Crewing on Totem

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 later we were on our way to Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico to crew on Totem for the 800 mile passage south to La Cruz. Normally one doesn’t blast their way past all the wonders of Baja or spend cold nights on the Sea of Cortez in winter, but Totem’s got a fancy new paint job on her newly dry bottom, and she made it back in the water just in time to retrieve Niall from Puerto Vallarta on his winter break.

Schedules are typically frowned upon in cruising—for good reason—but the weather gods acquiesced to these unusual circumstances, and we were able to leave the dock and head south on Friday morning, December 14th.

My husband, David, and I became enamored with the idea of sailing about a year and a half ago. It came out of nowhere, really. We’d never sailed. We don’t know anyone who sails. It just happened, and it’s awesome.

After we’d made up our minds to cruise with our two young kids, we took the plunge and became Jamie and Behan’s coaching clients in May of 2018, shopped for boats all summer, and bought our vessel in November.

Told you it was serious!

Serendipitously, we were actually scheduled to sign all the purchase paperwork for our boat the same day we received the email asking if we could come crew on Totem. Clearly a sailor’s life is the life for us. We’d taken every bit of email and video chat advice the Giffords had given, and now we were on our way to learn from them firsthand.

After a long day of travel by car, plane, and shuttle bus, Jamie and Behan invited us aboard. Climbing down Totem’s companionway was the first time I felt I was descending not just into a boat but into a home, with evidence of their happy memories and hard work everywhere I looked.

So there we were, work, parenting and holiday preparations put on hold to take advantage of our first crewing opportunity. As inexperienced as we are, I’m not sure we were much help, but I have a feeling that was kind of the point.

David and I learned so many things about ourselves, about passage making, weather, sail trim and so much more, that I believe this was a better investment than any class we could have taken.

Just a few of the things I discovered:

  • The magic of butyl tape
  • I get queasy the first 36 hours on passage
  • Good food helps
  • So does Dramamine
  • Lee cloths are a delightfully cozy cocoon
  • A Barber Hauler is superior to a jib sheet at every point of sail except close hauled
  • Baja is 100% worth coming back for
  • Just not in winter
  • Old gray pelicans look like wise wizards

But this wouldn’t be a full review of my experience if I didn’t mention the day that made me want to reevaluate this lifestyle. It was a nasty 24 hours of steep-ish, closely patterned waves when we left the southern tip of Baja and headed east to Mexico’s mainland. Totem was treading a fine line between keeping her sails full and keeping the waves astern of the beam. It required near constant steering and eyes on the water.

I found myself in a dark mood after that, questioning if I was making the right decision to one day do this with my kids…and without the Giffords by my side. If this is what cruising is like, maybe it’s a little too much adventure for me, I thought.

I knew I was too exhausted and frayed to think reasonably about it, so I told myself to wait it out. Don’t make any decisions about my future until I’ve had some rest and a chance to see the big picture.

I’m glad I listened to that voice instead of the anxious, overly tired one.

The truth is, passage making is only about 5% to 10% of the cruising life, and cold, winter passages with a schedule to adhere to are virtually unheard of. After 10+ years of cruising, the Giffords only had 3 or 4 stories to share with us about less-than-ideal conditions…all of them manageable and none of them even close to resembling a storm at sea.

This is the biggest decision we’ve ever made. It’ll change our entire lives and give our kids a very different childhood from the one they might have on land. So I don’t take it lightly. And neither do Jamie and Behan. Every decision is carefully calculated, and they’ve planned for all contingencies.

I already suspected we’d chosen our cruising coaches well, but after seeing them in action, practicing what they preach, I know with certainty my family will be successful in our cruising life if we continue to heed their words.

I’m grateful for all of it. The night we anchored in Honeymoon Cove will be fodder for my future cruising dreams, and that last day in Banderas Bay before our flight home gave me the rest—and perspective—I needed. But I’m especially appreciative of that long 24 hours of grumpy seas and practically no sleep. It was hard, but we did it. And we know we can do it again.

I can’t tell you how much comfort it brought me to do my first passage under the full guidance of the Giffords. I wish everyone on the path to family cruising could have this same opportunity.

Sam, David, and their kids are counting down to cruising! Bookmark their pending blog, Muse and the everyday epic, to follow along. Totem and crew are now in Barra de Navidad, revisiting favorite haunts with Niall while’s aboard for winter break. Find out our schedule for boat shows in Toronto, Seattle, and Puerto Vallarta area seminars on our Events page.  

What 2018 taught us as cruisers

Two Dolphins in sailboat bow wake

Pausing for reflection at the transition into a new year: living so much in the present, it’s worth stopping to draw out significant events that too easily slide into the misty past. 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 changeover from an unstructured nomadic life afloat, to a highly structured academic environment—and thrive.

Mexico is just as awesome as we remembered.

Our first year and a half cruising was spent in Mexico, but it was eight years prior; we wondered what it would be like to return after the intervening countries and miles. Turns out it’s hard to beat the combination of beautiful coastlines, interesting places to visit, friendly people and general security. We’re happy to extend our time here after closing a circ loop in Zihuatenejo last spring!

sailboat at anchor next to stunningly rugged desert coastline in Baja

The incredible light of the Sea of Cortez

Inspiring is a gift.

We added more than 50 new coaching clients in our “TRU crew” this year. Amazing! Working as mentors to realize their cruising dream is profoundly fulfilling. Jamie would tell you I’m like a broken record after our calls: “we get to work with the best people!” I’m so happy we have grown a niche to make a difference.

This view was earned with sweat, not drone skills! Isla Danzante

There’s hope to normalize cruising.

Appearing on TODAY with Megyn Kelly may land among the most unforgettable experiences we ever have. But it was behind-the-scenes crew that are the real stars, no disrespect to a celebrity interviewer intended. The crew offered us interest, kindness, humility, and grace. From the producer who first reached out, to the reporter and crew in California, to the security guard who knew exactly how to calm a few flickering nerves – they didn’t see the freaks, the Weird People, the spectacle of the week… as you might expect from non-boaty crowd. That they sought us out, heard our story, and helped us amplify the gifts offered by this wonderful life afloat gives me hope.

crappy phone pic. way to nervous for more than that!

