way in the USA. Some things can be addressed by individual boaters, with some planning ahead. A shopvac using HVAC filters to capture and dispose of dust off sanders (Jamie’s got a bag on his that he’d empty regularly, and dispose – amazing how much of that stuff comes off – but no special filtering). You couldn’t just paint on stripper and pressure wash it off on a hardstand spot like we are, but set up for catchment and hazardous waste dispo…no, actually, you probably couldn’t because there’s probably not a hazardous waste facility. In the US, you’d stage the boat for this at a place where runoff is captured. For the most part, our lives are an incredibly light footprint environmentally: every once in a while, they’re really not.

Totem has 12 coats of epoxy right now. TWELVE. OK, so some got sanded off in the process, but even if we lost a couple of coats – it’s a long way from the bare fiberglass that peeked out when we blasted at Grenada Marine last year.

Coppercoat application: next post.

Coming soon to Toronto and Seattle Boat Shows

birds-eye view of two boats rafted together as a dinghy carves a wake through the water in front of them.

 

Making winter boat show plans? Let’s meet! Jamie and I are excited to have finalized plans for presenting at the Toronto Boat Show and Seattle Boat Show in early 2019. We can’t wait to share our experiences and enthusiasm for cruising with those who hope to make the break, and meeting up with members of the cruising community. Here’s the scoop on when and where.

Toronto Boat Show: Jan. 23rd & 24th

Toronto International Boat Show Logo

We’ll be coming up from Puerto Vallarta, a jarring climate change. Shove tea in my trembling hands if necessary. Jamie and I are presenting at 12:30 and 5:30 on Wednesday and Thursday, January 23rd and 24th

  • Healthcare while cruising: 12:30 p.m. Learn how to prepare for healthy cruising – and, what to do if you happen to need medical care from far away.  raining, Medical kit, common ailments, and what it’s really like to get medical care while cruising long distances.
  • Ten years around the world: a family circumnavigation. 5:30 p.m. These stories will inspire you as well as providing practical insight to help you plan your own adventure… while living vicariously, through beautiful destinations spanning the world.

Toronto will be two packed days! Hopefully we can hack the weather after having our blood thinned in the tropics for so meany years. We’ll be wandering the show both days, outside our seminar times; tell us if you’ll be around!

For more information and to register for these seminars, visit the seminar section of the Toronto Boat Show website.

Seattle Boat Show 2019 logo

Seattle Boat Show: Jan. 26, 30-31, and Feb. 1

Our home waters are here, so it’s particularly meaningful for us to return as presenters instead of attendees after attending the Seattle Boat Show for years as dreamers. We’re planning a range of presentations and seminars and contemplating an after-hours meetup (if you’re keen, hit us up, and we’ll make it happen!). Seattle Boat Show tickets go on sale December 1; seminar details on the website.

Saturday Jan. 26th

On Saturday the 26th, we’ll join a couple of two-hour panels. These panels are free with boat show admission:

  • Cruising Forum: 10:15, Stage #5, Club level. We’ll join two accomplished cruising couples— Will & Sarah Curry, and John Neal & Amanda Swan-Neal. Boat selection, outfitting, self-sufficiency, mind-blowing landfalls and whatever else we can fit into two hours! Register and submit questions for Cruising Forum at tinyurl.com/2019SeattleCruisingForum 
  • Writing About Your Boating Adventures: 12:15 , Stage #5, Club level. Behan joins PNW authors Elsie Hulsizer, Wendy Hinman, Christine Smith, Mark Bunzel, and Norris Comer to talk about writing and cruising.

Wednesday-Thursday, Jan. 30th – 31st

Living the Dream and Cruising the World – Getting Ready to Cruise. This two-day series is part of Boat Show University, the Seattle Boat Show’s premium education track. Either day stands alone, but they’re better together! The full day seminars run from 9am-4pm.

