Folk art and daydreams from Bequia

Sailing upwind in the Caribbean

Cruisers merrily claim they “go where the wind blows.” It’s sort of true, but implies a more laissez-faire approach than migration patterns belie. On the day we departed – just as hurricane season is waning – we saw more boats sailing north and away from Grenada with us than we saw during entire stretch from Tortola down to Grenada a few months ago, at hurricane season’s peak. Weather patterns are shifting, and the fleet is on the move!

Provisioning up for our own departure at the bustling Saturday farmer’s market in St George is a treat for the senses. Aromas of spice waft from streetside hawkers with the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and more grown in Grenada. This lush island produces a wealth of produce; we’ve been here just long enough that I want to see and thank a few particular vendors before sailing away, like the Rastafarian farm stall, where they make perfect selections for me (two avocado ready to eat today please, four more to ripen during the week).  Or smiling vendor of tasty vegetarian roti, dubbed “Blessed Love” in my head for the phrase he warmly repeats. And Jessie, who sells a variety of produce and spices in her stall, and patiently instructs me on how to prepare mauby bark into a tasty beverage…the moment captured by our friend Tony from the Wauquiez 38, Sage.

Grenada market fruitseller

I have a habit of buying more than I can easily carry at the St George’s market

Our destination a few months from now is Panama,but  instead of starting westward Totem has also joined the seasonal migration and sailed north. The primary reason is for Jamie to fly back to Puerto Rico for a follow up with the dermatologist (kids, wear your sunscreen!); Martinique’s busy airport makes this easier. But heading north also allows a stop in Bequia, an island that figured meaningfully in the long-ago dreams Jamie and I had to go cruising…one we passed by on our rush south to run away from the ‘canes.

sailboat arriving in Bequia

Arriving in Bequia: bonus crew, because a day-hop is more fun with a friend

For Jamie, a small boat shaped Bequia dreams: when he worked at the Fort Rachel marina in Mystic, Connecticut, he was given a wooden dory that needed repair. Six feet long, maybe a little more, it was alleged to date from the 19th century and came with a history that included months at sea becalmed in the south Atlantic. Wooden oarlocks, traditional fasteners, chipped layers paint…and the tales of origin from a small Caribbean island where whaling was still practiced, and wooden tenders like this built on the shoreline.

An apron was the unexceptional source of my Caribbean dreams: nearly two decades ago when we had babies instead of teenagers, my mother found an apron proclaiming “BEQUIA” in uneven stitching at the top, appliquéd with designs depicting island life scattered over the cotton cloth. Colorful fabric shapes formed women at work: one pounded grain, another carried a basket on her head. Birds swirled over the silhouettes of the island, and fishermen lured their catch from a small boat. Someday I’d visit this Bequia, and see what Caribbean life was like for myself.

R Williams appliqued apron

As if confirmation that this apron is at least as much folk art as utilitarian, stitched at the bottom hem was the name of the artist: “R Williams.” With Bequia in reach: could I possibly find this person?

Dinghy dock Bequia

Dinghy dock at Bequia

In fact, what seemed an insurmountable task for a short stop (2 nights, fewer days) was manifest into reality shortly after setting foot on the island. A charmed series of referrals spaced in mere minutes lead to two women in the craft bazaar. Turning the lightly soiled apron over in their hands, they murmured over the design before proclaiming “this here is Miz Rita’s work,” and told me how to find her – leaving me speechless. R had a name. Not only that, but Rita Williams lived just a short walk away! Less than an hour from arrival in Bequia I had the gift of thanking Rita Williams, and telling her how much I loved this cotton cloth she’d years ago stitched into a functional work of art, and how it played a part in fueling my dreams to sail away. Sitting at her bedside, Rita shared about her life, about Bequia, about the stories behind those appliqués: men talking while they fish, women cooking whale meat in a coal stove, the effort and celebration of a community when one of the grand mammals is taken.

Rita Williams folk artist

Rita laughed her way through decades of reminiscing!

It opened a whole new world, and put Bequia in a whole new light. I returned the next day with the rest of the family. Rita graciously retold her stories, teaching the intangible truths about her culture, offering the treasure of human connection and sharing we seek in this nomadic life. In one fell swoop she’s one of the unforgettable figures shaping our time in the Caribbean. She’s a window into the past: crafts bazaar now has few locally-made items, featuring instead a lot of generic Caribbean-themed shirts with scenes of rastas and ganga, referencet to rum and pirates, made in another continent and stamped “BEQUIA” (and probably repeated for JAMAICA, ST VINCENT, DOMINICA, and others). Bedridden after having her foot amputated a few years ago, Rita’s no longer sewing.

We skipped a lot of anchorages, passed up a lot of “must-do” experiences. A few cruisers asked why we were moving so fast. For boats that don’t expect to leave the Caribbean, I guess it is a dizzying pace. And while I do wish we had time to explore more of the Grenadines, and I do wish we had the budget for a lobster BBQ on the beach, and I do wish we could have done more of hiking on these inviting ridgelines, we are at peace with how we travel on our terms. There is always more than we can possibly see, but I’m so glad we didn’t miss Rita’s stories.

Sucking down what are possibly the world's best popsicles - tipped off by the SV Party of Five crew. SO GOOD

Sucking down what are possibly the world’s best popsicles – tipped off by the SV Party of Five crew. SO GOOD

Bequia waterfront and dory

Bequia waterfront… and a wooden dory?

Awesome Ted: the best of cruiser culture

Ted and Claudia in the tender Hades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of the tribe

boat show Setup Carolyn and Lin

It’s barely 24 hours since I returned to Totem, rocking at anchor in Grenada. For nearly two weeks I was stateside, away from Jamie and the kids for what’s popularly known as “the Annapolis Boat Show.” The US Sailboat Show draws boaters from all over, and owns a reputation as THE show in north America. Two main roles filled my time at the event: for the first four days of the show, supporting legendary circumnavigator Lin Pardey in her booth, promoting the books she’s published (including Voyaging With Kids). Then, for four days I gave seminars at Cruisers U, working to inspire and educate gonna-go cruisers at the Naval Academy’s elegant Officers Club. Tucked between: a seminar and panel for Cruising World magazine.

Cruising World panel: Dave Gillespie, Wally Moran, Brittany Meyers, Diana Emmanuelli, and moi

Cruising World panel: Dave Gillespie, Wally Moran, Brittany Meyers, Diana Emmanuelli, and moi

Not gonna lie: this was series of long days without a break, a schedule that takes momentum to carry through. By necessity, my personal energy switch was flipped to “on” for the duration, from morning starts through evening events after the show closed for the day. On my feet most of the time, whether it was in the booth or in front of a classroom, there are a host of reasons this should have been exhausting. I dialed back on evening fun in the interest of self-preservation so I could hit the next day running: I worried about being able to get through on a high note.

As it turned out, there was a positive feedback loop at the show that kept me running. It feels so good to be among the tribe of people who “get it” – the fellow sailors who are, have, or aspire to take off and explore the world afloat. In fact, there was SO MUCH positive energy in this event that the only thing physically exhausted in its wake are my cheeks, which ache from so much smiling. Sharing my enthusiasm for cruising, passing that to others, feeds my soul.

