Sailing mavericks, unapologetically motoring

Sailors, like fisherman, can be a little boastful. Fishermen are better at it – complete with battle reenactment, culminating in outstretched arms indicating size. Sailors’ stories aren’t much different – a battle against the elements and with photographs! Of course, photographed waves appear small, so you have to double or triple the size to be accurate. Everybody knows this, really… Sometimes a boast smarts: like those from sailing purists, so called because they sail everywhere. Mostly.

Our sailing purist friends in Seychelles didn’t intend the slight in their boast, “why didn’t you just sail her in. We sail into the anchorage all the time.” We had radioed for a dinghy tow into the anchorage ½ mile away after our oil filter burst, rendering us engineless. I pointed out that wind oscillating between 0 (zero!) and 30 knot blasts on the nose made a very long ½ mile! They shrugged. I could’ve added a counter boast about our passage to Seychelles from Chagos. Roughly 1,031.27 nautical miles that we did in 6-days with the aid of 1 pint of diesel. Their trip was near to three weeks because their route put them into 0 (zero!) wind; and motored so many hours that they had to flag down a passing ship for more.

dinghy tows sailboat

Happily taking a tow, er, barge assist in Seychelles

Another crew that inquired as to why Totem’s diesel appeared to be running when the wind dropped below 8 knots. In a light catamaran they remained unglued in ghosting air. We get sticky and usually find 3 knots of boatspeed isn’t enough. On another day when navigating through a coral strewn atoll, they radioed ahead asking incredulously, “is your engine on?” “Of course,” I said, “so we can maneuver around uncharted bommies.” A chuckling reply came back, “we’re sailing around them fine”. Easy when you’re following, I thought, but didn’t say.

Perhaps my favorite was the crew that boasted of cruising so long that they found a simple approach to cruising is most satisfying, “just like Lin and Larry” without all junk new cruisers have. In that moment, I really wanted to ask if their gas generator was running any better, but it was hot. They switched on navigation electronics, started the diesel engine, and engaged the transmission. Not exactly like Lin and Larry.

sailboat in tropical water

Motoring for close-in caution in Maldives

A boast at its core is an expression of prideful accomplishment. As such, I confess to boasting now and then too, being a sailor and all.

In Indonesia, it’s illegal for foreigners to purchase diesel fuel. The sole purpose is to be daunting, to weed out sailors with less fortitude! No, it isn’t really, but I recall hearing a sailor making this point in a silly boast. Mostly the quirky diesel law proved a minor inconvenience. Fishermen, with outstretched arms, were always happy to sell us diesel from their onboard supply. One exception was in small city of Jayapura on the north side of New Guinea. It’s a conflicted area with an ongoing, hidden ethnic war. Foreigners arrived there fall into one of the three Ms: mining, missionaries, or mercenaries.

We didn’t fit the script, which made clearing in a tedious and involving military interrogations. Once cleared a Navy vessel patrolled Totem at anchor. Fun as that was, we were keen to get diesel and move on. The first guy we approached said okay, okay, okay, come back in two hours. When we met the fellow again, he had a change of heart and told us to go away without making eye contact. We had showered, so didn’t understand the disconnect. This pattern followed with other suppliers over a few days. It turns out that secret police were following us and terminating any questionable business. There was one other cruising boat with us, and a little desperate, John and I dinghied around the harbor of wood and steel working vessels and found the only fiberglass recreational boat. After asking the crew about diesel, they got the boss to speak with us. He was an Indonesian businessman that understood our predicament. After boasting of his friendship with the son of the Minister of Energy, he assured us diesel would be waiting when we came back – just after dark. Without knowing if diesel would be there or if this was a sting, we found the fading twilight was just the veil needed to get diesel flowing. Oddly, gasoline was straightforward to acquire. Dinghy into the fisherman’s dock and wait in line with other fisherman, all smoking. When it’s you turn, saddle up to a 500 gallon open tank of fuel. Using a 5-liter scoop, an attendant plunges elbow deep into gasoline, then funnels it into jerry cans. Easy!

Officialdom may have been prickly, but we had a great time making friends with civilians in Jayapura

Brunei is a tiny country situated along the northwest coast of Borneo. Little about Brunei is inviting to cruisers – mucky water and a more restrictive interpretation of Islam than its neighbors. Dirt cheap diesel is what lures cruisers in. While there and interested new cultural experiences, we booked a tour of the capital city. Though a local guide seemed logical, Zahir, a jovial twenty-something from Qatar was very persuasive, boasting that he was better. “The local people are lazy,” he said.

At the end of a satisfying tour, we employed Zahir’s help in a diesel fuel run. Strictly speaking, it was illegal for foreign sailor types to buy diesel, but this was unenforced – until recently it turns out. Zahir and I set off to the station in borrowed van loaded with jerry cans enough for 125 gallons. Pulling in, station attendants recognized Zahir. The moment wasn’t like seeing a friend, more like spotting a pickpocket in the crowd. They began waving us away and cursing when we didn’t pass. A wee bit nervously I said to Zahir, “I don’t want to cause trouble.” He looked at me with a big smile saying, “No problem, don’t worry.”

With a bundle of Brunei dollars in hand, in a van of unknown origin prepared to carry a lot of flammable fuel, assisted by a jolly Muslim Qatari man was weird enough. Then Zahir dropped to his knees to beg for diesel on my behalf. The outcome was in play: would it be simple shove off was there to be police. Out came one attendant’s cell phone. Then unexpectedly, the employees turned away in disgust. Zahir yelled for me to open the back quickly as he grabbed the diesel pump. In perfect synchronicity, we filled, capped, and loaded 25 jerry cans in a time that would make an Indianapolis 500 pit-crew envious. The money exchange was awkward for me, but persuasive Zahir never stopped smiling.

jerry cans of fuel on a beach

Typical fueling up, cruiser style, on a beach in Brunei

Totem’s recent Panama Canal transit marked the homestretch to complete a circumnavigation. As much as we don’t like schedules, we had one. Our stop in Costa Rica was to wait for weather and… to take on a little diesel. The customs agent was a courteous, tedious i-dotter and t-crosser that couldn’t accept Behan as co-captain, being a woman and all.

Intending to be there for a day or two only, we cleared in and out at the same time to expedite the process. For fuel top-up, we intended to use the taxi-to-fuel station supply chain. More work than the one fuel dock in the area, but price per liter is considerably less. The taxi-diesel supply chain snagged on a technicality we’d not foreseen. Taxi driver asked for our papers and upon seeing our clearance he said the fuel station could not sell to us. Our supply onboard wasn’t too bad, but with average windspeed of approximately 0.00 (zero!), a little more diesel meant we might reach Chiapas, Mexico with more than vapors in the tank.

Our anchorage neighbors were stunned at this news and quickly surmised our predicament. “How much do you need?” they asked. Twenty-five gallons was all; they offered to sell us some of theirs. Out came the jerry cans once again. The next morning, we were northbound ready to sail, motor-sail, or just power along as conditions allowed. Thanks to the cruising community; specifically, the fine people on a boat named Liquid.

One final boast.  On April 7, 2018, the Gifford family, Jamie, Behan, Niall, Mairen, and Siobhan, motored Totem in 0 (zero!) knots of wind into the bay at Zihuatenejo, Mexico to complete a circumnavigation…mostly by sailing.

