Passage notes: westbound across the Caribbean

Sailing wing and wing

_DSC2312Totem is sailing toward sunsets again. Turning towards the Dutch Antilles from Martinique was more westbound than south. This passage brought back more than a familiar angle for sunrises and moonsets: it’s also…

  • downwind sailing for the first time in 18 months
  • first passage with more than one night at sea in 18 months
  • a nearly full moon! so nice on a passage, and something we had a knack for mis-timing
  • new destinations, instead of retracing a track

The 470nm distance was slightly awkward. It’s just long enough to necessitate a third night at sea. The benefit is a chance to get back into a passage rhythm that’s been absent for some time, something that seems to happen around the second or third day.

The start was slow; it took time to get out of the wind shadow of Martinique. Once into steady trades, the genoa was poled out and Totem took off. We spent almost the entire passage that way, much of it wing-and-wing. Leaving on a Wednesday, arriving on a Saturday, conditions were such that sometime by Tuesday we found that point on the passage when sea becomes a dreamscape to roll with indefinitely.

Sailing in company were our Australian friends on Utopia II, a boat we first met in Malaysia more than four years ago. Our boats have an uncanny ability to stay in proximity on multi-day passages, a highly unusual situation (normally, one boat horizons another within hours of departure). This proximity proved invaluable the morning after our first night at sea when Utopia lost steerage.

Sailing back to aid Utopia

Sailing back to aid Utopia

They were about three miles from our position, so we headed back to see if it was possible to assist. First speculation was that a net had pinned the rudder, but closer investigation (after Andrew swam to check, tethered to the boat, in 2 meter seas) told otherwise. Real cause: a through bolt securing the rudder post to the quadrant had sheared off. There was no spare for the 12mm diameter, 20cm long bit of steel.

sailboat under bare poles

Utopia drifts under bare poles

Adrift in the Caribbean: Andrew is swimming just behind Utopia II

Adrift in the Caribbean: Andrew is swimming just behind Utopia II

_DSC2317Jamie and Andrew set to rummaging through our caches of various spares on board. We had clevis pins in the right diameter, but they were too short. A steel rod, salvaged from a wreck on Chagos, wasn’t wide enough: only 10mm in diameter. This still proved to be the best alternative to drifting through the Caribbean. Jamie cut it to length with a hacksaw and Andrew swam over to retrieve it, bundled in a net bag with a handle for easier carrying. Meanwhile, they wallowed in the swells while we stayed close by.

Rigging the repair while crammed in a lazarette in a rolly boat was a job, but three hours losing steerage both boats were underway again. It’s a sober reminder for the importance of self sufficiency and friends in contact. There is no Sea Tow to call out here!

Happily the passage was otherwise uneventful. We averaged over 7 knots for the passage, including those three hours of negative VMG while solving Utopia II’s quadrant woes.

Steady trades averaging around 18 knots picked up the last day, with a current push putting our average over 9 knots.

Despite seas growing 2 to 3 meters, the ride was comfortable. Dead downwind can be a rolly point of sail but with the breeze 15 to 20 degrees off, the motion was ameliorated. The angle pushes the limits of wing/wing, but the jib (and not the main) was the side at risk of backing; Jamie adjusted twist to make backing was unlikely, and push us swiftly west. Conditions for good boat speed allowed the autopilot to steer instead of letting Totem get pushed around by seas. Swaths of sargasso weed floated by as our pair of boats flew towards Bonaire.

_DSC2299 _DSC2296

Progress the last day beyond our expectations required slowing down to avoid arriving in the dark. If the mountains of salt from the works at the south end of Bonaire didn’t announce our arrival in this new island, the welcoming flocks of flamingos did– winging right in front of Totem, their long necks making an impossible profile.

_DSC2332 _DSC2323

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer welcome to Bonaire when arrival included having two moorings handed to us by the crew of Rhapsody. Boats here don’t anchor, they’re required to use moorings or take a marina slip; it’s a move to protect the coral, which is truly spectacular. Bonaire’s reputation as a dive destination is something we can’t wait to explore.

