The power of the tribe

boat show Setup Carolyn and Lin

It’s barely 24 hours since I returned to Totem, rocking at anchor in Grenada. For nearly two weeks I was stateside, away from Jamie and the kids for what’s popularly known as “the Annapolis Boat Show.” The US Sailboat Show draws boaters from all over, and owns a reputation as THE show in north America. Two main roles filled my time at the event: for the first four days of the show, supporting legendary circumnavigator Lin Pardey in her booth, promoting the books she’s published (including Voyaging With Kids). Then, for four days I gave seminars at Cruisers U, working to inspire and educate gonna-go cruisers at the Naval Academy’s elegant Officers Club. Tucked between: a seminar and panel for Cruising World magazine.

Cruising World panel: Dave Gillespie, Wally Moran, Brittany Meyers, Diana Emmanuelli, and moi

Cruising World panel: Dave Gillespie, Wally Moran, Brittany Meyers, Diana Emmanuelli, and moi

Not gonna lie: this was series of long days without a break, a schedule that takes momentum to carry through. By necessity, my personal energy switch was flipped to “on” for the duration, from morning starts through evening events after the show closed for the day. On my feet most of the time, whether it was in the booth or in front of a classroom, there are a host of reasons this should have been exhausting. I dialed back on evening fun in the interest of self-preservation so I could hit the next day running: I worried about being able to get through on a high note.

As it turned out, there was a positive feedback loop at the show that kept me running. It feels so good to be among the tribe of people who “get it” – the fellow sailors who are, have, or aspire to take off and explore the world afloat. In fact, there was SO MUCH positive energy in this event that the only thing physically exhausted in its wake are my cheeks, which ache from so much smiling. Sharing my enthusiasm for cruising, passing that to others, feeds my soul.

Smiles and hugs booth

Lin’s booth was an all-star team of mostly-estrogen-powered fun. The open smile from past/future cruiser Nica Waters, my very good friend (and fellow admin at Women Who Sail), and open arms of The Boat Galley’s awesome Carolyn Shearlock got us dubbed the “smiles and hugs” booth thanks to the warm reception to visitors stopping by. We simply could not resist! All cruising questions answered, to the best of our breadth and depth.

Lin, Nica, me and Carolyn

Lin, Nica, me and Carolyn

Local sailor Craig was our rock, the guy who ducked back after hours to protect books when rain threatened (and knew exactly which pub to go for dinner nearby, and where to find Real Coffee). Together we made an indefatigable team.

Craig and Behan

What a joy to see the reactions and expressions people who have read Lin’s tales of her multi-circumnavigations over the years finally meet their hero. Meeting up with readers of the Sailing Totem blog and families who have been inspired by Voyaging With Kids gave me tremendous pleasure as well. It’s invigorating to share my enthusiasm for what we’ve done with people who may feel that their path towards cruising is ponderous or distant…to revive their conviction that all the planning, all the anticipation, are worth the time and effort…or those who just need a nudge of positive reinforcement.

And then there were the awesome humans like the Flora family, who came by with their three kids to talk about bluewater plans – and seeing how busy things were, came back to hand us lunch. Laurie & Alex, you are the  reason we ate on Friday afternoon, thank you!

Laurie and Alex Flora

Over the top were the Sailing Totem readers who showed up flying the colors: wearing our crew t-shirts at the show! I cannot tell you how very happy it made me to see them popping up around the show (one wearer, John from SV Last Chance, laughed with me saying “people keep asking me if I’m Jamie!”).

tshirt page

(These shirts are awesomely soft, comfy organic cotton—order them online here and send us a pic!)

Connecting with the show’s importance

In the stretch leading up to this journey I wasn’t the best partner or parent. Glued to my laptop preparing or refining presentations, making sure I was ready for the various seminars and panels where I’d speak, I didn’t have a lot of time for my family. In the middle of this stretch of work, one of our coaching clients wanted to know: is it worthwhile to attend the show? I couched my response in terms of the pros/cons: outlay to attend, vs value derived – a cold look at the tradeoffs, as we try to offer a balanced view with all coaching questions. Possibly due to the weight of prep, I was less positive than I might have been. That was wrong (sorry Jason, sorry Terry!).

