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

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

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

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

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

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

Last chance: personalized copies of Voyaging with Kids!

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

I’m hoping for a last 

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

 

Limited offer: personalized copy of Voyaging with Kids!

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

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

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

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

Back to Totem

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

Totem waits in Mexico for her crew

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

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

Public Service Announcement: VOTE.

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

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

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

Because I’ll miss this

Savoring last days in the Pacific Northwest.

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

Lessons in flexibility, nurtured by cruising

Three kids and their mama as the eldest moves in at college

Last week we crossed into our eleventh year of cruising aboard Totem. Except we aren’t aboard Totem right now, and this summer has taken a different trajectory than planned. (Pictured today in Portland, Oregon; moving-in day for Niall at Lewis & Clark college.)

Shifting plans isn’t unusual for our family, for our voyaging life. We’re accustomed to having our plans swing, making big changes with little notice. Like last October’s diagnosis of Totem’s wet hull in Grenada, which changed our routing plans for the coming year. Or this summer’s revelation of my mother’s escalating dementia, which rewrote the plans for how we’d spend these few months back in the USA.

What makes change a constant?

Weather is the primary everyday factor influencing plans, making any schedule impossible to keep. You don’t leave port when the calendar says so, you leave when the weather indicates. Calendars are helpful as guidelines only! I cringe when I hear “we’re going to leave on (fill in a specific date).”

PredictWind screenshot showing ocean current data
Bermuda to Connecticut was an extended waiting game: PredictWind shows the Gulf Stream current meanders

Company alters plans, too. Any kid boat knows that intentions to depart may be thrown to the wind if a new arrival in the anchorage turns out have kids that hit it off with yours. It’s not just kids; other boats we wanted more time with have prompted Jamie and me to shift plans to meet them.

Plans should be swayed by the experiences in a new place: another reason why schedules are the enemy. When you find yourself in that perfect anchorage, for whatever reason—the reef to snorkel, the trails to hike, the connections made ashore: why rush off because your timeline says the next destination is due? Of course, this works both ways: when visiting swarms of bees made Puerto Ballandra unpleasant this spring, we left on minimal notice despite stated intentions to remain in place for a few days!

Sailboat at anchor in front of rugged desert hills off Baja
Voyager at anchor in Ballandra
A bee drinking dew from a sailboat deck
That first one seems so innocent, drinking dew from the nonskid on deck… then 1,000 friends show up

New cultures and landscapes prompt us to adapt, too. In step with new norms, we change our interactions with people and places. It’s a whopping 48 countries/territories that we have experienced since sailing away from Eagle Harbor in August of 2008; each arrival prompts familiar questions. Will the markets be weekly or daily? At the crack of dawn or heat of afternoon? Is bargaining expected or unwelcome? How do people greet each other (and what’s the response)?  Is it safe to walk anywhere, or must care be taken?

This steady series of everyday decisions and regular transitions hones adaptability into a skill.  The common sense to seek what you need to know. The courage to base plans on human priorities instead of inhuman timelines.

This adaptability is one of the valuable skills we hope our son, Niall, took with him today as he moved into his college dormitory. It’s an exciting new chapter for our academic eldest, one sure to be full of new features to adjust to. One of the easiest, at least, will be personal space! He turned around in the capacious dorm room, and commented that the closet had more space than his cabin on Totem. (It does, too.) But he faces myriad adjustments in the weeks and months ahead.

The huge closet and comical shoe rack
There’s even a three tiered shoe rack in the closet! So we had to put in Niall’s shoes, for a photo op.

Two girls sitting on the edge of a bed in a college dorm room
Normal dorm room = palatial to a boat kid. Apparently we need Pinterest help for decor however.

