American cruisers through foreign eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Making friends across boundaries: Jayapura, Indonesia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids in Fakarava, French Polynesia - June 2010

Kids in Fakarava, French Polynesia – June 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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Distance is relative: upriver to Washington DC

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

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

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

COLD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It is surreal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shirtsleeve weather. Enjoying it while we can!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to cruising! OK…almost.

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

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

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 Cruisers helping cruisers

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

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

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

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

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

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Meeting the family from Twentsie Meid

 Exploring around Annapolis

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

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

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What’s this chill?

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

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

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Recording Bonanza!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meeting old friends for the first time

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Three weeks in Chesapeake Bay so far. Three weeks with so much smiling and talking with friends that there are days my jaw aches. Old friends, new friends, old friends met for the first time. It started with the spectacular crab feed put on by a blog reader and newfound friend when we arrived in late September.

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Bay crab, done right: outside, table covered with paper, no cutlery – just mallets. SO GOOD.

This came at the end of a sunny afternoon where we had a spontaneous open boat party on Totem, pinging folks who have been in touch here or through our Facebook page and inviting them aboard. It is just plain cool to meet people who we have come to know as names on the screen, and turning those distant contacts into personal encounters and a great time. Good thing we enjoyed that sun, because there was precious little the following two weeks! Wow, they were delicious. Old Bay is now stocked in our pantry. Hello Maryland!

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We shifted south to Camp Quigley, as Mary Marie & Frank call their dock; it’s a frequent host to friends on the southbound migration this time of year, and a great excuse to visit on our the way to the SSCA gam. Who did we hear from, as we tied up? Newly minted circumnavigators Mike and Deanna from R Sea Kat, who we last saw on Ascension Island. Because Mary Marie and Frank have been cruisers, they “get it” and gathered us for an evening of trading stories. We also smelled a lot better after giving the Quigley laundry machines a workout!

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Our anchorage afterwards for the SSCA gam was in the beautiful Rhode River, which is just a few miles from Annapolis but feels far from, well, anything.

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The event was well attended, despite the steady rain. Jamie and I did a presentation that covered our experiences in some spectacular cruising destinations we’ve visited. Pure dream fodder, aiming to inspire, and so much fun to share! Solavore had provided us with an oven to raffle off to attendees – more about them soon, we are big fans of this solar oven. It’s just too bad the weather didn’t cooperate to allow a demonstration. At the gam, again were familiar faces from our near and distant past… as well as those we’d only known through the internet.

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Mark Brownhill, sandwiched between weather dudes Chris Parker (left) and Lee Chesneau (right)

I loved being able to give Lee Chesneau a hug and tell him how much his class about understanding the 500mb chart helped me on the path to better interpreting weather data when I took it many years ago. Actually, I think I had to take it twice, but it was important! More recently we’ve been introduced to Chris Parker and his invaluable services as a weather router for US/Caribbean cruisers. And between those two great guys we have met: another, Mark Brownhill, who I traded many emails with over the last few months (he’s responsible for getting us to the gam and organizes the SSCA’s Seven Seas U educational programs).

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Like so many cruisers of all stripes— the hopefuls, the gonna-go, the been there / done that—I’ve read the magazines published by this highly recognizable couple. I didn’t know what to expect from meeting Bob & Jody in person, but will say this: they are even more wonderful than you think! Their interest in inspiring others to follow the cruising life… something I think can only make the world a better place… is 100% real.

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It was just bad luck that the weather brightened significantly only when the gam had ended…but that made it easier to welcome a few friends on Totem. The family aboard Majestic brought their pretty St Francis 44 down to anchor nearby and hang out for some sunny hours. This family means so much to me: I’ve corresponded with mom Cindy for nearly a decade, since we found each other on a Yahoo group…or was it that Mothering forum first? Regardless, it is SO COOL to make that virtual friendship transition to in-person.

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We were able to do a little cruising-boat-show-n-tell with another local family that intends to cast off next year. Getting to see how people who had actually been cruising set up their boats was really helpful for me before we left: I’m glad to be able to give back.

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We had a few days after the SSCA gam and before the boat show. Jamie and I spent a morning checking out a boat listing in the area on behalf of one of our coaching clients. I added several photos Jamie’s boat yoga (tagged #awkward) to my collection.