Day 1: Getting ready to cruise, and leaving the dock. We’ll take about preparing a boat and crew to leave the dock: selection, equipment, spares, and more. How do you decide what goes– and what doesn’t? What about downsizing? I’ll touch on homeschooling, too, and other important preparations we made in preparing to live the dream for the last ten years.

Day 2: So many places to go! Believe it or not, we feel like we rushed at times even though we spent a decade circumnavigating. Where should you go? What about weather routing for passages, and anticipating ocean currents? We’ll talk about these, budgeting, getting a break, medical care, and what it’s really like to live everyday in paradise.

  

Details for the two-day seminar ovelaid on an image of sailboats in a tropical lagoon

  

Jamie and I will cover a myriad of practical topics while feeding your dream by connecting preparations with real-world cruising experiences. These sessions offer insights whether you’re hoping to circumnavigate too, cruise to the South Pacific, head down the coast to Mexico, or sail north to Alaska.

  

Cruising Forum panel details

 

Friday Feb. 1

Three presentations on the second Friday of the Seattle Boat Show, to help us cover some of the most common questions we get from future cruisers.

  • Health care while cruising: 1:00 p.m. How to prepare for healthy cruising – and, what to do if you happen to need medical care from far away! Training, Medical kit, common ailments, and what it’s really like when you need care far away.
  • Documents for cruising: 2:00 p.m. Take off cruising and the paperwork in your life gets less complicated… and it will, as long as you do some simple planning! We’ll go through how to prepare for your long distance adventure.
  • Ten years around the world: a family circumnavigation. 4:15 p.m. These stories will inspire you as well as providing practical insight to help you plan your own adventure… while living vicariously, through beautiful destinations spanning the world.

Jan. 24th: an evening of sea tales at the Seattle Yacht Club

Thursday evening, January 24th, we’ll have an evening of storytelling with adventures from our ten years circumnavigating. Come share a drink and a tale at Totem’s home yacht club, SYC! Open to the public; non-SYC-members may need to register. No charge; cash bar. Doors open at 6:30; program at 6:45. Details will be posted at seattleyachtclub.org.

 

Presentation screen showing happy family on a boat, flanked by two presenters.
Homecoming presentation at SYC in July this year: photo, Kevin Baerg

 

Annapolis is coming up, too!

Jamie and I will be speaking again at spring and fall Annapolis boat shows this year. Our spring sessions (and links to seminar details) are posted on the website – and tickets are already on sale, for the show and for our Cruisers U seminars! Topics in Annapolis: 

  • Cruising Women – Behan’s 2-day Master Class with Pam Wall
  • Cruising on a Budget – Silver, Gold, & Platinum
  • Top Newbie Cruising Mistakes
  • What Me Worry? Putting Your Cruising Fears to Rest
  • Safety at Sea (Jamie’s double session)
  • Splicing & Whipping
  • Route Planning
  • Offshore Rigging & Sails – When Things Go Wrong

The full schedule for Cruisers U is here; to register for Annapolis, visit AnnapolisBoatShows.com.

Keep in touch, and drop us a note if we’ll see you at a show!

Forever boat: bigger upkeep on an older sailboat

Two girls petting a dog in front of a marine travellift with a sailboat in the slings.

  

Jamie and Salvador talking about work to be done on Totem

  

Totem turned 36 this year. We treat her like our forever boat, and prioritize maintenance to ensure our sailboat / home remains a sound vessel with a long future ahead. Lately that means turning attention to a projects that accumulated into something more than “routine maintenance.” While organizing plans for the new bottom (we’ve made a decision on bottom paint, by the way, details coming soon – I am VERY excited about our plans, details coming!), a number of these kicked off.

Step one is simply getting supplies. Some things are easy to get in Mexico; others aren’t. Because Cabrales Boatyard is only an hour and a half south of Arizona, it’s not hard to source from north of the border. There’s even a West Marine in Phoenix! Several other cruisers in the yard are making trips back and forth; we’ve been able to tag along with road trips to get our supplies down, and our friend Michael (my co-author for Voyaging with Kids and Good Old Boat editor) has provided invaluable mailstop support from his home in Arizona, and Pam Wall helped secure good prices all the way from Fort Lauderdale. (Rhetorical question: is it still cruising when you can get an Amazon Prime order?)

