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.

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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!

Cruiser’s bookshelf: what are you reading?

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Lingering in Washington DC, we’re enjoying gorgeous days making the most of the US capital…and tucking ourselves in below on the chilly nights (40s! 30s even! rumored 20s in the next few nights- YIKES) with some solid reading to keep company. This little channel off the Potomac still hosts dinghies practicing (that’s our view from the Capital Yacht Club, above) and access to the city make it worth every goosebump to be here. Meanwhile, here’s a range of books–new stuff!– from inspirational to practical to just plain fun / escapism, all connected back to cruising.

lin-pardeyNew writing from Lin Pardey! The books she and Larry wrote served as an important source of inspiration during our planning/dreaming years, as they have for legions of cruisers. It’s exciting to read fresh new stories about their adventures—and, bonus, they’re in some of our favorite cruising grounds of the South Pacific!

Reading Taleisin’s Tales was like seeing old friends again through her vivid writing about the cruising experience, and hit me harder than I anticipated in all the best ways (plotting, or at least dreaming, about our Panama Canal timing now). Full of beautiful color photos, the book took me on a return voyage — and although it’s been a few years between her visit and ours, time comes closely to that far side of the world. Besides, the lessons in seamanship and humanity are every bit as relevant today as when they sailed these miles in Taleisin.

Working with Lin in her booth at the US Boat Show in Annapolis this year, I could put her voice to the stories and gain a new appreciation for their authenticity. Find this book—and others—on her website.

A little while back, Kate Laird sent me a copy of her new book, Homeschool Teacher. I cracked it open for a quick look and was hooked in the first pages. WHERE WAS THIS BOOK WHEN WE WERE PLANNING TO TAKE OFF? Ahhh, Kate, this wonderful guide would have saved me so much stress!

I’m not kidding when I say that what scared me most of all about the prospect of cruising was not storms, was not pirates, it was homeschooling. The conventional recommendation for cruisers did not resonate with me, so I floundered a while looking for alternate guides. This book would have put my fears to bed and given me the tangible direction I craved. Homeschool Teacher is clearly and simply written, and aligns spectacularly well to support what *most cruisers actually do* — that is, draw from an eclectic mix of resources and curricula to fit a child/family.

Kate’s book is rooted in many years of experience, from her first post-Harvard job tutoring three children across the Pacific to boatschooling her daughters (15 and 16 years old) while she and her husband lead high latitude, expedition style charters. Homeschool Teacher covers K-8, years we’ve got mostly in the rearview mirror now, but I’m pulling plenty of ideas here we can apply to our teen skewed crew. Download a sample to check it out, follow on her Facebook page (frequent tips/helpful homeschool info), check out her books’ website or buy this book on Amazon.

selling-your-writingMy co-authors for Voyaging with Kids have each published books this year: both practical guides on entirely different (and yet, related) topics. In a season that’s prompted a few folks to do some soul searching on what lies ahead and how to find that far horizon, they’re very timely!

Michael Robertson’s Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines (and other niche mags) has everything you need to know about the nuts and bolts of how to get your wmove-to-nzork published by one of the big-name glossies we all love. That’s great, right? But better yet, Michael colors the practicalities with personal tips and tricks he learned (the sometimes hard way) along his path from IT professional to writing to support his family for cruising full time.

From her new home in New Zealand, former Seattlite Sara Dawn Johnson wrote How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps. Not sure you want to return to your home shores after a South Pacific cruise? Sara lays it out the steps she and her family took to become residents on the path to citizenship. We’ll stay nomadic for the time being, but as I learned working with Tourism New Zealand during our stint in that corner of the world, this is a very special place—and it’s a very real option, if you know the process.

A few years ago, we met a friendly couple of cruisers on the dock in Tioman island, Malaysia. We’ve happily stayed in touch with Jase Kovacs over the years as he and his partner adventure through Southeast Asia. At the moment, Jase is writing the novel Ebb Tide about a dystopian future where a former cruising kid is using skills from her boat life to survive. He’s writing this WHILE SAILING FROM ASIA TO NEW ZEALAND and posting chapters along the way. Sorry (#notsorry) for the yelling, but seriously, tackling a book in conjunction with some serious passagemaking – fun fast paced writing — AND keeping up new chapters every few days?– go Jase!! I am a latecomer to the book-in-progress and can’t wait to see what happens. Plus, badass woman sailor protagonist. Follow along free on his website.