Jamie originally titled this article Liquid, in homage to the 50′ ketch Liquid and her crew and an irresistible pun with the liquid (diesel) they provided us; it ran in 48 North this spring. We look forward to seeing Marc & Laura again when they sail north to Mexico; below, anchored near Totem in Playas del Coco. The only true purists we know? Impressive navigators in Papua New Guinea, like the family from Brooker island in the picture at the top.

sailboat at sunset

Guests on a boat: how our friends nailed it

“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” When Benjamin Franklin said this, he wasn’t thinking about fitting two families – a total of nine adult-sized humans  – into a 47’ boat that technically sleeps six, for ten days. So why did things go so well when our friends visited Totem in Panama a few months ago? Partly because we already knew how well we clicked, individually and as a group. But also because the Waters family (or to fellow boaters, the Calypso family, because you are known by your boat name) groks sharing small spaces. They’ve cruised on a 28’ Bristol Channel Cutter. They GET it. (pictured above at a historic fort in Panama: our two families plus the crew of Utopia.)

Disclaimer: I’m not going to provide a packing list here. Yes, we do have a standard document for guests coming aboard Totem. It’s partly a checklist directing prospective guests as to how to pack what they’ll need, what to leave behind. It also previews what to anticipate about boat life for everyone to be comfortable on board. (Spoiler: never ever turn on the faucet unless you are using every drop that comes out! THE HORROR of water wasted stuns us all into speechlessness.) Because the packing directions vary based on where we are, what season it is, and what kind of sailing (or not sailing) is expected – the content is customized every time. As I edited our Totem Guest Prep file for the Waters family I kept cracking up while deleting whole sections about life aboard, because thanks to their prior years of experience living aboard and cruising there was very little orientation needed. So, sorry, no checklist: this is about how to be a good guest on a boat.

So, what makes a good guest on a boat?

Mindful of scarce resources

Utilities and the basics of everyday life readily taken for granted on shore (power, water, internet, the ability to refill the snack bin) are constrained resources on Totem. Space, too, is in limited supply. Constrained resources are a big deal on a boat and can be a big challenge for non-boaty visitors. Orientation to what we have (and what we don’t) is in an advance letter to help them prepare for those divergences from everyday life, like the Navy Shower.

I may have thwacked down a faucet turned on to full flow once, which frankly I have to do with my own teens too. But that’s about it. The Calypsos integrated easily because they had awareness, respect, and the needed dose of flexibility to keep things smooth.

Me, Karen (Utopia) and Nica (Calypso)… photobomb by Nica’s son Julian, Niall wondering what the heck we are doing…

Courier service!

Isn’t it amazing how you can have a need, order what you need online, and have it at your door in lickety-split time? I guess it is, but that’s NOT our reality! We may go (many) months. It’s one of the ways in which cruising is good for practicing gratitude and minimalism: when you have to wait six months for that Shiny Thing, you are either VERY appreciative of it when it arrives, or find it wasn’t necessary and skip ordering it altogether.

When visitors come aboard, the understood quid pro quo is that they’re bringing things for us. Possibly a lot of things. I’m pretty sure we told our crew Ty that it was one duffle bag for him, and one for the boat when he last flew to meet Totem in Namibia! Nica and family arrived four months since our last access to “stuff” and the shopping list included everything from quality sketch pads to books to shampoo (one lone bottle thwarted their goal of traveling all carry-on but they didn’t flinch).

Minimizing our cost

We live on a thin budget. When we invite guests, we take care of them, but that’s within the limits of our very frugal life. Gotta go somewhere? Hoofing it or public transport. Eating in a restaurant? An extravagance not to anticipate. We expect to take care of our guests, and we expect them to be OK with the way we live. If we make plans to do anything on shore, we assume we’re doing Dutch and everyone pays their way.

Nica and family went one better. We walked together to find a grocery store near where they met us in Puerto Lindo, Panama, that would cover us during their stay. It was a good leg stretch, with good company, and helping hands to carry provisions back to the boat – and, it turned out, a friend who didn’t let me pay for any of it. Chipping in to cover your part is welcome. Subsidizing the whole grocery stock-up is awesome! Later in San Blas it was lobster from passing dugouts, produce from a visiting boat. They didn’t just cover their share, they lightened the whole burden. This gets you invited back!

Nica in Totem’s cockpit, underway in Guna Yala

Remembering who is on holiday

Our visitors understood that while they’re on vacation, we’re not. (Because cruising looks good, but we still have things to keep up with: beyond everyday maintenance, Jamie’s advising customers about new sails, we have coaching clients to connect and respond to, etc.). Our choice of destination some days had to be Where The Cell Tower Was, not necessarily where the most awesome beach or snorkeling reef or interesting village was.

Nica, Jeremy and family didn’t expect us to be cruise directors with a planned social schedule. We definitely had a more relaxed everyday routine, which was great all around. Their presence ensured seeking out experiences we might have passed on were they not on board. And much of the time they’d figure out a bunch of their own entertainment, whether it was going for a swim, working out on the bow, or reading a book in the cockpit. They had some of their own keeping up to do as well: Nica filmed for her Tasty Thursday YouTube channel I got to peek over her shoulder to learn about the video editing process.

painting on the boat

Bee takes time out to paint on Totem’s bow in Portobelo, Panama.

Getting involved

Being an active participant instead of a cockpit potato is a corollary of remembering we’re not on holiday. When there’s something to be done, good guests pitch in. The Waters family helped prepare meals. They did a lot of dishes. They kept our (snug) berth spaces tidy. We shared the everyday load more like one big family than two families stuffed together. When our neighbor had trouble with the watermaker on board, Jeremy went with Jamie to help troubleshoot. They hung swimsuits on the lifelines, kept shoes out of the way (who am I kidding that was easy, we barely wore shoes the whole 10 days!), and were always ready to lend a hand.

Jamie and Jeremy checking sail trim as we sail west from Guna Yala

Being flexible

Our cruising mentors would tell their hopeful visitors: “you can choose the date, or the place, but not both.” This actually isn’t too far from the truth, especially for any longer-range planning. We can hone in pretty well as a date approaches, but often it’s just hard to know where we can be: weather plays with our ability to control planning. Our mentors’ guide is a truism ameliorated with a mix of planning, flexibility, and the weather gods.

Nica and Jeremy’s ideal was to transit the Panama Canal on Totem, a preview for their intentions to bring Calypso through to the Pacific in the future. But as their arrival date approached, it was peak season at the canal and the lag to confirm a transit spot did not match well with the dates on their plane tickets.

We called them with our Iridium GO (yes, you can make calls with it) from a remote corner of San Blas with the news, and some options. They took it in stride, and plans were revised. They weren’t able to go through the canal, but we had a great time cruising around the idyllic San Blas islands instead.

Flexibility is an everyday need, too. Nica sent me a beautiful thank you note after they got back to Virginia. She felt what I did: that despite the fact we believed our odds were good, there was always some chance that packing us all in a small space for a week and a half would eventually create some strain…yet didn’t. She catches the vibe perfectly:

I keep trying to put a finger on what made it so incredible, and it comes back to a couple of things. First of all was the pace. The way we went through the week felt like just the way we like to cruise. Hang out a while, move on when we want to. No need to race somewhere else just because we’d already seen where we are. Need internet? Stay where we are an extra day or two. Want a better anchorage? Pick up and move. Want to see a village, or get onions, or get to access to town? Move. Check weather, make sure we’re not in for horrendousness, and go accordingly.

kids play at tropical island

Kids… going accordingly, off a picture-postcard island in Guna Yala (San Blas)

Lasting reminders

The Calypso crew surprised us with some excellent treats, picked out with thoughtfulness and care for what our crew would appreciate. First, understand that outside North America, maple syrup might as well be liquid gold (I saw 250 ml in the grocery store here – a surprise itself – for $10. That’s not even one breakfast for this crew!). They know we love it and have Vermont hookups. They brought so much we have it in quantity that doesn’t require RATIONING! That’s been YEARS! And chocolate… oh, the chocolate. Many bags of chocolate chips. Nica, I confess to you here, I might have hidden some of the really good stuff for midnight treats while standing watch between Panama and Baja. We have one bag of chocolate chips left (with less than two weeks until haulout time, when the food stores must be depleted before we leave Totem). PERFECT.

