What 2018 taught us as cruisers

Two Dolphins in sailboat bow wake

Pausing for reflection at the transition into a new year: living so much in the present, it’s worth stopping to draw out significant events that too easily slide into the misty past. Continuous learning is one of the great opportunities of cruising, and a few lessons stand out in 2018.

We didn’t screw up homeschooling.

Niall’s return to Totem for winter break from Lewis & Clark college confirm he’s happily transitioned. I credit him as an individual and not our efforts to direct and shape with homeschooling, in truth, but will let myself wallow in pride and gratitude at his accomplishment in making the changeover from an unstructured nomadic life afloat, to a highly structured academic environment—and thrive.

Mexico is just as awesome as we remembered.

Our first year and a half cruising was spent in Mexico, but it was eight years prior; we wondered what it would be like to return after the intervening countries and miles. Turns out it’s hard to beat the combination of beautiful coastlines, interesting places to visit, friendly people and general security. We’re happy to extend our time here after closing a circ loop in Zihuatenejo last spring!

sailboat at anchor next to stunningly rugged desert coastline in Baja

The incredible light of the Sea of Cortez

Inspiring is a gift.

We added more than 50 new coaching clients in our “TRU crew” this year. Amazing! Working as mentors to realize their cruising dream is profoundly fulfilling. Jamie would tell you I’m like a broken record after our calls: “we get to work with the best people!” I’m so happy we have grown a niche to make a difference.

This view was earned with sweat, not drone skills! Isla Danzante

There’s hope to normalize cruising.

Appearing on TODAY with Megyn Kelly may land among the most unforgettable experiences we ever have. But it was behind-the-scenes crew that are the real stars, no disrespect to a celebrity interviewer intended. The crew offered us interest, kindness, humility, and grace. From the producer who first reached out, to the reporter and crew in California, to the security guard who knew exactly how to calm a few flickering nerves – they didn’t see the freaks, the Weird People, the spectacle of the week… as you might expect from non-boaty crowd. That they sought us out, heard our story, and helped us amplify the gifts offered by this wonderful life afloat gives me hope.

crappy phone pic. way to nervous for more than that!

Sharing the sail is fun.

A spontaneous decision chased by an email resulted in two of our coaching clients joining Totem for a week long passage in December. David and Sam had just closed on the boat that will be their family’s magic carpet. They don’t have much experience. We didn’t need crew. This wasn’t a paid gig. It just felt like a cool opportunity to connect something we could offer with something they needed. They were great additions and learned a bunch: Sam’s upcoming guest post will share the experience.

Sam & David before flying home from Puerto Vallarta

Totem’s 2018 statistics

We love our statistics, and Jamie’s database makes metrics for the year easy to grab! Here’s another dimension to a great turn around the sun.

Countries visited: 5. OK, so you can do that in a couple of days in the Caribbean. We might have added four more, but sailed from Costa Rica to Mexico without visiting intermediary countries. Something to fix in future years.

Days on passage: 20. We count a “passage day” if we were underway at midnight. Most of this happened as we legged our way north from the Panama Canal to the northern Sea of Cortez between mid-March and mid-June.

Anchoring depths: our deepest spot in Panama’s San Blas islands was 65’, exactly half our deepest ever (Maldives in 2015); the average was around 26’.

Distance traveled: 4,916 nautical miles (5,657 miles). Far from our biggest year, but remarkable in that we spent MOST of this year…not sailing. There were six months in the shipyard, and 43 days at a dock (most of those in Colombia, where anchoring wasn’t safe). In the remaining period we averaged about a thousand miles per month: suddenly, it feels like a bigger year for sea time.

One last lesson

Holy cow, how did I almost neglect this one? On April 7, we learned in a wholly new and internalized way that the earth is in fact round when Totem and crew closed the loop on a circumnavigation in Zihuatenejo, Mexico. 2018: you were one for the memory book!

Totem and crew are southbound in Mexico right now, making plans to head north in a few weeks for the Toronto Boat Show and Seattle Boat Show. Want to learn how to go cruising? Please join us in Seattle for a special extended seminar! Details on the Totem Events page.

 

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

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

Gift certificate

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

eBooks

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

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

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

Make something!

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

Donate

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

Hope this was helpful for you! 

