Behan Gifford

I admit it: I was wrong about the Caribbean

28 May


I’ll be honest: I didn’t think I’d like sailing the Caribbean very much. Too many people. No unique experiences. Credit-card captains on holiday. Commercialism. Surly locals. I have no problem admitting that my negative preconceptions were mostly shot down, as these islands have proven to offer a string of wonderful experiences. Here’s a smattering of things we loved about our first foray into Caribbean cruising.

umbrella drink

why yes, that is a rum punch with an umbrella in it.

Lots of (good) company. Sure, there were a few crowded spots—but they were generally the hubs, obvious locations that are easy enough to skip through if that’s not your thing.…

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Scruffy cruisers, coming soon to New England

25 May

western sunset

Tomorrow morning begins the last chapter of our journey back to the USA. We’ll leave St Martin for Bermuda, and at the first weather window from Bermuda, we’ll aim for Connecticut. It’s been a lot of miles since departing South Africa in January! Too soon, western sunsets over the water like this one will be out of our lives for a while.

This map is modified from our PredictWind tracking map, which produced the blue route history

This map is modified from our PredictWind tracking map, which produced the blue route history

This isn’t the last chapter in our cruising book, however—we’re only planning to be in the States for about five months, coastal cruising.…

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Skipping through the Caribbean

23 May

1- iles des saintes from fort josephine

pinterest eastern caribbeanSlow travel is one of the benefits of cruising. Lingering weeks or months in a place let us better understand the cultures we encounter along the way. Getting to know people opens the door to experiences beyond the guidebook highlights or tripadvisor lists. To pass by nine different countries or colonies (right, actually “overseas territories”) in the space of barely a month is anathema to the Totem mindset, but that’s exactly what’s happening during our skip through the Eastern Caribbean.

There’s a silver lining to this brief hit: it’s been valuable information-gathering to inform later routing, since we plan to return at the end of this year and now have a much better sense of orientation.…

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Mainsail Trim: luff tension

16 May

sailing north

This post comes from Jamie, one in a series where he shares his knowledge as a tenured sailmaker. For more about Jamie’s experience in the field, see Sailmaker SAYS!

Hey sailmaker. Tell me about luff tension. Hey dude, this isn’t Dear Abby. I won’t cover love tension or any other emotional instability you may have… Wait, what? I said lufffff tension, not luvvvvv tension you baf… Ohhh, why didn’t you say so? Okay, now that we’ve learned to annunciate, what’s you lufffff tension issue? With my mainsail, it’s easy to tell when the luff is under tensioned, but I’m not sure if I tension it enough or too much, you know?

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On not playing tourist in Barbados

10 May

1 Pebble beach Barbados

Across many of the countries we’ve visited most recently—South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, the British Overseas Territory islands—we stepped into the role of tourist with happy abandon. Taking massive road trips in South Africa, hitting up TripAdvisor hotspots in Namibia. Hiring a guide for day tripping in St. Helena. Renting a car and touring around Ascension Island. It’s not a typical but a fun pairs of shoes to try on. When would we get to these far corners of the world again? This added some pressure to travel differently.

pinterest barbadosBarbados, first stop in our quick pass through the eastern Caribbean, is an island we might not get back to.…

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Mainsail Features: headboard vs head ring

3 May

repair to mainsail head

This post comes from Jamie, one in a series where he shares his knowledge as a tenured sailmaker. For more about Jamie’s experience in the field, see Sailmaker SAYS!. Pictured above, Jamie replaced a corroded headboard with a ring on the mainsail of Solstice in Madagascar last year.

Why does the head of a mainsail have a headboard? Because that’s how it’s always been, for racing mainsails; and by default everyone else. Does that make sense for non-racing applications?

Grey Matters
Headboard: triangular-ish plates fastened to mainsail head to provide a stout halyard attachment point and rigid structure to enable greater head width.
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Crew’s view: joining Totem for a passage

30 Apr

santas bag

This post is penned by our crew across the Atlantic, Ty Anderson. We’ve known Ty for a long time (backstory in this post); he’s also been aboard for legs in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. He wanted to share some of his perspective on life aboard Totem; this also seemed like a great opportunity to let readers get an alternate opinion on some questions!

What’s it like traveling with a family that’s not your own?

Six years ago when we crossed the Pacific to Hiva Oa I was a stranger. Today I’m an old friend of the family, bringing Santa’s bag of goodies when I visit the boat [see top image!].…

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Passage notes: Ascension to Barbados wrap

27 Apr

pw path

pinterest sailboat ocean atlanticSeventeen days (and five hours) after leaving Ascension, we made landfall in Barbados on a sunny afternoon. Impending arrival was heralded by small fishing boats: wooden runabouts with a small cabin and a miserable radar footprint. It made the first one a little extra exciting, as it barreled towards us at dawn about 50 miles south of the island. In the following hours, several more passed close by and we and had to maneuver (or be maneuvered around) to avoid a boat-vs-net situation with a couple.

This was the fastest, most comfortable passage we’ve made…ever? In years, anyway. Averaged out, Totem put away more than 180nm per day.…

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Trashing the ocean: sending out an SOS

21 Apr

ocean garbage

Carefully sealed into the wine bottle was a message from afar. Fisherman in Florida found and read the drift mail, learning that it was from a woman that sailed across the Atlantic Ocean the year before. They contacted the sender and after hearing her message was found, she joyfully related the story to a group of fellow sailors. Her joy was short-lived. The response was not shared enthusiasm but self-righteous, contemptuous clucks. How dare she litter!

Was it really littering, or just slow speed communication? It’s difficult to encounter any sailor who doesn’t have deep respect for the beauty and health of our oceans.…

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Ascension to Barbados: notes from the passage part III

19 Apr

Continuing notes from the passage… installment three. We’re in the home stretch! Our crew, Ty, is working on a guest post: what do you want to know about life on Totem from his point of view? Ask in the comments here, Totem’s facebook page , or through the Contact form (they’ll both reach us on passage), and he’ll tell you.

Day 11

Hello ITCZ! Mid-morning, we give up trying to coax progress out of the dying wind and turn on the engine. It’s usually slower to motor than to sail, but a nice push from the current keeps miles passing steadily under the keel.…

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