Smiles and hugs booth

Lin’s booth was an all-star team of mostly-estrogen-powered fun. The open smile from past/future cruiser Nica Waters, my very good friend (and fellow admin at Women Who Sail), and open arms of The Boat Galley’s awesome Carolyn Shearlock got us dubbed the “smiles and hugs” booth thanks to the warm reception to visitors stopping by. We simply could not resist! All cruising questions answered, to the best of our breadth and depth.

Lin, Nica, me and Carolyn

Lin, Nica, me and Carolyn

Local sailor Craig was our rock, the guy who ducked back after hours to protect books when rain threatened (and knew exactly which pub to go for dinner nearby, and where to find Real Coffee). Together we made an indefatigable team.

Craig and Behan

What a joy to see the reactions and expressions people who have read Lin’s tales of her multi-circumnavigations over the years finally meet their hero. Meeting up with readers of the Sailing Totem blog and families who have been inspired by Voyaging With Kids gave me tremendous pleasure as well. It’s invigorating to share my enthusiasm for what we’ve done with people who may feel that their path towards cruising is ponderous or distant…to revive their conviction that all the planning, all the anticipation, are worth the time and effort…or those who just need a nudge of positive reinforcement.

And then there were the awesome humans like the Flora family, who came by with their three kids to talk about bluewater plans – and seeing how busy things were, came back to hand us lunch. Laurie & Alex, you are the  reason we ate on Friday afternoon, thank you!

Laurie and Alex Flora

Over the top were the Sailing Totem readers who showed up flying the colors: wearing our crew t-shirts at the show! I cannot tell you how very happy it made me to see them popping up around the show (one wearer, John from SV Last Chance, laughed with me saying “people keep asking me if I’m Jamie!”).

tshirt page

(These shirts are awesomely soft, comfy organic cotton—order them online here and send us a pic!)

Connecting with the show’s importance

In the stretch leading up to this journey I wasn’t the best partner or parent. Glued to my laptop preparing or refining presentations, making sure I was ready for the various seminars and panels where I’d speak, I didn’t have a lot of time for my family. In the middle of this stretch of work, one of our coaching clients wanted to know: is it worthwhile to attend the show? I couched my response in terms of the pros/cons: outlay to attend, vs value derived – a cold look at the tradeoffs, as we try to offer a balanced view with all coaching questions. Possibly due to the weight of prep, I was less positive than I might have been. That was wrong (sorry Jason, sorry Terry!).

John Mahowald - SV Last Chance

In the wake of a stimulating trip comes fresh appreciation for the true value of the show, for two reasons. First, it is communing with the cruising tribe. I AM ACCUSTOMED to the company of cruisers. Of course, right? But I remember all too well how the years leading up to our departure were most challenging when we felt disconnected from this particular band of humans. Staying in touch with the mutual love we have blended from wanderlust and water affinity that prompts us to set sail. It’s important to nurture, when you have a wait until you can cast off. In Annapolis, you are surrounded by your people, and at the US Sailboat show, the energy of this tribe boosts dreams into plans and realities.

With the unstoppable Pam Wall: my partner in the two-day Cruising Women seminar

With the unstoppable Pam Wall: my partner in the two-day Cruising Women seminar

Second, the opportunity to access tremendous expertise. Friend and longtime maritime world denizen, Bill Parlatore, asked recently (paraphrasing): why are people willing to ask important questions online, and then accept bad advice in responses from total strangers? (This, by the way, is a major reason why we offer coaching services to help people go cruising!). The Annapolis boat show, and seminar series in particular, is an excellent place to learn from people with real, relevant experience. People who have been there / done that and aren’t just hiding behind a screen, feeding a psychological need to be heard instead of actually being useful. They include subject matter experts, and range from legends like Jimmy Cornell and Nigel Calder to champions of the voyaging future like 59 North’s Andy & Mia. (Pinch me, I still can’t believe I’m on that roster?!).

Yes, it’s costly to go when you’re not local and have to book flights and accommodations on top of entry fees, and that has to be weighed. But the quality of information to be gleaned must be counted in addition to the intangible value in connecting with the tribe of fellow boaters WHO GET IT is tremendous.

THIS is why the trip did not flatten me: the cruising community’s cultural bias towards mutual support. The positivity in this knowledge sharing to promote a lifestyle that I believe—in my heart of hearts—makes the world a better place, well…it’s uplifting, and a boost instead of a drain.

Catching up with friends

On the edge of the show schedule were many happy reunions. The crews of FIVE boats–and even some of the boats!–that we knew mainly from Southeast Asia were in Annapolis: the happy chance to reconnect some years after we last shared an anchorage (besos to Rutea, Solstice, Kite, Camomile, and Hokule’a!). A memorable evening with one of our readers-turned-friends-turned-found family (John, I am so grateful to have you in our lives.). Catching up on life over the best pork ribs ever with local sailors we met last year. In what has become an annual event, my dear friend Cindy and her family—cruisers and long time Annapolis liveaboards—hosted an evening at their marina, feeding and watering and sharing friendship among this yearly circle of sailors. Another two-years-running-let’s-call-it-annual pizza night with couples and families Jamie and I work with as cruising coaches, put real humans to the Skype/Facetime relationships.

It is a great feeling helping people make their cruising dreams a reality!

It is a great feeling helping people make their cruising dreams a reality!

The admin team for Women Who Sail is TIGHT. We back each other up and mind-meld while moderating a group of about 13,000 women boaters. Having three of us together in one place? Priceless. Meeting dozens of other WWS members on the roof of Pussers? Unforgettable and heck yeah we’ll keep doing that every year!

With fellow admins Anne and Nica - I love these women! - and a host of WWS members

With fellow admins Anne and Nica – I love these women! – and a host of WWS members

Yes, I've been waiting a long time to meet awesome captain / ASA instructor Angie Wilson.

Yes, I’ve been waiting a long time to meet awesome captain / ASA instructor Angie Wilson.

Some of the old friends were actually first time in-person meets. Michael Robertson, one of my two co-authors for Voyaging With Kids, who I met for the very first time (I still need to meet Sara!). That’s right– I HAD NEVER MET MY CO-AUTHORS. We wrote that book entirely though email and Dropbox! And then– despite years of contact, and connection as fellow boat mamas, the show was the first time meeting Brittany Meyers (Windtraveler). We had an “almost meet” in Thailand a few years ago with Tasha Hacker (Chase the Story), who like Brittany was just so good to put hands on, and look in the eyes, and… shriek and laugh and generally revel in finally meeting up!

Behan- Brittany- Gretchen- Tasha annapolis 2017

It’s the sum of so much kindness of friends old and new. Booth delivery of the obligatory Painkiller (Mary Marie, would you believe that’s the only one I had the whole time?!) and gifts to bring back for our kids (you know who you are – xoxo!), and… well, ….this. Jamie posted to our Facebook page that he’d purchased a new top-loading washing machine in my absence (in shiny white, replacing the deteriorating blue model)…these fantastic readers couldn’t resist showing up at the booth with an improved plunger, designed specifically for agitating bucket laundry. Cracked me right up! The kids thank you!

boat show plunger - with inset- jen brett

Homeward bound

I gave myself a break on the way home. There was probably a faster way, but sleeping in and spending a gentle morning with the very special “found family” I have on SV Majestic… then flying to Florida for another night with two girlfriends in Miami… well. This was the restorative, high-JdS+Cover+Smallenergy-optional respite I needed to come down from the high of the show. As much as I thrive on sharing my enthusiasm, the break to relax in the company of friends who let me be my sometimes messy self was the necessary balm.