_DSC2343

We’re committed to spending part of every day here underwater. This will not be difficult! A garden of corals and fish beckon freediving off the back of Totem.

Boat kids from Utopia II and Totem

Boat kids from Utopia II and Totem

An array of corals and a zillion little fish

An array of corals and a zillion little fish

Blue lines show our track through the Caribbean, from arrival to Barbados last year; the orange dotted line is the anticipated path west. Curacao, Colombia, then along the San Blas coastline in Panama in January… aiming for a canal transit in early 2018.

Caribbean track

And meanwhile, more memories to make.

Totem family crew silliness

Totem family crew silliness

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?

Hurricane Irma: sailing to safety, how you can help

Totem in Rodney Bay for Irma

Totem and crew are in Grenada. Time and mobility were our key advantages to get safely far from the devastating path of Irma when others could not. When Irma made landfall at Barbuda, we were secure in St Lucia. Clouds streamed from the west at sunset, sucked in the “wrong” direction by Irma. We watched the system’s arrival via glowing laptop screens, as Jamie stayed up half the night glued to live data from weather stations until they succumbed – then followed as best we could in the aftermath, waiting anxiously for news from the friends squarely in Irma’s track.

In the days that followed, a few things became apparent. First, that the destruction in the islands is staggering. Our friend relaying to his evacuated wife that “there is nothing to come back to.” The first pictures to filter out showed destruction beyond imagination, descriptors like Biblical proportions and post apocalyptic all too fitting. First person accounts of the storm and the aftermath describing unimaginable chaos. For those of us making our homes on the water, how terrible to see large boats tossed like toys; piled up on top of each other, upside down, crushed into the corners of “hurricane hole” bays.

One of the early images circulating on social media

One of the early images circulating on social media

It also became clear how tenuous the safety net of these islands is: with no power, no cellular network, the communications have been deeply challenged. In the struggle to get word out and disseminated, misinformation spread.

What’s also evident is the resilience and community of islanders. And they need every ounce of this, because media attention is focused elsewhere. The breakdown at relief in finding friends are safe is sobered with news that desperation in a devastated, disconnected land has turned to violence and looting as the situation is increasingly dire.

There are several organizations offering immediate assistance which can use support.

In Puerto Rico, cruisers Tory Fine and Jon Vidar (Sail Me Om) turned their skills to organize Sailors Helping. What they have done in short order is tremendous. An update from this afternoon: “Today we helped a family get off of St. John, have helped organize boats to Jost Van Dyke, St John, and Tortola, and have raised about $4,000 directly while pooling efforts with a few other organizations and private donors to have access to almost 10 times that to fills boats and planes to the islands.” It continues: “In less than two hours, we have at least two boats going to St Thomas or Tortola, a plane being inspected so it can start flying next week, and a 180′ cargo ship all willing to help bring supplies to the islands and hopefully some people back; We have found four people temporary housing in San Juan; We may have a ride for a trauma surgeon to get to Tortola and a family to get off of St. John; And we’ve raised $2,000 that will go directly to purchasing supplies to fill these vessels.”

They are in tune with what’s needed…NOW. “The islands DO NOT need direct cash, or anymore clothes, first aid kits or baby supplies. They do need cots to sleep on, tarps for shade, food and water, and building supplies. This is where we will be focusing our efforts.”

To read the latest updates, see the Sailors Helping Facebook page. To volunteer or make a donation, visit the Sailors Helping website. And while the comments above reference USVIs and BVIs, that’s not the limit of their focus—at top of the wish list: a peace keeping group to evacuate large number of people at once from St Martin (where the reports of destruction and raiding have been extreme).

sailors helping

Tortola-based Three Sheets Sailing is another example of cruiser solidarity. Safely away (yet close by, and with access to US postal service delivery) in St Croix they’ve joined other charter skippers and now have four boats to shuttle between St Croix and the affected islands. To donate, visit their GoFundMe site; for more information, see the Three Sheets Sailing and Yacht Sea Boss Facebook pages.