Sharing the sail is fun.

A spontaneous decision chased by an email resulted in two of our coaching clients joining Totem for a week long passage in December. David and Sam had just closed on the boat that will be their family’s magic carpet. They don’t have much experience. We didn’t need crew. This wasn’t a paid gig. It just felt like a cool opportunity to connect something we could offer with something they needed. They were great additions and learned a bunch: Sam’s upcoming guest post will share the experience.

Sam & David before flying home from Puerto Vallarta

Totem’s 2018 statistics

We love our statistics, and Jamie’s database makes metrics for the year easy to grab! Here’s another dimension to a great turn around the sun.

Countries visited: 5. OK, so you can do that in a couple of days in the Caribbean. We might have added four more, but sailed from Costa Rica to Mexico without visiting intermediary countries. Something to fix in future years.

Days on passage: 20. We count a “passage day” if we were underway at midnight. Most of this happened as we legged our way north from the Panama Canal to the northern Sea of Cortez between mid-March and mid-June.

Anchoring depths: our deepest spot in Panama’s San Blas islands was 65’, exactly half our deepest ever (Maldives in 2015); the average was around 26’.

Distance traveled: 4,916 nautical miles (5,657 miles). Far from our biggest year, but remarkable in that we spent MOST of this year…not sailing. There were six months in the shipyard, and 43 days at a dock (most of those in Colombia, where anchoring wasn’t safe). In the remaining period we averaged about a thousand miles per month: suddenly, it feels like a bigger year for sea time.

One last lesson

Holy cow, how did I almost neglect this one? On April 7, we learned in a wholly new and internalized way that the earth is in fact round when Totem and crew closed the loop on a circumnavigation in Zihuatenejo, Mexico. 2018: you were one for the memory book!

Totem and crew are southbound in Mexico right now, making plans to head north in a few weeks for the Toronto Boat Show and Seattle Boat Show. Want to learn how to go cruising? Please join us in Seattle for a special extended seminar! Details on the Totem Events page.

 

Give the Cruising Dream! Last minute, no-shipping gift ideas

Need a little something at the last minute? Here are a few ideas to help inspire the hopeful cruiser in your life… or, put a smile on that cruiser across the anchorage from you! My favorite elves above, three years ago, on our mad road trip across South Africa to catch up with family in Yzerfontein.

Gift certificate

Give the Gift of Cruising: our mentoring service, for standard durations (monthly increments) or our holiday special: a one-time session (up to an hour and a half) for $50. Several versions of gift certificates are available to personalize! Contact me for availability (limited number offered); printable PDFs will be mailed for gifting. See rates at TRU Coaching) and contact us for a certificate.

eBooks

While a general gift certificate on Amazon is awesome, you can also give a specific ebook to someone – and, time it to work for a holiday surprise! Here’s how:

  1. Go to the Amazon Kindle store, and search for the book you want to buy – maybe Voyaging with Kids?!
  2. On the right side of the page, below the “Buy Now” button (or in this case, Read Now – I already own this book!), click on the button that says “Buy for Others.”

3. The next screen provides options to personalize you gift message, then — choose your delivery date, so you can keep the surprise intact! You can also have the gift email sent to yourself instead of the recipient (see that tiny text under ‘Recipient email?), then print to give them directly.

Make something!

While we were in Puerto Peñasco, we were gifted a bag of citrus from shipyard friends (thank you Nicole!). What bounty! Enough to enjoy and make citrus-based gifts in return. Oranges and lemons became marmalade, lemon peels turned into a percolating jar of lemon essential oil infused vinegar (fantastic for cleaning), lemon curd for holiday baking; a tasty bottle of limoncello came our way too. You don’t have to be skilled at canning or DIY boatkeeping. Things you can make and give are myriad: prepare a mix for your fave sailor to make hot buttered rum (just add rum/hot water), or chocolate chip cookie mix in a jar for example.

Donate

One of the best kids our kids ever got needed no wrapping paper. Our friend Brian of the MV Further (now based in beautiful Philippines) gave them funds with Kiva. The kids then browsed for micro-lending candidates to choose which to support. A great gift for our kids while supporting fellow humans! Our 2016 holiday gift guide includes a list of marine-related charities and foundations, one of which might just hit the mark.

Hope this was helpful for you! 

Preparing Totem for Coppercoat

Two girls talk next to a sailboat on a hardstand.

 

Coppercoat’s advantages in durability (=savings!) and environmental friendliness (=how we live!) have made me more excited about antifouling than I believed possible. As if to complete the picture, Totem’s shiny new metallic hull is dazzling in the Sonoran sun. Once sanded to activate the copper the hull will oxidize to rich shade of verdigris, but for now it is stunning. Applying Coppercoat was an intense day of work, and an even bigger effort to prep. Researching our options confirmed how critical good prep is for this unique antifouling to be effective: here’s what we did, and why.

Two men scrape paint off the bottom of a sailboat
Jamie and Rudolpho tackling the bottom in June

  

Prepping for Coppercoat: two people examine the hull of a boat on a hardstand.

1. Stripped. Bottom paint and barrier coat were stripped to bare fiberglass last June, shortly after getting hauled in Puerto Peñasco. Totem didn’t have gelcoat left, the surprise that greeted us after blasting decades of accumulated bottom paint in Grenada. We painted on paint stripper, and scraped it off; not a perfect job of paint removal, with some visible bits in the valleys of Totem’s not-very-smooth hull, but sufficient for the summer. Boats with different substrates (e.g., gelcoat, metal hulls, etc.) get different prep.

2. Dried. From June until November, Totem’s wet hull dried out on the hard in the Sonora, Mexico. That’s Sonora, as in The Sonora Desert, where heat and low humidity provided an ideal climate to dry out during the summer months. Elsewhere (like the US east coast, or mainland Mexico, or further south) would have taken many months longer or required additional equipment (e.g. heating pads) or both.