We’ve lacked good music on board Totem for a while, and I might have complained about how Hamilton sounds through laptop speakers (not good). They brought (and left) and AWESOME bluetooth speaker which has been a great way to bring music and cockpit movie nights back to Totem. Just about every day I use or benefit from something that they brought and smile remembering their visit.

aprils maple syrup for breakfast

Totem + Calypso teens digging the April’s Maple… excellent Vermont maple syrup! Photo: Nica Waters

We hope the Calypso family comes back. But even more I think we hope they SAIL CALYPSO this way, and come share an anchorage with us. South Pacific plans may be brewing, and that’s all I’m going to say on that.

You can also read about the Calypso’s experience aboard Totem on Nica’s blog, Fit2Sail!

Circumnavigation, check! What’s next?

At anchor before playa de Balandra, Mexico

Motoring north from La Paz, parched mountains reach up on Totem’s starboard side along a gently winding channel. On the far side of a wide blue bay bask the low desert hills of southern Baja. Tonight we’ll anchor in a quiet bay where the water turns to clear turquoise near shore, and we scan the hillsides with binoculars to glimpse coyotes at sunset.

Leaving this sweet town in the lower reaches of the Sea of Cortez is an inflection point: it starts our last weeks with Niall aboard. In a life that is rich with so many “firsts,” suddenly we’re chalking up the opposite. The last overnight passage as a nuclear family is probably just in our wake. We’re doing our last stretch of route planning with the whole family for crew. I’ll be looking at every hike, every swim, every bonfire on the beach and thinking – this is the last time we’ll do this, before he leaves.

From here we sail to Gulf of California’s far north and haul Totem in Puerto Penasco. Totem will sit on the hard in the Sonora desert for at least three months, and we’ll spend the summer back in the Seattle area – land based for a change, on Bainbridge Island. In October Jamie and I return to the Annapolis boat show for a round of seminars and meetups, then back to Totem with Mairen and Siobhan.

Niall has accepted Lewis & Clark, where classes begin in August. We are thrilled (that explorers are the college’s namesake is only one hint to the excellent fit of this institution for our adventurous son!) and terrified (have you seen tuition rates?). His transition marks an exciting chapter on many fronts. This mama bear may get choked up, but Jamie and I know he’s ready. While I’m sure they’ll miss him, but Mairen and Siobhan have long since anticipated how they’ll reallocate his cabin space to meet their needs.

The family completes a circumnavigation. The boat goes on the hard. The crew goes return to their point of departure. A boat kid goes off to college. I guess that blew some vivid smoke signals: more than I realized since I was surprised to keep hearing: What’s next? The unspoken assumption, almost every time: you’re finished cruising now that the circumnav loop is closed, so, now what?

Sea lions near La Paz

Basking sea lions near La Paz, Mexico

Now what is, in short, continued cruising. Circumnavigation was not a bucket list notch we sought to whittle before calling an end to life afloat. That’s not why we’re out here, so no, we never planned to be finished because we crossed that outbound track. It irks me that these circumnavigating is bundled up with being done, when (for our family anyway) they have exactly nothing to do with each other beyond wanting to complete it as a family (before Niall headed to college) once we realized it was in reach.

Circumnavigating is an achievement we are humbled and proud to have achieved, but it’s what happened along the way to achieving our greater objective: deliberately choosing a different way to raise our family. Growing children in tune with nature, with perspective on the real difference between want and need, with first hand exposure to the natural and societal challenges faced on our planet. Knowledge and experiences we hope will inspire them to be part of solutions, instead of jut another developed-world consumer automaton. This hasn’t changed, and so neither has our intention to continue cruising.

Siobhan and Mairen clowning around - Bahia de los Muertos

Siobhan and Mairen clowning around – Bahia de los Muertos

So what’s REALLY next? Most likely, a couple of years along the coast of Mexico. After 10 years and more than 50,000 miles, Totem needs work– projects that will take time, and funds. The funds trickle slowly so we’ll need a while. I’d love to head back to the South Pacific next spring, but 2020 is the realistic window that we’ll sail again towards Polynesia.

Our lifestyle choice continues to rest on a kind of three-legged stool. The first is that every family member has a say: we must all want to do this. And then, we must be healthy enough. And finally, most practically, we must financially string it together. One of those may change at any time (particularly as the needs of our teens evolve!), but it hasn’t happened yet.

Puget Sound bound

Meanwhile, we’re all excited at the prospect of a summer in Puget Sound. This will be long overdue time with friends and family, people we love dearly and in many cases haven’t seen in a very long time… in most cases since we left, which will be 10 years on August 21. It will be a welcome opportunity to meet up with denizens of Salish Sea we’ve met more virtually over the years, or through this blog and our coaching services, and share time in person.

Let’s meet up!

For folks back in the Pacific Northwest, a few speaking engagements are lining up. These are open to anyone (and more meetups are pending). We’d love to meet readers, so please come and say hello!

  • July 12, 7:00 pm: Seattle Yacht Club. Free, cash bar, pre-registration required; 206-325-1000
  • Sept 11, 6:30 pm: Bluewater Cruising Association, Vancouver, BC.  Details TBD.
  • Sept 14, 7:00 pm: Corinthian Yacht Club, Seattle. Details TBD.

Can we help you?

Our coaching service works from anywhere through video chat sessions. Being back in Puget Sound for the summer gives us even more reach to help gonna-go cruisers in person. Whether planning for the big cruise or a long summer sailing holiday, Jamie and I are available by appointment to help on a variety of fronts. Bring Jamie’s expertise on board for sail handling or sail/rig inspection. 1:1 seminars on navigation, piloting, route planning, and more. Talk to us about systems or gear choices/setup. We’ll go out with you and practice anchoring skills. Affordable rates, plus travel costs – get in touch, and we’ll look forward to meeting you.

Until next time

It doesn’t feel like a coincidence at all that the day we crossed our outbound track, I finished At Home in the World, Tsh Oxenreider’s memoir of her family’s nine month backpack/plane world adventures. Seeking a connection with our history and our plans, we found many with these land bound travelers. Her book also surfaced a quote from Pat Conroy that resonated perfectly and brought peace in embracing an uncertain future. And the point to me, is, it doesn’t matter. We are on the continuum of our life’s journey, forever influenced by experiences, where ever they take us.

Pat Conroy, quoted in the best book I’ve read in a while: At Home in the World.

Regardless of our place on the continuum: the sea has changed us. And having embarked on this journey, we view everyday life through a new lens no matter where the future path extends.

Ruminating further on circumnavigating—what it means to us, how the outside perception strikes us—is more articulately shared in our 48 North article in June. Grab the new issue from stands in the Pacific Northwest next week, or download from June 1 on 48north.com.

Circumnavigation: FAQs from Totem’s circle of the globe

Courtesy flags reaching from Totem’s bow to masthead flutter in the breeze, a colorful strand representing most of the countries we’ve visited while sailing around the world. It’s still hard to believe that last week we completed a circumnavigation. Already hundreds of miles further north, I look out from our cockpit at the comforting familiarity of the mountain range on the south side of Banderas Bay. In many ways, returning here has the feel of a homecoming: this anchorage in La Cruz is where we departed in 2010 for a 19 day passage to French Polynesia.

Last night our family ventured into town, grateful to find little has changed in the cobbled streets and colorful storefronts. A few more restaurants belie growth but fundamentally it is the same. Even our favorite street taco feed, now named “La Silla Roja” (The Red Chair) for the bright plastic seats set in the road next to tables clad in red checkered tablecloth. The tacos were as delicious as we remembered, washed down with ballena of icy Pacifico.