For regular updates, follow Where the Coconuts Grow: Jody and baby Brig have evacuated from Tortola, but her husband Peter stayed behind and has the miracles of both a functional tender and a sat phone, offering early information of the real impact. Their boat/home is a total loss, and livelihood too. Jody’s continuing to feed updates to help the greater good, just as Peter works tirelessly for the same on the ground.

Windtraveler: the Tortola-based family’s boat and charter business are both probably victims to Irma, but that’s not flagged the energy of mom Brittany from fighting tirelessly for her home community. Scott arrives soon with resources and assistance: he’s buying supplies in Puerto Rico NOW, and their sat phone is how Peter has gotten word out from otherwise disconnected islands – donate here to help their on-the-ground efforts.

BVI Abroad – Hurricane Irma: Initiated on Facebook, this group is an excellent resource for BVI updates and has organized a website detailing relief from organizations to donate money (with transparency about fees taken by fundraiser sites), donate supplies, or otherwise get involved. Visit BVI Relief site they set up.

hurricane irma bvi relief

Looking for someone? See Irma Safety Check – https://irmasafetycheck.herokuapp.com/search/ (VI focused) and http://www.bvisafetycheck.com (BVIs only)

Additional sources of information and support welcomed, please add in comments or contact me.

The proximity of Irma, our recent stays in the places now devastated, our deep respect for the force of weather – all brings this event close.

Drone flight we made over Nanny Cay, late August

Drone flight we made over Nanny Cay, late August

Nanny Cay at nearly the same angle, post-Irma

Nanny Cay at nearly the same angle, post-Irma

People we care about have lost homes and livelihoods. The search for the unaccounted for by those who were able to evacuate was sharply painful; tears routinely sneaking up. And it’s not just these places mentioned but Barbuda, St Barth, DR, Haiti… has anything been heard about Irma’s impact on Cuba? I have no doubt there is utter devastation in the Bahamas, and probably also in Turks & Caicos, and tomorrow we’ll learn about how Florida has weathered. It is overwhelming. Processing this while knowing fires rage on several fronts near our home waters, friends are affected by Harvey, the freaking big earthquake in Mexico this morning… it’s heavy. We all do a little to pay it forward, to bring a little light into a dark time. Like the stranger who anonymously bought breakfast for our friends evacuating from the Keys, having been an evacuee himself before and wanting to repay the kindness he was shown.

I keep thinking back to our assets in security: time, and mobility. We had significant notice to make a southbound path. We had tiered plans, backups to our backups, unburdened by constraints that prevented others from avoiding Irma. Weather rules our lives, and is compulsively monitored during hurricane season. At the early whiffs of the system forming, there were at least 10 days to add distance—which we did, in a relaxed fashion with stops in Guadeloupe, Dominica, and Martinique. If things happened faster, there were options for a dash.

Southbound on the coast of St Lucia, the 'morning after' Irma

Southbound on the coast of St Lucia, the ‘morning after’ Irma’s VI tear

The tough reality is that most people didn’t have those options, and had other complicating factors: it might have been ties and responsibilities they couldn’t relinquish. It may have been lack of funds. It may have been any one of a number of things outside my reality to imagine. Islanders can’t just drive inland and away (hello, Florida), and as the wreckage amply demonstrates it’s unclear how to find a place that’s safe. Withhold judgment.