Hull moisture meter readings were around 25% when we left. Eight blue-tape boxes were masked off to ensure repeat readings were in the same location; during our five months away, Cabrales Boatyard manager, Salvador Cabrales, would take periodic readings. He’d write the new measurement on the blue tape, then send a photo of it for us to see. Great peace of mind on progress while we were remote! The readings were at 6% to 7% at the end. During the drying period, the boatyard pressure washed the bottom to remove glycol, the sticky byproduct of a Polyester / Vinylester resin and a wet hull, that migrates to the surface as the hull dries.

 

A man writes on blue tape affixed to the hull of a boat.
Salvador updating measurement on the blue-tape reading area

Excel chart showing hull moisture readings declining over time
Homeschool bonus: charting the readings over time

Moisture meter showing reading.
Lower every time!

3. Stripped again. Totem’s bare hull was a rough surface, with flecks of paint remaining in the crevices. Brushing on paint stripper (we used Aquastrip) softened the remaining paint, which came off completely with a pressure washer.

Man brushes paint stripper on a boat.

 

Man powerwashes the bottom of a sailboat.

 

4. Sanded. The entire hull was sanded with 80 grit. After a full day of holding a vibrating sander mostly at or above shoulder height, Jamie hired a couple of guys from the yard crew to speed the job along and save his back.

Man in tyvek suit and face protection sanding a sailboat hull.
These guys helped a lot, but Jamie’s basically been in pain at night for a few weeks. 

  

5. Epoxied. If you’re at bare fiberglass, like Totem, the substrate (fiberglass) is porous and rough. After was wash and acetone wipe down, one coat of West system epoxy went on. When it was tacky, a second coat of West System with 410 micro-balloon filler to thicken the mix to work towards a smoother surface. Adding another layer of epoxy on top of a tacky prior coat is called hot coating: this creates a chemical bond between layers. The alternative is curing between coats and replying on roughing up the surface for a physical bond.

Three people measuring up epoxy to roll on a boat.
Mairen and Siobhan help mix up epoxy

 

6 – 9. Cured, sanded, washed, then wiped with Acetone. Epoxy was given a few days curing time before sanding. Sanding the thickened epoxy coat greatly improved substrate smoothness. Washing the hull got rid of the dust, and wiping with Acetone prepped for the next layers of epoxy.

 

Two people wipe rags on a sailboat hull while wearing heavy gloves
Wiping on acetone. Every once in a while need to demonstrate that I am not just behind the camera! 

 

10. Epoxied again. Several times actually: three coats of West System (two with 422 barrier coat additive) were applied to Totem’s hull bringing the total to five layers of epoxy, minus the 80 grit sanding.

Man in respirator with sander working on hull.
Looking pretty shiny after all the West Systems was applied! Fashion by Goodwill of Phoenix.

 

Siobhan uses a sharpie to mark rough spots that need more sanding; evening guard, Federico, looks on.

 

11 – 14. Cured, sanded, washed, and wiped with Acetone…again. Very intimate with the surface area of Totem’s hull at this point.

Drying the hull after a last rinse before the barrier coat went on.

  

15. Barrier Coat. Three coats of Interlux Interprotect 2000 were applied over the West Systems. Interlux recommends five coats, but with five prior coats of West System (including two with barrier protection additive) we feel confident that the combined eight coats will serve.

Three people work together to apply Interlux barrier coat to a sailboat hull.
Barrier coating as a family affair: Mairen stirs, Jamie and Siobhan roll on.

  

16 – 18. For the third time: cured, sanded (lighter, much lighter), and wiped down– but this time, no acetone! The hull was dusted with rags instead to remove debris from sanding, and leave a surface primed for Coppercoat. For future Coppercoaters, we have done even better to gently pressure wash one or two days in advance.

Consumables list – I’m probably forgetting something:

  • gloves – decimated a box of 150, plus a half dozen heavy-duty pairs for paint stripper
  • 80 grit disks – 175
  • 320 grit disks – TBD
  • paint brushes – 4
  • 3/8″ roller covers – 10 (Interlux Interprotect 2000)
  • 1/8″ roller covers – 6 (West System epoxy)
  • Acetone – 3 gallons
  • blue tape – 1 big roll
  • rags – large bag of clean, lint-free rags
  • mixing sticks – 20
  • spreaders – 10
  • Aquastrip  – 5 gallons
  • West System – 4 gallons for 5 coats, plus 410 filler and 422 additive
  • Interprotect 2000 – 7 gallons for 3 coats

A note on safety equipment:

Toxic stuff is all over this project. One of the reasons we’re excited about Coppercoat is how environmentally friendly it is, compared to alternatives, but getting to that point is not – really, a lot of boat work is pretty nasty, and this prep is no exception. Take care of skin, eyes, and lungs!

My friend Kate Laird (Check out her expedition sails and homeschool expertise!) called out safety kit shortcomings in some pictures posted, and she’s right. We should be better about how we’re protecting ourselves, and I also seemed good at capturing moments when we weren’t! Here’s an equipment list to help with planning ahead, with products we like.

Kate Laird from Seal expedition sail sanding paint on her boat's hull.
Kate- or is that Hamish? Or one of their teenage daughters? Working on the hull of their expedition vessel, Seal.

Respirator: Jamie and Kate both like this 3M 6200 half-mask. Bad luck was the straps on Jamie’s broke just before we started. You can get replacement straps and other parts – it’s one of the nice things about the respirator.

These reusable respirators have filters for particular matter (these pink ones) and VOC fumes (white ones here). Hot tip from Kate: keep the VOC filters in a ziploc bag to extend their useful life. They actually keep filtering away in there!

Jamie decided to try these disposable Moldex-Metric respirators this time. They were easy to source, lighter weight, and relatively comfortable. However, they’re really for “nuisance levels” organic vapors vs. fumes of OSHA PEL standards.

Skin protection: Tyvek jumpsuits are the standard, and they did get modeled around Totem, but the Goodwill in Phoenix turned out to be a good place for quick, affordable cover-up (50% off on Saturdays, and help from the Jollydogs crew picking things up for us!). We needed a few warm layers, anyway: we were NOT PREPARED for cool weather here in the late fall, and didn’t have clothes for it. Jamie’s happy: he hasn’t had a single day of gritty itchy boatyard yuck.