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Afterwards, we got to meet another old friend for the first time! Captain Suky, a delivery skipper and generally awesome human who I’ve known through the Women Who Sail forum, recently bought a boat; Jamie checked out the rig for her.

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See “barber pole”-ing on the backstay? No bueno. On close inspection: pitting an even bigger problem.

We relocated for the US Sailboat Show to a private dock near the venue in Annapolis. Hurricane Matthew loomed and we were grateful for a snug location well up the creek….a 20 minute walk, even less by dock-to-dock water taxi!

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And thus began a hectic week working the booth for L&L Pardey Books, supporting Lin Pardey to sell books from her publishing house (she’s also behind Voyaging With Kids). The kids were a big help, pitching in on booth setup.

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the alert will notice Siobhan remains barefoot.

We closed a successful first day at the show by hosting Lin along Paul & Sheryl Shard of Distant Shores TV, who we met in St Martin earlier this year, for dinner on Totem. It felt a little surreal to have these cruising luminaries on board- that’s a lot of experience in Totem’s cockpit! There were great stories, and funny coincidences (beware a certain bay in Croatia), but ultimately – just a bunch of cruisers sharing laughs on the water together.

Lin Pardey Paul Sheryl Shard Behan Jamie Gifford on Totem

yeah, I’m wearing an apron. no smart comments

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Photo- Paul Shard

There were some precious reunions, too. We had a great reunion with old friend Brad Baker, who is an owner at Seattle’s Swiftsure Yachts brokerage. We last saw him waving goodbye when our families parted ways in French Polynesia, six years ago: they sailed back to Seattle and we continued across the Pacific. It was also the first time we’d seen Rich Boren since he helped cast off our docklines in 2010, as we departed La Cruz, Mexico for the Marquesas. It’s just great to catch up and feel the years melt away…sweet reunions indeed!

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The show was a whirlwind of first meets with people we actually kinda knew already, as internet shifted to IRL. On site after helping deliver a boat for Swiftsure was Andy Cross from Three Sheets Northwest. After trading email for years, it was great to finally to meet in person.

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Then there was this awesome, who I have co-administrated a women’s sailing forum with for years. We chat just about every day…but we’d never met, or even spoken live. It was amazing to finally get together with Nica Waters! I think Pussers Painkillers…the rum drinks that are obligatory at the Annapolis boat show…may have kicked in by the time we got this pic.

Nica and Behan, together at last!

Nica and Behan, together at last!

Nica and I joined a meetup of the group we admin (with a few accompanying partners & spouses), since many of the Women Who Sail were in town for the show…

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…like Suky (that was her boat above) and Judy Hildebrand, another delivery captain and generally fabulous sailing woman I’ve long connected with digitally, and had a lot of laughs with over a few days in Annapolis. Judy was was one step ahead of us on an extended delivery engagement across much of the Atlantic this year… up until Bermuda, when we pointed to Connecticut and she did a victory leg to the Mediterranean. I’d love to do a passage with her someday!

dsc00391After was a gathering of alt-living bloggers, which Cindy coined the BumTotemJesticPalooza– as we joined the liveaboard Majestic crew and land/sea rambling Bumfuzzles, with future cruisers the Mowerys. More old friends with first meets.

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Photo: Maddy Thomas

The kids weren’t all that excited about the boat show – not their thing. But Cindy wrangled a pile of kids for the day – because boat mamas, we’re a tribe, and look out for each other.

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BumTotemJesticPalooza! Photo: Cindy Wallach

Also looking out for our junior crew was this awesome family (formerly known as the Dafnes), who spirited the Totem kids away to Philly for some fun while Jamie and I were preoccupied. Once a cruiser (or boat kid)… always one! And yet another gonna-go-cruiser helped us get them back, when we neglected to give Niall his passport (turns out, 17 is too old to be an unaccompanied minor on the train and he was not allowed on without ID. Holy paranoia batman!). Grateful for friends who understand, and lend support.

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Escape Room….they were so close!!