Pondering books for your current or future cruising life? I’ve organized a list of books that cruisers will find useful. Words of inspiration, practical guides, books we actually use on board, regional recommendations and more. Check them out!

Can I send you a copy of Voyaging with Kids that’s been inscribed to the reader(s) of your choosing? Maybe you need to sell the grandparents on your plans, maybe you want to give a special gift. While we’re in the USA (tick tock…but long enough for holiday season), I’ll send a new book personalized with a message based on your desires. 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.

A number of the book links in this post are connected to our Amazon affiliate account: that means when you click through from SailingTotem.com we get a commission on any Amazon purchase you make in the following 24 hours. There’s no added cost to you, but it does make a difference for us. Thank you for the consideration!

American cruisers through foreign eyes

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The coconut telegraph, as the cruiser-to-cruiser communication is jokingly referenced, is good for a lot of things. The clearance process like in Vava’u, Tonga. A great deal on brie at the Carrefour in ‘Ārue. An unmarked shoal by the Santa Inez Islands. But don’t let the coconut telegraph shape your perception of a country or culture before you arrive: assess from your own experiences instead. Now flip that around. How often do we show up in another country and find ourselves judged based on our US nationality?

Do you fly your US flag on Totem? We’ve been asked this a number of times since coming back. The assumption is that flying the US flag is asking for trouble, because people don’t like Americans. You know what? It’s not our experience at all. We don’t fly our US flag very often, but that’s because UV damage is killer on fabric, I won’t fly a ragged flag (disrespectful!), and it’s expensive to replace. We try to make it last and as a result it doesn’t live on the transom of Totem full time, and flies only on special occasions… not because we’re worried about being identifiable in an anchorage as The American Boat.

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South African news stand in February. Headline reads: “Election in the USA: knock-out punch in Iowa” and “Why is the state so important?”

So much of geopolitics is connected to the US and our economy that for better or for worse, people outside the USA often are pretty dialed in to what’s going on in our country. It was still startling earlier this year to see daily headlines in South African newspapers following the US presidential elections, like this one in early February about the Iowa caucus results.

Of course people will have opinions, but in the rare occasions where we’ve been at the receiving end of bad treatment, it had everything to do with the person directing it at us rather than the fact that we were Americans.

Our reception based on being American ranged from neutral to positive. Sometimes, it helped to identify ourselves as Americans. Papua New Guinea is a former dependency of Australia, a complicated history and relationship; we found our reception sometimes improved after clarifying we were American and not Aussie. In Indonesia, pride in the US President’s childhood ties to the country sometimes spurred positive outbursts of “OBAMA!” once our nationality was known.

During eight years overseas, a period which aligns closely with the Obama administration, the people who seem most likely to have negative pre-conceptions about Americans are… well, what do you think? We’ve been through a lot of territory in that time. Go on, guess.

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Making friends across boundaries: Jayapura, Indonesia

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s been fellow travelers from other English-speaking countries. Brits, Canadians, Aussies, South Africans, etc. Little brother complex? Resentment of being influenced downstream by US policies or economics? Some rationales are easier to understand, and some are silly, as expressed by a Kiwi cruiser one evening in an international gathering over sundowners. “I hate Americans!” he blurted out. “What,” said Jamie, “all 320 million of us?”

I strongly believe that it’s important for us to be good ambassadors while traveling. Like it or not, many people we meet are paying attention to US politics and will have preconceived opinions. And many of them may be apprehensive that we have elected a bellicose reality-TV star who has fanned flames of bigotry and thinks climate change is a hoax. Some of the first messages I had waking up the morning after election day were from friends we’ve made overseas with responses that could be most graciously summarized as “what the heck?!”

It’s even more important now to be those good ambassadors, and demonstrate that the media impressions people in other countries get about America is, well, just media, and the outcome of the election almost certainly is about desire for change and not offensive ideology. Shine that through everyday actions! Outside of the fact it is simply the right thing to do, I believe that individual actions make a difference and how we interact with people as travelers can have a ripple effect.

Be respectful. If there’s a cardinal rule to be a good ambassador, this is it. Is there any emotion more likely to breed ill will than disrespect? I remember watching a shirtless guy ranting at the Port Captain in a smallish town in Mexico over some unimportant frustration: the guy handled that interaction badly on multiple levels, and it didn’t help his case.