Reaching for another tissue this afternoon, it hit home that adaptation is not just his, but ours: finding new rhythms as a family of four aboard. Expanding to fill the gaps he’ll leave around the dinner table, the chores list, the watch schedule, the ironic commentary. We’ll miss him, but embrace what’s ahead. As he has opportunities to grow, so do we: for Mairen and Siobhan, owning roles aboard Totem that he generally assumed with anchoring, reefing, watchkeeping.

Many cruising friends have moved back to land. Swallowed the anchor, as they say. And usually, they report that returning to “normal” sucks…and then they adapt.

We expect an October return to Totem in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. Back to an unscheduled, flexible life for most of the Totem crew. Niall has the double whammy of adjusting both to land life and schedule far more rigorous than the 3rd grade he sailed away from 10 years ago. It’s OK. He’ll adapt!

Niall on campus at Lewis & Clark

Cruising and social media: what works?

Swing a cat in an anchorage and you’ll hit a boat with an active online presence. When we were in the planning phase of our cruising adventures (the early 2000s), blogging was nascent; only a few recorded their travels. Hungry for information and inspiration, I hung on every word and saved posts for reference; it helped keep the dream alive for years. Now there aren’t just blogs, but a range of social media outlets. What to do? How to decide? I chatted with a couple of our coaching clients about what they do for a broader perspective. Erin is boat mama to three boys, her family cruising the Caribbean since February; JD and Jen have built their family life around living aboard in San Francisco.

two people on a sailboat with a tropical island

Erin & Dave from Sailing to Roam, on the bow of their boat in St Lucia

Connect with your motivation

This blog began in July 2007, a few months after we bought Totem. I sought to capture memories of our family’s transition to life afloat and to keep our family updated after we left: motivations widely shared among cruisers. It’s evolved over time in terms of motivation and channels; now Totem’s blog/ Facebook / instagram indirectly supports our family as a part of the puzzle for our coaching and Jamie’s work as a sailmaker, and I have the privilege to help inspire others in to live more adventurously by sharing our experiences.

Family on a sailboat

JD, Jen, and Ruby of Tight Little Tribe

For Erin, for JD & Jen, the options were greater when they started (YouTube! Instagram! Facebook! Pinterest! More!) but their motivations are similar. Erin wanted to share their adventures with others and started a blog but “found myself wishing the blog was on Facebook, so that’s what I’ve tried to create, a Facebook page with mini blog posts for busy people.” It’s great, bite-sized information mirrored on her Instagram. Jen and JD came from slightly different places: Jen, blogging helped retain details of their baby girl Ruby’s alternative life afloat. JD, on the other hand, has told stories through video. “From a young age back in Kentucky my friends and I would write scripts, plan scenes, grab the camcorder and make ridiculously cliché 80’s style movies and music videos.” Together, they share a joyful look at life on the water.

What we all share? This form of content creation brings benefits, so that the effort we put in is a fair exchange for our time.

Choosing channels

two kids on a boat with text overlay for PinterestFor boaty folks looking to share their adventures, the focus swings to extremes. For Erin and many others, the more succinct mode for Facebook and Instagram allow active, engaging presence with less effort. Facebook Pages are well suited for the “mini blog” post Erin masters, and Instagram wins for ease of posting… as long as you can get your phone online, anyway.

The cruising blog is still around (hello, reader!) but more work and slower growth. Erin put it this way: “I’d also spoken to several people who had a successful blog (in terms of followers and website visits) but also said it was a lot of work for minimal monetary return.” I can attest to that! For me, it’s an outlet with more complicated rewards: a way to process feelings and hindsight perspective on experiences, a way to connect with and support others.

At the far end of the spectrum of effort-per-upload is YouTube. JD shared that he typically spent around 30 hours per video while making a series of videos that ranged from around 8 to 11 minutes each. That’s about 3 hours of editing per one minute of video – and he has experience with editing! Quality videos don’t make themselves. This is exactly what’s kept us out of the YouTube ring to date.