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

Sailboat motoring with distant coastline ahead

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

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

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

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

shrimp boat leaving puerto penasco

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

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

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

Rugged Baja mountains glow at sunrise.

What about visitors?

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

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

Hanging out in the cockpit, mid-Gulf of California

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

That 800 n.m. passage…

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

dolphin spotting from sailboat bow

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

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

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

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

~

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

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

 

Holiday gift ideas: inspired by social side of cruising

boats at anchor in tropical blue water off a beautiful beach on a lush Bahamian island

  

The cruising lifestyle shimmers with a wide social streak; gathering for cockpit sundowners or beach barbecues is routine, and comes with distinct practices. Using these rituals as a springboard for holiday gift ideas spurred a fun conversation (and opinions!) around the boatyard lounge this morning, one which will probably be reprised around the firepit tonight. Here are a gift ideas for your favorite sailor to enjoy or anticipate cruising, bundled with insight into a few unwritten rules of cruiser etiquette. 

Why are cruisers such social creatures? Probably because we have time for it. As a species, humans are wired to make social connections. It was just harder to find time to accommodate the drive when we were juggling two jobs, shuffling kids to school and activities, travel for work, etc. Our lives are simpler now, and while our plates still get pretty darn full there’s an entirely different level of freedom to make time.

How do you meet cruisers?

It could be helping someone pull their dinghy up a beach or striking up conversation at the laundromat nearest the dinghy dock (those waterproof laundry bags could only belong to another cruiser). It might be paddling by another boat in a SUP and hailing “hello aboard!” or knocking on the hull from a dinghy.

What do you bring when you’re invited to another boat for sundowners?

Unless the boat is schmancy enough employ staff it is de rigueur to arrive with your own supplies. At a minimum, that means you should bring your choice of beverage. Why does this matter to cruisers? We typically carry limited provisions centered around meeting our own needs. It’s a function of space (can’t support a full bar), and budget (can’t afford a full bar), and availability (might be metering the rum because we’ve literally counted the months until a place to resupply and stocked accordingly). We didn’t appreciate behaviors we took for granted until sitting in the cockpit of SV Fortytwo in Langakwi, Malaysia, a few years ago. Invited for sundowners, we showed up with our usual kit – to the amusement of the European crew. 

Gift idea: Soda Stream makes bottomless fizzy water. I’ve never been big on carbonated beverages because 1) too sweet 2) packaging. Solved. 

Gift idea: homemade bonus! Package a syrup or infusion to make that fizzy water an awesome mixer. Ginger syrup is about as simple as boiling up ginger and sugar in water; voila, ginger ale! Just add rum for a Dark & Stormy.

Because Totem’s crowd is, well, a crowd – we also bring our glasses. Many boats are minimally supplied; and if we show up with five people and four others already aboard are using their glasses well… we may strain the available drinkware supply! This turned into an unexpected discussion (debate?) on better barware for cruisers this morning.

Miss these faces! Note: stainless wineglass, custom kooozie, and polycarbonate champagne flute.

 

Gift idea: Jamie loves our insulated stainless-steel tumblers for wine or a rum drink.

Gift idea: I prefer drinking wine from actual glass, favor these virtually unbreakable Duralex tumblers.

Gift ideas: Boadyard judge opinions were strong! Hydro Flask tumbler is the popular favorite for keeping beverages coldest; Govino for wine if glass scares you and metal doesn’t appeal, although glass must be kept full, because these lightweight glasses might blow away. Wait,is that really a downside?! A another denizen offered that material quality and weighted base mean Strahl’s glasses are better…or less likely to blow off the cockpit coaming.

Apparently we spend a lot of time thinking about this. But remember: most cruisers are also minimalists. If you’re only going to have one set of drinking glasses, you want to love them.

Keeps our snacks from sliding all over the dinghy!

Other cruiser code for sundowners: it’s nice to bring a nibble for sharing. This doesn’t have to be much, but if you bring the same dwindling jar of salted peanuts every time people will talk (singlehanders, you get a bit more leeway). Our choice is usually based on location: here in Mexico, chips and salsa. In Martinique, that saucisson is so good with a little cheese. Far from anywhere? Olives are pantry staples, as are ingredients to mix a dip or spread for crackers (bake your own) or veggies; recipes for those and more ideas in The Boat Galley.