Casualty of an overfull mind, I left my Kindle behind in Miami. I thought I’d save this book (kindly inscribed by the author at the show) until back aboard Totem. Instead, Jean-du-Sud and the Magick Byrd, Yves Gelinas’ page turner—a memoir in the vein of Moitessier —carried me over the Caribbean sea, lost in the story of his southern ocean travails while he completed a solo circumnavigation. (Finally available in English, it’s just been published by 59 North: find it on their website, or get a Kindle edition from Amazon)

I read on the plane, watching the familiar shapes of Bahamian islands drift below, letting the many positive experiences of the trip sink in. For all the reasons above, and for many other little joys in the everyday that come from shifting our scenery and rhythm. Like the awesome Lyft driver, Edmund, who made such good company the first day I finagled to book him the rest of my stay. The maternal West Indian woman who fed me vegetables from her in-flight meal (mine didn’t look nutritious enough) will telling stories of her scattered family. The unexpected meet with future cruisers in what were otherwise cold over-chilled empty spaces in the airport lounge.

At some point I wondered if we’d be making it back to future shows but with fresh hindsight, I can’t imagine missing now. Jamie and I are already working out where we’ll be and which airport to fly from and can’t wait to be back next year.

In Miami with Kerry (ThumbsUp International) and Patty (Voyage into Healing)

In Miami with Kerry (ThumbsUp International) and Patty (Voyage into Healing)

You know you're with your tribe when they pick you up in a dinghy

You know you’re with your tribe when they pick you up in a dinghy

Two oceans of friendship, and counting

Two oceans of friendship, and counting

zach liz stineSailing Women rock- Galway pub

"As seen" at the boat show

“As seen” at the boat show

Cruising the Bahamas: beauty at our back door

Girls hiking in the Bahamas

snorkeling coral reef BahamasHard won miles to windward from the cerulean blue of our last Bahamian anchorage, some perspective on our months in the islands is sinking in. I went in with a mixed bag of expectations: friends who have sailed around the world claim it’s among the best cruising to be had (don’t we all love our first major destination?). Other cruisers who don’t have that far-reaching basis for comparison rave about it (was there narrower base of comparison at play?). It put me on guard: were we REALLY going to like it that much? How could islands so close to the USA possibly offer that kind of exceptional experience?

Confession: I spent too much of our time there being jaded and just needed to get over it. So what if the Bahamas didn’t measure up in discrete specifics to more exotic locales? On its own merits, the islands are a spectacular cruising ground, and there is a lot to love. These are the reasons it stood out in our experience.

It’s spectacular. There is almost nothing more to say. We’ve seen a lot of mesmerizing water on our way around the world, and the Bahamas (tie: Bermuda) is at the top of the heap. It’s as though it is lit from within: and it is, in a way, as sunlight reflecting off a white sandy bottom is what lends the vivid blues. Stunning shades of aqua in the winding inner channel of the Exumas are now my benchmark. A gift for cruisers starting out from the US east coast: their first international step can transport them to some of the best! UNDERwater is another story, but we’ll save that for later.

Photos can't do the colors justice, but offer a suggestion

Photos can’t do the colors justice, but offer a suggestion

It’s a DAY trip! Sure, there is a meaningful bit of water to cross and the Gulf Stream deserves all the respect and planning you can give it. But at the end of the day, well… at the end of the day in which you depart Florida, you can be relaxing on the hook in Alice Town or West End, and rightfully feel like you have transported yourself a world away to an island paradise where you can beachcomb for intricate shells, paddle in turquoise water, gawk at mountains of conch shells, maybe even swim with dolphins (all features of our point of arrival, Bimini).

swimming with dolphins

How to describe the feeling of being approached by a playful dolphin?

This proximity also helped when Jamie and I had to fly out. I was gone a week for the Annapolis spring boat show; Jamie hopped around Florida and the Caribbean checking out boat listings with a few of our coaching clients. Even in what felt like relatively remote islands, flights were easy to book on relatively short notice and fares weren’t terrible. What a great way to cruise in a place that’s relatively easy to have visitors! And if you’re sailing back to the US, it’s likely to be with the wind at your back…and an easier task to find a date to cross the Gulf Stream in comfort.

If you came for the sand you’ll be in paradise. If you came for the avocados to make guacamole to go accompany nacho chips that cost $11/bag, then carry on to Puerto Rico!

Sure, you may want to provision up anything you must have; you might not find it and it will cost more when you do. But it’s a corollary of “close to home,” these islands aren’t in the middle of an ocean. They’re regularly supplied by mail boats (or planes). Costs can be eyepopping (especially for our hungry crew…wow the kids were easier to feed when they were little!), but that’s if you’re trying to recreate your Publix shopping cart at a market on Eleuthera. Mitigate expense with advance provisioning or switching your diet to local style: market rates or government subsidy keep many staples affordable. Get out the fishing gear. Shift your habits. Eat on board instead of ashore.

cracked conch

Conch at a pier on Eleuthera: 7 for $10

Ultimately, availability wasn’t as bad as I expected from reports. In George Town, it as possible to get everything from kale to mushrooms and shallots. Markets in Staniel Cay had surprising breadth: asparagus anyone? (thanks I’m sure to the higher-end charters frequenting the area and providing a ready market to supply.)

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Bounty after the mail boat: George Town, Great Exuma

If you need boat parts, it’s a little different. People don’t need diesel mechanics the way they need food. But help is there, and parts are just a DHL shipment away. Many corners of the world are a lot more complicated, and lot slower / more costly, if it’s necessary to source and deliver boat bits. So you may have to wait a bit…there are few places that wouldn’t be lovely to be required to wait around!

We started out by using our existing US T-Mobile plans. T-Mobile’s customer service crowed about the 4G we’d be living in the Bahamas, leveraging the BTC cellular network that’s already in place. Well, there was broad coverage. That’s incredible, really, considering the dispersed islands and thin population. But the service was throttled back to 2G. Fine if you’re just checking email, but really not good enough for what it cost. No problem: swapping our T-Mobile SIM card for a BTC SIM was affordable and easy. $15 for the SIM, and during our stay, 15 gigabytes cost only $35 – much better value than our paused T-Mobile plan and about the cheapest per-GB rate yet.

Despite being entirely off pace with the seasonal flow of the Bahamas, the islands lived up to their reputation as a social hub for cruisers. Our timing meant that we experienced it on a smaller scale (George Town peaks with more than 300 boats; there were maybe a dozen transients when we came in). But we were able to meet up with “internet friends” passing on the way to the states, and make new friends who, like us, had plans to point to the Caribbean for hurricane season.

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An overdue meetup with the Tookish crew, plus friends

US east coasters in particular seem to make a big deal about shallow Bahamas water limiting access to all but shallow draft boats. Depths require attention, but it is NOT a big deal. Shallower draft boats can anchor closer to the beach. Once in a while they can take a shortcut that we can’t, or skip waiting for higher tide. Repeat: it is not a big deal. We draw 6’; we spent time with a boat drawing 7’, neither of us felt compromised in our anchoring or locked out from cool spots.