Twitter and Pinterest deserve a mention as part of the mix for Totem, although neither channel is particularly well fed/watered. But they’re useful as traffic drivers, and I appreciate there are some who only engage with us that way. Low effort for engagement return makes maintaining a presence worthwhile.

Key benefits

We all share similar goals to record our experiences in a kind of digital scrapbook, for ourselves and others. Community engagement is also echoed by many families. Per Jen, “I love feeling like I am part of something bigger, with a group of amazing human beings each working towards adventurous goals.”

Erin points out that they’ve been able to meet other families nearby because she keeps their social media presence current. I believe that making yourself findable is really important for cruising families, to help kid boats connect with each other. REALLY important! The point of Happy Boat Kids, Happy Boat is to provide ideas on why/how to do this.

Sharing our lives has grown a circle of friends in meaningful ways: some I get to meet eventually, many I’ve yet to meet but fill an important role. It’s why I’m knitting stripes to send my friend Amanda for her daughter Brie’s blanket,  a community project making a rainbow-striped blanket by many hands, all reaching to comfort Brie when she needs heart surgery in September. (See #briesblanket)

Sailing community and knitting. Really.

Erin has also garnered a number sponsors: it’s not income per se but has enabled her family to add some nice kit while waving money. She points out this comes with the responsibility to keep brands happy with what she posts, adds some work, and of course, succeeds when you have an honest voice instead of a pitch.

Some hope to generate income. It’s possible, but this is a long road through a crowded space that demands a lot of work and is probably going to net you less than selling doodles of stick figures on Fiverr. Few are successful, but those that are like our (awesome, earned it, work hard for it) friends on SV Delos have a combination of success factors that are hard to replicate.

Going remote

Many cruising grounds are in cell tower range and connectivity isn’t a problem. But for those going more remote (relying on satellite or radio), it’s more complicated.

Blogs and twitter are the easiest, as they can be readily updated from a simple text email and thus are doable over radio or satellite connection. Data-intensive social media channels are problematic. There are ways to get to Facebook (that’s another post!), but scheduling posts in advance is easier. Scheduled publishing is the option for YouTubers as well, uploading before going remote. Instagram posts can’t be scheduled, at least not without violating T&Cs – not worthile. It requires a phone back in internet-land to post; get a trusted friend involved, or fuhgeddaboudit.

Other ways to mitigate days offline is through connecting channels to repost. A blog posted through our Iridium GO is automatically posted to our Facebook Page, and every post to the Page is re-posted on Twitter. It’s a blunt tool approach to use the channels, very much not optimal, but better than nothing when data is limited. IFTTT (if this then that) recipes are a great way to work out the right daisy chain of reposts.

Comoros: many helpers for dinghy landing, not so many cell towers

Growing a following

At a base level, this isn’t rocket science. Provide quality content people enjoy and want to share; post routinely; engage with others. This organic method is what most do, and in a perfect world it’s all you need and optimize by being active. Wild card exposure to a bigger audience lifts awareness: Erin found an interview with a local paper evolved into a piece in the Daily Mail that gave her an early hit. Totem’s Facebook Page grew by multiples overnight in 2013 after a NY Times columnist mention; this month’s Today show interview didn’t hurt either. Giving interviews for other bloggers or magazines and recording podcasts help find new, relevant followers too. And then, there are those who leverage the boob effect. Good on ’em, it’s not for us though!

What about paying for a boost? I’ve seen this work with an Instagram Growth Service; effort involved in finding and attracting other instagrammers to follow you is relatively time consuming and data intensive (when you’re sipping data like a cruiser!). While that may offer a jumpstart, on the other hand, I don’t know anyone who has found Facebook boosting to actually work… incremental exposure for no bump in followers. Participating in groups that support each other’s posts in a given channel have the benefit of both community and a boost.

No pressure – really!