While waiting on materials to get the bottom done, Jamie’s tackled power train work. The engine mounts are probably original to the engine; Totem was repowered in 2002.

Old and new, side by side: I think it’s time, what do you think?

Shiny new engine mount in front of a well worn older one

Propeller shaft woes: it’s original, but that’s not the problem. Unfortunately, it seems that it wasn’t sufficiently protected during blasting to remove all paint from the bottom in Grenada last year. The little bit of grit that got inside was enough to cause wear in the shaft in the subsequent miles: that’s gotta go! Jamie’s ordered a new shaft made from Aqualoy 22. I’d never heard of Aqualoy, but it’s an alloy specifically designed for marine environment applications: corrosion resistant and stronger than the comparable grade of steel that would be used for the shaft. That sounds like an excellent “forever boat” choice.

man holding cut-off propeller shaft
cut-off prop showing damage from the area inside the two bearings

 

cutting off the prop shaft
Honestly I’m happy I didn’t witness this (Siobhan’s photo)! Jamie: “The angle grinder paid for itself today.”

Remember that steerage failure off Colombia? We’re replacing the failed chain, but instead of a stainless cable we’ll use Dyneema. The fix Jamie put into place 4,000 miles ago has proven itself. Additional work on the steering system includes replacing sheave pins and bearings: bushing from Oilite (a bronze alloy) will replace the old bearings, providing lower friction. After 36 years, the stainless pins showed wear, so those will be replaced as well.

Jamie holding two steering cable sheaves in dirty, work-hardened hands
Some see the sheaves. I see hands of a very hard working boat dad.

 

Up at the bow, we’ve long wanted to repair the anchor rollers. They are TOASTED and have been for some time, but the right size rollers never seemed to be on the shelf when we passed through better-supplied chandleries. When Jamie saw the machine shop at the yard, he had an idea; improve on off-the-shelf rollers with a slight change in profile that makes it harder for anchor chain to skip over the top. He purchased cylinders of durable plastic stock ordered from McMaster-Carr (love this resource for boat bits at non-marine-markup prices) and is having the profile machined to order.

Salvador and Jamie squatting on the ground with materials and plans for anchor rollers
Jamie and Salvador making a plan for the anchor roller

 

Plastic stock for future anchor roller, plans sketched on paper, and beat up old roller.

 

Three men confer inside a well used machine shop
Salvador communicating direction for the machine shop crew

The bow pulpit needs attention too. Like many boats built in the 1980s in Taiwan, mixed quality stainless steel was used for everything from tankage to stanchions. Bit by bit we’ve addressed original stainless components; it’s the bow pulpit’s turn. The feet are cracked. It’s not imminently dangerous, but time to replace, and the skillset and resources are here to do the job at a reasonable rate.

Totem’s swim ladder is another piece of original stainless being improved by the welders at Cabrales Boatyard. The support legs which help our swim ladder stand off Totem’s transom when deployed make for pesky obstacles and chafe risk when raising our dinghy on the davits. It would be nice not to have to finesse that process every time we haul the dinghy and eliminate the risk so those blunt legs have been replaced with a gentle curve that will function much better, and be kinder to the dinghy.

The bare fiberglass bottom is also a great opportunity to clean up Totem’s through hull scene. We replaced most of the  36-year-old seacocks in Thailand five years ago, but a few of the originals  remained. Instead of replacing them, Jamie’s removed them. Each divot left by a former through hull is now filled with a large sandwich made up of layers fiberglass and epoxy.

How did we manage to eliminate so many through hulls? Well, one was unused. Two were sink drains which will now drain to a greywater system in the bilge. The fourth is a raw water intake for a toilet, which will use water from a greywater system instead of seawater.  We’re happy to minimize holes in the boat, and pleased to have just five for a boat of Totem’s size and layout.