Eye protection: Jamie wears glasses but adds goggles over them when he’s worried about exposure. We picked up inexpensive eye protection in a hardware shop in Peñasco that worked fine for the girls. For more souped-up protection, this full-face respirator (3M 6700) Kate recommended is gold standard: big, single lens for easy viewing.

Further note on toxic junk, and being outside the US: I don’t know if there are any standards for the toxic waste produced in boatyards but the practices here mean we’re doing work that wouldn’t be handled the same way in the USA. Some things can be addressed by individual boaters, with some planning ahead. A shopvac using HVAC filters to capture and dispose of dust off sanders (Jamie’s got a bag on his that he’d empty regularly, and dispose – amazing how much of that stuff comes off – but no special filtering). You couldn’t just paint on stripper and pressure wash it off on a hardstand spot like we are, but set up for catchment and hazardous waste dispo…no, actually, you probably couldn’t because there’s probably not a hazardous waste facility. In the US, you’d stage the boat for this at a place where runoff is captured. For the most part, our lives are an incredibly light footprint environmentally: every once in a while, they’re really not.

Totem has 12 coats of epoxy right now. TWELVE. OK, so some got sanded off in the process, but even if we lost a couple of coats – it’s a long way from the bare fiberglass that peeked out when we blasted at Grenada Marine last year.

Coppercoat application: next post.

Coming soon to Toronto and Seattle Boat Shows

birds-eye view of two boats rafted together as a dinghy carves a wake through the water in front of them.

 

Making winter boat show plans? Let’s meet! Jamie and I are excited to have finalized plans for presenting at the Toronto Boat Show and Seattle Boat Show in early 2019. We can’t wait to share our experiences and enthusiasm for cruising with those who hope to make the break, and meeting up with members of the cruising community. Here’s the scoop on when and where.

Toronto Boat Show: Jan. 23rd & 24th

Toronto International Boat Show Logo

We’ll be coming up from Puerto Vallarta, a jarring climate change. Shove tea in my trembling hands if necessary. Jamie and I are presenting at 12:30 and 5:30 on Wednesday and Thursday, January 23rd and 24th

  • Healthcare while cruising: 12:30 p.m. Learn how to prepare for healthy cruising – and, what to do if you happen to need medical care from far away.  raining, Medical kit, common ailments, and what it’s really like to get medical care while cruising long distances.
  • Ten years around the world: a family circumnavigation. 5:30 p.m. These stories will inspire you as well as providing practical insight to help you plan your own adventure… while living vicariously, through beautiful destinations spanning the world.

Toronto will be two packed days! Hopefully we can hack the weather after having our blood thinned in the tropics for so meany years. We’ll be wandering the show both days, outside our seminar times; tell us if you’ll be around!

For more information and to register for these seminars, visit the seminar section of the Toronto Boat Show website.

Seattle Boat Show 2019 logo

Seattle Boat Show: Jan. 26, 30-31, and Feb. 1

Our home waters are here, so it’s particularly meaningful for us to return as presenters instead of attendees after attending the Seattle Boat Show for years as dreamers. We’re planning a range of presentations and seminars and contemplating an after-hours meetup (if you’re keen, hit us up, and we’ll make it happen!). Seattle Boat Show tickets go on sale December 1; seminar details on the website.

Saturday Jan. 26th

On Saturday the 26th, we’ll join a couple of two-hour panels. These panels are free with boat show admission:

  • Cruising Forum: 10:15, Stage #5, Club level. We’ll join two accomplished cruising couples— Will & Sarah Curry, and John Neal & Amanda Swan-Neal. Boat selection, outfitting, self-sufficiency, mind-blowing landfalls and whatever else we can fit into two hours! Register and submit questions for Cruising Forum at tinyurl.com/2019SeattleCruisingForum 
  • Writing About Your Boating Adventures: 12:15 , Stage #5, Club level. Behan joins PNW authors Elsie Hulsizer, Wendy Hinman, Christine Smith, Mark Bunzel, and Norris Comer to talk about writing and cruising.

Wednesday-Thursday, Jan. 30th – 31st

Living the Dream and Cruising the World – Getting Ready to Cruise. This two-day series is part of Boat Show University, the Seattle Boat Show’s premium education track. Either day stands alone, but they’re better together! The full day seminars run from 9am-4pm.

Day 1: Getting ready to cruise, and leaving the dock. We’ll take about preparing a boat and crew to leave the dock: selection, equipment, spares, and more. How do you decide what goes– and what doesn’t? What about downsizing? I’ll touch on homeschooling, too, and other important preparations we made in preparing to live the dream for the last ten years.

Day 2: So many places to go! Believe it or not, we feel like we rushed at times even though we spent a decade circumnavigating. Where should you go? What about weather routing for passages, and anticipating ocean currents? We’ll talk about these, budgeting, getting a break, medical care, and what it’s really like to live everyday in paradise.

  

Details for the two-day seminar ovelaid on an image of sailboats in a tropical lagoon

  

Jamie and I will cover a myriad of practical topics while feeding your dream by connecting preparations with real-world cruising experiences. These sessions offer insights whether you’re hoping to circumnavigate too, cruise to the South Pacific, head down the coast to Mexico, or sail north to Alaska.

  

Cruising Forum panel details

 

Friday Feb. 1

Three presentations on the second Friday of the Seattle Boat Show, to help us cover some of the most common questions we get from future cruisers.

  • Health care while cruising: 1:00 p.m. How to prepare for healthy cruising – and, what to do if you happen to need medical care from far away! Training, Medical kit, common ailments, and what it’s really like when you need care far away.
  • Documents for cruising: 2:00 p.m. Take off cruising and the paperwork in your life gets less complicated… and it will, as long as you do some simple planning! We’ll go through how to prepare for your long distance adventure.
  • Ten years around the world: a family circumnavigation. 4:15 p.m. These stories will inspire you as well as providing practical insight to help you plan your own adventure… while living vicariously, through beautiful destinations spanning the world.