In a discussion thread among a couple of dozen boat families, many shared that they simply aren’t interested, or have other priorities, or prefer share differently. Artist, jewelry maker, and boat mama Elise said: “For those that don’t blog, the experiences and memories and stories are just as real and fantastic as those that do. How do you normally process and share? Online? Then do that. Via conversation? Then do that! Art? Do that!” A resounding YES! The explosion in social media has created pressure to engage that shouldn’t exist; there should be no guilt in opting out.

Trading when you don’t share a language: unforgettable whether it was on Facebook or not

I also chatted this morning with a fellow boat mama here in the Pacific Northwest. Beth shares her family’s travels on Facebook and intends to explore video, but recognizes “…keeping a balance of living without a camera is important to me too. Family time is what it’s all about, right?” Jen and JD admitted there are times when JD feels like filming “and I just want to be in the moment without a camera… which can lead to some marital strife when we aren’t on the same page at the same time.” A simple blog post can balloon into hours after arriving at final content and image editing. YouTube is even more extreme: “I can also go on editing binges where I get home from work,” shared JD, “and after Ruby goes to bed, I will edit till the wee hours. This can go on for days on end until I finish a project.” It’s a lot of work, worth a hard look before embarking and taking time away from other aspects of your life.

Privacy

Jen commented that she didn’t want to have Ruby ever be upset about her online presence as she gets older, something a lot of parents grapple with. Kids growing up today are test driving the online childhood with outcomes unknown. My friend Charlotte has a fantastic article about why she chose to retire her daughter from her social sharing at age 5 (she admits, an arbitrary number). “If I write about and document every memorable, (and non-memorable) moment of her life, I feel as if I will mute her own interpretation of her childhood.” We want our kids to own their definition of self, and childhood memories, not be captive to how we framed them… we want them to be happy and proud, and they’re the only ones who can really do this. As our kids have grown, I’m able ask their permission to use a particular photo or have them choose from a selection to know it’s one they’d like.

For the most part, this hasn’t been a concern, although there was one afternoon in South Carolina where a series of three unexpected visitors knocked on the hull after seeing our location online. I really love meeting people who are interested in our way of life and it was all good, just a teensy bit unnerving!

Totem crew – early days, a gift of the blogging record to look back and see

Cruising and social media: what works? It’s different and evolving. This blog too may evolve (it at least needs a refresh, any website jockeys around?). We’d love to try video, but life is too full to expand for that effort. What do I wish I could tell my 2007 self? That this little family record would have a wonderful future, and to just stick with it.

With extra big thanks to Erin (Sailing to Roam: blog, insta, facebook) and JD & Jen (Tight Little Tribe: fb, insta, youtube) for their openness and honesty in talking about social media use and goals. Check them out!

 

Turning sailing dreams into reality

Welcome, newcomers to Sailing Totem! For our family’s backstory to a decade of sailing around the world, see Who and Why.  For hopeful cruisers, articles addressing the most common questions found in Start Here. Can we help you? Learn about our lifestyle coaching or get in touch.

This week our family has the incredible opportunity to share our story to a wide audience thanks an interview with Megyn Kelly on TODAY. Hopefully the morning interlude offered these newcomers inspiration and a few minutes to contemplate a different way of life.

We can’t know what will happen until the actual interview. While I expect we may be called to address some of the common questions about cruising, like storms (haven’t been in one) and pirates (knowable regions, don’t go there) and educating our children (our oldest starts college next month), hopefully we’ve been able to communicate that this is an accessible dream. I’ll call success if we crack the door for others choose a more adventurous life, whether that’s afloat like ours or along different path. [Update: I think we did! Watch below!]

People make radical changes in their lives for all kinds of reasons. We looked forward to more time together as a family, a chance to raise children as citizens of the world, to appreciate the privilege of being born with choices and options in our lives, to know the diverse natural wonders of our planet first hand so they might play a role in protecting it. What we didn’t anticipate is how deeply fulfilling it would be.