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Siobhan peeks under Totem’s keel: at times we only had a few inches at low tide

The Bahamas was largely a straightforward place to cruise. Same language, much of the same cultural context, it’s safe, there are oodles of blogs and other resources to help plan a trip. Currency is 1:1 with the US dollar, and US currency is accepted everywhere. It really does not get much easier! But I can appreciate that for cruisers who are reaching beyond the US coast for the first time, it may feel …not easy. And of course, it’s Not America, and with that may creep in some uncertainty. The cure for that is the Waterway Guide. Updated annually, it includes exhaustive detail to relieve any worries a new cruiser (or, newly international cruiser) might have from the clearance process (an overall view and details what to do / where to go at each port of entry) to understanding the unique dynamics of the tide in the Bahamas (they have a great description that helped it make perfect sense to me) – along with all that normal logistical guide stuff of places to go, conch shacks to patronize, and reefs to snorkel. It’s the only book you need.

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Late-season flock anchored off Monument Beach, George Town

The same folks who think you need shoal draft boats to cruise the Bahamas warn about bad charts and currents and tides and dragons. Dunno about the dragons but just like depth, current/tide merely requires attention. It’s not unduly complicated, but may be new for boaters accustomed to channel markers wherever you might need them and aids to navigation for any hazard. Possibly that’s why the Explorer charts have developed an otherwise puzzling cult following. After being at the receiving end a mountain of FUD, we finally conceded to buy a set. They WERE good charts, but along our winding path from Bimini through the Exumas to Great Inagua, Navionics charts (used with the iNavX app) were pretty much spot on (save a few places where we found more depth than they indicated). And speaking of FUD, that’s what Explorer throws at boaters who just want to anchor. In one anchorage after another Explorer reported bad holding where we set the hook very well, thank you. They also advertise a lot of marinas…

We maxed out the three months we were granted on entry to the Bahamas. What we didn’t max out where the opportunities to explore. Always good to leave something wanting? One aspect is certain: the further away from the US we got, the better we liked the Bahamas. Had our earlier plans not relied on pauses and airports while Jamie and I took care of business, I kinda think we might have tipped over into full-fledged the Bahamas cheerleaders. There were just a few things that held us back, though, and that’s the next post.

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Drones-eye-view to the north at Stocking Island, Exumas

Beautiful everyday Bahamas

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pinterest beautiful bahamasTotem floats in water so crystalline she almost looks suspended in air; her shadow paints a dark splotch on the sand below. One anchorage after another, the incredible water of the Bahamas is the stuff of magazine covers that were surely photoshopped (maybe not, after all!); so beautiful it defies belief.

High clouds chasing the horizon serve as reminders for the march forward and the factors out of our control. The goal to reach Grenada in July feels remote, as the easterlies–which should be backing off–have sent up one day after another of 15+ knots coming out of the exact direction in which we’d like to go. Day-hopping puts a few miles away, but the magic feeling of flying along under sail is elusive.

Still running counter-current to the flow of boats, and that’s OK. The short term routing plan changes with every shift in the weather as we look at our options and work out how to go the “wrong” way most comfortably, while squeezing in as many of the spectacular anchorages of the Bahamas as possible along the way. Maybe eventually these turquoise blues fade into the everyday sameness, but that’s hard to imagine.

There is no hardship in the slow pace, and days of wonder slip by as we incrementally progress. Headed in our direction are boats we’ve “known” for years without meeting in person, and it’s been a joy to intersect. They bring reminders of the mellower pace of a convivial cruising life we’ve not had for a while, the better side of cruising, and many things to be thankful for!

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To days on the beach, sand between our toes, taking the time to talk story, enjoy wildlife, and just hang out.

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To nights with just enough rum – or maybe a little bit too much! – and the fuzzy pictures for remembering them. And these kids! How lucky do we feel to have another great bunch around, even it it’s just briefly?

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To the discovery that people who we’d only known remotely were, if possible, even more wonderful in person, and who indulged my Pavlovian response to the word “hug” from people I care about.

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To finding new friends headed down a similar path, and the anticipation of shared anchorages ahead.

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Old dogs are learning new tricks on slower days, and having fun playing with the tools, although there’s a looooooong way down that road! Last December, we picked up a deeply discounted DJI Phantom 3 Pro during the frenzy of holiday sales. It proceeded to spend most of the following months languishing in the original box as we scared ourselves with stories of newbie drone-flying disasters. We finally got over it.

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A “practice drone” (read: crashable) from our friends Scott & Sara made for great raining wheels, and the Phantom is FINALLY getting put to active use. The images it provides– from Totem floating in the Stocking Island monument anchorage at the top, to the flyover our anchorage at Conception Island below– capture the feeling of these places for our permanent digital memory in a vibrant new way. Now we’re on the lookout for the next trainee to pass the practice drone to; if that’s you, raise your hand!

For bang-for-the-buck photography fun, the winner is the dome we got for our GoPro (make sure you get a cover: they scratch very easily!). For around fifty bucks, the half above / half underwater shots are just tremendously cool, and it’s fun to keep trying to get the “perfect” shot of Totem in the glorious Bahamian water. We’ve gotten a few winners but none to beat the one with a nurse shark just hanging out down below. They are slow, docile creatures but this one practically posed for Jamie!

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Despite appearances, things haven’t been perfect, and it’s more than the easterlies. I’ll regale anyone who wants at a later time about the problems with our new battery bank, with the aft head pump mechanism that broke (again), with the portable generator that’s wheezing, with the shoddily installed headliner that’s dropping, with the mysterious spiny things that got into Ruby and Siobhan’s feet in the lagoon, with… you get the idea.

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Sharing the less glowing realities of cruising is fine. Great, even, because I don’t want to be unrealistic. Today I’m choosing to revel in the highs of the last stretch instead of the lows. And yes, in a none-too-subtle nod to how we assume our lives often appear from the outside: there were actually UMBRELLA DRINKS served recently… on a sweet catamaran (it’s for sale!), with an even sweeter family, nibbling on Cuban guava paste on imported cheese. Because more often than not this cruising life is just that honeyed.

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Archetypical Bahamas, sort of

sailboat tropical sea cruising the bahamasCruising boats flow back to the US for hurricane season this time of year. Our path is counter-current thanks to our seasonally late departure from Florida and slow pace through the Bahamas. It’s less than 300 miles to Florida from where Totem lies at anchor near George Town; more than 1,100 nm of sailing stand between us and our hurricane season destination of Grenada. Compounding our situation: it is against prevailing conditions (easterly breezes) instead of with them. Yes, it really is time to get a move on!

Being off-sync means missing out on some of the expected (and anticipated) experiences of these beautiful islands. I have a long list of “must see” spots, favorites from respected friends seeking to share their love of the Bahamas. We’ll miss most of those spots. I don’t know how to justify our acceptance of this without sounding jaded, but we aren’t too fussed at the prospect of missing many of lauded Bahamas cruiser experiences. We’ll do we do best: make the most of where we find ourselves.

Meanwhile, Totem crew is hardly missing out on the rituals of Bahamian cruising life with various rituals and shenanigans to indulge in though a handful of stops in the Exumas–near Staniel Cay, and at our current anchorage near George Town.

At Big Majors Spot, sundowners were hoisted each evening on “Pirate Beach” (there’s a sign and everything) at 5 sharp.

Jamie brings in our Meori trug: nibbles on one half, beverages in the other side's nested compartment.

Jamie brings in our Meori trug: nibbles on one half, beverages in the other side’s nested compartment.