Jan. 31st: an evening of sea tales at the Seattle Yacht Club

Thursday evening, January 31st, we’ll have an evening of storytelling with adventures from our ten years circumnavigating. Come share a drink and a tale at Totem’s home yacht club, SYC! Open to the public; non-SYC-members may need to register. No charge; cash bar. Doors open at 6:30; program at 6:45. Details will be posted at seattleyachtclub.org.

 

Presentation screen showing happy family on a boat, flanked by two presenters.
Homecoming presentation at SYC in July this year: photo, Kevin Baerg

 

Annapolis is coming up, too!

Jamie and I will be speaking again at spring and fall Annapolis boat shows this year. Our spring sessions (and links to seminar details) are posted on the website – and tickets are already on sale, for the show and for our Cruisers U seminars! Topics in Annapolis: 

  • Cruising Women – Behan’s 2-day Master Class with Pam Wall
  • Cruising on a Budget – Silver, Gold, & Platinum
  • Top Newbie Cruising Mistakes
  • What Me Worry? Putting Your Cruising Fears to Rest
  • Safety at Sea (Jamie’s double session)
  • Splicing & Whipping
  • Route Planning
  • Offshore Rigging & Sails – When Things Go Wrong

The full schedule for Cruisers U is here; to register for Annapolis, visit AnnapolisBoatShows.com.

Keep in touch, and drop us a note if we’ll see you at a show!

Holiday gift ideas: inspired by social side of cruising

boats at anchor in tropical blue water off a beautiful beach on a lush Bahamian island

  

The cruising lifestyle shimmers with a wide social streak; gathering for cockpit sundowners or beach barbecues is routine, and comes with distinct practices. Using these rituals as a springboard for holiday gift ideas spurred a fun conversation (and opinions!) around the boatyard lounge this morning, one which will probably be reprised around the firepit tonight. Here are a gift ideas for your favorite sailor to enjoy or anticipate cruising, bundled with insight into a few unwritten rules of cruiser etiquette. 

Why are cruisers such social creatures? Probably because we have time for it. As a species, humans are wired to make social connections. It was just harder to find time to accommodate the drive when we were juggling two jobs, shuffling kids to school and activities, travel for work, etc. Our lives are simpler now, and while our plates still get pretty darn full there’s an entirely different level of freedom to make time.

How do you meet cruisers?

It could be helping someone pull their dinghy up a beach or striking up conversation at the laundromat nearest the dinghy dock (those waterproof laundry bags could only belong to another cruiser). It might be paddling by another boat in a SUP and hailing “hello aboard!” or knocking on the hull from a dinghy.

What do you bring when you’re invited to another boat for sundowners?

Unless the boat is schmancy enough employ staff it is de rigueur to arrive with your own supplies. At a minimum, that means you should bring your choice of beverage. Why does this matter to cruisers? We typically carry limited provisions centered around meeting our own needs. It’s a function of space (can’t support a full bar), and budget (can’t afford a full bar), and availability (might be metering the rum because we’ve literally counted the months until a place to resupply and stocked accordingly). We didn’t appreciate behaviors we took for granted until sitting in the cockpit of SV Fortytwo in Langakwi, Malaysia, a few years ago. Invited for sundowners, we showed up with our usual kit – to the amusement of the European crew. 

Gift idea: Soda Stream makes bottomless fizzy water. I’ve never been big on carbonated beverages because 1) too sweet 2) packaging. Solved. 

Gift idea: homemade bonus! Package a syrup or infusion to make that fizzy water an awesome mixer. Ginger syrup is about as simple as boiling up ginger and sugar in water; voila, ginger ale! Just add rum for a Dark & Stormy.

Because Totem’s crowd is, well, a crowd – we also bring our glasses. Many boats are minimally supplied; and if we show up with five people and four others already aboard are using their glasses well… we may strain the available drinkware supply! This turned into an unexpected discussion (debate?) on better barware for cruisers this morning.

Miss these faces! Note: stainless wineglass, custom kooozie, and polycarbonate champagne flute.

 

Gift idea: Jamie loves our insulated stainless-steel tumblers for wine or a rum drink.

Gift idea: I prefer drinking wine from actual glass, favor these virtually unbreakable Duralex tumblers.

Gift ideas: Boadyard judge opinions were strong! Hydro Flask tumbler is the popular favorite for keeping beverages coldest; Govino for wine if glass scares you and metal doesn’t appeal, although glass must be kept full, because these lightweight glasses might blow away. Wait,is that really a downside?! A another denizen offered that material quality and weighted base mean Strahl’s glasses are better…or less likely to blow off the cockpit coaming.

Apparently we spend a lot of time thinking about this. But remember: most cruisers are also minimalists. If you’re only going to have one set of drinking glasses, you want to love them.

Keeps our snacks from sliding all over the dinghy!

Other cruiser code for sundowners: it’s nice to bring a nibble for sharing. This doesn’t have to be much, but if you bring the same dwindling jar of salted peanuts every time people will talk (singlehanders, you get a bit more leeway). Our choice is usually based on location: here in Mexico, chips and salsa. In Martinique, that saucisson is so good with a little cheese. Far from anywhere? Olives are pantry staples, as are ingredients to mix a dip or spread for crackers (bake your own) or veggies; recipes for those and more ideas in The Boat Galley.

Gift ideas: make something special from one cruiser to another to brighten a sundowner spread. Papaya is common along most of our cruising path and my chutney recipe is really easy. Onions are nearly universal too, ad cooking up a batch of onion jam is even easier. I use a method like this one.

Beverages, glasses, snacks… starting to turn into a bunch of stuff to carry! I love our collapsible Meori carrier. Easy from dingy to boat or beach, stable space to , and folds down to almost nothing when not in use. We take the Meori to boats, to beach barbecues, and this week to the Thanksgiving potluck hosted by the Cabrales Boatyard (who provided mouthwatering carnitas – cooked on the grill by tables where we gathered – with at least half a dozen different salsas to accompany. 

The Meori comes in especially handy for potlucks, because you don’t just bring your glasses: come equipped with plates and utensils, too, including any needed to serve your shared dish. Looking for something more compact? If you have the space, a hard cooler turns into a table on the beach. It doesn’t have to be big, just a stable base to balance a board.