As cruisers, the stress / challenge isn’t making our plans and backup plans. It’s around timing decisions. The future size and path of a ‘cane isn’t known as it grows from satellite fluff off the Sahara, but he system’s speed is easier to track, and it’s not fast…moving across an ocean at slower speeds than you need to stay legal driving past an elementary school. From there we can estimate when it’s time to make our move. When we do, it can be decisive: Jamie likened this to a basic collision avoidance strategy used with other boats. Make your move early, and make it clear. At different times this year that may have involved backtracking to the mangroves in Salinas, PR; jetting south to Grenada (check!); ducking southwest to Bonaire. The problem is trying to second guess storm tracks. Until the storm does something decisive, you can’t count anything out. How many times has the predicted track of Irma shifted?

There is a long road ahead for these islands Irma whacked. But among all the hard news, bright spots. Like seeing a post from Andy Schell this morning showing that that our friends Ted & Claudia’s boat/home, Demeter, really truly HAD made it through…moved into an outer-marina berth, even. Finding out that our friends on St John were fine, just cut off from everything in Coral Bay; their home came through, too. They help balance the harder stories: knowing they’re OK. Making it easier to believe we’ll all be OK.

Moved to the intact outer marina, post-Irma

Moved to the intact outer marina, post-Irma

FUNDRAISER: a loan to change a family’s life

20121202204918

Cruising offers the chance to meet people of vastly different experience in different corners of the world and find common ground. Sometimes the exchange is bounded in a single encounter.  Sometimes it’s stretched over a few days, and sometimes for years as we stay in touch. One family in Papua New Guinea is particularly special to us: once or twice a year since our visit four years ago we trade letters with Mollina and Wesley when a cruising boats stops at their island in Ninigo, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

They’re typical of many in PNG: family needs are met by bartering, building, or foraging. Theirs not a cash economy, because there are so few opportunities to earn money. Where they live on Mal island in Ninigo, there aren’t roads, or stores, or power, or water or a decent medical clinic. They must make, find, or trade for what they need.

79pihon

Fishing isn’t for fun, it’s for dinner. Kids in Ninigo; photo courtesy SV Carina.

To some this will sound idyllic: living in harmony with your environment, working with it to meet your needs. If that’s you, please take off those rose-tinted lenses and consider stomping on them, because this is a difficult life. There is a simple beauty, yet it holds few opportunities and little self-determination. Education, medical care, or basic tools require cash. You can’t trade a basket of yams to send your kids to school or buy antibiotics. But without opportunities to earn money, basic needs for education and health care are difficult or impossible.

This is the main road on Mal.

This is the main road on Mal. Photo courtesy SV Carina.

It’s hard to comprehend from our privileged position how fragile their existence is. A few months ago, Mollina was very sick (I wrote about it here). We learned about it from a visiting cruising boat, Carina, who has taken many of the pictures in this post. Mollina was suffering complications from childbirth; her local options were exhausted; it is a multi-day boat ride, in pain, to an island with better treatment available. But she did, and instead of proper care and a pelvic exam, she was just given a prescription to fill…which is like blind navigation and without the funds to pay for it. I feared for her.

Mollina during our visit with her firstborn, Finn.

Mollina in 2012 with her firstborn, Finn, during our visit. Ninigo’s Madonna and child.

The good news is that Mollina is doing better now. Following a multi-day boat trip with her husband Wesley and two of their children to Manus island, where they could stay with family and seek medical care, her illness seems to be resolved.

Being on this bigger island opened an opportunity: Wesley can make another trip (a few more days in an open boat) from Manus to a more distant island to buy betel, and bring it back to Manus to sell. The cash they can earn from will make a huge impact on their lives. It’s money for their kids to go to school. Money for medical care. Maybe they will get a roof for their house that lasts more than a couple of seasons, or LED lights for a solar panel. I don’t know, but the details are less important than the possibility of unprecedented control over their lives and options.

Baby Behan (my namesake!) scared of the camera at left... Wesley & Mollina at right.

Baby Behan (my namesake!) scared of the camera at left… Wesley & Mollina at right. Photos courtesy SV Carina.