The rush has not worn off and there are complex feelings to process about this milestone. Meanwhile, some questions coming up on repeat. I hope I can answer the most frequent among them here while sharing a few of our own reactions.

Statistically speaking

  • Duration: 3,520 days (9.64 years) from departure on August 21, 2008, to crossing the track on April 7, 2018. But that track was made back on February 4, 2010 … chalking our loop up at 8 years, 2 months, 3 days if you slice it that way…including about a year and a half parked in Australia to work and refill the cruising kitty.
  • Distance: 56,806 miles / 49,363 nautical miles / 91,420 kilometers
  • Days underway: 815
  • Nights at sea: 201
  • Countries/territories: 47
  • Islands: 269
  • “Places”: 559

How old were the kids when you started?

When we sailed away, the kids were four, six, and nine. We start birthday season in the next couple of weeks and they’ll turn 14, 16, and 19.

Kids in 2008, and this past year

What’s your favorite place?

The impossible question that everyone asks! We tend to like where we are; it’s hard to pick a standout above all others. Some places are unforgettable for epic snorkeling or diving, others for cultural interest, another for history or human encounters, another for delicious food. But when we talk about favorite places, a few consistently hit the top five: we love Mexico (safe, friendly, affordable, mmmm tacos), Papua New Guinea (the people, the culture), and African destinations feature prominently (Comoros, so much to plumb; Madagascar, endlessly fascinating and beautiful; South Africa, complex and beguiling).

What did you miss on the first circle that you want to see on the second?

Best about this question is the correct assumption we’re not finished cruising! To a one, our inclinations is to pass on the usual South Pacific hurricane season destinations and head for Micronesia instead. I’d love to go back to Taiwan (where I lived in the 80s and 1990) and hear great things about cruising in Japan. We missed the Med, but it’s the Baltic and North Sea that have an allure. And then, South America! Basically: we missed most of the world the first time around, as that skinning line on our world map attests… there is so much to see.

Approaching the line in Zihuatanejo

What’s the worst maintenance problem?

In a valiant move for a Best Husband Ever award, Jamie takes care of all maintenance and repair on the heads (toilets). It is a stinker of a job. Thank you sweetie, you know how much I love you!

What was the most difficult weather?

The worst was the passage from Australia to Paupa New Guinea; for the last three days, we had sustained winds up to 45 knots and seas at 4 meters (the occasional gusts over 50 and 5m seas thrown in for fun). More about that passage in this post from October 2012. The coast of Colombia is a close second, the challenge of 4-5 meter seas compounded when our steering cable broke and we had to “hand steer” by punching buttons on the autopilot.

Dolphins play at the bow heading north from Zihuatanejo towards La Cruz

Did you have any scary encounters where you didn’t feel safe?

A few. The scariest was when a powerboat lost control in Avalon, Catalina (California), and plowed through a mooring field where we were pinned. There was the time we got separated from Siobhan (then age 8) at the mall in the massive Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. There have been ports where we took the precaution to lock ourselves in at night, but only a few; we avoid places like that. (Some posts on safety here, and on weapons aboard here.)

What’s next?

More cruising! What, this awesome but man-made milestone means we should just stop a fulfilling way of life? I don’t think so.

This summer, Totem will be hauled out in the Sea of Cortez for some spa time and we’ll road trip the west coast and spend a few months in the Seattle area. Niall will head to college (not committed to a school yet, but probably very soon), and we’ll return to Totem in the fall one crew member short.

Then what? We’d like to go back to the South Pacific, and a Pacific lap is tempting (Taiwan! Japan!), but think it’s more likely we’ll spend a couple of years in Mexico and Pacific coast of the Americas. The islands sing a siren song, but proximity to the US helps us best manage needs for family and finances. Our ongoing plans are always contingent on three things:

  1. everyone aboard wants to do this
  2. we are healthy enough to do this
  3. we can string it together financially

It’s always possible that one of those will change, and on very short notice, our plans would as well. It’s just not what we expect anytime soon.

Near term, Jamie and I will be at the Annapolis Boat Show next week (and again in the fall). Sign up for one of our seminars, or if you’ll be around, sing out! We’re offering seminars at Cruisers U and are looking forward to checking out the show.

We hosted a Facebook live event a couple of hours after closing the loop. You don’t need to be a Facebooker to watch the recording.

 

 

Cruising to slow down the clock

drone islands sailboats

This is all going too fast.

Events that impressed deeply on our memories, still fresh, have tallied months distance despite feeling like they just happened: Sailing west again, towards Bonaire (three months). Remotely watching landfall for hurricane Irma (six months). Sailing away the USA for a while again (12 months). Saying goodbye to Utopia when we left South Africa (25 months). Setting out to cross the Indian Ocean (three years already?).

Looking ahead, milestones rush towards us and compress time again. On Friday March 9th, Totem will enter the Panama Canal to begin our two-day transit to the Pacific. This incredible event brings the coming milestones into sharper focus.

In about four weeks—just four weeks!—we expect to cross Totem’s outbound track in Zihuatenejo, Mexico, and technically complete our circumnavigation. Wow.

In about six weeks, Jamie and I will fly to Annapolis and deliver seminars as part of Cruisers University. When we signed on for it, the trip back to the USA seemed so far way. Only six weeks away?

In about four months, our family will be back on the home turf of Bainbridge island for the first time in nearly 10 years. That’s going to be here so soon! It’s going to be so good to see our friends and family after so many years. How did they years fly so fast?

I’ve wished so many times that life had a PAUSE button: the ability to freeze ourselves in some of the stunning, otherworldly destinations we’ve been lucky to visit. Like the year we crossed the South Pacific: in eight months we went from Mexico to Australia; many of our stops were only long enough to wait for a weather window to make the three- to five-day passage to the next island group ahead. That year was exceptional, but the year we crossed the Indian Ocean wasn’t terribly different, and we sailed even more miles in 2016 between South Africa and the USA… over 9,000 nautical miles. Fast. So many exceptional places.

Even when it’s felt like time is flying by, it’s the good fortune of experiencing exactly these stunning, otherworldly destinations that helps. There’s a theory that adding to retrievable memories creates the feeling of time slowing. That the more of this positive disruption you fit in, the better; they are speed bumps that extend the perception of time in our rear view mirror. This reminiscence effect makes sense at a gut level. Think about it this way: when everyday life has less differentiation that it blends together, and feels more like time is flying by… disrupt that with less predictable, more unique experiences to stretch it out. Not quite a pause button. But this is why we went cruising: to slow down time, and spend it together as a family. It didn’t occur to me there were theories and all that.

Kids in 2008, and this past year

Pictures like the above, taken during our first months of cruising (sailing under San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge!) and taken in the last year of our growing-up-too-fast teens, warm my heart. It still feels like they flew by. But I’m grateful for the packed year of memories we’ve had, whether it can be bundled in psychology theory or not.

Of course, you can speed things up if you want. The World ARC fleet that we encountered in the Santa Marta marina gets around the globe in 15 months. It’s not our choice, but it’s still a great one for a year of incredible memories! But as one of those sailors we met there pointed out – this isn’t cruising, really. This is circumnavigating. There’s a different purpose for those crews, to accomplish a specific and remarkable achievement by sailing around the world.  Like when families go cruising for a sabbatical year, and choose to spend that a remarkable year in a small geographical region, exploring trails and language and culture and the mysteries of a starry night. Whether you lap the globe or hang out locally, there are so many ways to hit PAUSE and stretch out the time spent together with loved ones. IT’S ALL GOOD.