One project that’s more of a luxury item than upkeep of a good old boat is our plan to expand solar charging capacity. Solar power keeps getting more affordable: quality panels are about $1/watt, and we had an opportunity to buy gently used solar panels at an irresistible bargain. A pair will soon come down from Arizona and we’ll increase our capacity from the current 270 to about 650… cost to us about $0.37/watt. SWEET! OK, so it will cost a little more because we’ll need another charge controller: still feeling very good about improving our green power generation.

Meanwhile, Totem looks like there was a small Stuff explosion inside. We had a lot of fine dust to clean out after the summer on the hard: bits that filtered in through solar vents and other crannies. 

Looking down into the main cabin where tools and gear spread on table, bench, settees, and cabin sole

The state of chaos is a sinusoidal wave between “messy” and “chaos” that won’t improve dramatically util projects are done and we’re on our way. That’s OK. The work getting done right now feels really, really good: important steps to ensure the long future life of our floating home.

Masts and rigging from boats in the shipyard are silhouetted by a vibrant sunset in Puerto Penasco

Silver linings to an extended haul out

Dog stands watch at gravel shipyard with people conversing in the distance

Early morning shadows stretch across the gravel lot of Cabrales Boatyards hardstand where Perro Negro (black dog) holds court. Mairen and Siobhan get the first of today’s Spanish vocabulary from the night guard as we’ve affectionately come to call maestro (teacher) for his enthusiastic lessons before he heads off duty for the day.

Sailboat on hardstand with ladder alongside for access

Boats in many parts of the northern hemisphere haul out for the season at this time of year; boats on the hard here in Puerto Peñasco are waking up from a hurricane season respite. Tucked onto jackstands for a long winter nap or summer away, maintenance or repairs can be worked into the months that stretch out ahead. But when active cruisers haul their boats, the situation is entirely different. We’re either cooped up in temporary dwelling spending cruising coin at an alarming rate, or trying to manage life on stilts with limited use of normal onboard utilities like, you know, toilets. The moment a cruiser’s boat is out of the water, the clock starts to tick: how quickly can we complete the projects that stand between us and the freedom of a blue horizon? Time is our enemy.

We’ve hauled Totem on three previous occasions since we started cruising: twice in Thailand (2013 and 2014), and once in Grenada (2017). Each experience felt like a race to the finish; hot, sweaty, dirty days of hard labor to minimize the days on land. On one occasion we left with significant projects left largely incomplete, facing the disappointing reality that a yard would only continue the pattern of extending our timeline.

This time it’s different.

We were absent during Totem’s extended hardstand stay this summer. From afar we dreamed about getting back to cruising, exploring corners of the beautiful Sea of Cortez. Hectic weeks before our return hampered advance planning, slowed ordering parts and supplies. It’s holding up the primary job ahead to put a new bottom on Totem.

Silver lining to delay in the larger effort is the gift of time to address projects that have shimmied their way up in the world of boatkeeping priorities, but in many cases could be pushed off. At a measured pace, we can remove a few bandaids that were applied over time, tackle some deferred maintenance, and correct less-than-ideal installations.

Jamie looks through a loupe at the chainplate
Jamie looks through a loupe at the chainplate

Chainplate viewed through magnification shows pitting
Rather have nooks and crannies in a muffin than a chainplate!

Chainplate inspections bubbled up first. Not a normal visual, but actually removing them entirely to inspect both sides as well as the point at which they intersect the deck. We replaced every chainplate except the stem fitting in 2008. Original (1982) plates had a rough finish where they were backed to a bulkhead or fiberglass knee, less easily inspected, and more subject to corrosion. The replacements are polished to a mirror finish which is highly resistant to corrosion. Great! But to get that shiny smooth metal well sealed is difficult, especially on a boat that flexes.