In true Catch-22 fashion, they need money to fund this enterprise. Wesley has borrowed much of what he needs from his “wontok” (literally, “one talk”: clansmen, the people who share his dialect), but it’s not enough. I hope to raise, and loan, the balance he needs—and I hope you’ll contribute. Their goal is $5,000 Kina, which is approximately US$1,600.

First, why do they need help ? Because they can’t get loans from a local bank without identification (another complication of life in remote PNG, but remember, we’re talking about islands without roads or electricity or fresh water or sewage: really, who ID?). Also, honestly? It’s just as well the banks are out, since what we heard about their practices during our stay sounded predatory for families like this.

Second, what about microfinance lending, like Kiva? (LOVE KIVA!) I did research microfinance organizations , but have not found a program that’s accessible to them. Mostly, they don’t exist in PNG. But the research process and the time a few people took to refer me to contacts and resources (thank you Elizabeth at Grameen, and Joe at ONE, your support means more than you know) opened my eyes to the value of direct loans, and the tremendous success they have in changing lives.

Finally: whatever amount I can raise is, as stated, a LOAN and not a gift. This includes risks. I anticipate Mollina and Wesley will pay it back, and in turn I can repay donors, but there’s no guarantee. PayPal makes repaying donors easy. As there isn’t a bank that we’ve found which can manage it, this part goes on faith. We (Totem) are a conduit only and take no money, only share goodness. We wish the best for Mollina and Wesley, for opportunities that so many of us take for granted. I cannot guarantee this loan: I can only say know them as incredibly hardworking, honest people.

Despite never getting this button to work, enough of y’all read the comments (and Dartanyon’s helpful link) or found the blog’s working PayPal donate button on the right margin. Blown away by the generosity: thank you!

Updates to follow via Totem’s Facebook page…contact me directly with any questions.

For more beautiful pictures and stories from Carina’s visit to Ninigo this year, see their blog posts here, here, and here.

For more about our unforgettable time in Ninigo, see these posts on SailingTotem.com.

Gifts that give a little more

dsc_0809

Among the lessons cruising has taught me: that a frugal life brings returns in personal happiness, and that seeking simplicity results not in deprivation but in a feeling of abundance. Living in our floating Tiny Home, “stuff” is the enemy. Still… once the tryptophan effect wears off after Thanksgiving, there’s an undeniable pull for a lot of folks to start looking for gifts.

In that vein, I have a different take on ideas for gifts to give your favorite cruiser this year. First, consider donating to a nonprofit that’s making a difference instead. I’m highlighting a few here that are focused on the health of our marine environment or communities that rely upon it. Second, since most of us are on the hunt for something tangible to give, I have a shortlist of gift ideas for gear that’s not just truly useful…it supports a greater good. Also: codes for discounts!

Here’s a selection of organizations (and an individual) doing good work in support of a healthier marine environment, or better lives for the people that rely upon it.

Louisiade Solar Light Project. AKA- SeaGoon. We met the driving force behind this remarkable one-boat show in Papua New Guinea in 2012. Hans brings donated solar panels, LED lights, and the materials on his sailboat, SeaGoon, to islands in PNG where he installs them in local villages where there is no electricity. He works with islanders to teach them to maintain the systems, and has brought much needed donations to support health and education to islands lacking the most basic of utilities. PayPal donations can be sent to svseagoon@gmail.com; Read more about Hans in this Australian article. (see also: his website / Facebook page)

International Rescue Group. Delivering aid by sea, IRG is currently sending boats to Haiti and using watermakers purchased with donated funds to bring potable water to communities suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Donate here to contribute to an immediate need where every dollar helps. (And because Haitians need help: Good Samaritan of Haiti, and Friends of Ile a Vache, and Waves for Water)

Sea Mercy. Sea Mercy provides health care workers, equipment, and services by boat when these events occur (like tsunami and hurricanes) and local governments are stretched to meet existing emergency needs in remote islands. We know a few cruisers who have enlisted their vessels to support Sea Mercy’s mission to provide aid when disasters occur; you can donate to support this 501 (c) (3) charity on their website.