John Mahowald - SV Last Chance

In the wake of a stimulating trip comes fresh appreciation for the true value of the show, for two reasons. First, it is communing with the cruising tribe. I AM ACCUSTOMED to the company of cruisers. Of course, right? But I remember all too well how the years leading up to our departure were most challenging when we felt disconnected from this particular band of humans. Staying in touch with the mutual love we have blended from wanderlust and water affinity that prompts us to set sail. It’s important to nurture, when you have a wait until you can cast off. In Annapolis, you are surrounded by your people, and at the US Sailboat show, the energy of this tribe boosts dreams into plans and realities.

With the unstoppable Pam Wall: my partner in the two-day Cruising Women seminar

With the unstoppable Pam Wall: my partner in the two-day Cruising Women seminar

Second, the opportunity to access tremendous expertise. Friend and longtime maritime world denizen, Bill Parlatore, asked recently (paraphrasing): why are people willing to ask important questions online, and then accept bad advice in responses from total strangers? (This, by the way, is a major reason why we offer coaching services to help people go cruising!). The Annapolis boat show, and seminar series in particular, is an excellent place to learn from people with real, relevant experience. People who have been there / done that and aren’t just hiding behind a screen, feeding a psychological need to be heard instead of actually being useful. They include subject matter experts, and range from legends like Jimmy Cornell and Nigel Calder to champions of the voyaging future like 59 North’s Andy & Mia. (Pinch me, I still can’t believe I’m on that roster?!).

Yes, it’s costly to go when you’re not local and have to book flights and accommodations on top of entry fees, and that has to be weighed. But the quality of information to be gleaned must be counted in addition to the intangible value in connecting with the tribe of fellow boaters WHO GET IT is tremendous.

THIS is why the trip did not flatten me: the cruising community’s cultural bias towards mutual support. The positivity in this knowledge sharing to promote a lifestyle that I believe—in my heart of hearts—makes the world a better place, well…it’s uplifting, and a boost instead of a drain.

Catching up with friends

On the edge of the show schedule were many happy reunions. The crews of FIVE boats–and even some of the boats!–that we knew mainly from Southeast Asia were in Annapolis: the happy chance to reconnect some years after we last shared an anchorage (besos to Rutea, Solstice, Kite, Camomile, and Hokule’a!). A memorable evening with one of our readers-turned-friends-turned-found family (John, I am so grateful to have you in our lives.). Catching up on life over the best pork ribs ever with local sailors we met last year. In what has become an annual event, my dear friend Cindy and her family—cruisers and long time Annapolis liveaboards—hosted an evening at their marina, feeding and watering and sharing friendship among this yearly circle of sailors. Another two-years-running-let’s-call-it-annual pizza night with couples and families Jamie and I work with as cruising coaches, put real humans to the Skype/Facetime relationships.

It is a great feeling helping people make their cruising dreams a reality!

It is a great feeling helping people make their cruising dreams a reality!

The admin team for Women Who Sail is TIGHT. We back each other up and mind-meld while moderating a group of about 13,000 women boaters. Having three of us together in one place? Priceless. Meeting dozens of other WWS members on the roof of Pussers? Unforgettable and heck yeah we’ll keep doing that every year!

With fellow admins Anne and Nica - I love these women! - and a host of WWS members

With fellow admins Anne and Nica – I love these women! – and a host of WWS members

Yes, I've been waiting a long time to meet awesome captain / ASA instructor Angie Wilson.

Yes, I’ve been waiting a long time to meet awesome captain / ASA instructor Angie Wilson.

Some of the old friends were actually first time in-person meets. Michael Robertson, one of my two co-authors for Voyaging With Kids, who I met for the very first time (I still need to meet Sara!). That’s right– I HAD NEVER MET MY CO-AUTHORS. We wrote that book entirely though email and Dropbox! And then– despite years of contact, and connection as fellow boat mamas, the show was the first time meeting Brittany Meyers (Windtraveler). We had an “almost meet” in Thailand a few years ago with Tasha Hacker (Chase the Story), who like Brittany was just so good to put hands on, and look in the eyes, and… shriek and laugh and generally revel in finally meeting up!