Care to follow Totem’s canal transit?

The Panama Canal authority actually has live cameras taking stills of the locks at several points! Here’s where to look. The master page of live cams is here: http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html Note: non-flash versions of the cams are working better for me… and some cams are simply not working at all.

On Friday, March 9, we’ll transit from the Caribbean side to Lake Gatun between 3:00 and 5:00, US Eastern Standard time. After anchoring overnight in Lake Gatun, we’ll transit the balance of locks to the Pacific side on Saturday – timing TBD. I’ll post updates on Facebook and Twitter, though.

The website shows cam locations. Here’s the Totems-eye-view of them. Isn’t it strange that to go to the Pacific, we travel… EAST more than west? And how about that collection of AIS targets near Totem’s current location? IT’S BUSY, FOLKS.

I’m equal parts excited and nervous about the next two days!

Once we get through the canal we have a challenges to face between Panama and the “safe” ground of Zihuatenejo. Two in particular: their names are Papagayo and Tehuano. You know it’s time to pay very close attention when weather effects get a vanity name! Take a look at the angrier colors on the map below and you’ll see what I mean… I’m sure we’ll have plenty to say about them soon enough.

Interested in Cruisers University?

Jamie and I are thrilled to both present at the Annapolis Boat Show’s Cruisers University this spring! We’re planning a pizzeria dinner with coaching clients as well, and can’t wait to catch up with friends. Sign up for two, three, or four day access depending on which sessions you’re interested in – and let us know if you’ll be there!

Healthcare in Paradise (Behan)
Cruising on a Budget – Gold, Silver & Bronze (Behan)
Cruising Docs – You Can’t Go Paperless (Behan)
Countdown to Cruising (Behan)
Top Newbie Cruising Mistakes (Behan)
Offshore Rigging & Sails (Jamie)
Crisis Management while Cruising (Jamie + Behan)

In addition, I’ll co-lead an intensive Cruising Women seminar. This is two full days of practical information and uncensored conversations, about skills, and tips about what it’s REALLY like to go cruising. Grateful, and honored, that my partner is the (irrepressible, enthusiastic, so fun to be around, and I’ll say it–iconic) Pam Wall. We both feel keenly about empowering women and want everyone to have a really good time in the process! Join us – or, get in touch with me if you want more information about the content, or any the sessions, really.

More haps!

Friends from the USA recently spent a week and a half aboard. The Waters family and their two teens helped create a pile of excellent memories (and brought a big pile of Stuff From The States, like – MAPLE SYRUP, which was dangerously low, our stash had a mere two tablespoons left!). Nica’s written about a day in the life aboard Totem on her blog, It’s an informed view, which you’d expect, because she and Jeremy went cruising before kids, again for a sabbatical with kids, and we are now scheming how to share anchorages in the South Pacific in another year or two… when they fledge the kids. Nica also has a food blog: on this weeks’ edition of Tasty Thursday, I teach her how to make one of my favorite cruising recipes. It’s a memory from the Maldives, it’s “exotic” but easy, and you can make it pretty much anywhere. Curious? Watch the episode and learn about Mashuni!

Also live today: our debut on a NON SAILING PODCAST. The guys at Verbal Shenanigans have a comedy program and did an excellent job of teasing stories about the cruising life out of me and Jamie, while getting us all to laugh. Possibly there was rum involved! Find it here: Totem interview starting around 12 min mark – the whys, the hows, some exceptional experiences, and a dose of everyday cruising life.

Looking for the Pause button

Life slows down when we fill it with exceptional memories. But meanwhile, we have no pause button for the days that fly by in Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. Totem has been here just over a week. My head is swimming with stories to tell about the last weeks in South America, but they’ll have to wait for now!

kids hats sunglasses boat

Totem kids, first year cruising

 

Trials at sea and ashore: sailing from Colombia to Panama

Gentle ripples stream in the wake of an ulu as a lone paddler sets out in the gray light of early morning. By the time the sun has inched above the horizon, a dozen more dugout canoes have joined this one to fish the reef off Anachucuna village. Meandering to pass near Totem, fishermen offer a smile and greeting. By the time it’s light enough to see woodsmoke from kitchen fires hanging in a layer over thatched homes and to hear intermittent braying from a donkey on shore, the day is in full swing. Placid water and friendly faces are just what we need on our first morning in Panama after a trying series of hops from Colombia.

Departing Santa Marta on the 24th, Jamie steered downwind through challenging seas and wind from 25 gusting to 40 knots when a loud POP proclaimed a break in the steering cable. Steering from the helm was gone, but the autopilot still did the job. This a point we knew well from Seychelles in 2015: another cruising boat boat made much of steering failure drama, refusing to believe what Jamie told them – that they could probably still steer with autopilot.

Square‐faced breaking seas of 3 to 5 meters required steering, and what followed was an autopilot‐ driven trial shared by Niall and Jamie for nearly eight hours. “Plus ten degrees, plus ten degrees… minus 20, now!” Steering poorly meant a possible round‐up, not a good thing in these conditions. Steering well meant working the autopilot hard, risking gear failure. As a backup, Totem’s emergency tiller was in place as soon as steerage was in hand with the autopilot. We have a big rudder, so driving Totem by emergency tiller in those conditions would be like steering a loaded dump‐truck with the steering wheel removed. This was not a boring day!

The cause was a failed link in the chain portion of the steering cable. To enable repairs, we anchored that evening near Barranquilla: the same Barranquilla where three nights later a series of police station bombings began, killing at least five and injuring more than 40. Feverishly working to put a repair in place (Dyneema to the rescue again!), Jamie was interrupted by the arrival of marine police and a firm but friendly boarding. What followed was the most thorough search we’ve ever had, at least until the officer seemed to get bored; but meanwhile, most lockers were opened,even some headliner removed to peer into potential hiding spaces. Upon learning Mairen was 15, once officer lit up, exclaiming “Quinceañera!” (Latin American ritual celebrating female fifteenth birthdays, traditionally a presentation of her transition from child to woman) and with simple words and gestures, suggested he should be her boyfriend. The police vessel departure was a relief, but sleep did not come easily as every sound made me question the possibility of unwelcome visitors.

Day two saw the fix in place holding well. Again steep seas chased Totem to the southwest, but they abated by midday as we sailed in progressively sheltered waters. We heard from friends back in Santa Marta that we’d gotten out just in time, as 40 knot winds again blew just outside the marina! Our original plan had been to carry through overnight to Panama, but exhaustion from the prior day’s effort took a toll. The easy decision was turning into Cartagena’s Boca Chica, and anchoring overnight behind the stone fortifications of the 18th century Fort San Fernando to evaluate the steering repair and get a good nights’ sleep.

The following morning we felt sufficiently rested to continue overnight for the remaining 150 nautical miles. Our destination: Puerto Obaldia, a Panamanian pueblo just over the border from Colombia. Windspeed drops further in the lee of Colombia, although seas were still sloppy; eventually we fired up Totem’s Yanmar to make more comfortable and timely progress. It was important to arrive no later than mid‐morning, as advance information suggested that Puerto Obaldia’s exposure to swell made the anchorage difficult, and unsafe overnight. Clearance can take several hours, and departure by 2pm was necessary to reach the tranquil protection of Puerto Perme with decent light.

Our conditions in the anchorage were nearly untenable. The swell rolled in, waves stacked short and steep; Totem was hooked well enough but pitching uncomfortably. No conditions for launching the dinghy from our bow, much less successfully dropping the outboard on the back; instead I shuttled in with Utopia II, their dinghy more readily dropped from davits with a lightweight outboard.