OceansWatch. Working with island communities in the South Pacific, NZ-based OceansWatch uses their vessels (cruising boats can help, too) to develop and enact conservation plans. Educating communities to help them be self-sufficient through better management of their fisheries is just one example.  More information and a donation link is on their website.

Niparaja. ANiparaja works to protect natural environments along the massive coastline and species diversity of Baja California Sur (among other projecs!). Called “one of the most effective and locally well-loved non-profits” by a fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs. More on their website.

Most of us are going to buy some “thing” instead of donating to a cause: here’s a range of options that aren’t just perfect for cruisers, but also support fair trade products, a family business, more sustainable living, or otherwise contribute to a greater good.

Marmara Imports. Many cruisers rave about Turkish towels, the flat cotton weave that dries you…then dries quickly (leave the terrycloth at home…and beware the musty/stinky microfiber!). But not all brands are created equal: Marmara’s organic cotton / fair trade towel quality is exceptional, where others sourced via Amazon weren’t soft and had tassels fall apart. Feel good: this small business’ mission is tied to sustaining artisans who are supporting families and keeping traditional hand-looming skills alive. See the full range on MarmaraImports.com: Use the discount code “Holidays” at checkout to get 20% off through November 30th.

One of the weavers for Marmara Imports; image courtesy of the company

One of the weavers for Marmara Imports; image courtesy of the company

Sport-a-seat. These innovative portable seats have provided the first TRULY COMFORTABLE seating in Totem’s cockpit since, well, ever. Aside from the significant increase in butt happiness on board, the easily adjustable seats use SunBrella, so I know that pretty navy cover will hold up for years. Feel good: support this family enterprise, a husband-and-wife team who are overcoming low quality knockoffs from big marine brands while continuing to provide a superior product. Order from sportaseat.com and use TOTEM15 at checkout for a 15% discount.

Solavore. It’s no secret I love using our solar oven: cooking with the sun helps us go farther, live lighter, and eat well. It’s a perfect match for the cruising life. Feel good: this company actively works to incubate solar-powered entrepreneurs in developing countries. Their Solavore Works arm is making a real difference for families in Kenya, India, and Cambodia…working with local organizations to empower individuals and change lives. Buy your oven from Solavore.com.

dsc_0053

Cooking corn…the very, very easy way!

Outdoor Foundry waterproof backpack. A dependable drybag is essential kit for cruisers, but a backpack style with features beyond “keeping things dry” eluded us. This bag finally does it with a laptop sleeve (remember our laptop/dinghy mishap?) and other functional pockets inside, outside pockets for water bottles, bungees to strap odd-shaped extras on the back, and COMFORTABLE adjustable/padded straps. Feel good: this better backpack is the brainchild and small-biz flagship product of future cruisers Chis and Andi, who are looking for new location-independent ways to support their family for a life afloat. They’re offering another 10% off the holiday discount if you use the code TOTEMFAN at checkout. Your purchase on Amazon with this link sends us a tip.

Luci. This solar-powered portable LED lantern has brightened many evenings on Totem. I love the soft filter and colors of the “party light,” and being the only Purple cockpit light in the anchorage makes it easy to distinguish Totem from other boats after dark too! Feel good: while you bring light to your life…you can help bring it to others. This company seeks to provide clean, safe, affordable lights to people in developing countries: more retail sales = lower manufacturing costs = more affordable lights to developing world. You can give a Luci light to someone in need directly through MPOWERED, or buy one for yourself on Amazon that will tip the Totem kitty.

dsc_0414

This fuzzy, Luci-lit cockpit picture was brought to you by too much rum.

Check out my posts for 2014 gift ideas, the 2015 guide, see my recent post of new books for cruisers, or choose a book from our list of recommended reading…because books are never the wrong answer!