Behan- Brittany- Gretchen- Tasha annapolis 2017

It’s the sum of so much kindness of friends old and new. Booth delivery of the obligatory Painkiller (Mary Marie, would you believe that’s the only one I had the whole time?!) and gifts to bring back for our kids (you know who you are – xoxo!), and… well, ….this. Jamie posted to our Facebook page that he’d purchased a new top-loading washing machine in my absence (in shiny white, replacing the deteriorating blue model)…these fantastic readers couldn’t resist showing up at the booth with an improved plunger, designed specifically for agitating bucket laundry. Cracked me right up! The kids thank you!

boat show plunger - with inset- jen brett

Homeward bound

I gave myself a break on the way home. There was probably a faster way, but sleeping in and spending a gentle morning with the very special “found family” I have on SV Majestic… then flying to Florida for another night with two girlfriends in Miami… well. This was the restorative, high-JdS+Cover+Smallenergy-optional respite I needed to come down from the high of the show. As much as I thrive on sharing my enthusiasm, the break to relax in the company of friends who let me be my sometimes messy self was the necessary balm.

Casualty of an overfull mind, I left my Kindle behind in Miami. I thought I’d save this book (kindly inscribed by the author at the show) until back aboard Totem. Instead, Jean-du-Sud and the Magick Byrd, Yves Gelinas’ page turner—a memoir in the vein of Moitessier —carried me over the Caribbean sea, lost in the story of his southern ocean travails while he completed a solo circumnavigation. (Finally available in English, it’s just been published by 59 North: find it on their website, or get a Kindle edition from Amazon)

I read on the plane, watching the familiar shapes of Bahamian islands drift below, letting the many positive experiences of the trip sink in. For all the reasons above, and for many other little joys in the everyday that come from shifting our scenery and rhythm. Like the awesome Lyft driver, Edmund, who made such good company the first day I finagled to book him the rest of my stay. The maternal West Indian woman who fed me vegetables from her in-flight meal (mine didn’t look nutritious enough) will telling stories of her scattered family. The unexpected meet with future cruisers in what were otherwise cold over-chilled empty spaces in the airport lounge.

At some point I wondered if we’d be making it back to future shows but with fresh hindsight, I can’t imagine missing now. Jamie and I are already working out where we’ll be and which airport to fly from and can’t wait to be back next year.

In Miami with Kerry (ThumbsUp International) and Patty (Voyage into Healing)

In Miami with Kerry (ThumbsUp International) and Patty (Voyage into Healing)

You know you're with your tribe when they pick you up in a dinghy

You know you’re with your tribe when they pick you up in a dinghy

Two oceans of friendship, and counting

Two oceans of friendship, and counting

zach liz stineSailing Women rock- Galway pub

"As seen" at the boat show

“As seen” at the boat show

Back to cruising! OK…almost.

4-on-the-wind-podcast

With the US Sailboat Show over, life starts to return to normal…except nothing about our time in the USA feels like our ‘normal’ cruising life. I miss life without a schedule. We all crave warm weather and clear water. But some cruisey routines have returned: hanging out with other cruisers, for sundowners or to share knowledge; picking up on some routine maintenance; exploring the world around us.

Routine maintenance

With the show behind us there’s been a LOT of boat work to catch up on. Our primary outboard, an 18hp Tohatsu, has decided not to work shortly after arrival in the Chesapeake last month. Jamie’s tried everything and it’s probably time to bring in the pros… but Annapolis is kind of a costly place for that, and our 3.5hp backup outboard is mostly doing fine work of getting us around…so we’ve held off so far. Siobhan took advantage of a sunny day to tackle some winches that needed servicing. Proud that our 12 year old can do this job almost entirely on her own!

3-projects-siobhan-and-winches

 Cruisers helping cruisers

Do you know what it’s like to get a hotel room in Annapolis during the boat show– this little town’s biggest annual event in town? Rooms are a little tight and a lot expensive. So we opened up Casa (barco!) Totem to make things easier for a few friends passing through, members of our cruising tribe. My friends Nica and Judy grabbed bunks, as did Ben Carey, who was teaching a seminars at Cruisers University in the days. Thanks to Ben’s better-than-ours internet connection we tuned into one of the Presidential debates via cell phone gritted our teeth through one of the more uncomfortable aspects of being back in the USA.

1c-real-life-again

Somehow we neglected to get a better picture than this one of making friends with a shy pup outside a breakfast joint in Eastport. Whoops. Ben, we have to get this right next time!

1b-ben

Jamie helped new friends Larry and Diane from the Oyster 55 Escapade with some questions about their rig and sails; they in turn introduced us to the Annapolis institution of Chick & Ruth’s Delly. Jamie and I split a crabcake plate and it was still more than we could reasonably eat. SO GOOD! May catch up with this crew again in Cuba.