Edit/update: we’ve had a few questions about that loupe Jamie’s using. It’s actually the eyepiece from a failed pair of binoculars, and magnifies at 7x. But don’t destroy a pair of binos! You can get a good loupe (like this one) for less than twenty bucks.

Chainplate removed and placed on a table and surrounded with bolts, all showing signs of surface rust
This surface rust cleaned up and chainplate passed inspection under magnification

Bolts from above picture shown 'after' cleanup looking much better
Much cleaner now!

Somewhere around the five-year mark, a few began to weep, and that’s continued despite bandaid efforts along the way. So out they go for complete inspection and peace of mind. We started with those most suspect there are early signs of the crevice corrosion to which stainless is susceptible. It’s VERY minor at this point. Repeat: it’s very minor! Carefully cleaned and replaced, they just need monitoring. This time, they are through-deck portion is re-bedded with butyl tape to, hopefully, further prevent weeping or leaks for a longer time. The bolts all looked good, but three nuts failed inspection and were replaced.

using a chisel to force butyl tape around the chainplate deck fitting
Wedging butyl tape around the chainplate deck fitting

Side by side views of a nut with and without magnification, showing crack
Same nut with magnification on the right. YIKES! Yup that’s been replaced

Another project without burning urgency but “this could be better” was the rudder indicator for our autopilot. Two days before we left Puget Sound in 2008, Jamie did a last-minute autopilot install (surprise!). It wasn’t the cleanest installation, coming at a slightly hectic time. The rudder indicator was placed smack in the middle of the lazarette, and awkwardly mounted and subject to being knocked if something fell over in the space. Jamie built a cover to protect it from damage but the location bugged him. OK, so it has since done a circumnavigation; fixing it is possibly a little pedantic. But the placement could be improved, and now it is: Jamie made a new bracket and installed it in a better location. A more functional lazarette space and saver placement out of the way are the result.

Totem’s steering system is fine, but also getting a full review. In lumpy seas off Colombia last in January the steering chain broke. Jamie’s fix with Dyneema put in has worked well since, but a closer inspection of the whole system has been in the back of his mind. Good thing he took it apart yesterday! When the steering cable is in place and under tension, the sheaves appeared fine. But once the entire steering system was disconnected, the sheaves showed a bit of a wobble – too much wobble. Pulling the sheaves, Jamie then noticed that both the bronze bushings and the stainless steel pins were worn enough wear to warrant replacement. Not unreasonable after 36 years and a lot of miles. 

A few more days means the space for a break. If this was a crunch, the beautiful opportunity to experience Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, would have passed by unmarked. Instead, there was time to wander through the municipal primer cemetario on the day families gather to clean the graves of loved ones while refreshing their paint or decoration. Gathered around family plots, sitting on the marble or concrete or ceramic-tiled slap that covers a mother or cousin or uncle… playing music, eating, drinking, while children tussle and play soccer in sand thoroughfares dividing the cemetery or lay hide and seek behind statues of the Virgin Mary. A more intensive haul out wouldn’t have allowed a night off to wander a competition for altars created to remember the dead, and then land in the throngs of a crowd in a fashion show for Calavera Catrinas, “dapper skeletons,” complete with catwalk.

Village scene at dusk in Mexico, cutout paper streamers hung across the road
Papel picado strung across the street where altars staged and Catrinas strolled

Children take in the memorial at an altar
Children take in a memorial altar

Candle, charcoal brazier, and marigold petals at an altar
Every altar element is weighted with symbolism, or tells a story about the person memorialized

Strings of papel picado, or cut paper, garlands hung across a road
Streetlights shine through papel picado, cut paper garlands strung across the road

Glamorous costumed Catrina
Dramatically costumed Cartrinas paraded down the catwalk

Adoring crowd watches the fashion show
An enthusiastic crowd takes in the contest for the best-dressed Catrina

 

 

Woman in Catrina facepaint
My partner in crime for the evening! Katja (SV Imagine) generously shares her experience with Puerto Peñasco

More yard projects are planned: new anchor rollers, new prop shaft, new cutlass bearing, new engine mounts, new dripless seal. Unnatural as it is to be out of water, this work makes us better prepared. We’ll return to a familiar environment soon enough, the dissonance of life on the hard disappearing, stronger for this patience and happier for this pace.

