Behan Gifford

Top Ten Snorkeling Spots

24 Jun

What are the top ten snorkeling spots we’ve visited? Sitting in the cockpit as we left our anchorage at sunrise this morning, Jamie and I talked through our favorites. Remembering each one is like talking about an old friend: recalling good times, personalities, and what occupied our lives at the time.

Totem on a resort mooring
The reefs off Misool in Raja Ampat are unforgettable

What makes a spot great is extremely subjective, of course. Some may prefer being surrounded by schools of colorful fish, some are all about the echinoderms, others geek out over pelagics or corals (I squeal over nudibranchs). In any given ...

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Our brothers of the sea: the Indonesian Navy

22 Jun

Navy phone pic
This is a story about a remarkable man, and an unforgettable experience we had as part of our clearance process from Indonesia. It is a reminder that human kindness is alive and well, and often waiting to surprise you from the most unexpected corners of your life. It is the point, and the counterpoint, to our last post about navigating clearance bureaucracy. It is the story our departure from Indonesia, wrapped in the embrace of kinship and friendship.

Totem arrived in Singkawang, West Kalimantan, to clear out of Indonesia. A short trip to the immigration office educated us that it ...

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Summer Sailstice: celebrating twice on Totem!

21 Jun

Happy solstice- now, go sailing!

This Saturday, June 22, is Summer Sailstice– a worldwide celebration of sailing held on the weekend closest to solstice each June. On Totem, we observe solstice and are passionate about sailing, so what serendipity to bring them together as we return from our 3 year foray to the southern hemisphere!

The event was started in 2001 by John Arndt in the SF Bay Area. John is passionate about sailing, and just wanted to share his passion with others while bringing the diverse factions of sailing together. Ultimately, Summer Sailstice is all about getting out ...

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Demystifying international clearance for cruisers

20 Jun

I have a new appreciation for how easily most international travelers are able to pass the gauntlets to enter a foreign country. A little form on the plane, a stamp in your passport, and you’re off to your hotel. Sometimes we are lucky to have a very simple clearance (record: 13 minutes, Cook Islands)… and sometimes, we’re not (record: 3 days, Indonesia).

This is the next installment as I tick (slowly, yes) through questions that came in response to my query post, What do you want to know about? from a few weeks ago. Cidnie asked first, but it turns ...

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Unexpected Kumai: a sweet side of Kalimantan

18 Jun

To our surprise, Kumai was delightful. Yes, it is a funny, dusty frontier town with absolutely nothing to recommend it aesthetically, but it was incredibly friendly. After our weeks in Bali, it was also really nice to be able to walk down the street without having 10 people try to sell us something. Here, nobody tried to sell us anything at all! It was something of a study in contradictions, with the massive shipping traffic and relatively modern vessels and structures next to very traditional boats like this one (he’s waving, of course).
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Before we went up the river, we ...

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Up the river in Borneo, part 2: the drama

15 Jun
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A reminder that we’re related

We knew our trip up the river from Kumai would be a privileged experience, to see wild, exotic and endangered animals- the Borneo orangutan in particular. What we didn’t expect is how tangibly we’d find the evidence of threats against these creatures and their habitat.

What’s happening

Orangutans in the wild are now limited to Sumatra, and Borneo (an island shared by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei). Their habitat is rapidly being lost, primarily as a result of pressure from logging for timber, and to develop palm oil plantations. In addition to the obvious habitat destruction, ...

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Up the river in Borneo, part 1: the wonder

12 Jun

We have heard such raves about traveling up the Kumai river in Kalimantan to visit orangutan

rehabilitation centers that I almost expected to be disappointed. It was described with such glowing

terms that I couldn’t imagine- and sometimes, with few words at all at all, from those who professed

to be left speechless or at a loss to adequately describe the incredible experience of traveling

there. Lowering expectations was an instinct to avoid setting them too high, and then not having the

reality life up to the hype.

Well, it lived up to the hype. I have never taken so ...

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Bali memories

8 Jun

I’m still absorbing and processing the outrageous, unforgettable experience of traveling up into the river into a national park, looking into the eyes of our next-of-kin: the awesome “people (orang) of the forest (hutan)”, the endangered orangutans. While I organize thoughts… there are still parting memories of Bali I have to share.

Staying through another moon cycle meant… another full moon temple ceremony! We heard the gamelan on the beach all day, and made our way over after sunset when the music picked up in earnest. Jamie and I thought that we stayed late when we left around 11, but ...

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Ships and squalls between Bali and Borneo

6 Jun

Leaving Bali was easy.

Lovina Beach Sunset
Shades of light in Lovina

We pulled the anchor at dawn, and headed out past the canoes that had blasted by us every morning as they hauled their catch of tourists out to see the dolphins. We had a forecast for <10 knots winds from the east and were hoping for a little help to motor sail our way north. The conditions had been unchanged for weeks, which gave us a false sense of security.

Getting to Kalimantan, the Indonesian side of Borneo, was a little less easy.

Possibly we should have consulted a few additional ...

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Kiss goodbye to Bali

5 Jun

When our expectations of a quick (<1 week) visa extension turned into a three weeks, it was hard not to be frustrated. Yet silver linings are everywhere: a chance to go out to Pulau Menjangan was just the first.
The very best part of our delay by far was the chance to catch up with an old friend. Rick and I met in 1988 on a camping trip that preceded our matriculation to a little liberal arts college in Connecticut. We were both Chinese minors and members of the sailing team – kind of a unique combination it turned out, ...

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