Remember you’re a guest. You don’t have a right to be in (fill in the blank: country X): rather, you are privileged to have the opportunity. Their culture, their rules, their standards, your responsibility to be attuned and inline.

Be indiscriminately kind and patient. Sure, things take longer sometimes, or happen in unfamiliar ways that make your life a little more difficult. It’s not meaningful. Repeat mantras about being a guest, and showing respect.

Seek local company. Interact with people besides other cruisers. Thoughtful interest is appreciated and you’ll probably learn something. Language barrier? No problem. Surprisingly few common words are necessary to communicate. Authentic interest reflects positivism.

Kids in Fakarava, French Polynesia - June 2010

Kids in Fakarava, French Polynesia – June 2010

Assume the best in others. Like a memorable cruiser we knew once said, “the world is full of beautiful people.” Enter every interaction with that in mind, not the possibility that they are somehow out to take advantage of you, and flip off the internal voice that distrusts. I don’t mean be naïve and ignore your gut, but start from a positive assumption. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most suspicious cruisers we knew were the most frequently plagued by petty theft.

Don’t complain about local standards. OK, so we all commiserate in the cockpit conversation about things that are challenging in an unfamiliar place, whether it’s the selection of produce in the market or the bus schedule. But for deeper differences, if you really don’t like them? Please, go somewhere else, instead of sharing your disdain. Mobility is one of the great luxuries of living on a boat.

Have a sense of humor. Be open to making fun of yourself when finding how people react to you! Remember that laughter is also a reaction to confusion or nervousness, like… when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone in a different language/country/culture.

This week a friend of ours said “…we can, all of us, commit to not allowing the prejudice and hurtful in our lives and around us and reach out to other folks and show them, through example and deeds, that other folks are good and we are worthy of each other. The alternative is to bask in our moral superiority, calling out the other side, and telling ourselves – ‘Well, I am not like those people.’” He’s referring to the post-election domestic dialogue in the US, and it’s spot on there but holds a greater truth. Our human family has so much more in common than we do holding us apart! Thank you for the words, John, and the reminder.

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Jamie and Patrick talk politics and disenfranchisement. Near New Hanover, Papua New Guinea

Holidays are coming! If you shop on Amazon, please consider clicking through an Amazon link on SailingTotem first (like this one, or, click through the listing for Voyaging With Kids that’s on every page). When you do that, we get a commission on any Amazon purchase you make in the following 24 hours. There’s no added cost to you, but it does make a difference for us. Thank you for the consideration!

Passage planning: the float plan

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Writing a float plan is a simple thing to do, may be critical in the event of an emergency, and is all too easily set aside and left undone in the stack of tasks that precede going offshore. Provisioning. Checking the weather. Vessel integrity checks. Checking the weather again.

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The bare minimum of a float plan is providing someone you know with basic information about your vessel, passengers, destination, timeline for departure and return, and contact information. That’s it. The USCG doesn’t take float plans; this is for someone you know and trust. If you don’t arrive within an expected timeframe, they’re tasked with notifying the Coast Guard if you do not meet your timeline to return.

Why do you need one? This is boating safety 101. It should not be lost in the false hubris of pride in self-sufficiency. If you don’t think you need one, consider friends/family at home who will suffer if you decide to skip this simple step and the unthinkable happens. A float plan includes the critical details that fall through the cracks of what you think they know…but might not.

Use your EPIRB registration

In addition to providing a float plan to trusted individuals, use your EPIRB registration to capture details. The registration form has an exceptionally important field – “Additional Information”. This free-form field is not required, but is a great place to share any other details which might possibly be helpful for SAR agencies in the event of an emergency.

We use it first to provide the email addresses for our emergency contacts, since the form only takes telephone numbers, and the link to a Dropbox folder that contains copies of our float plan, photos of Totem in and out of the water, and other information which could be useful in an emergency.

Back in Malaysia in late 2014, I got in touch with one of our designated contacts to confirm they’d be on point for our float plan and share details of our voyage. In the process I was asked a very reasonable question by our friend Dan: “so if they call me – what do I have to do?” This shouldn’t have pulled me up short, but for a moment, it did. We are so accustomed to considering emergency scenarios from our perspective, and not the shore side view, that I had not truly thought through about how to prepare those back at home. What should they expect to happen, if our EPIRB is triggered? What information did I need to make sure they had available?