10 signs it’s time to go back to the boat

On Tuesday we begin the two-day journey back to Totem. It’s time. It’s past time. Here’s how we’re sure:

  1. The socks are on, and we’re not talking about Boston
  2. Nobody needs this many potato chip options
  3. 60 is the new 80 (temperature at which teens put on pants/hoodies)
  4. No longer accidentally calling bathroom “the head”
  5. Now nostalgically referring to guest bedroom as “our cabin”
  6. Explained ourselves one too many times
  7. Swerving to avoid catastrophe on the road one too many times
  8. Bathroom scale is new nemesis (need to put a halt to the pound-per-week plan)
  9. Gone out for Mexican food twice in a week
  10. Confirmed: Niall is thriving in college
Teenagers smile for camera at pizzeria in Portland
Our girls with Niall and his classmates at dinner near Lewis & Clark College in Portland

We’ve all been homesick for Totem, but our desire to get back to this homespace has become sharply present this week. Three times in the last two days our family narrowly evaded catastrophic road accidents. First, an 18-wheeler tried to change lanes directly into our vehicle while barreling down the highway in dumping rain. ABS brakes for the win, because I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason we didn’t end up in the ditch. Second: a car that lost control careening down on a slick hillside toward us in Portland, stopping within a few feet of a head-on collision as the terrified face of the driver gripped the wheel while sliding towards us at speed. Third, the failur of a windshield wiper which jammed up both wipers and left us with severely limited visibility: we pressed in darkness and downpour and insufficient pulloff shoulder for three miles before a highway exit ramp to work out a fix.

Those left me breathless, but people say what WE do is dangerous! We’ll take our salty life, thank you. Jamie and I compared notes over a roadside diner dinner once the wipers were replaced, grimly noting we’d each tried not to be superstitious but had a modicum of relief after the third event was safely in hindsight. Things come in threes, right?

This list of signs it’s time for us to go home evolved from a punchy road trip brainstorm. In truth the real kicker for us was that trip to see Niall, and to see how well settled he is: a transition made, from sea to land, from homeschool to formal school, nomad kid to planted young man. We’ll still be counting down until his winter break visit! 

Last chance: personalized copies of Voyaging with Kids!

The response to last week’s offer for an inscribed copy of Voyaging with Kids was overwhelming: I actually ran out of books! I didn’t want to turn down this opportunity for personalized books, so publisher Lin Pardey made sure that another case was sent out. That means I could fulfill all the requests, and I have a few more! If you’d like one for yourself, or a special gift, let me know… but do it today, I’m shipping before we head south of the border. Cost including US shipping is $30.

I’m hoping for a last 

bigleaf maple tree leaves turning yellow and fluttering to a pathway backed by coniferous trees
Last gasp of a temperate fall before traveling to the desert

 

Limited offer: personalized copy of Voyaging with Kids!

Engaging pictures are a great way to get kids excited.
Thanks hamsterescape for this awesome photo!

Do you have a partner to convince to go cruising? Do relatives or friends think your plans are kind of nuts? Need a positive way to introduce cruising plans to people who may not embrace them? Or just want to get ahead on holiday gifts? EASY. I’ll send you a personalized inscription written in a copy of colorful, information-packed guide to family cruising,  Voyaging with Kids.

Jamie and I are starting to pack up for our return to Totem (ELEVEN DAYS Y’ALL, YES I AM COUNTING). In the wake of the boat show, I have a few extra copies of Voyaging with Kids on hand. It would be easy enough to leave them behind for our return in January for the Seattle Boat Show… or I can pen a handwritten note inside (prompt me if you’d like!) and ship it off to inspire and support future cruisers!

Get in touch if you’d like to order a copy; I’ll mail paid orders on Monday, October 29th.