Important reasons why it’s fulfilling connected recently in an unlikely source. Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe is about PTSD and the challenges military vets face after coming home, but in talking about the benefits of a cohesive society alleviating the incidence of PTSD his book nails assets of the cruising life:

…human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness and far outweigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money and status.

Competence comes with time (we know many cruisers who started with very little actual sailing experience. As in, no prior experience at all). Living your values, your dreams, begets feeling authentic with life choices. Our family is tight, as is our community: Kevin Bacon has nothing on degrees of separation among cruisers.

Choosing cruising meant departing from a life measured in extrinsic values in favor of those intrinsic values, a switch  that brought unanticipated contentment. We’d like to help others find that peace, which is why we’re here: why this blog is written, why we’re interviewing with Megyn Kelly, why we put our private selves out there.

I suspect many of the broader audience watching TODAY this morning assumes such big changes are out of their reach. In fact, it’s much more achievable than most imagine; the hardest part is making the switch. Not saying someday, or it’s OK for someone else, or I don’t have the time / funds / freedom; not that, but setting a date, making a plan, and following through.

We long held the dream, but only morphed it into a plan after many years. With a departure date and a commitment, we papered the biggest uninterrupted wall in our home with what Jamie called The Giant Map of Dreams. It had a whiteboard-like surface allowed us to use the 14 foot long map as a creative space. Where could we go? Jamie and I marked dream destinations with dry erase markers, noting the bays we hoped to visit. Our younger children added continents and countries from their imaginations. We did not begin to conceive of the stories these places would tell, of the people we would meet. That swimming with sharks would come to feel almost natural. That babies in faraway places would be named for our children. That wild islands would stop us speechless with their grandeur, or bleached reefs shake us with their fragility. That a little girl in a dugout canoe would ask to trade three underripe, undersized tomatoes for basic writing tools. That everywhere, we’d be reminded that our world is full of beautiful people with their own stories to share. That too often, we’d learn about social injustice and experience environmental devastation first hand.

Now the map of our chartplotter traces a line for the route we’ve sailed Totem around the world. The Giant Map did its job of feeding  dreams of sailing to exotic places. We realize now the impossibility of visiting everywhere we hoped, at least on the first lap. But we’ve grown appreciation for finding the magic in ordinary places – it’s always there, somewhere! – while reaching some of our dreamed-of anchorages as well.

Think it might be for you? Pick up a few books. Watch some videos. Set a date. Let us know if we can help.

Summer in Seattle, after detour to NY for the TODAY show!

Fireworks flashed in the distance last night as the Bainbridge Island ferry pushed through Puget Sound’s dark water. This was supposed to be our last leg for summer travel back to the Seattle area, the culmination of a plan crafted in minutes while in Grenada last fall after learning Totem’s hull needed drying out. Instead, we’re headed to New York soon to tape an appearance on NBC’s Megyn Kelly TODAY. Holy exciting plan shakeups, batman!  Our interview is due to air next Monday, July 9, and we hope you’ll tune in.

How did this come together? Kicked off by a contact through this blog, followed by a broken phone call with a producer in NY as the Baja’s Sierra Gigante mountains interfered with the cell phone signal in our anchorage. Details finally worked out, plans shifted, and a couple of days ago an initial interview was recorded on a California beach with the gentle warmth of Lauren Ina and a great supporting crew.

It’s a little intimidating to think of the scrutiny this will bring. It’s been six years since our first taste of the mixed response from broad exposure after NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted/Facebooked about our family. His post was entirely positive, as were many comments in response, but it’s remarkable what ugliness the anonymous uninformed are ready to throw at you! You know what? We can deal with it. The opportunity to inspire others to live more adventurously, and show just how accessible it is for people who feel stuck in their lives to make a change, is too good to pass up. Maybe we’ll even be able to help a few of them!

For now we’re in a vortex of busy travel. After tens of thousands of miles at the moseying pace of a sailboat, we hit hyper speed this week with a whirlwind of busses, planes, and automobiles… the final ferry transit adding a dose of familiarity on the water… the cross-country trip still ahead.

