Behan Gifford

Challenging anchorages revisited

5 Jun

Miles and years slide by, but the feel of an anchorage sticks with you. Name a bay, and memories flood back: the quality of the holding. The way the swell could wrap around one end. The dogleg track to avoid a shoal. Returning to old haunts, the filter of experience casts a new light. Two recent stops illustrate how anchoring, one of the more stressful routine aspects of cruising, changes over time.

Isla Isabel’s roadstead

Rising from a hazy marine layer, from a distance this island resembled the craggy rock of our memory: a place that might be called barren ...

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Migrating for hurricane season in Mexico

25 May

Cruising has seasonal rhythms; weather is the dominant factor, and for cruisers in Mexico it’s time to be in – or well on your way to – an area to spend hurricane season. From Mexico’s “Gold Coast” on the Pacific, the primary choices are south to El Salvador or beyond, north towards the Sea of Cortez, or the big passage to French Polynesia. We’re headed back to Baja and the SOC, and can’t wait to immerse ourselves in the stunning desert landscape again.

This morning, dolphins played in our bow wake as Siobhan and Mairen looked on: yes, that IS ...

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Murder in paradise: is cruising dangerous?

5 May

A few days ago we learned that a cruising family was attacked on their boat in Guna Yala (aka San Blas), Panama, with the tragic outcome of death aboard. We met the New Zealanders in the Bahamas in 2017: their uncommon boat (a sky-blue trawler) and friendly crew made for memorable anchorage neighbors during a brief overlap at Stocking Island. What happened? The bigger question: what is the risk to personal safety when cruising?

The initial facts are thin, but consistent. The boat was anchored near a small island in a remote area; three men boarded the boat; Al was ...

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Tanked: mixology woes aboard

10 Apr

Jerry cans lined up on the dock

The dull thud of your heart sinking at that horrifying moment when you realize what you just did and consequences will follow: we all dread it. It happens anyway. Cruising comes with higher highs, and lower lows… pouring the wrong stuff in your diesel tank is one of those lower points.

In mid-2012, Totem was being prepped to move after five months mostly at a dock and a year and a half in Australia. This was the first step to depart Australia: shifting from dockside liveaboard to river mooring before sailing north to Papua New Guinea and beyond. Wrapping up ...

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New tools on Totem

27 Mar

It’s fun when you’ve been cruising for a bunch of years and can find delight in a few new pieces of kit on board. Here are a few new additions to Totem that earn their keep very nicely. What does that have to do with whales? read on!

Laser rangefinder. OK, this has been on Jamie’s wish list for years: in fact, I cited it in a blog post SEVEN years ago as lingering on Jamie’s wish list. It always seemed like the ~$150 we didn’t need to spend, and hey, we’re frugal cruisers. A generous friend gifted us ...

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Totem’s Coppercoat application

25 Mar

Coppercoating Totem’s hull was a thrilling prospect, but pressure to do the application correctly gave me more anxiety than any boat project in memory. The product features are substantial: a strong environmental case (nothing toxic ends up in the water, as with conventional antifouling paints), and solid financial value (the epoxy bottom should last for many years, a significant savings). But long term success relies on nailing the application. We did NOT want to screw this up.

Totem started from bare fiberglass bottom (no gelcoat) because a prior owner peeled it, presumably to resolve a blister problem. A clean gelcoat ...

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Weather waffling: the passage departure decision

13 Mar

I watched from Totem’s cockpit yesterday as friends sailed out of the La Cruz anchorage. Their next stop: the Marquesas, French Polynesia’s nearest island group to the Americas, around 3,000 miles away. This week’s weather window spawned the first wave of South Pacific-bound departures from our corner of Mexico. When a big passage looms, evaluating options stalls many crews: this one is closing, and the next wave now plays the waiting game. Jamie wrote these observations while we were on weather watch for a significant passage of our own some years ago. 

The last leg of Totem’s Pacific crossing stared ...

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Cruiser karma: alive and well in La Cruz

16 Feb

Nine years ago this month, Totem rocked at anchor in this exact curve of coastline on the north side of Banderas Bay where we find ourselves today. We basked in the same sunrise over the sierras to the east, were enchanted by the same distant fireworks from Puerto Vallarta resorts in the evening, and maybe even gasped at the same glistening humpback whales breech and splash into colossal spires of whitewater. (There’s Siobhan in the midst of provisioning chaos in our main cabin – age 5.)

Our little crew had been cruising a year and a half: those months grew ...

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Crewing on Totem

7 Jan

For the 800 mile run from Puerto Peñasco to Puerto Vallarta, two coaching clients responded to our spontaneous offer for sharing the sail; Sam shares their experience in this guest post.

David read the email before I did. And he’d already made up his mind not to go when he came upstairs to tell me.

“It’s too close to Christmas and too long to be gone.”

“Where would the kids go?”

“What if I can’t get the time off of work?”

“What if the plane tickets are outrageous?”

And my response to these arguments?

“Of course we’re going.”

Two weeks ...

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What 2018 taught us as cruisers

2 Jan

Two Dolphins in sailboat bow wake

Pausing for reflection at the transition into a new year: living in the present, it’s necessary to pull significant events from fleeting thoughts might banish to the ordinary. Continuous learning is one of the great opportunities of cruising, and a few lessons stand out in 2018.

We didn’t screw up homeschooling.

Niall’s return to Totem for winter break from Lewis & Clark college confirm he’s happily transitioned. I credit him as an individual and not our efforts to direct and shape with homeschooling, in truth, but will let myself wallow in pride and gratitude at his accomplishment in making the ...

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