Beyond the float plan: what we do on Totem

We create a detailed document that goes beyond the basics of a float plan.

This document starts with a crew list including the name, age, and passport numbers of everyone on board. It also includes shore side emergency contacts for any other crew joining our family.

Details about Totem come next: hull type and shape, rig type, color, any unique details that would identify her from the many other white sloops of the world. Having recently hauled, we have photos of Totem out of water showing the keel profile. I don’t want to think about her being identified upside down, but it could prove useful.

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Safety gear aboard is listed, from our life raft (make / color / description) and ditch bags (also with visual descriptions). Also included are registration copies for both of our EPIRBs.

If we’re traveling loosely in company with any other boats, those people may have the best information about our location or local conditions. Those boats, their names, and their contact details (including at-sea contacts such as sat phone or radio-based email addresses) are included in the folder, as are the details for any radio nets we take part in.

While I hate to think about it being necessary, copies of paperwork for our health/life insurance and boat insurance and the contact for our insurance agents are included. We also provide a spreadsheet with links, logins and passwords for critical accounts in case the unthinkable happens.

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Our last critical step is to provide a clear set of directions for our emergency contacts at home. They’re given our expected arrival time/place, and outside date after which we should be considered overdue. If we haven’t contacted them by the outside date, we provide a list of contacts for them to make. First, to try and reach us at sea (via the Iridium GO). Second, to attempt to reach boats we’re traveling in company with. Finally, to contact the appropriate Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center. I put numbers and links in the document to make it easy.

A related consideration: outside of float plan specifics is worth considering. I’ve seen friends subjected to abuse after disaster struck their families, and news of it hit the general media. To mitigate that, consider nominating a trusted friend to take over any online profiles you maintain in the event of an emergency: login to your blog, Facebook, any other profiles you use. If the unthinkable happens, a friend can shut down your blog to comments, deactive your Facebook profile, or take other steps to spare you the exposure and pain of judgement from the uninformed but righteous anonymous internet.

Templates help: google “Float Plan” for a pile of options. And look at the turquoise water in the picture below, because getting places like that (Hermit Islands, PNG) safely is the end game.

Jamie and I have re-opened our coaching service after a hiatus due to “too busy”! Do you have questions about cruising? Want some help figuring out how to realize the dream, choose the boat, prepare (without going broke!), stay safe, or just better understand what it’s really like? We’re mentoring people to answer those questions. Learn more about how to work with us, or get in touch to get started.

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Distance is relative: upriver to Washington DC

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You’re going to Washington DC with your boat? You know that’s going to take days, right? It’s really far away!

We heard this from nearly every individual around Annapolis that we told of our plans to take Totem up the Potomac. From Annapolis, it’s about four days of motoring (if you’re lucky, some sailing).  I’m sure that once upon a time, when our cruising life was contained in long weekends or vacation trips, we would have regarded the time it takes to go south in the Chesapeake Bay, and then north again, as “really far” too.

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Our bigger issue is that it’s getting cold, now that we’ve cracked into November.

COLD.

Diggin’ out the old oversized so you can layer under them foulies cold. It dipped into the 30s overnight in this pic.

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When we meet people here at home who are amazed at the distance our family has traveled, I have trouble accepting the recognition. I remember well enough when a few hundred miles WAS “really far.” Kind of like how that first overnight jaunt feels a little scary. You overthink the watch schedule, forget something you shouldn’t, and have just enough jitters enough that nobody really sleeps anyway. You string together a few more daytrips than usual to make tracks. And there’s a point along the way when the rhythm feels natural, and suddenly…going “really far” is not such a big deal.

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We anchored for a few nights at St Mary’s, MD, for Niall to tour the college and meet with admissions, and for the rest of us to explore the historic town. Founded by 300-odd settlers in the 1630s, it’s now carefully preserved including re-enactment of 17th century settler life by costumed docents. A replica of the 17th-century trading ship Maryland Dove, one of two ships which made up the first expedition from England to Maryland, awaited.

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Maryland Dove had really informed guides to help us understand the vessel in the context of it’s time. Anybody know what this is?