As much as I miss rocking in our floating cradle at night, we’re overdue for time at home. At least we can rest easy with Totem’s location in the very far north of the Sea of Cortez. Hurricanes are the northern hemisphere sailor’s worry this time of year. But Totem is hauled at Rocky Point Boat Yard, aka Cabrales yard, safely north of named storm risk in the shrimping port of Puerto Peñasco.

It was an intense week of work preparing to go. The boat’s bottom was stripped down to bare fiberglass. We weren’t just packing ourselves up for months away, we were packing anything Niall wanted to bring with him as he moves off Totem to start college. Boatyard owner/manager Salvador Cabrales’ guidance and crew made it possible to get everything done quickly.

Totems bare hull

Totems bare hull in the Cabrales Boatyard

Packing up the boat for months unattended is a big job. One task is removing any food that could tempt pests. Even after significantly reducing our stores, a lot had to come off the boat. One of the security guards, Amador, provided a channel to limit food waste. After telling us about where he lives – “the real Rocky Point,” an impoverished community near the garbage dump where some lives are eked out by picking trash and dogs are used for protection, a door opened. We passed him about 50 pounds of food and several bags of clothes to be re-homed, while relieving our excess.

We’ve been in 48 countries/territories: Tijuana scores the creepiest, most intimidating border crossing EASILY.

Relatives near San Diego were the first stop on our way to Puget Sound with cheap seats on 4th of July flights. Getting to California from Peñasco involved an overnight bus to Tijuana, a forgettable ride with uncomfortable seats and regular stops (including disembarkation of the vehicle at 4am for a military search) that made sleeping a struggle. Walking across the border was the easiest (if eeriest) part, through a cage-like tunnel to homeland security checkpoints. A few days under Dan & Hillary’s care provided the perfect gentle landing, softening re-entry into the bustle of the USA. We love our cousins and are so grateful for their support!

Summer speaking

This summer in the Pacific Northwest is a gift, one we hadn’t anticipated until Totem’s condition made it the obvious choice. I can’t wait to reconnect with friends and family, most of whom we haven’t seen in the decade since we left. A decade!?!? I only blinked, I swear! (And that, truly, is another reason not to wait with whatever it is you’re planning/dreaming).

When we were in the planning/dreaming stages for our own cruising life, attending presentations and seminars from the people who made it, who got away and sailed for a blue horizon, were important to keeping the dream alive until it could be our turn.

Now, it’s our turn to give back. Jamie and I have a number of speaking engagements around the Pacific Northwest this summer. We can’t wait to share our stories, to pass the spark and nuge those in our wake. Maybe you’d like to come to one?

  • July 12: Seattle Yacht Club at 7pm. “10 years around the world” – all welcome, registration required. (206) 325-1000
  • July 24: private talk in Ballard. Practical advice for cruisers turning left from the Strait: get in touch if you’re interested.
  • September 7-9: Wooden Boat Festival. Presenting all three days; for details, see Festival website.
  • Sept. 11: Bluewater Cruising Association – Vancouver, BC
  • September 14: Seattle’s Corinthian Yacht Club
  • September 18: Shilshole Bay Yacht Club
  • September 21: Puget Sound Cruising Club – Destination focus: unexpected gems along our path around the world.

Meanwhile, returning to Puget Sound for the summer gives us even more reach to help gonna-go cruisers in person, a rewarding addition to our coaching service. Jamie’s expertise is available for on board for sail handling or sail/rig inspection. We can do 1:1 guidance about systems or gear choices/setup. My personal favorite: route planning! Affordable rates, plus travel costs – get in touch, and we’ll look forward to meeting you.

For more about our appearance on Megyn Kelly’s program, and a video of our 10-minute segment, see the subsequent post: Turning Sailing Dreams into Reality.

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.