Inflatable dinghy arriving at sailboat; two people aboard sailboat accepting dishes from the dinghy
Judy welcomes us aboard Totem’s sistership for a potluck – Mairen has the Meori

 

Gift ideas: The basic Meori carrier has a perfect-fit cooler bag accessory keeps cold stuff cold and does double duty to pack for shopping trips; or, get a carrier/cooler bundle with the tailgate Meori box.

Gift idea: bring those bevs in koozies printed up with your boat’s name or logo; these are also fun gifts for cruisers you meet. I love that we have koozies on board from Bubbles, Shawnigan, and Terrapin… good memories.

All-anchorage gatherings for drinks or bonfire or potluck (whether that’s two boats or twenty) might start with one of those personal interactions or a wider call on the VHF. A beach is the usual venue; it’s nice to have something to sit on; some popular spots have makeshift tables/benches, but more often we have to bring our own. Here in the boatyard we’ve had evening gatherings at a firepit where the chairs were again much nicer than sitting on the (gravel) ground.

People sitting around a campfire for a potluck on an Indonesia beach.
Impromptu potluck at a fishing camp in Indonesia. Betcha Jamie wishes he had a chair!

 

Gift idea: collapsible chairs like these make seating more comfortable, and if your deck is big enough, extend seating options on board as well. Look for quality; cheap chairs rust out.

Jamie sits in a collapsible chair on the aft deck of a boat
Jamie kicks back in a collapsible chair on the aft deck of 48′ pilothouse ketch, CAPAZ, Thanksgiving 2009

 

What about hosting? Catamaran owners, all that real estate means you’ll be expected to raise your hand a little more often! Seriously though: when in company with a few familiar boats, hosting gets equitably shared around (or, again, people will talk). But hosting is easy, it’s not much more than welcoming people to your space, seeing as they’re showing up with a bunch of stuff! There are a few gift ideas to up your hosting game:

Gift ideacruisers almost universally adore solar-powered Luci lights, the collapsible lanterns that cast a gentle light. They’re reasonable, but multiples add up; an lovely gift would be a series of these to string like tiki lights. 

Gift idea: a rugged bluetooth speaker like this Voombox (ours has taken a beating and still awesome, 2.5 years in) to bring tunes anywhere you are on the boat; sometimes we’ll chill out on the foredeck in sport-a-seats instead of hanging in the cockpit and aft deck.

Gift idea: have a camera to capture the moment, then remember to use it! I love my Sony a7ii; the compact cousin, RX100 series (and underwater housing to go with it), is on top of my wish list.

For more recommendations across a broader spectrum of cruising lifestyle needs (and wants!), see more than thirty awesome gift ideas in last year’s post, or archived gift guides from prior years.

four peole in the cockpit of a sailboat, photo looking forward with the sun approaching an ocean horizon
Sundowners in the Barren Islands, Madagascar: our crew Ty, plus Bill and Christine off Solstice.

 

We tend to be all about needs vs wants, being mindful of the distinction and keeping our lives free of clutter. Fulfilling the unnecessary desire becomes that much more special when done discretely. But what are holiday gifts for, if not for fun – a chance to break out of the Necessary and into the Indulgent? I hope this has jumpstarted ideas for your favorite sailor! 

Silver linings to an extended haul out

Dog stands watch at gravel shipyard with people conversing in the distance

Early morning shadows stretch across the gravel lot of Cabrales Boatyards hardstand where Perro Negro (black dog) holds court. Mairen and Siobhan get the first of today’s Spanish vocabulary from the night guard as we’ve affectionately come to call maestro (teacher) for his enthusiastic lessons before he heads off duty for the day.

Sailboat on hardstand with ladder alongside for access

Boats in many parts of the northern hemisphere haul out for the season at this time of year; boats on the hard here in Puerto Peñasco are waking up from a hurricane season respite. Tucked onto jackstands for a long winter nap or summer away, maintenance or repairs can be worked into the months that stretch out ahead. But when active cruisers haul their boats, the situation is entirely different. We’re either cooped up in temporary dwelling spending cruising coin at an alarming rate, or trying to manage life on stilts with limited use of normal onboard utilities like, you know, toilets. The moment a cruiser’s boat is out of the water, the clock starts to tick: how quickly can we complete the projects that stand between us and the freedom of a blue horizon? Time is our enemy.

We’ve hauled Totem on three previous occasions since we started cruising: twice in Thailand (2013 and 2014), and once in Grenada (2017). Each experience felt like a race to the finish; hot, sweaty, dirty days of hard labor to minimize the days on land. On one occasion we left with significant projects left largely incomplete, facing the disappointing reality that a yard would only continue the pattern of extending our timeline.

This time it’s different.

We were absent during Totem’s extended hardstand stay this summer. From afar we dreamed about getting back to cruising, exploring corners of the beautiful Sea of Cortez. Hectic weeks before our return hampered advance planning, slowed ordering parts and supplies. It’s holding up the primary job ahead to put a new bottom on Totem.

Silver lining to delay in the larger effort is the gift of time to address projects that have shimmied their way up in the world of boatkeeping priorities, but in many cases could be pushed off. At a measured pace, we can remove a few bandaids that were applied over time, tackle some deferred maintenance, and correct less-than-ideal installations.

Jamie looks through a loupe at the chainplate
Jamie looks through a loupe at the chainplate

Chainplate viewed through magnification shows pitting
Rather have nooks and crannies in a muffin than a chainplate!

Chainplate inspections bubbled up first. Not a normal visual, but actually removing them entirely to inspect both sides as well as the point at which they intersect the deck. We replaced every chainplate except the stem fitting in 2008. Original (1982) plates had a rough finish where they were backed to a bulkhead or fiberglass knee, less easily inspected, and more subject to corrosion. The replacements are polished to a mirror finish which is highly resistant to corrosion. Great! But to get that shiny smooth metal well sealed is difficult, especially on a boat that flexes.

Edit/update: we’ve had a few questions about that loupe Jamie’s using. It’s actually the eyepiece from a failed pair of binoculars, and magnifies at 7x. But don’t destroy a pair of binos! You can get a good loupe (like this one) for less than twenty bucks.