Special offer for Voyaging with Kids: I’ll personalize a book with a message based on your desires, wherever you want. Now there’s a gift you can’t get on Amazon! Book plus shipping in the continental US is $40; other destinations, just ask (shipping costs passed through 1:1). Contact me to purchase.

Jamie wearing Outdoor Foundry's backpack on during a dayhike in Maryland last month

Jamie sporting the Nootka backpack during a dayhike in Maryland last month…tossing Siobhan into the marsh…

There are so many worth nonprofits working to make a difference for marine environments! Calling out more here, in case particular missions speak to you.

  • Hello Ocean! Coordinating scientific expeditions for marine research. Good work that the Hello Ocean! crew turns into films that can educate people about conservation needs: the kind of outreach that desperately needs better funding to help inform the public.
  • Rozalia Project. Programs and ideas for individual action in support of goals for a clean ocean, a protected ocean, and a thriving ocean.
  • Ocean Research Project. Science, education and exploration to direct the sustainability of the oceans. Also, Matt Rutherford!
  • Sailors for the Sea.  Work including green boating guides, educational lesson plans, and more. On #GivingTuesday they launched a new video about their mission.
  • OceanCare. Projects supporting ocean conservation, whale protection, biodiversity, and awareness for marine health issues.

Local organizations:

  • Exumas Foundation. A small and effective organization supporting education, sustainability and more in the Exumas.
  • Science Under Sail. Bahamas-focused projects on climate change, ocean acidification, plastic pollution and invasive species. Now with  MATCHING DONATIONS! Campaign to double your gift underway – plus, cool shackle bracelet.
  • Blind Sailing UK. Helping the visually impaired sail at all levels.
  • Coastal Conservation Association. Dedicated to conserve, promote, and enhance coastal resources in the USA.
  • New England Science and Sailing Foundation (NESS): year round educational programs promoting marine stewardship.
  • Sound Experience. Envisioning “a future where everyone values Puget Sound and chooses to act as stewards of its treasured waters.”
  • Deep Green Wilderness and SV Orion. Marine science and stewardship programs in the Salish Sea.
  • Call of the Sea has been successfully operating on-the-water programs for San Francisco bay area youth since 1984. They’re building another ship, a 124′ brigantine– Educational Tall Ship project — to expand their work.
  • Sailing Angels. Getting veterans and kids with disabilities out on the bay from Kemah, TX.
  • Downtown Sailing.  Providing sailing opportunities for people and families who don’t otherwise have the opportunity- in Baltimore, MD.
  • Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (yes, that’s CRAB). Bringing boating experiences to the mobility impaired.
  • Community Boating. Boston organization providing sailing experiences to people of all ages, abilities, and means.
  • Shake a Leg Miami. Sailing for disabled kids and adults in Biscayne Bay.
  • KATS. Serving underprivileged youth in the virgin islands by providing instruction and experiences under sail.
  • Whale Time. South African database for whale tracking and guides in the Indian Ocean.
  • Warrior Sailing. St. Pete-based program getting wounded warrior men and women on the water and sailing.
  • Tall Ships America. Youth education, leadership development and the preservation of the maritime heritage of North America

Back to cruising! OK…almost.

4-on-the-wind-podcast

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

Routine maintenance

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

3-projects-siobhan-and-winches

 Cruisers helping cruisers

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

1c-real-life-again

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

1b-ben

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

1c-new-friends

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

3-projects-taking-measurements

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

1a-friends

Meeting the family from Twentsie Meid

 Exploring around Annapolis

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

5-hike

5-hiking-river

5-hiking

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

5-usna-chapel

What’s this chill?

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

2-apple-picking
2-hay-ride

2-mairen-apple

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

9-halloween-comes

Recording Bonanza!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

loft-audience

mapping-safety-zones-in-papua-new-guinea

mairen-siobhan-naill-behan-and-jamie-gifford-answering-questions-from-guests

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

on-totem-behan-giving-a-tour

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

9-closer-pano-storm