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Sailboat 50 50 underwater photo Bahamas clear blue water

Boston whaler, Float toy, and red wine: what could possibly go wrong?

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The same setting held a handful of health-conscious cruisers gathering to exercise in the morning.

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The gentle workout is led by former nurse and unfailingly upbeat Laurie from MV Forever Young, who lends her considerable positive energy to make fun for all: she organizes potlucks periodically too, typically to share from the bounty of mahi she and her husband catch.

Anchor lights come up as dinghies head home

Anchor lights come up as dinghies head home

Game time on the beach: whiling away an afternoon in the shade playing Mexican Train dominoes with new and familiar cruisers.

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Beautiful view, cool drink, good conversation, and a fun game—OK!

A few minutes dinghy ride away are the pigs. THOSE pigs, the famous Bahamian swimming pigs, which now crop up on Cays all over the islands but reputedly originated here. They’re cute—I guess? Juvenile piglets are charming, but the bigger pigs—and they get BIG—have a reputation for literally biting the hand that feeds them. I think I know more people who were injured by the pigs than not! We had to check them out but with some apprehension.

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Mairen and Siobhan’s body language express how we all felt

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This large sow (300 pounds?) did an effortless lap around the dinghy hoping for a handout. Pork belly!

The anchorage would fill and drain cyclically with weather forecasts, as boats took advantage of good conditions to get across the Gulf Stream. Silver lining: as boats intersect heading in the opposite direction, we’ve been able to have some memorable meetings. Many moons of following Allison and Bo from Sailing B+A, messages traded, and they were even more fun in person than I ever imagined.

Love meetups with people we've 'known' online!

The dynamic and engaging crew of Selah: love meetups with people we’ve ‘known’ online!

Snorkeling with them and the awesome Ruby Rose crew, Nick & Terysa, to Thunderball grotto and taking advantage of Bo’s skill for the “us-ie” to get a group shot:

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Biggest treat for the kids: TEENS, as we converged with multiple kid boats in their age range. A real treat and one that buoyed their spirits.

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Speeding their way to hang out with other teens on Allegro

Tracks that converged, intersected, and moved on in different directions refreshed an aphorism of the cruising life. Goodbyes happen all too often. It can be especially hard on the kids, who have fewer opportunities to hang out with peers.

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Teen conversation circle on the beach

The flip side: these encounters grow a circle of amazing people in our lives. Goodbyes aren’t forever, and the other reminder is that in a round world there are ample opportunities to meet again. Next to Totem: SV Infini, who we last shared an anchorage with in Thailand more than three years ago!

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Land your dinghy by the kiln-looking rock, then look for cairns to find the path

I do wish we could have stopped in more of the “amazing—you’ll love it!” spots along the Exumas. We made a few and tips from friends and readers here lead us to great spots, like the cave north of Little Farmer (thanks Jessie!).

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20 sweaty uphill minutes later, Mairen cools off in a stalactite hung cavern

But the out-island experiences we hope to find ahead draw me even more! We’re stocking up in George Town, with an eye on winding through out islands on our way to the BVIs. This is THE scene for cruisers in the Bahamas, with over 300 boats during peak season a couple of months ago. Organized activities cover every day and night of the week, from “beach church” to water aerobics and poker / hold-em nights. I’m pretty sure there’s a coconut painting class. The small-scale taste of this near Staniel Cay was a lot of fun–the bigger cast, not quite our bag. A blast for folks who make this their home-away-from-home but the quieter, more remote islands ahead are what I’m excited about. That said, WOW is George Town convenient for getting things done! We filled a propane tank, topped up some diesel, and chose from a grocery store spread that included such Bahamas-luxury-items as asparagus, leeks, shallots, and mushrooms… and the best price on lettuce I’ve seen since we arrived in the Bahamas. I think there are 11 heads of romaine in our fridge right now!

With luck we’ll have weather to go offshore from Mayaguana and make easting; the route is as certain as the forecast two weeks out! Along the way, enjoying wherever Totem’s anchor drops.

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Happy boat kids, happy boat

0 kids in the berrysCruising is great for families! Cruising grows healthy kids! Cruising kids are exceptionally well socialized! Cruising can provide kids a broad world view! These are true, but oversimplifications. For all the great benefits to be derived from this lifestyle, it won’t work for a family if the kids aren’t happy, and you can’t take happy kids for granted. Starting young, it’s less complicated; older kids who have to separate more meaningfully from routines and friends in particular are more challenging.

We started in a magic window of ages when our kids (newly turned 4, 6 and 9) mostly wanted to hang out with mom and dad. Friends were important, but our nuclear family was most important. Every child is unique and every family will experience this differently, but I believe it to be generally true and a circumstance that’s fostered and maintained close relationships in our family.

2 tight family relationships

As kids grow older, it’s progressively important that they have other kids to hang out with. Nomadic kids have a lower bar for friends to enter that playgroup circle: they quickly unlearned the false importance of age, gender, interests, or other artificial boundary lines.

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Niall’s happy to go off with parents and a young boy as buddies for a dinghy adventure

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Niall plays airplane with Mathilda while sisterhood happens with boat kids in a range of ages

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It’s not uncool to play with a three year old.

That next best friend isn’t an anchorage away.  Occasionally, yes, but it takes planning more than serendipity or you’ll have lonely kid(s). This costs a big element of control for your route planning: not easy, especially for families planning a shorter sabbatical cruise with a vision for where they want to go.

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Four kid boats, middle of the Indian Ocean…not by serendipity, but by planning.

If an important driver for plans needs to be finding and connecting and hanging out with the other boat families…HOW do you do this?
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Every region has a hub and a season where boats gather: get yourself there, and you’ll connect with families. Those families may become your buddy boats, or the boats that connect you with your kids’ next best cruising kid friend. Marathon / Boot Key Harbor, Florida, collect cruising families as boats stage to head to the Bahamas for the winter; as the season picks up, it’s George Town, Bahamas where you’ll find them. Prickly Bay, Grenada, gets the biggest kid boat call during hurricane season and St Martin / Sint Maarten seems to be a crossroads in general.

Every other boat has a blog/Instagram/YT channel/Facebook page. Dial into the kid boat community online, and use that as a way to find, track, and connect with other families. This is one of the reasons SailingTotem has an active family blogroll page to browse.

Another good resource is the Kids4Sail group: there’s an admin post around the first of the month with regional check-ins to help families find each other.

The anchorage mapping tool we use for Totem, Farkwar, has a “fleet” for kid boats. At one URL (and a bit of clicking/dragging) I can see which boats in the fleet are near us—and follow boats in our region that we hope to catch up with (like the three teens on Allegro!).

Farkwar screenshot

Each of those waypoints is a boat with kids: several with teens, even!

Don’t just follow families, reach out! As a parent of teens on board I LOVE IT when another family with teens reaches out to see if we can connect when they see we may be in the same region. We help each other out with introductions to each other, since plenty of families aren’t as active in social media.

West coast cruisers have it much easier: cruising boats flow in a linear path along the coastline. In the South Pacific, they migrate along a seasonal route, the so-called Coconut Milk Run, westward with a dip down to New Zealand or Australia during the southern hemisphere cyclone season. Boats arriving in French Polynesia from Mexico will have known each other for months already; new friends enter with the Caribbean fleet sailing down from Panama.