Gift ideas: make something special from one cruiser to another to brighten a sundowner spread. Papaya is common along most of our cruising path and my chutney recipe is really easy. Onions are nearly universal too, ad cooking up a batch of onion jam is even easier. I use a method like this one.

Beverages, glasses, snacks… starting to turn into a bunch of stuff to carry! I love our collapsible Meori carrier. Easy from dingy to boat or beach, stable space to , and folds down to almost nothing when not in use. We take the Meori to boats, to beach barbecues, and this week to the Thanksgiving potluck hosted by the Cabrales Boatyard (who provided mouthwatering carnitas – cooked on the grill by tables where we gathered – with at least half a dozen different salsas to accompany. 

The Meori comes in especially handy for potlucks, because you don’t just bring your glasses: come equipped with plates and utensils, too, including any needed to serve your shared dish. Looking for something more compact? If you have the space, a hard cooler turns into a table on the beach. It doesn’t have to be big, just a stable base to balance a board.

Inflatable dinghy arriving at sailboat; two people aboard sailboat accepting dishes from the dinghy
Judy welcomes us aboard Totem’s sistership for a potluck – Mairen has the Meori

 

Gift ideas: The basic Meori carrier has a perfect-fit cooler bag accessory keeps cold stuff cold and does double duty to pack for shopping trips; or, get a carrier/cooler bundle with the tailgate Meori box.

Gift idea: bring those bevs in koozies printed up with your boat’s name or logo; these are also fun gifts for cruisers you meet. I love that we have koozies on board from Bubbles, Shawnigan, and Terrapin… good memories.

All-anchorage gatherings for drinks or bonfire or potluck (whether that’s two boats or twenty) might start with one of those personal interactions or a wider call on the VHF. A beach is the usual venue; it’s nice to have something to sit on; some popular spots have makeshift tables/benches, but more often we have to bring our own. Here in the boatyard we’ve had evening gatherings at a firepit where the chairs were again much nicer than sitting on the (gravel) ground.

People sitting around a campfire for a potluck on an Indonesia beach.
Impromptu potluck at a fishing camp in Indonesia. Betcha Jamie wishes he had a chair!

 

Gift idea: collapsible chairs like these make seating more comfortable, and if your deck is big enough, extend seating options on board as well. Look for quality; cheap chairs rust out.

Jamie sits in a collapsible chair on the aft deck of a boat
Jamie kicks back in a collapsible chair on the aft deck of 48′ pilothouse ketch, CAPAZ, Thanksgiving 2009

 

What about hosting? Catamaran owners, all that real estate means you’ll be expected to raise your hand a little more often! Seriously though: when in company with a few familiar boats, hosting gets equitably shared around (or, again, people will talk). But hosting is easy, it’s not much more than welcoming people to your space, seeing as they’re showing up with a bunch of stuff! There are a few gift ideas to up your hosting game:

Gift ideacruisers almost universally adore solar-powered Luci lights, the collapsible lanterns that cast a gentle light. They’re reasonable, but multiples add up; an lovely gift would be a series of these to string like tiki lights. 

Gift idea: a rugged bluetooth speaker like this Voombox (ours has taken a beating and still awesome, 2.5 years in) to bring tunes anywhere you are on the boat; sometimes we’ll chill out on the foredeck in sport-a-seats instead of hanging in the cockpit and aft deck.

Gift idea: have a camera to capture the moment, then remember to use it! I love my Sony a7ii; the compact cousin, RX100 series (and underwater housing to go with it), is on top of my wish list.

For more recommendations across a broader spectrum of cruising lifestyle needs (and wants!), see more than thirty awesome gift ideas in last year’s post, or archived gift guides from prior years.

four peole in the cockpit of a sailboat, photo looking forward with the sun approaching an ocean horizon
Sundowners in the Barren Islands, Madagascar: our crew Ty, plus Bill and Christine off Solstice.

 

We tend to be all about needs vs wants, being mindful of the distinction and keeping our lives free of clutter. Fulfilling the unnecessary desire becomes that much more special when done discretely. But what are holiday gifts for, if not for fun – a chance to break out of the Necessary and into the Indulgent? I hope this has jumpstarted ideas for your favorite sailor! 

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.