Back to Totem

In other news this week, friends-we-haven’t-met-yet (the Ankyrios crew) sent us pictures of Totem. They’re doing work on their adjacent catamaran at the boatyard and knew we’d love to see our girl! They also have a teen among their five boat kids, and yes, the girls are excited. Totem is looking a little forlorn, but that makes us long all that much more to get back, show her some love, and get to work.

Totem waits in Mexico for her crew

Right. Work. It’s going to be hard, hot work. Epoxy, sand, epoxy, sand, repeat, repeat, repeat. We have some big decisions to make: the biggie is, what kind of paint to put on the bottom? Vacillating between good options, and not sure what to do yet. On one hand, we had great use from some hard paint by Pettit Paint (4+ years of service, from Port Townsend in 2018 until we hauled in Thailand in 2014). But it’s tempting to consider Coppercoat, especially since the work of stripping Totem’s bottom is sunk cost already. The upfront cost is higher, but amortized over a longer service life we should come out ahead. Real world results seem to be mixed, though. We’re not sure what to do yet – tell us what you think!

Meanwhile, we continue to get positive reports on Totem’s moisture meter readings. At this point we can say we have a dry boat. THAT’S A PRETTY BIG DEAL.

Public Service Announcement: VOTE.

November 6, just two and a half weeks away, are midterm elections in the USA. Kind of a big deal. Cruisers can vote – and SHOULD vote! If you’ve assumed you’re too late, don’t. Our district allows overseas voters to register to vote as late as 8pm on Election Day. AMAZING. Find out!

I can’t say how absentee voting works for YOU because every district is different, but here’s how to find out what to do: visit Vote.Org, to connect with your local voter information. If you’re already on a distant shore, check Overseas Vote. The goal of these nonpartisan sites is to enabling voters to fulfill our responsibility: they make it easy to find out what to do.

For the first time since 2008, we’ll be able to submit a ballot in our home district. We’ve ALSO been able to vote in every election since we left. Sometimes local issues feel too obscure for us to want to weigh in, but never is there a time I wouldn’t research candidates and pick who I’d like to represent our interests as an elected official. Exercise your right! We’re fortunate that in our home district (Washington’s Kitsap County), overseas voting is mostly an online affair – voting is very easy. Yours could be just as easy – find out, if you don’t already know! /end PSA

Because I’ll miss this

Savoring last days in the Pacific Northwest.

looking up at magnificent trees
pink sunrise reflects on still water in a tranquil pacific northwest bay

Cascading events: preventing crisis at sea

Fears of disaster at sea can loom large; even for adrenaline junkies, misadventure is not the desired companion to adventure. Jamie shares one facet of thinking around avoiding crises at sea here; for more, join Cruisers U and attend seminar at the Annapolis Boat Show next month.

Some boaters will experience a crisis situation. All come close, repeatedly… You know, like that time during the headsail change when the halyard slipped away, and then… Oh wait, that one became a crisis. How could a loose halyard go so wrong, right? Let’s let the halyard dangle, for now, while we talk crisis.

What is a crisis? Multiple concurrent problems for which there are no procedural solutions.

An emergency may be terribly bad, but it’s not a crisis. The difference matters. It’s a little like when you were a freshman and procrastinated writing a paper. You pulled an all-nighter and finished it just in time – stressful. Then as a self-assured sophomore, the same thing happened except you had three papers due and a kegger all demanding attention on the same night – stressful with very mixed outcomes. Multiples are much harder to manage.

We sailed into Port Villa, Vanuatu in October 2010 and while figuring out the fairly crowded anchorage, a sailboat was towed past us and put on a mooring.

sailboats in a mooring field off Port Vila, Vanuatu
Lonely boat in Port Vila, Vanuatu

Engine failure came to mind, but we learned otherwise. A guy was out sailing with his girlfriend. It was a nice day that got a little lumpy which caused an issue with the dinghy. He went aft to sort it out – and fell overboard. Like the sinking catamaran, this is a serious emergency. The girlfriend was not a sailor and had no idea what to do. Single problem cascaded into multiple problems:

3) crew member overboard

4) crew onboard could not maneuver the boat being steered by autopilot

5) visual of victim was lost

6) boat was sailing without control towards an island

The number sequence is not wrong. The boyfriend going overboard was an emergency, but problems began earlier as elevated risk: 

1) towing the dinghy in the ocean in unsettled sea state.