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Shoes, still overrated.

The myriad of routing options from boats departing the US east coast for the Caribbean complicates things; it’s less likely to happen organically, especially for tween/teens. I’m told the Mediterranean is similar, where again there are a wealth of options for routing instead of a linear progression followed by most cruisers. And some regions, well, they’re simply off the beaten path: South America. The Indian Ocean. We loved our year in remote Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia, but it was many moons without another family boat and were REALLY READY for socializing by the time we reached more trafficked cruising grounds. Being around other kid boats is a choice that requires engagement.

On Totem we’re lucky to have a built in tribe. Our kids are tight, and their reliance on each other has surely strengthened this bond.

1 they have each other

After a presentation in Miami last month, Niall responded to a question from the audience about the social side cruising as a teen. He has perspective on the pros and cons, but summarized it by saying “my sisters are my best friends.” I might have teared up a little, but it’s true.

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Wonderful as it is that they are so tight, they also need OTHER kids. Staying in touch with cruising friends through email and texting is important: they routinely use Google Hangouts to chat with friends across several continents, maintaining long term relationships. They’re important, but not a replacement for in-person interactions.

With teens aboard, the happiness calculus gets more complicated. FOMO goes to a whole new level for kids that rely on phone/internet to feel connected. There’s a whole chapter in Voyaging With Kids dedicated to the unique needs and perspective of teens.

The teen bonfire, carefully spaced away from their parents

The teen bonfire, carefully spaced away from their parents: Maldives 

Personal space is key (Siobhan and Mairen have already worked out who gets Niall’s cabin when he leaves for college). For families looking at moving aboard, it’s not just the physical space but how they personalize it to make it theirs. As teens build and connect with their growing identities as young adults, we support them as parents by giving them a voice in planning. Family planning is a round table where everyone’s goals and desires are taken into account. Their desires matter, whether it’s plans for the day or the season.

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Niall’s desire to complete the circumnavigation before college changed our plans significantly, and that’s just fine. On the beach in Eleuthera this week

We’ve had a long stretch with few boat kids in their age range (getting within a three year spread would be great). There have been intersections that provided critical injections of camaraderie, but we’re all feeling it. Leaving Florida so late in the season put us out of sync with the migratory fleet. It’s pulling us to shift our summer plans, and look at hustling south to Grenada sooner rather than later. It’s partly the promise of the a gathered fleet during hurricane season, but mostly because another kid boat—friends we’ve crossed an ocean with—are sailing there soon. Hurricane season worries factors in, too; we have no insurance coverage during named storms, and Grenada is relatively safe from historical storm tracks. Parts of our plans more fixed than flexible (Niall is keen to cross our circumnavigation track in Pacific Mexico before college next year), but this is a shift we can make.

It throws our calendar up in the air again, but that’s a kind of status quo for us lately. This much we know: as great as our kids are at flying together as a solo tribe, we’re looking forward to connecting them with kids closer to their age again soon.

Siobhan watches sunset in Thailand

Siobhan watches sunset in Thailand

Mairen on the windward side of Eleuthera this week

Mairen on the windward side of Eleuthera this week

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Precious provisions: planning for scarcity and economy

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_DSC5309“I miss salads already!” Mind you, we’ve just finished a delicious salad for lunch thanks to lettuce gifted from the crew of Mahi as they cleaned the fridge out before flying back to the US for a visit. But Niall’s reaction reflects that we’re unlikely to have lettuce again for a while. What we brought from Florida is long gone, and nothing in the small refrigerator case in Bullock Harbor was going to fill the gap. “Milk, lettuce, and bacon… I’m going to miss them.” Salad aside, today was the day I cracked into powdered milk as the last of four gallons we brought from Fort Lauderdale consumed.

We don’t provision as deeply as we used to. People everywhere have to eat, and you can almost always meet your needs wherever you are in the great wide cruising world–it just may not look like the grocery shelves at home. There are a few scenarios where it really makes sense to provision deeply:

  1. Weeks of passage making (or, remote destinations without supplies)
  2. High costs in the cruising destination ahead
  3. Low selection in the shops ahead

I’ve skewed to relying more on what we find locally, using pantry locker space for specialty items or things we don’t dare run out of (coffee!). Adapting your diet is part of the fun, if not occasionally an adventure! But in the Bahamas, we’d have both #2 and #3 on the list: fewer shops (and not as much on the shelves) coupled with higher costs. For the first time since leaving South Africa last year, it was time for major provisioning.

Preparation began weeks before we left, stocking up on household products like tissues, paper towels, and kitchen sponges, plus staples we’ll go through like coffee and tortillas. Grateful for friends with Costco memberships, thank you Patty!

When deep provisioning like this, I turn to old-school tricks for storing food without refrigeration: we have a shoebox-sized freezer, and the usual top-loading boat fridge that only holds so much. I started by canning a dozen pint jars of chicken for my omnivore family (see my canning how-to here). New friend Jim invited me on his weekly venture to a massive swap-meet-style open market early one morning in Fort Lauderdale.

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photo credit, and gratitude, to Jim Beran. Wow, it really was chilly enough for a foulie jacket!

4 canned red bell peppersBargains abounded for produce on my list like limes, potatoes, cabbage, and red bell peppers ($3/each at the store, $0.50 at the swapshop!). The peppers won’t keep but canned easily. Sweet corn relish is another easy-to-jar vegetable that brightens up sandwiches and salads. Jim later gifted us with papaya from his garden; that’s now jars of chutney, and all this goodness in in the pantry instead of the refrigerator, waiting for when we need it.

Three weeks later, the green tomatoes I bought in a Fort Lauderdale open market are still in stages of ripening. Limes, lemons, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots are stashed for long term storage. I had to refresh my knowledge on storage techniques, and read Carolyn Shearlock’s (of The Boat Galley) new book, Storing Food Without Refrigeration just in time. Which fruit has to be far from the potatoes? Which vegetables can be in close proximity? It’s all in this comprehensive reference of techniques to extend your pantry on board. Our fridge is full but the tips within help me make optimal use of our storage.

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Canning inspiration at the Jacksonville farmer’s market

Stocking up meant cleaning out and inventorying the contents of lockers. I’m a little embarrassed at the “finds” which emerged, but they’re a sweet little travelogue. A package of Knödel mix—a German potato dumpling, purchased in Namibia—had fallen behind boxes of pasta and carried up the Atlantic. Niall made a PBJ sandwich with preserves from South Africa and a jar of peanut butter that—reading the label—I’m pretty sure we bought in Maldives. Yes, that was about two years ago. Yes, it’s fine! The lockers are now packed up again, with a list of the contents taped to the inside for us to strike off as they’re consumed.

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Arriving in Bahama’s Berry islands was sweet. I’ve traded email with Carla (SV Mahi) for a few years and looked forward to meeting her and her family in person in Great Harbour Cay. With help from another cruiser (thank you Jay!) we were trundled into vehicles and got the full tour of the island.

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Part of our introduction included a pass by the grocery stores, which validated everything we prepared for. The first market in Bullock Harbor charged about 4x the cost per roll of TP. Milk? The UHT boxes on the shelf added up to $15 per gallon. OUCH. This, Niall, is why I’ll be mixing up powdered milk we bought in Florida for your beloved Grape-Nuts cereal. Below is about half of the area of the grocery store : a pallet of flour, cases of bottled water, a couple of chest freezers, and the refrigerator section.

