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

A New England summer aboard

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DSC_9688Our summer in New England is half over: flying by! Dangerous, as we have a long list of projects and repairs to do on Totem…but before digging into them, we had a few people to visit, places to see, presentations to give.

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It was a great experience for all of us to share our stories at Falmouth Academy to a mix of people, instead of a more exclusively “cruiser/sailor” audience. The questions are great! It also afforded our kids an opportunity to get in front of a crowd, one of the ‘normal’ kid experiences ours don’t often have. But the pressure of getting up and speaking in front of a roomful of strangers is something just about everyone needs to learn, they’ve now had three chances to do that since we got back. Each time, it’s a little smoother – a little easier – a little less stressful.

For us, the loop around this corner of New England and our first busy weeks have been about much more than speaking opportunities. It was also a great way to meet up with old friends…those we’ve known from our pre-cruising lives, and those we only knew through email/blogs while we were away…like Rebecca from the catamaran Summertime Rolls, who set us up at the Nantucket Yacht Club.

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Backyard lounging at the Vaughans with Rebecca & Brian, and SV Calico Skies’ Grace and Bill

We’ve been lucky to see some of the best of the region, iconic names and places.

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Nantucket’s ridiculously picturesque lighthouse

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Looking towards the mainland from the high point of Cuttyhunk

The Mata’irea family treated us to a spread from the Cuttyhunk Shellfish Farm’s Raw Bar service. Call them up on VHF 72 for boat-side delivery of the sweetest oysters!

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There were two different tours at various Woods Hole institutes–coordinated by our friends at Falmouth Academy. Inspiring for anyone, and pure gold for the ocean lovers on Totem.

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BIG resident stripers outside WHOI’s Marine Biological Laboratory

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This isn’t even biologist humor! Only at MBL.

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Totally lucked out: ALVIN was in residence, preparing to ship out. ALVIN!!

The spin up to Massachusetts gave us another chances to be in range of my brother and his family for an additional round of “cousin camp.” Another is already planned!

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Last night, we picked up a mooring near Noank again. We’ll be here, in/around the Mystic river, for another month—hunkered down to projects done now.  Watching the Poet’s Lounge sailing charter go out for sunset cruises in the evening, while we welcome our own from Totem’s cockpit.

poets lounge

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And at the core of it all, time with family and friends. Jamie is originally from Mystic; much of his family is sprinkled between southeastern Connecticut and Rhode Island. I’m so glad Niall can get schooled on how to shuck oysters and clams from his great uncle Lance – I don’t think it’s something he’ll ever forget.

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Family time. #1 reason we’re here.

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Jamie’s aunt and uncle are here from South Africa, and we’ve been out on Totem with cousins who flew in from California.

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Jamie’s cousin Hillary (who I swear could be MY cousin) and her son Noah

And there’s something great about circles coming around, being out with the adult kids of dear friends… who are now some years older than Jamie was when he met their parents. DSC_9797

It will be nice to slow down for a few weeks, where morning walks with Jamie’s sister and her dogs are one of the few things scheduled.

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lets meetIn a couple of weeks, we’ll host an open boat party on Totem in the Mystic area. I don’t expect to post the location here, so if you’d like to join us (August 13, anytime between 3pm and sunset), get in touch! Low key hanging out, trading stories, enjoying a sunny summer afternoon.

Maintenance and repairs will keep us busy enough otherwise: we’re dogged by charging problems that started in the Caribbean and have only gotten worse. The broken stanchion is still broken. The “clears” on our dodger…aren’t. And then there’s the matter of kayak replacements. I need to replace all my Nikon gear, two bodies and three lenses, because it has a fungus that has twice defeated a professional servicing. ouch.

Come September we’ll begin our southbound journey, by way of many stops along the US east coast. Maybe by then we’ll have a better idea of our route for wintertime and beyond. At this point, it is still best summed up as “Cuba sounds great!”

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