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Because it’s standard issue on boats of this era, and something I’d never encountered before, but really, really fascinating. Go ahead, guess here or on our Facebook page post! I’ll add it to the comments….EVENTUALLY. 🙂

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How cruising kids boatschool, example #724: spending the day exploring a national historic landmark, having 1:1 conversations with the staff who interpreted of daily life of the early settlers and indigenous  Yaocomaco  who lived here. Their rich information makes the skeleton structures feel real, the archeology sites tangibly important to preserving this slice of the past.

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Siobhan and the 17th century seaman reenactment character… shoeless.

The next anchorage was a little bay tucked on the east side of the Potomac, 30ish miles south of DC. Another reason it was well worthwhile to take Totem up here instead of day-tripping in traffic from Annapolis: Mallows Bay is the final resting place for more than 230 ships, mostly of which were built for WWI. The war ended, they were considered useless and scuttled…burned to the waterline and sunk.

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It is surreal.

We paddle right past the bones in our dinghy, in water so shallow it threatens the tubes of the RIB.

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During WWII, Bethlehem Steel built a salvage operation to wrest scrap from the mostly wooden vessels: that left a mark, too. Today this bow is home to a massive (9′ diameter?) osprey nest.

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The beaches around Chesapeake Bay are full of fossilized shark’s teeth. We tried.

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It’s stops like this that make me grateful we can take time. Whatever semblance of a schedule we have now is driven by a balance between wanting to make the most of the opportunity to spend time in the US capital…and not getting too cold.

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The Totem madrasa is in session. Actually, Jamie was giving a civics lesson.

We’re now 100 up the Potomac river. This is further inland than we have ever been on Totem. And there’s a warm weather break, thankfully. So surreal to see the Washington Monument in front of Niall, as he takes the helm when we anchored off DC.

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Shirtsleeve weather. Enjoying it while we can!

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And although the rest of the southbound fleet has basically left us in the dust, we’re planning to spend a few weeks here. Why? Because we CAN, and because the learning opportunities are outrageous! We are trying to limit ourselves to One Thing Per Day, because otherwise… total overload. And we have the luxury of time…to soak places in without going numb from the input.

Day one was at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History with Dr Christopher Mah. Introduced by a mutual friend a few years ago when we were trying to ID some of the interesting critters spotted underwater, he gave us an unforgettable behind-the-scenes tour. This invertebrate biologist is deeply respected in his field, and I feel tremendously grateful for the perspective he gave us on his work and the NMNH.

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Storage areas are like Raiders of the Lost Ark. OH, the treasures within!

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…and the treasures just sitting out, dated generations past, named by explorations you would recognize. History in the vaults.

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Another day, we gave a presentation in this room at the Department of Homeland Security to a range of senior officials from a variety of disciplines. A lucky opportunity after one attended our marina meet-n-greet presentation near Annapolis a couple of weeks ago. We really enjoy sharing from our experiences, and had fun tuning a few stories for the audience: piracy, working with officials in foreign countries, that time we befriended the families of the secret police tasked with following us in a corner of SE Asia.

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Walking the mall with Annapolis friends, checking out the Air & Space museum in DC…

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…ahead of visiting the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space museum near Dulles, thanks to friends from near Baltimore. MINDBLOWING. This panorama of the view at entry is just a teeny glimpse into how massive and amazing it is (thank you Scott & Sara!).

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Here’s another perspective on the massive scale at Udvar-Hazy: the space shuttle Discovery… that’s Niall, circled in orange, at bottom right.

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dsc01623Today’s destination: the capitol. Arranging a tour through our senator… well actually, I think the path/topics are not hugely different from the tour you’d get with the general public. But we had a smart intern, a small group with our family plus 2 others (vs a couple dozen), and WE GOT TO RIDE THE COOL SECRET TROLLEY.

This is just the first five days. We’ve got a bunch more. And DC has what feels like a bottomless supply of experiences, learning, history, unforgettable things to see and do. That question about why we’d go “really far” to be here just needed to be pulled out of the context of weekend/holiday sailing. Being able to go slow is our luxury, and not having a lot of traditional luxury in life, we’re going to revel the sh*t out of this one.

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At least two more weeks here. So yeah, we’ll be cold. But when else can we do this again? And how crazy/cool to be in DC for the elections?

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Hey, we’re in Huffington Post! Check out the article here, it’s full of pictures from eight years of cruising.