The next morning, Jamie and I talked about how there were so many people coming by the booth that we enjoyed talking to, and the conversations always felt too short, like we could have gone on for hours…but there’s a boat show going on and it’s impossible. To try and extend some of those conversations, we decided to throw out a “hey let’s meet for pizza later” to a folks when they came by to talk. I think everyone said yes, and we ended up with a crowd of… 18? 20? at Sammy’s in Eastport. It was a very cool spread across the spectrum: salted sailors, new cruisers, hopeful cruisers, all embracing life on the water.

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So many people came by: Sailing Banyan, OnwardWaves, Sail Loot, more. I loved introducing Lin’s books to people stopping by (because they are not only my dream fodder from our pre-cruising days, but books I keep on Totem and reference). The show was hard work: eight plus hours on our feet, on asphalt, outside. Did I mention the hurricane that threatened? We ended up with just wind and rain, but it was… well. Cold! Notice the multiple layers worn. I even had to break out SOCKS.

By the last day, we were getting a little punchy. Boat kid Naia and I listened for whales in our triton shell / paperweight.

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We cracked up with Lin, Jill and Sheryl over the absurdity of everyone checking their shell–I mean cell–phones all the time.

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We expected the show to wear us out, as it did. We anticipated meeting a lot of people. We just failed to appreciate how much fun it would be meeting up with old friends…some for the first time.

Totem is in Annapolis for about another week: we’re speaking about our travels at 4pm on Sunday, Oct 23, at the Loft above West Marine in Herrington Harbor North. RSVPs to the HH Sailing Association appreciated but not required: contact bev.wright@verizon.net. Oh, and it’s free!

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Southbound to Chesapeake Bay

We still didn’t get to do all the rounds of goodbyes we wanted in Connecticut. We didn’t even just to see everyone we hoped to see. Our summer was full to overflowing in all the best ways, but if one word had to describe it, it’s “BUSY.” Seasonal change and a nip in the air turned us south.

Dinner on Totem in Noank with the well-salted Van Zandt and Bohlen families

Dinner on Totem in Noank with the well-salted Van Zandt and Bohlen families

Getting underway again, starting the transit toward lower latitudes, resuming our cruiser rhythm… it feels good. In the bustle of our summer, we lost some of the time we usually give to “just being” as a family. It’s been a long time since we had so many different plans that a calendar was required! Casualty of busy: I lost control of my email inbox (still recovering, slowly), and haven’t had time to write. Minor tradeoffs for meeting wonderful people along the way, and spending time with the old friends we can intersect with.

Finally meeting up wtih the family of SV Fezywig!

Finally meeting up wtih the family of SV Fezywig!

Our southbound trail led west through Long Island Sound to New York City, each stop along the way touched by the kindness of others. It started in Essex with the cousin of a cruising friend: lime bitters with Jim in the cockpit of his catboat, Amity, then dinner at a restaurant that defines ‘quaint’ and was the site of one of my first dates with Jamie, layering new memories on old.

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In Norwalk we were hosted by  two-time circumnavigators Scott & Kitty Kuhner. Scott & Kitty did their first lap as a young couple; they repeated it with their children, and did a victory lap around the Atlantic in later years. The stories and memories flowed during dinner at their home with the family soon to be known as “the Mariposas,” who move aboard their cruising home in a matter of days.

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In Westchester county, a reader reached out and offered his mooring at the incomparable Lachmont Yacht Club. HL DeVore and family made our stay everything we could have wished, starting by greeting us on arrival with a couple of LYC’s signature drink, the Monte-Sano cooler (rum-based, natch). Excellent company over several evenings, a beautiful base for daytripping into NYC, and the use of a sturdy Jeep Cherokee named Josh to make it all easy.

Getting close, getting excited: first time in NYC for the kids!

Getting close, getting excited: first time in NYC for the kids!

The only picture we took - thank you Cindy!

The only picture we took – thank you Cindy!

Josh removed the pressure to do too much at once: instead, we could take time to see the city—and absorb it—at an unstressed pace. Like having ONLY two objectives for a daytrip (getting lost in the Frick, then meeting with some really special folks, old friends—Andy Halsey and Jane Coyne—for lunch in Central Park) instead of trying to cram in a half dozen more activities. These days, and new friends, were a wonderful gift for our family.