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…and this is the other side, with dry goods. Some items are subsidized and relatively affordable: butter, cheese, and grits. Hello, cheese grits!

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Photo: Brittany from SV Gromit, @afamilyatsea

There will still be favorites from home you simply can’t buy, another reason to provision: specialties and treats. For the Mahi crew’s little boy, Ethan, that treat is chocolate flavored rice cakes…so we brought him some from Florida. His reaction was priceless!

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The Mahi crew had recently stopped in the big town of Nassau to provision, where as Carla related, a grocery cart that might have run $150 at home was over $300 at the register. But proximity to the US and frequent flights meant the selection is similar to home, and thus the lettuce. “I miss salads,” said Niall. “And I’ll miss milk, and bacon.” Don’t worry…we have enough bacon for a few months.

Ending with a triptych of photos from Carla: because life is all about the people who fill it!

Carlas triptych

Provisioning posts are tagged: read more here.

Poised for the Bahamas

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“I hear you’re putting Totem on the hard.” “Will you go out again?” In fact, we have no plans to park Totem for an extended stay on land (or in the water), and have never considered remaining in the US. But given the dearth of information in this space about what 2017 holds I can understand the speculation. We are on the cusp of departure and thrilled to be heading out for more adventures afloat.

Cascading events prolonged our departure, but the boat’s been humming, and legged out timing has shaped our direction. Routing clarity comes slowly after many shuffles on how we’ll fill the gaps between now (in Fort Lauderdale, Florida) and a year from now  (Pacific Ocean, via Panama Canal). It still has a lot of squiggles and question marks, but the bigger picture should stick.

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For many months, that year-long view was literally nothing more than get out of the US and back to the islands, spend a couple of months in Cuba, and explore Panama’s Guna Yala. (Remember that Plan is a four-letter word for cruisers! Corollary: Thar Be No Schedules)

We’d written the Bahamas off, but they’re now solidly ON, and their late arrival means I’m scrambling for information. Friday I got our Waterway Guide’s Bahamas, Turks & Caicos book. IT’S GORGEOUS. The last years of Western Pacific / Indian Ocean / Southern Atlantic sailing had poor guides, if any, and it put me off. What did exist covered too wide an area to be useful, so I stuck to travel guides instead and started thinking cruising guides weren’t important. You know what? They’re incredibly useful, I’d just been too long without an example of what a good guide offers. So with 2017 Bahamas edition in hand, instead of helping Jamie and the girls scrub the hull that morning, I did this:

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I did also buy a traveler’s guidebook for the Bahamas. I’m probably going to leave it behind, because the Waterway book is better, and has everything I need: the travel guide insights (cultural orientation,  things to bring, cool places to visit) AND annually updated cruising data (what to bring and where to provision, details for moorings and choice anchorages, the latest marina info– even updates on impacts from last fall’s hurricane, and recommendations for things islanders might need that we can ferry over).

Although schedules are the bane of cruising, I’ve happily added a fixed Must Be There date by signing on to present at the US Boat Show in Annapolis in April. Pam Wall and I will lead a 2-day Cruising Women seminar, and I’m giving a few additional presentations as part of the show’s Cruisers University. I’m very excited about this, especially the Cruising Women program. Jamie seems to have been born with saltwater in his veins; before we went cruising, it was important to me to seek information and skills. Women-only courses provided the shared perspective and camaraderie that best supported my goals.  If you sign up, tell me! I’d love to anticipate meetups.

It feels very good to be poised for Bahamas takeoff in Fort Lauderdale, but first we had to get south from Jacksonville to Miami for my friend Lynne Rey’s birthday. Schedules again? Maybe, but no way would I miss this since we could be there! Along the way, there wasn’t  a lot of wind, but some beautiful sunny days and mellow seas that meant Niall could combine studying with watchkeeping in the cockpit.

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Along the way we spent a couple of evenings hanging out with Kirk McGeorge. He’s done a couple of circumnavigations on a sistership, Gallivanter, and now does some crazy cool work building underwater submersibles with an outfit in Fort Pierce (he was a Navy diver, and drove Alvin- THE Alvin- on Titanic, way back when). The last time we saw Kirk was Australia, nearly five years ago! Cruising friendships like his are GOLD – you pick up right where you left off, despite intervening years.

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In Miami, Lynne, her husband Tony (we sailed together in college) and their kids hosted us at the Coral Reef Yacht Club. This made fun birthday celebrations, late nights in the cockpit, kids learning and playing together, and a lot of good times very easy.

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It also made it much easier for a visit from Kerry (the impressive endurance athlete / sailor / quadriplegic I sailed with last month). She gave our family and the Reys a preview of a powerful documentary she’s a part of that I hope will be ready to share publicly soon. Some tissues required after viewing before we could pose for a pic together, our thumbs in the air for Kerry’s nonprofit, ThumbsUp International. ThumbsUp connects people of all abilities to tackle athletic challenges, in particular by teaming able and disabled athletes.

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Please check out the Facebook page for ThumbsUp International and give it a like to show your support! Kerry would really like to nudge it over the 2,000 like hurdle: can we do it?! Follow and share!

More friends visited: we first knew Tiffany and Greg as “the Coast Guard Couple” when we met them in Mexico eight (!) years ago; we last caught up in Australia. They’ve traveled a loop around the world since then, by sea across the Pacific and by land from SE Asia to the UK. Both are Coast Guard Academy graduates, both are hard core professional seafarers, and they had great advice on college and maritime licensing for Niall. Just the folks to help toss the lines when it was time to head to the anchorage, right?

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And then, there was maintenance and repair. Lots of it. Because that’s one definition of the cruising life.

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To give you an inkling of that everyday fun on Totem, and a peek into what’s kept Jamie busy here in Florida:

Outboard: FINALLY FIXED. It’s been sick for five months. Diagnosis by mechanic in Jacksonville: failed CDI unit, but we replaced that and still no spark. Option two: bad coil. Ding ding ding ding! Wires from the coil had both broken…photo above. They were crimped by a strain relief device, but the break was hidden inside of a plastic sleeve. Great 11th hour help from our new friend Conor, who borrowed a flywheel puller from a Miami auto shop to get it done.

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Sundowners on Totem later, time to talk story with Conor (former cruising kid, now physicist) and his dad

Aft cabin: I went to a road trip to Miami with my friend Patty, and Jamie broke the aft cabin. He’s since rebuilt my workspace, relocated the solar and wind charge controllers to a newly-constructed locker, and cleaned up a bunch of wiring spaghetti. Few words for a LOT of work.

Dodger: As a sailmaker, Jamie knows his way around a sewing machine. But canvas work is “fiddly” (his description) and he hoped to outsource Totem’s new dodger sides. But after weeks of no joy or no action from service providers in northern Florida, he took our friends on Shanthi up on the offer to borrow their SailRite and made it himself. Templating with Tyvek from the hardware store, then constructing the final from Sunbrella, Strataglass, and Tenara thread…on the dock, until it rained, with child labor…as you do. It IS fiddly, but he does great work, and saving the expense is a great bonus.

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Before he could get to the canvas, the whole hard top was shifted forward: this meant changing the frame (it’s more vertical on the forward face now) and building new supports.