Chainplate removed and placed on a table and surrounded with bolts, all showing signs of surface rust
This surface rust cleaned up and chainplate passed inspection under magnification

Bolts from above picture shown 'after' cleanup looking much better
Much cleaner now!

Somewhere around the five-year mark, a few began to weep, and that’s continued despite bandaid efforts along the way. So out they go for complete inspection and peace of mind. We started with those most suspect there are early signs of the crevice corrosion to which stainless is susceptible. It’s VERY minor at this point. Repeat: it’s very minor! Carefully cleaned and replaced, they just need monitoring. This time, they are through-deck portion is re-bedded with butyl tape to, hopefully, further prevent weeping or leaks for a longer time. The bolts all looked good, but three nuts failed inspection and were replaced.

using a chisel to force butyl tape around the chainplate deck fitting
Wedging butyl tape around the chainplate deck fitting

Side by side views of a nut with and without magnification, showing crack
Same nut with magnification on the right. YIKES! Yup that’s been replaced

Another project without burning urgency but “this could be better” was the rudder indicator for our autopilot. Two days before we left Puget Sound in 2008, Jamie did a last-minute autopilot install (surprise!). It wasn’t the cleanest installation, coming at a slightly hectic time. The rudder indicator was placed smack in the middle of the lazarette, and awkwardly mounted and subject to being knocked if something fell over in the space. Jamie built a cover to protect it from damage but the location bugged him. OK, so it has since done a circumnavigation; fixing it is possibly a little pedantic. But the placement could be improved, and now it is: Jamie made a new bracket and installed it in a better location. A more functional lazarette space and saver placement out of the way are the result.

Totem’s steering system is fine, but also getting a full review. In lumpy seas off Colombia last in January the steering chain broke. Jamie’s fix with Dyneema put in has worked well since, but a closer inspection of the whole system has been in the back of his mind. Good thing he took it apart yesterday! When the steering cable is in place and under tension, the sheaves appeared fine. But once the entire steering system was disconnected, the sheaves showed a bit of a wobble – too much wobble. Pulling the sheaves, Jamie then noticed that both the bronze bushings and the stainless steel pins were worn enough wear to warrant replacement. Not unreasonable after 36 years and a lot of miles. 

A few more days means the space for a break. If this was a crunch, the beautiful opportunity to experience Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, would have passed by unmarked. Instead, there was time to wander through the municipal primer cemetario on the day families gather to clean the graves of loved ones while refreshing their paint or decoration. Gathered around family plots, sitting on the marble or concrete or ceramic-tiled slap that covers a mother or cousin or uncle… playing music, eating, drinking, while children tussle and play soccer in sand thoroughfares dividing the cemetery or lay hide and seek behind statues of the Virgin Mary. A more intensive haul out wouldn’t have allowed a night off to wander a competition for altars created to remember the dead, and then land in the throngs of a crowd in a fashion show for Calavera Catrinas, “dapper skeletons,” complete with catwalk.

Village scene at dusk in Mexico, cutout paper streamers hung across the road
Papel picado strung across the street where altars staged and Catrinas strolled

Children take in the memorial at an altar
Children take in a memorial altar

Candle, charcoal brazier, and marigold petals at an altar
Every altar element is weighted with symbolism, or tells a story about the person memorialized

Strings of papel picado, or cut paper, garlands hung across a road
Streetlights shine through papel picado, cut paper garlands strung across the road

Glamorous costumed Catrina
Dramatically costumed Cartrinas paraded down the catwalk

Adoring crowd watches the fashion show
An enthusiastic crowd takes in the contest for the best-dressed Catrina

 

 

Woman in Catrina facepaint
My partner in crime for the evening! Katja (SV Imagine) generously shares her experience with Puerto Peñasco

More yard projects are planned: new anchor rollers, new prop shaft, new cutlass bearing, new engine mounts, new dripless seal. Unnatural as it is to be out of water, this work makes us better prepared. We’ll return to a familiar environment soon enough, the dissonance of life on the hard disappearing, stronger for this patience and happier for this pace.

10 signs it’s time to go back to the boat

On Tuesday we begin the two-day journey back to Totem. It’s time. It’s past time. Here’s how we’re sure:

  1. The socks are on, and we’re not talking about Boston
  2. Nobody needs this many potato chip options
  3. 60 is the new 80 (temperature at which teens put on pants/hoodies)
  4. No longer accidentally calling bathroom “the head”
  5. Now nostalgically referring to guest bedroom as “our cabin”
  6. Explained ourselves one too many times
  7. Swerving to avoid catastrophe on the road one too many times
  8. Bathroom scale is new nemesis (need to put a halt to the pound-per-week plan)
  9. Gone out for Mexican food twice in a week
  10. Confirmed: Niall is thriving in college
Teenagers smile for camera at pizzeria in Portland
Our girls with Niall and his classmates at dinner near Lewis & Clark College in Portland

We’ve all been homesick for Totem, but our desire to get back to this homespace has become sharply present this week. Three times in the last two days our family narrowly evaded catastrophic road accidents. First, an 18-wheeler tried to change lanes directly into our vehicle while barreling down the highway in dumping rain. ABS brakes for the win, because I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason we didn’t end up in the ditch. Second: a car that lost control careening down on a slick hillside toward us in Portland, stopping within a few feet of a head-on collision as the terrified face of the driver gripped the wheel while sliding towards us at speed. Third, the failur of a windshield wiper which jammed up both wipers and left us with severely limited visibility: we pressed in darkness and downpour and insufficient pulloff shoulder for three miles before a highway exit ramp to work out a fix.

Those left me breathless, but people say what WE do is dangerous! We’ll take our salty life, thank you. Jamie and I compared notes over a roadside diner dinner once the wipers were replaced, grimly noting we’d each tried not to be superstitious but had a modicum of relief after the third event was safely in hindsight. Things come in threes, right?

This list of signs it’s time for us to go home evolved from a punchy road trip brainstorm. In truth the real kicker for us was that trip to see Niall, and to see how well settled he is: a transition made, from sea to land, from homeschool to formal school, nomad kid to planted young man. We’ll still be counting down until his winter break visit! 