All reports indicated the entire crew must go ashore here. We could not imagine leaving the boat unattended in these conditions: it was simply too dangerous. The police were our first line of clearance: without pleading the case too hard, I pointed out the plain truth of this problem. Thankfully officials allowed a single representative to complete clearance on behalf of our crews on Totem and Utopia II.

It’s a good thing we arrived around 8:00 in the morning, as it literally took right up until our self‐ imposed 2pm deadline to complete clearance and still reach a safe anchorage with daylight. There are three officials processing entry in Puerto Obaldia: military police, immigration, and port captain. At each step is a ponderous analog process of varying durations while details for the boat and crew are handwritten in a register or multi‐part forms (there were seven layers to the port captain’s). Had the process run smoothly, it would have taken between two and three hours. It took us about six. The snag: while waiting for Migracion to receive our visa registration number from some central authority, the internet connection went down. No registration number, no clearance. Andrew or I would periodically walk from the officina to where we could see the boats in the anchorage, and my stomach lurched right along with our vessels watching them buck in the waves.

Noon. No reply from Panama City, and now everything is closed for lunch. Andrew and I got lunch in the small restaurant across from Migracion. Soup, fried fish, plantain, rice, onion/tomato salad: four dollars of deliciousness! The proprietress locked up and left before we were finished, unconcerned that we hadn’t paid. I guess in a town with no roads out, she figured she’d catch up with us (we paid someone, who made our $2 change with the Migracion officers, and presumably later paid her).

We ticked closer to 2pm, and caught a break. The officials were humans first and bureaucrats second. They knew we needed to move; they didn’t have central approval. It was Saturday afternoon, and unlikely to come before Monday. So they gave us our passport stamps, exacting the promise that we’d follow up at the next available port with a Migracion office for the missing registration numbers. Gratefully we headed out to anchor in Puerto Perme, the placid anchorage from which to begin adventures in Panama’s semi‐independent indigenous province of Guna Yala.

Totem is in the disconnected eastern reaches of Guna Yala! This post is sent through a satellite connection. Pictures to follow when internet allows.

A cruising year: milestones and introspection from Totem’s 2017

Jamie looks back

Inspiration and gratitude flow from the mundane in an annual review of Totem’s year by the numbers. We’re serious about tracking data on Totem; Jamie can’t resist having fun with analysis (annual cheese consumption, anyone? After all, cheese provisioning data is vital on a boat with three hungry teenagers!). But pondering the data and events of 2017 he turned reflective. Read on for Jamie’s takeaways.

pinterest 2017 annualDistance traveled in 2017: 3,402 nm / 3,915 miles / 6,301 km (since 2008 – 47,095 nm / 54,196 miles / 87,220 km)

Countries/territories visited: 14 – USA, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, USVI, BVI, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, Grenada, St Vincent and Grenadines, Bonaire, Colombia

Best 24-hour run: 208 nm, Bonaire to Colombia

Nights anchored: 249 (68%), Docked – 65 (18%), Moored – 31 (8%), Hauled – 10 (3%), Passage – 10 (3%)

Shallowest anchorage: 6.08Ft / 1.85M (Totem’s draft + 1 inch) for 4 days at Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas

Number of times worked on: Toilets – 8, Watermaker – 11, Outboard – 8, Rigging – 8

Number of flight takeoffs Jamie had during 3 trips away from Totem:  21 (thankfully also an equal number of landings!)

Best new food we’d never heard of: Mofongo con langosta!

Number of field trips: 21

Number of visitors on Totem: 322

Number of audio/video calls with coaching clients: 118

Shark species we swam with most often: nurse shark

Shark species we didn’t know we swam with until getting out of the water: tiger shark!!!

three boat teens

2017: probably the last full year all five of us are together on Totem.

Biggest surprise of the year: This is a tie between a good surprise, and a bad one. The bad one was discovering that underneath Totem’s bottom paint… there is no gelcoat! Apparently, it was peeled by a prior owner and the detail did not get passed in the sale. The good surprise was finding Rita. Behan has a handmade apron from Bequia, a piece of functional art found in a thrift store that she’s owned for about two decades. From the lettering “R WILLIAMS” stitched at the bottom, she set out to find the maker when we arrived in Bequia. Like searching for unicorns, I thought, but, surprise!

Hardest part of 2017: Hurricanes…

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The North Atlantic had 10 hurricanes, 6 of which were major (category 3 or higher). We were having a blast in Nanny Cay, BVI as Harvey rambled across the southern Caribbean, arcing northwest up into Texas. At the same time along the coast of Africa a tropical wave began moving westward. Forecast models had it likely going towards the northern Caribbean, so we got moving south. Martinique, where we were anchored, had potential storm force winds; to avoid them we sailed further south. St Lucia is about 230 miles below where Irma slammed into Barbuda, Sint Maarten, Tortola, and rest of the northern islands. We watched grey, streaky west-flowing clouds shift direction to the northeast. Very ominous! My log entry for that day reads, “Hurricane Irma, now cat 5, to make landfall in Leeward Islands tonight. It’s going to be bad bad…”

If you lived in Irma’s path, your world was turned upside down, lashed and smashed. Hurricane Jose was a threatening post-Irma bully that held everyone one edge but fortunately stayed out to sea. News and pictures trickling out from Irma’s destruction were unimaginably worse than my log notion. The day after Irma died, yet another tropical wave started westward across the Atlantic. This disturbance grew rapidly to tropical storm force, then Hurricane Maria. We hopped further south to Grenada. By no means a hurricane-free island, we watched Maria with intentions of shifting further south should the system stray our way. This cat 5 hurricane smacked Dominica, where we were 3 weeks before; and then Puerto Rico, where we were 6 weeks before.

Hiking near Portsmouth, Dominica, on a hillside denuded a few weeks later

Hiking near Portsmouth, Dominica, on a hillside denuded a few weeks later

We were close enough to see the atmosphere do strange things, while far away enough to feel only light winds and swell. The hard part was feeling for the friends we’d made in these, now, broken islands. A coaching client’s boat on the hard in St Martin was destroyed; another client’s boat in Tortola suffered moderate damage. A third coaching client was in the process of buying a boat called “No Worries;” it was later found sunk. We know new cruisers and very experienced cruisers whose boats were a total loss.

I admit to anger watching ShipTrack.com placing vessel AIS positions in insanely stupid places directly in the broad path of these forecast monsters. I shouted, “why are you there now!” as many boats and some people literally disappeared. People have commented to us, “it must have been so stressful dodging so many hurricanes.” It wasn’t. We had mobility and the benefit of timely decision thanks to the science of meteorology. Forecasts were not perfect, so add a margin for error. I am thankful for the easy mobility that so many people had little or none of.  Some boats weren’t ready to dash, some owners had other obligations. Islanders without means suffered deeply. We remember Sheldon Hamilton in Portsmouth, Dominica who traded his fresh fruit and interesting sea glass for our clothes and canned food. Sheldon lived in a shack on the beach and wore the same rags trading this time as we saw him in the year before.

Our year in review shows a some metrics and silliness. It was a good year for us, despite a few medical maladies. It was a nightmare year for many friends. Sheldon Hamilton didn’t have shit for opportunity before Maria. Now his home, village, and island are in ruin. Hurricane season is coming again… Sounds gloomy, right? But the message is… Get MOBILE! REBUILD better! LEANER! APPRECIATE what you have because even if it doesn’t seem great, it’s better than AFTER Irma, Maria, natural disasters, cancers, accidents, and clumsy dentists. Make a plan (as the South Africans say) to do what YOU dream of. Go _______________ (insert preferred form of transportation) and get out, whatever that means to you. Go to Dominica and to search for Sheldon Hamilton, Bequia to meet Rita, or search for your own unicorn.