Deck hardware: fully reinstalled the repaired stanchion base that broke on our unpleasant passage from Bermuda to Connecticut.

Engine: Fixed pesky drip from fuel filters after troubleshooting. Replaced barbs with correct size, replaced 3-way valve fitting, and O-rings. Hopefully this saves the $250 racor replacement kit!

Electrical: We use a rugged Panasonic Toughbook for our nav computer. Both plug connections for the nine-year-old 12v charger had failed; solder now leads directly to the board. All good.

Plumbing: Replaced failing cockpit drain hoses (shared with galley sink drain: presumed grease buildup). Fixed flaw in primary water tank that prevents proper venting with a few holes (and finally found out the actual capacity, two years later- 73 gallons!). Discovered (and replaced) leaking outlet fitting in tank. Aft head required an unclogging adventure, then replacing seals and hose and other work that I’d rather not know too much about. Thanks to my sweetie for being The One That Deals with the Head on board.

…and that’s just what he did on Totem! On friend’s boats, Jamie helped install a solar panel, did a few (three? four? five? I lost track) rig evaluations, and helped get one tuned properly.

I married well.

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One of the more significant preoccupations outside of prepping Totem is working with coaching clients. We thoroughly enjoy helping people make the leap to successful cruising! More recently, the kids have gotten into a few of our Skype sessions, too: prospective cruising kids want to hear the real scoop directly from them. Sitting around the iPad, this is a pretty typical scene.

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We closed our our Miami stay by anchoring in Marine Stadium, a sweet little spot with near 360° protection and a killer view of the downtown Miami. Backlit by twinkling lights from the skyline at night, we could detect dolphins circling Totem only by loud huffs of their breath. An idyllic spot to raft up and make some great memories with the pretty Huckins, Cortado (which is for sale, by the way), and her crew.

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Totem from Cortado

Totem is now in Fort Lauderdale, on our final countdown to departure for the Bahamas. We don’t know when we’ll be back in the USA, but it’s probably some years. I’ve got an insane list, and it includes major items like, oh, battery bank replacement. Full watermaker servicing. Diesel mechanic services. Provisioning for 3 months in islands with limited stores, and high costs. Supplies for Bahamian communities still impacted by hurricane Mathew last fall. Then there are the incidentals “but we won’t be in the USA for how long?” that inflate our list. Here in the mainland, we have access to better breadth of goods, at a better quality, and a better value, than we will likely encounter for a long time.

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It’s been blowing for days, but Totem is in a protected anchorage. There is access to supplies. Anchorage neighbors stopping by to chat from their kayaks. Visits from shoreside dwellers, arriving with friendship, the gift of papaya, and lessons in art (thank you, Jim!).

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Life is beautiful. I’m grateful every day for the choices we have and our freedom as a family, and can’t wait to extend our adventures…starting soon in the Bahamas!

Thanksgiving while cruising

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For the first time since 2007, our little crew on Totem celebrates Thanksgiving in the USA again. Over the years we’ve celebrated in destinations as diverse as the sunny bay at Isla San Francisco, Mexico, or a firelit rondavel high up in Africa’s land-locked mountain nation of Lesotho last year. But even away from “home,” this is our big holiday, and if anything the distance has reinforced traditions.

For many, it’s the impetus for a party: the holiday prompts gatherings like the annual Club Cruceros feast in La Paz, Mexico, or the giant potluck organized by residents of St Mary’s, Georgia. Local hosts provide the roasted turkey and cruisers contribute the rest to share around. Aside from the camaraderie of celebrating with the extended cruising family, this handily overcomes one of the problems of Thankgiving aboard: while there’s little you can’t do in a galley, most boat ovens are challenged to fit a whole turkey.

Our Thanksgivings have tended toward the solitary. Occasionally they’re shared with a few cruisers in a distant anchorage, but typically it’s a quiet family celebration as we are either remote (as our 2012 Thanksgiving in PNG’s Hermit Islands) or away from other Americans who share the holiday (as during the two we spent in Australia). These bring a different kind of sweetness: away from the crowd it’s easier to focus for what’s important to us, on what we’re thankful for.

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Sharing Thanksgiving with crews of Francis Lee and Capaz  at Isla San Francisco, Mexico, 2009. Photo: PJ Baker

In 2010, we’d newly arrived in Australia. With an ocean between us and our home it feels even more important to keep our traditions, and Thanksgiving dinner is the centerpiece. For cruisers, recreating That Familiar Dinner (cue the Norman Rockwell images) can be a little tricky. If anything is obligatory, it’s a turkey. Number of times we’ve had turkey for Thanksgiving during the eight years outside of the USA: hmm… let’s see… yes, I believe that number is ZERO. Apparently, it’s predominantly a North American “thing.” But roasted chicken makes a fine stand in. I always save a can of cranberries somewhere on board (they pop up on shelves every few countries, and are known to get stashed in Totem’s bilge for many  months). There are usually starchy tubers of some kind, onions to cream, something green, and I can always make gravy, and fruit to make pie from. Forget about finding canned pumpkin puree outside North America, but don’t worry. Whole pumpkins are plentiful in tropical markets, and cook up easily on the stove. Like a lot of things in the cruising life, the end result is the same… getting the task done just takes a little longer.

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Satun, Thailand: no turkey, but all the trimmings in 2013

Then there was that year in Thailand, where the chicken I picked up at the village market was whole. That’s whole, as in not just head…not just feet…but the cavity unopened and all the guts intact. At least the weekly market day was ON Thanksgiving, given the lack of refrigeration, and I remembered enough from helping on a farm as a teen to avoid the gall bladder (just a tiny slice taint and ruin your dinner). More to be thankful for, and a story that we now retell annually!

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As our distance from the US increased, so did our thankfulness for the incredible opportunity to live an adventurous life afloat. Physical separation from our extended family on holidays like this help reinforce my gratitude for the strength of our nuclear family, and the time we have to be together.

If the last eight years taught us anything, it’s to be thankful for so many things in our lives: in particular, our opportunities and our rich experiences. One of the goals Jamie and I had in choosing the cruising life was to raise our children to internalize these, in the believe that it’s a positive influence on their futures. It’s impacted not just them, but us too, bringing happiness and fulfillment beyond expectations.

Walking after dinner: Coff's Harbour, Australia, 2010

Walking after Thanksgiving dinner: Coff’s Harbour, Australia, 2010

It’s nine years since we celebrated Thanksgiving in the USA, and will share it with members of our extended cruising family in Virginia: a family that’s already been cruising twice and plans to head out again. I cannot wait to get to know these good friends better, and in true Thanksgiving spirit, Nica’s open invitation has expanded the table with several families. It’s often an uncomfortable feeling leaving Totem, but she’s securely tied against this week’s winds back in DC awaiting our return.

Meanwhile, there on cruiser-centric Facebook groups, CLODs (that’s Cruisers Living on Dirt, for the uninitiated) are reaching out to offer a place at the table and laundry machines for cruisers in their area. Active cruisers are putting out the call to share the cockpit with others in their tropical locale. I have no doubt there are potlucks being organized from Grenada to Phuket as US cruisers find each other to celebrate.

From our family to yours, wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Beachcoming in Bahia de Tortuga, Baja, Mexico, 2008...our first cruising Thanksgiving

Beachcombing in Bahia de Tortuga, Baja, Mexico, 2008…our first cruising Thanksgiving. They were so little!