1c-new-friends

A few of the boats we’ve met here had questions for Jamie about about sails or rigging. I tagged along to take pictures when Jamie measured one, partly because I always learn from following along and partly to chat with them about their plans for sailing to the Caribbean.

3-projects-taking-measurements

But what felt most like getting back to the rhythm was just hanging out in the cockpit (or below deck when it got to cool, as it has) with fellow travelers, like southbounder Bill from Calico Skies and the Dutch family on Twentsie Meid (check out the YouTube channel their teenage boys created!).

1a-friends

Meeting the family from Twentsie Meid

 Exploring around Annapolis

Thanks to the generosity of others we were able to do some tooling around of our own in a borrowed car, and wheels meant we could range a little further to explore… like an afternoon on the gorgeous trails of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

5-hike

5-hiking-river

5-hiking

…or a tour of the nearby US Naval Academy. My grandfather is a 1927 graduate: we looked up his alumni record to share with the kids a piece of their family history, and lucked into a breathtakingly beautiful rehearsal session by the choir.

5-usna-chapel

What’s this chill?

Meanwhile, the kids keep commenting on things that are utterly and completely normal to their peers around here but a novelty for them: the onset of autumn with leaves flaming out and rustling underfoot and squirrels hustling nuts to hide. It’s been years since we experienced this kind of change in seasons, and fun to make the most of it. Like a hay ride and apple picking…

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2-hay-ride

2-mairen-apple

…or carving pumpkins. We’ve spent Halloween in a different country every year since 2008, and not a single one of them includes the cultural norm we all grew up with of carving up a pumpkin (and most of them aren’t really big on the whole Halloween concept).

9-halloween-comes

Recording Bonanza!

4-podcast-for-kidsThis last week has also been a recording bonanza, with three podcasts and a presentation streamed live on Facebook. We spent time one morning skyping with Jason Jenkins for an update to his Epic Education podcast that focuses on traveling families…we met Jason and his full-time worldschooling family in Malaysia about two years ago.

Creators of the by kids / for kids Podcast Playground network are based in Annapolis, which was a great excuse for an in-person interview. 10-year-old reporter Emma came on board to record a session with the Totem junior crew.

Niall, Mairen and Siobhan  cozied around a microphone in the  main cabin with Emma while she went through her questions, some so uniquely a kid’s angle, and I love that: like wondering what they eat, or what some of the weirdest things they’ve experienced are, or how people in other countries respond to them as foreign kids.

The podcast is live now to stream or download. I love hearing our three answer questions about our very different way of life in their own words and perspective.

andy-miaLater in the week we met up with Andy Schell and Mia Karlsson from 59 North and recorded a session for Andy’s On The Wind podcast. Andy and I have been trading email literally for years, and it was great to get to finally meet up in person. He and Mia were on their boat, Isbjorn, tied up just behind Totem’s anchorage on Back Creek and brought along their friend Maik, a weather router currently based in Iceland.

Our afternoon with them flew by much too quickly, and I left wishing we had more time. They interviewed us for the podcast, which is great, but I wanted to ask Andy, Mia, and Maik so many questions of my own! We really, really enjoyed hanging with these kindred spirits (Jamie afterwards: “now there is a true sailor’s sailor!”) and hope there will be more chances to do that down the line.

Leaving the nook in Back Creek yesterday we made our first step south again, but just a short distance to stop in at Herrington Harbour North where the sailing association had invited us to give a presentation. I love sharing our stories to help inspire others to go cruising– these were so helpful for me during our years before we cast off, both to glean practical information and to keep the dream alive. I’m grateful we can give back now that it’s our turn.

loft-audience

mapping-safety-zones-in-papua-new-guinea

mairen-siobhan-naill-behan-and-jamie-gifford-answering-questions-from-guests

We’ve done a number of these presentations while we’re back in the USA. Herrington Harbour took it one step further and streamed it live on Facebook. TOO COOL! This recording is saved and can be replayed from the Herrington Harbour Facebook page. We invited visitors on board Totem afterwards for the same reason we gave the talk: when you’re not a cruiser yet, but aspire to be, getting on a boat that’s gotten around and asking questions can be really helpful.

on-totem-behan-giving-a-tour

Now it’s just watching weather… our “plan” (hahaha! I said Plan!) is to go to Washington DC for a couple of weeks, then focus on getting SOUTH and getting WARM as quickly as possible. Because the front below is a cold one, and we woke up to temps in the 40s this morning!

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