The kindness of strangers leads to a family photo op on the Brooklyn Bridge

The kindness of strangers leads to a family photo op on the Brooklyn Bridge

One of the only requirements the kids had for NYC: proper Dim Sum. check.

One of the only requirements the kids had for NYC: proper Dim Sum. check.

In Larchmont I finally started to get caught up on life and the email inbox again, but even better was reconnecting with a college friend I haven’t seen since graduation.  Those years (all 26 of them, yikes!) melted away on the afternoon Doriel and her sons spent on board. A phenomenon repeats itself in the reunions we’ve had this summer: how really great it is to find all the goodness we remember in old friends are all the goodness, somehow improved again with the addition of years.

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Doriel teaches elementary school in the NYC school district, and has a fantastic YouTube channel (LearnToGrowU) with her energetic and heartfelt reflections on experiences and inspiration. She’s pretty awesome—interest in teaching totally optional to appreciate these videos! She quizzed me on homeschooling / boat schooling for a spontaneous cockpit edition of #WhatTeachersDo.

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We felt compelled to take several pics at the Club with our college mascot, a camel.

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The Leach family from Keep Your Daydream came by, too. It’s always fun to meet up with other full-time traveling families: this crew is at the outset of their adventures, but has been producing interesting content about folks who have been out for some time. I think we got the kids on board with boat life vs RV life… not that we have an agenda, real!y 🙂

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This respite week also made it easier to visit the Mowery family. When folks like Rich and Liia engage here or via Totem’s FB page through the years, we really do feel like we know them – and it’s been great to turn those virtual conenctions into in-person meetups for a whole new raft of good memories. So we trundled up to Newtown, CT, for a late summer BBQ.

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Niall is so good with little ones like Aili! Girls loving on Kaia.

Dessert first (a good life rule in general!) at an award winning dairy farm / creamery nearby. Possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

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There’s one problem with all the generosity we’ve experienced from the last few weeks: our cache of karma is probably just about tapped!

Sailing south from Larchmont, we decided to day-trip our way to Chesapeake Bay instead of charging through with some overnight runs. Because how many times in your life is there a chance to watch sunset glow on the Manhattan skyline, at the foot of Libertas?

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PINCH ME. I cannot believe we were in this spot!

Just getting to that spot was more interesting than expected, because it turned out that the UN General Assembly was in session this week—which means total closure of the East River to all but ferries, 9am to 9pm. Whoops. You also have to carefully time transit on the East River based on tides, as the current is not worth fighting. You could say that messed up our plans, but flexibility around expected timing is the nature of cruising. No big deal, just something to work around! And so we spent an extra day in Larchmont, then another anchored under the Throg’s Neck Bridge, finding the juncture of time that let us get downriver with positive current before Homeland Security closed it down.

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Companions were first the working boats of the river, tugs and barges with debris or raw materials—later, our personal (and well armed) USCG escort. They waved back.

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We reveled in every minute of this spectacular anchorage off Liberty Island.

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It’s been a few days of transit south from there, our way to Annapolis for the SSCA gam and US Boat Show.

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Sliding between a car carrier and big barge at dawn, Verrazano Bridge.

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Watching for current and shallows in the shoals at the Atlantic City entrance

As I post this, we’ve just entered Chesapeake Bay. That’s a celebration worth of apple pancakes, real maple syrup (THANK YOU Conant family), and the last bacon on board! We’ll be the Chesapeake for at least a month, and probably longer. It feels like one part homecoming (are more “old friends we’ve never met” to finally hug in person) and one part inflection point, as we consider options for Totem to return to the tropics.

Meanwhile, everyone is looking forward to being parked in a place we can go ashore after four nights of anchorages without getting off the boat! Besides, we’re out of produce, milk, bacon, wine, and toilet paper…who provisioned this boat anyway?!

Waning Summer

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Come with me on a meander through the waning days of summer in New England, and memories built under the warmth of the sun. It blows me away how quickly this season has flown: how unexpectedly we find ourselves adding a layer in the evening, noticing the path of the sunset towards the south of west, feeling tick earlier of dusk. I even made soup for dinner the other night because everyone was chilly! Just a couple of weeks ago, it as so hot that even the “brisk” (~70F) temp of the Mystic River was tempting.