2) not taking precautions before leaving the cockpit, especially knowing the crew was not a skilled boater

Girlfriend had a lucky break when fishermen saw the boat sailing towards a reef. They were able to get on board and alter course. She lived. Boyfriend was never seen again. Even if girlfriend was a skilled boater, managing a situation with crew overboard AND lumpy conditions AND towed dinghy problem would’ve been very difficult. This was a crisis ending in tragedy.

tropical island paradise: blue sky, white clouds, sandy beach, turquoise water
Reason #73 to go cruising: perfect, remote atolls. Just because.

The cause was not a single dramatic event. Instead, seemingly inconsequential choices cascaded into crisis and terrible consequences. It’s easy to cast judgement of the man’s choices, but doing so is hollow. Who hasn’t left the cockpit in haste or taken a tiny shortcut in preparations? The take-away here is two main points.

First, multiple problems (crisis situation) divide focus and response efforts. No one problem can be resolved as well as if it were the ONLY problem.

Second, most often crisis is born from a single problem, be it serious or insignificant, that grows exponentially more complex IF more problems pile on. Meaning, when that first “thing” happens, don’t let a second thing happen! I call this “boxing the problem”. Key is understanding when risk in a situation is elevated. Sometimes it’s obvious and instantly dealing with an emergency. Often, it’s subtle and still represents elevated risk. The towed dinghy became tragedy while a sinking catamaran was a textbook rescue. 

This brings us back to the dangling halyard. It’s a typical day along the Malay Peninsula, light winds with a chance of volatility. Husband, in this real event, decides on a course of action after the halyard got away, all the way to the masthead. He chose to go up the mast to retrieve the halyard. Going aloft always brings elevated risk! Doing so at sea is rocketed risk. It was clear from the storyteller, his wife, that retrieving it was unnecessary – just a macho guy thing. Worse still, a squall was approaching but he was only going up for a minute. At the masthead, it took long enough for the squall to hit. Now a single, benign problem (halyard) became a very risky situation (going aloft) and then two problems (dude up the mast and managing the boat in a squall). Bad, right? Get this! While pitching around, mast and man came crashing down.

To recap, there is a concurrent man overboard and dismasting during a squall. Husband had to get untangled from halyard and rigging before it pulled him under while also not loosing sight of the boat in torrential conditions. At this moment we were no longer sure that the guy next to the storyteller was in fact the same macho mast climbing in the story. Confirmation, and relief, came over a stunned group of cruisers when the storyteller wife looked at the guy with a big laugh, saying – you were so stupid! Husband heartily agreed.

A simple, single problem devolved into a full crisis situation. The outcome was lucky, sans rig, but lucky nonetheless. Even if the first domino to fall is a big one, do what you can to prevent it from tumbling others. Box the problem. This takes assessed, reasoned response. I suspect the guy in Vanuatu never imagined that he could be one of those clumsy people that falls overboard. 

Long ago, on a dark, lumpy night I had to leave the cockpit to put a deeper reef in the main. I was wearing a PFD with integrated harness, tethered to Totem. Still, being a little uncomfortable with the elevated risk, I asked myself “is this the last time I leave the cockpit?” It was a question. There is a lot to crisis management at sea. A good place to start is questioning your actions before you take them. I still ask myself that question when leaving the cockpit. Some boaters will experience a crisis situation. All come close, repeatedly…

blacktip reef shark swims next to sailboat hull in clear water
Sharks swim under Totem in Chagos: still feel at greater risk in a vehicle on the highway.