Totem + Utopia kid crews - Bonaire

Totem + Utopia kid crews – Bonaire

A cruiser’s Thanksgiving: twists on tradition

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Harvest festivals are cross-cultural and found all over the world, but that held on the 4th Thursday of every November is uniquely American. Every family grows up with a variant, but there are themes — some make the leap to cruising, and others don’t.

Preparations for a celebration!

At home I’d probably have planned this well ahead after spending too much time on Pinterest. There may have been metallic spray paint involved, and centerpiece purchases. Yikes! Not anymore! Instead, there was a collaborative, and somewhat last-minute, streamer of watercolor “leaves” standing in as an afternoon craft activity with the kids…strung up to announce “Happy Thanksgiving!” to all who step into Totem’s main cabin…you can kinda see it, at the top picture.

getting crafty

Gathering with family

These are the biggest domestic travel days of the year, as people flock home. I do miss our family gatherings and can’t wait to have a reunion with friends and family in the US next summer. I remember our last Thanksgiving at home on Bainbridge, and think of how much we’d like to be there to raise a glass with the Pecoes & Denlingers now. I think of the great family gatherings up in Bellingham with my extended family. Anyone who saw our video on Business Insider this week knows that the hardest part of cruising, for me, is missing these people we love! And while it’s best to be in person, we had some heartfelt conversations with folks at home for the holiday. Hearing voices- and seeing pixelated faces over Facebook and Facetime and Skype- was pretty sweet.

So happy to see family - thanks for the screenshot Glenna!

So happy to see family – thanks for the screenshot Glenna!

Our relatives may be far away, but found family plays a big part in our lives, as it does for many cruisers (as well as folks less itinerant than we are). For us, sharing the Thankgiving holiday with our Australian friends was perfect. An excuse to raft up the boats on a calm day, where the kids could run back and forth, dishes were easily passed, and when the evening was over – no dinghy ride in the dark! These wonderful humans are part of our found family.

Rafting up with Utopia II

Rafting up with Utopia II

Sharing a feast

In places where cruisers gather, big potlucks happen, and they can be a lot of fun. There may not have been a quorum of Americans here in Martinique, but for us, focusing inward with close friends instead of outward in the community was perfect. But STILL the potluck aspect of meal-sharing is part of the holiday. Instead of cooking up a special dish to bring to share with aunts and cousins, our friends balanced our high-carb traditions with vegetable sides and brought Brazilian champagne and the last of their South African red to wash it down.

kids at the table

Much of what we had mirrored traditions from home. I’ve yet to find canned pumpkin outside the US (save the rare sighting at an expat-oriented shop) but the squash is plentiful in the tropics. Here in this little piece of France in the Caribbean the bread for our stuffing came from baguettes, naturellement! The big score: finding a WHOLE turkey, and FRESH cranberries. Unreal. That’s a first. The turkey was roasted primarily in our awesome Solavore solar oven, then finished down below for a nice crispy skin.

Prepped for the solar oven: it almost fit in the pan

Prepped for the solar oven: it almost fit in the pan

Max and Mairen make pie

 

Football! The Macy’s Parade!

Are football and the Macy’s parade just a way to pass the time with the a soundtrack on in the background? I don’t really miss the former tradition and we never partook of the latter. But one that’s stayed with us is listening to Arlo Guthrie’s classic, Alice’s Restaurant Masacree, and I absolutely treat it like a background soundtrack on Thanksgiving. I think I tallied up three full rounds of the 18+ minute song and love introducing our Aussie friends to it. Besides, railing about idiocy found in bureaucracy feels more relevant than ever.

football sorta

We might have tossed a football around in the yard before. So why not toss a ball around in the anchorage? We picked up a cheap inflatable, good for hours of fun as the kids swam behind our rafted boats. As the sun set, we told stories, watched boats ghost across the bay, and listened to music.

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Giving Thanks

However you express it: at the core, this holiday celebrates our capacity for gratitude. I feel it every day. OK, ALMOST. There was that bad day coming up from the Grenadines recently that involved a trifecta of busted headsail furler, overflowing head, overheating engine “fun” which was categorically not one I’d like to repeat. But that we could even HAVE that day, here in the beautiful Caribbean, with our family together? I am thankful for so many things. Gifted from friends is this book; it’s really titled House Blessings, but our salty friends re-christened it Boat Blessings, and Lynne re-worked selections to make them perfect on board. Niall read the Thanksgiving passage, and it was perfect. (Missing the Cortado crew now.)

house blessings

Holiday shopping

The tradition that immediately follows Thanksgiving, and based on signs all over Martinique seems to have gained global status beyond the US borders, is Black Friday. With the Thanksgiving holiday behind us we’re free to… BUY BUY BUY! SHOP FOR CHRISTMAS! BUY MORE!

Or not. You can #OptOutside. We’re off to play dominoes on a friend’s boat. And wow, but I do not miss this side of the season, and am happy not to have heard a Christmas carol through tinny speakers. Give me a few days for that! Still, as a family on a wee little income, I know the temptation to splash out on the post-Thanksgiving sales. Especially if you’re feeling a little sluggish after that big holiday meal and can get ‘er done in front of the computer! Watch this space for a guide of boaty/cruiser gift ideas next week…and for those who can’t wait, I get it! And I’d be immensely grateful if you’d find your deals if shop on Amazon by clicking through here, as it will send our family a tip without changing the cost of your cart. We’ll be thankful for you.

Totem cockpit on Thanksgiving

Totem crew is in Martinique, getting ready to head to the ABCs (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao… OK maybe we’ll skip Aruba) in the next week or so on our path towards Panama and a return to the Pacific Ocean.

 

Awesome Ted: the best of cruiser culture

Ted and Claudia in the tender Hades

Friendly, supportive, egalitarian. The cruising community has a subculture all its own: we tend to know each other faster and deeper. Cruising really is all about the people you meet, and this culture is a big part of the reason why. There are standouts, like our friends Ted and Claudia pictured above, and their cool kids Max and Anya. They live aboard Demeter in Tortola. Right, Tortola, one of the islands that took a whack this hurricane season! We’re thinking of them especially today because it’s Claudia’s birthday. Read on for their story and the aftermath,  for a peek into the best of cruising culture as modeled by Ted, and raise your virtual glass with me to wish Claudia a happy birthday. Our crew can’t wait till the day we get to share an anchorage with the Demeter again.

In the waning days of August, a band of volatile weather pushed away from Africa. Storm seeds fertilized by warm Atlantic water. Organic projectile, growing violent. To the west 2,600 miles, Totem was anchored by Dominica, an island nation in the Lesser Antilles. These are the eastern islands of the Caribbean, which coincidentally, the bullseye that organic projectiles… That hurricanes, meander to. Nomadic Totem, paused at the crossroads fight and flight, was soon underway. Most people living ON the target, don’t have a choice.

To the north, all mud and crab pots, it’s a wonder that boating’s even possible in Chesapeake Bay. Yet, the bay’s natural beauty and just enough water to fly over, cultivates many a keen-eyed sailor. Running afoul of the bottom or a pot line, is a minor distraction. Bug splat on a car window. It’s Chesapeake’s picturesque creeks and lush, craggy edges with whispering ghosts that draw out sailor’s wanderlust, and sends them over the horizon.

Sailor Ted is from the Chesapeake Bay. With his wife, awesome Claudia and their two children, they sailed south to the tropics. Their home is a Wauquiez Amphitrite 43 named Demeter, for the Greek goddess of harvest and agriculture. After Caribbean cruising for a while the family paused in Nanny Cay, Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI). Could there be a better place than this past pirate paradise to replenish the family treasure?