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It also was just a couple of weeks ago a period of summer vacation seemed to be starting, heralded by our open-boat party at the Noank. Hard work prepping in the sun… Niall took it upon himself to help his sisters keep cool while scrubbing deck.

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We had a blast welcoming people on board Totem to share what normal life on a cruising boat looks like, from how the fridge works to how small (and sloppy) my two shelves of clothing are. Of course it had to be one of the hottest days of summer! I lost count of the visitors somewhere north of fifty. By the way Don & Lisa — the kids keep asking if they’re going to see Grace again, OK? No pressure…
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The only problem with having so many visitors is that source of some truly excellent host gifts got muddled (not these, though- thank you Tammy-Jo, Jim, and Anne!). I have apparently done a good job of communicating my love for dark chocolate, dark rum, and chardonnay… not together, mind you, but mmmm… and you have to love that there is a rust-prevention lubricant in the mix. CRUISER GOLD!

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Burning indelible memories by recalling old ones flowed while getting together with friends we haven’t seen in a very long time. My childhood neighbor Wendy invited us to speak at the Ferguson Museum on Fishers Island, which turned into a whirlwind weekend of fun. It was really cool to hang out on their porch, looking out across the lawn to watch boats sailing down the Sound and talking like we’d only seen each other a few months before–not years.

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photo: Wendy O’Neil

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She and her husband are both artists: Wendy is a silversmith, Tom is an abstract painter. Walking through their island studio and learning from Tom about his work was pretty special, especially for the artistically inclined kids.

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There has been a host of reunions from all corners: from childhood and young adulthood and new parenthood, college and grad school, Michigan and Connecticut and Seattle.

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New encounters left lasting impressions, too. I’ve hoped for months to talk with Anne Patterson, founder of Solavore (where my much-loved solar oven comes from). Stars aligned to gather at her family’s off-the-grid haven on a little Connecticut island, and lunch turned into a photo shoot.

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It was a magical spot (secret!), and a great conversation–more on that soon! Meanwhile, does it get much more New England than this?

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Also new in our lives this summer, and indelibly impressed, are local Ocean Cruising Club port officer Sandy Van Zandt and his wife Sidney. Circumnavigators who make their fellow salty travelers feel at home on the Mystic River, this wonderful couple has done so much to help us feel welcomed and wanted.

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In addition to trading sea stories, they took us on a hike to extensive property that Sidney has worked tirelessly to acquire and preserve for conservation and public access. We couldn’t have had a better or more informative guide to educate us about native plants, invasive species, and dynamics of the environment (such as the pea-soup color of this pond– which is perfectly fine, despite the understandable gut reaction to the contrary!).

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Also in the mix, we hosted a few interviews on Totem! These smiley folks visited on behalf of the communications team at my alma mater, the nearby Connecticut College, for an article in the college’s magazine. I love how every time we have these conversations, our kids find a new piece of themselves to be proud of. They know they’re not normal, but don’t always appreciate just how much.

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We plan to depart Mystic after Labor Day weekend (just over a week- ack!!), and that list of “things we should do before we go”– like hit (the epic!) Defender for new lifejackets– is taking over.

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I admit, the photo from the entrance to Defender’s retail store / clearance outlet below is posed… but this IS the girl who still won’t wear shoes, and carries her flip flops with her to don if required.

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It’s not just Siobhan. This is how the troops are shod as we walk up from the river to the Mystic & Noank Library.

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Aboard Totem, Jamie works tirelessly on projects to get us ready to go again: here, replacing some slides on the main while Solavore cooks lunch.

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I’m getting quality time in with my sister-in-law, hot yoga mornings, and mentally stockpiling these beautiful views. Experimenting with HDR… not so sure about it… feels a little too, I don’t know, Kinkade or something…

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Our little corner of the Mystic River has gotten almost too comfortable. It’s wonderful, but we feel the itch, and as much as we’ll miss people here…are looking forward to pointing south towards new adventures soon.

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Besides, Siobhan’s wearing fleece already.

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Eight years down: how we fund the cruising life

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How can we afford the cruising life? Everybody wants to know, but few ask. Cutting to the chase: we’re not independently wealthy. How we’ve supported ourselves has changed over time. Today marks the first day in our ninth year of cruising (holy cow!): retracing those years in terms of our finances tells the tale.

On August 21, 2008, we untied the lines from our slip behind the pub in Eagle Harbor and set off to go cruising with a pocketful of savings from about a decade of anticipation, and six years of more intent planning. We never expected to be out this long. When we left Bainbridge Island for Mexico in 2008, we expected to be gone for at least two years…five, at the outside.

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2009: exploring in the Mogote, La Paz, Mexico

It was our assumption that as the kids approached high school age, they’d year for a more “normal” life. And then, we weren’t sure we’d be able to afford cruising. We were living off savings built up in anticipation of this interlude in our lives, and that money could only last so long.

2010: always a friendly lap in Fiji

2010: always a friendly lap in Fiji

At around the two year mark, we found ourselves scraping the bottom of the financial barrel. This was sooner than expected, but our hopes to fund additional years of sailing by selling our house were foiled by the real estate crash. Instead, we lost money monthly as the mortgage exceeded rental income: there was no option but going back to work. Sitting in Tahiti, we mapped out the possibilities: where could we sail to, by the end of the season, and find a job?

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The stars aligned around Sydney, so we worked our way steadily towards the western side of the Pacific over the course of 2010 and cashed that first Aussie paycheck when our bank account had dwindled to $100. For the next year and a half, our little family embraced the experience of trying on another country for size…and we pinched pennies to save amid a high cost of living.

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2011: Australia Day in Sydney Harbor, on MV Furthur

Australia indelibly imprinted on us, but six months of attending school in Brisbane cured our kids of any urge to attend “normal” school. With enough in the kitty to sustain us for a while again, they cheered the prospect of returning to homeschooling when we had a family meeting in mid-2012 to discuss plans to move on.

2012 – school uniforms in Brissie

2012: school uniforms in Brissie

Departing Australia opened a new chapter in our cruising lives. For all the aspects of living in Oz that we enjoyed, it also showed us that we no longer fit in. Jamie and I determined to find a new ways to support our family and continue cruising, so we wouldn’t have to repeat the cycle of working in a developed country…for a while, at least. Trying to pass for normal with people who couldn’t understand our real drives and motivations was draining, and pressures on the kids not what any of us wanted.

2013: temple style, Bali

2013: temple style, Bali

And so while sailing west through Indonesia during the first six months of 2013 we worked on ways to build a few streams of trickle income to sustain us. Returning to sailmaking after many years, Jamie discovered how much he has to offer as a cruising sailmaker, helping people get the right sail. I found new energy around sharing our life through writing, and building a bit of income from freelancing, this blog, and co-authoring Voyaging with Kids. At the same time, shifts in rent/mortgage allowed us to actually earn some income from our house, a welcome cushion when bigger boat projects piled up as we prepared Totem for the Indian Ocean.

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2014: reviewing and repacking the ditch kit

Last year, we spent our cruisiversary in East Africa, anchored off Cosmoledo—a  remote atoll in the southern Seychelles. Hunkered down to take shelter from rough conditions en route to Comoros, we had the company of friends for shared hikes, snorkeling, meals and laughs. Headed toward South Africa, our thin earnings weren’t going to be enough for extras: for the first time, we dug into retirement savings to avoid missing out on the rich experience of inland Africa.

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2015: weathering a blow with friends on Shakespeare

Now, with our eighth year behind us, financial dynamics are shifting yet again. Our house returns to the status of net expense instead of net income (curse you, adjustable mortgage!). But we’re building new sources of income doing something we truly enjoy: cruise coaching service, where we share what we know to help others through the steps to go cruising. What’s also different now is we’re a little more accustomed to the instability in ways our 2008 selves could never have imagined. We live on a thin margin. To make that work, in most years, our expenditures are well below the US poverty line for a family of five. Sure, it’s stressful! But we balance that with the opportunity, and it’s not a difficult choice. Our priorities are different.

2016: sunset on the Mystic river

2016: sunset on the Mystic river

Nobody is more surprised than I am that we are cracking into our ninth year of cruising: still out adventuring, exploring as a family, no plans beyond “Cuba sounds good” for this winter. Happy cruisiversary to us! Raising a glass to celebrate on the Mystic river tonight as the sun sinks behind Noank, grateful to chalk up another year of living adventurously.