Demeter's sistership, Ganesh, has been anchored near Totem for most of our stay in Grenada

Demeter’s sistership, Ganesh, has been anchored near Totem for most of our stay in Grenada

Tortola is just ten miles long, by three and a half wide, but it’s a powerhouse of boating activities. A charter captain, another paused cruiser living aboard, told us that The Moorings fleet alone has over 1000 boats. Add to that other charter companies and cruisers that flock there, and there is a whole lot of boating going on! To support this there is a correspondingly big marine infrastructure of marinas, chandlers, yacht brokers, surveyors, yacht management services and all manner of boat shops. Tortola is a modern-day version of Nantucket, during the time of whalers. Our Chesapeake sailor friend, talented Ted, was soon managing the Yamaha and AB Inflatables dealership.

Sundowners on the north coast of Tortola- Jamie, Max, Claudia, Ted

Sundowners on the north coast of Tortola- Jamie, Max, Claudia, Ted

Sixteen days before Irma became a named storm, Totem arrived in Tortola. Hurricane Gert was at category 2 strength and forecast to be a close but safe pass by the BVIs. Forecast is not fact. Generous Ted offered his marina slip to Totem as Demeter was hauled out. Handyman Ted recently finished removing the old teak deck, so Demeter was out for a topsides paint job. Passing three hundred miles south, and no concern for Tortola was tropical depression Harvey, on the way to powerful right hook into Texas.

From Demeter’s slip, we watched Gert slip past with barely any bluster. Totem and Demeter kids were fast friends; there were sleepovers. Facilitator Ted organized sailboat racing in modified J24s. Behan and I crewed and the kids did race committee. Tour guide Ted drove us around the island, showing us favorite spots. Adventure Ted took us out in his fast RIB, named Hades, to snorkel nearby islands. Salesman Ted helped us buy a new dinghy. And when salesman Ted stepped out, generous Ted wouldn’t take payment to let his shop mechanic service our sputtering outboard. Spectator Ted joined us to observe the solar eclipse using our sextant. Social Ted introduced us to yachty-types hanging around off-season. Near as we could tell, Ted knew everyone in Tortola.

Demeter kids with the Totem girls, eclipse-spotting at Nanny Cay

Demeter kids with the Totem girls, eclipse-spotting at Nanny Cay

Being nomadic means saying goodbye. BVI was beautiful and fun, but we were late to get away from hurricane alley. Hours before departure, and Gert safely past, two guys showed up to clean Totem’s bottom. I said they had the wrong boat. “No”, they said, Claudia and over-the-top Ted were giving us a going away gift. Land people probably don’t get this, but there is nothing more endearing to fellow sailors than the gift of a clean bottom.

Broadcaster Ted, shared storm forecasts from sources that we didn’t know about. Over a few days and 330 miles, Totem hopped to Guadeloupe, Dominica, and Martinique. Back in Tortola, work on Demeter finished up. She was launched and secured back in her slip. At this time, a spark captured the attention of Chesapeake Ted, Totem’s crew, the charter captains, baguette bakers, and just about everyone in the northern Caribbean. Named storm Irma became a category 3 hurricane overnight. Angry Irma was aiming at likeable Ted and his many friends.

Demeter with the family aboard. thanks Laury Marshall Parramore for the photo!

Demeter with the family aboard. thanks Laury Marshall Parramore for the photo!

Later, when Irma was past the Caribbean on the way to Florida, many Floridians were issued a mandatory evacuation. Flight. As Irma approached the Caribbean, there was but one option – stay and fight. Thousands across the islands began preparing. Responsible Ted prepared his family, his home, and his workplace.

Preparing for a regular, normal, typical hurricane is work, and play. Removing sails and biminis or boarding up windows is physical effort with a due-by date. There’s no time to dawdle. Seeing neighbors going through the same efforts, brings comradery and excitement. Preparing for Irma, approaching as a category 5 hurricane with massive diameter, was not normal.

Irma’s winds sustained at 185 mph, with higher gusts. Forecasts suggested Martinique could get storm force winds to 50 knots. We wanted less, so had an easy sail a little further south to St Lucia. Tired Ted and everyone else up north was working to procure food and water; to secure their possessions. Rigger Ted posted pictures of Demeter being prepared with lines spider webbed to the dock, anchors set, and extra fenders in place. Everyone with a boat in a hurricane knows that your boat is only as safe as the least prepared boat in the bay. One breakaway can take out ten boats in its path. Exhausted Ted posted that they’d done everything they could to prepare. Messages of support and encouragement came pouring in. Fatty Goodlander in Grenada, and the fine people from ‘On The Wind’ Podcast in Sweden, and other sailors in far corners of the world wished hopeful Ted and Claudia the best of luck. Popular Ted didn’t just know everyone in Tortola, he knows everyone.

The world seems a pretty big place from the deck of a sailboat. You can’t even see to the other side! Knowing Irma was going to hurt conjured up a collective presence. People cared. The world shrank. Just before midnight on September 5th, Irma blasted the tiny island of Barbuda.

We were riveted to watching weather station reporting real-time winds. 100 knots. 130 knots. Silence… One by one, the stations went offline. Overhead, grey sky and clouds moving northeast towards monster Irma; a local guy whistled and said, “when clouds goin dat way, gonna to be a big storm mon.” We knew Irma’s wrath was in full spin. Prudent Ted and family were in a safe place on shore. Demeter was on her own. Totem, in St. Lucia, had maximum sustained winds of 15 knots, with a peak gust to 29.  We had options. We are so lucky to have options.

Maybe you’ve seen photos trickling out from Irma’s Caribbean rage. The one of Paraquita Bay, a “hurricane hole” we passed two weeks before, with a fleet of shiny white boats crushed and flipped on top of each other. The one of Nanny Cay: boats and docks, smashed. News was slow to emerge. Snippets only. Devastation to property, people, and nature. What of the friends and people that touched us? What of battered Ted and his family? A boat I evaluated a few weeks prior for a perspective buyer was sunk. The charter captain that sized up the Moorings fleet, lost his boat. What little news there was, was bad.

It’s now eight days later.* Communication, like food, water, and safety is tenuous in Tortola. Worse still in St. Martin, were people are desperate and some violent. The entire population of Barbuda was evacuated. The news cycle that is so influential to our beliefs, has moved on. There’s another story, somewhere else. The world is no longer small. That moment passed, again.

Survivor Ted and family made it. I have a slow speed text exchange going on with reporter Ted. I ask a question, the next day a few sentences come back. Manager Ted became safety Ted, now as head of security for the marina complex. “Are you safe Ted”, I messaged? Texting Ted replied this morning with, “Yes, lots of evac[uations] happening. With Royal marines and Marshall Law, things are pretty stable”. Reality Ted went on to say that the schools are destroyed. He and Claudia will get the kids to the US, to family by the Chesapeake Bay, and back in school.

Hauling out after the hurricanes - scratched but unbroken. Ted Reshetiloff photo

Hauling out after the hurricanes – scratched but unbroken. Ted Reshetiloff photo

Among all that was lost, Demeter was found with only superficial damage. The new paint work is unblemished.

Claudia and reconstruction Ted will stay in Nanny Cay, to help make their community right again. Irma is a painful memory. More volatile weather is crossing the Atlantic. Totem is safely in Grenada. Resolute Ted is on the job.

BVIs coming BACK FAST! Ted took this picture just a few days ago. This season is ON!

BVIs coming BACK FAST! Ted took this picture just a few days ago. This season is ON!

*Jamie wrote this in September; it ran in the October issue of 48 North, the boating magazine of our home waters in the Pacific Northwest that tolerates our cruiser ramblings. Totem is northbound toward St Vincent & the Grenadines next week, hurricane season waning and our time in the Caribbean beginning to count down before next years return to the Pacific.

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