Last chance: personalized copies of Voyaging with Kids!

The response to last week’s offer for an inscribed copy of Voyaging with Kids was overwhelming: I actually ran out of books! I didn’t want to turn down this opportunity for personalized books, so publisher Lin Pardey made sure that another case was sent out. That means I could fulfill all the requests, and I have a few more! If you’d like one for yourself, or a special gift, let me know… but do it today, I’m shipping before we head south of the border. Cost including US shipping is $30.

I’m hoping for a last 

bigleaf maple tree leaves turning yellow and fluttering to a pathway backed by coniferous trees
Last gasp of a temperate fall before traveling to the desert

 

Limited offer: personalized copy of Voyaging with Kids!

Engaging pictures are a great way to get kids excited.
Thanks hamsterescape for this awesome photo!

Do you have a partner to convince to go cruising? Do relatives or friends think your plans are kind of nuts? Need a positive way to introduce cruising plans to people who may not embrace them? Or just want to get ahead on holiday gifts? EASY. I’ll send you a personalized inscription written in a copy of colorful, information-packed guide to family cruising,  Voyaging with Kids.

Jamie and I are starting to pack up for our return to Totem (ELEVEN DAYS Y’ALL, YES I AM COUNTING). In the wake of the boat show, I have a few extra copies of Voyaging with Kids on hand. It would be easy enough to leave them behind for our return in January for the Seattle Boat Show… or I can pen a handwritten note inside (prompt me if you’d like!) and ship it off to inspire and support future cruisers!

Get in touch if you’d like to order a copy; I’ll mail paid orders on Monday, October 29th.

Back to Totem

In other news this week, friends-we-haven’t-met-yet (the Ankyrios crew) sent us pictures of Totem. They’re doing work on their adjacent catamaran at the boatyard and knew we’d love to see our girl! They also have a teen among their five boat kids, and yes, the girls are excited. Totem is looking a little forlorn, but that makes us long all that much more to get back, show her some love, and get to work.

Totem waits in Mexico for her crew

Right. Work. It’s going to be hard, hot work. Epoxy, sand, epoxy, sand, repeat, repeat, repeat. We have some big decisions to make: the biggie is, what kind of paint to put on the bottom? Vacillating between good options, and not sure what to do yet. On one hand, we had great use from some hard paint by Pettit Paint (4+ years of service, from Port Townsend in 2018 until we hauled in Thailand in 2014). But it’s tempting to consider Coppercoat, especially since the work of stripping Totem’s bottom is sunk cost already. The upfront cost is higher, but amortized over a longer service life we should come out ahead. Real world results seem to be mixed, though. We’re not sure what to do yet – tell us what you think!

Meanwhile, we continue to get positive reports on Totem’s moisture meter readings. At this point we can say we have a dry boat. THAT’S A PRETTY BIG DEAL.

Public Service Announcement: VOTE.

November 6, just two and a half weeks away, are midterm elections in the USA. Kind of a big deal. Cruisers can vote – and SHOULD vote! If you’ve assumed you’re too late, don’t. Our district allows overseas voters to register to vote as late as 8pm on Election Day. AMAZING. Find out!

I can’t say how absentee voting works for YOU because every district is different, but here’s how to find out what to do: visit Vote.Org, to connect with your local voter information. If you’re already on a distant shore, check Overseas Vote. The goal of these nonpartisan sites is to enabling voters to fulfill our responsibility: they make it easy to find out what to do.

For the first time since 2008, we’ll be able to submit a ballot in our home district. We’ve ALSO been able to vote in every election since we left. Sometimes local issues feel too obscure for us to want to weigh in, but never is there a time I wouldn’t research candidates and pick who I’d like to represent our interests as an elected official. Exercise your right! We’re fortunate that in our home district (Washington’s Kitsap County), overseas voting is mostly an online affair – voting is very easy. Yours could be just as easy – find out, if you don’t already know! /end PSA

Because I’ll miss this

Savoring last days in the Pacific Northwest.

looking up at magnificent trees
pink sunrise reflects on still water in a tranquil pacific northwest bay

Cascading events: preventing crisis at sea

Fears of disaster at sea can loom large; even for adrenaline junkies, misadventure is not the desired companion to adventure. Jamie shares one facet of thinking around avoiding crises at sea here; for more, join Cruisers U and attend seminar at the Annapolis Boat Show next month.

Some boaters will experience a crisis situation. All come close, repeatedly… You know, like that time during the headsail change when the halyard slipped away, and then… Oh wait, that one became a crisis. How could a loose halyard go so wrong, right? Let’s let the halyard dangle, for now, while we talk crisis.

What is a crisis? Multiple concurrent problems for which there are no procedural solutions.

An emergency may be terribly bad, but it’s not a crisis. The difference matters. It’s a little like when you were a freshman and procrastinated writing a paper. You pulled an all-nighter and finished it just in time – stressful. Then as a self-assured sophomore, the same thing happened except you had three papers due and a kegger all demanding attention on the same night – stressful with very mixed outcomes. Multiples are much harder to manage.

We sailed into Port Villa, Vanuatu in October 2010 and while figuring out the fairly crowded anchorage, a sailboat was towed past us and put on a mooring.

sailboats in a mooring field off Port Vila, Vanuatu
Lonely boat in Port Vila, Vanuatu

Engine failure came to mind, but we learned otherwise. A guy was out sailing with his girlfriend. It was a nice day that got a little lumpy which caused an issue with the dinghy. He went aft to sort it out – and fell overboard. Like the sinking catamaran, this is a serious emergency. The girlfriend was not a sailor and had no idea what to do. Single problem cascaded into multiple problems:

3) crew member overboard

4) crew onboard could not maneuver the boat being steered by autopilot

5) visual of victim was lost

6) boat was sailing without control towards an island

The number sequence is not wrong. The boyfriend going overboard was an emergency, but problems began earlier as elevated risk: 

1) towing the dinghy in the ocean in unsettled sea state.

2) not taking precautions before leaving the cockpit, especially knowing the crew was not a skilled boater

Girlfriend had a lucky break when fishermen saw the boat sailing towards a reef. They were able to get on board and alter course. She lived. Boyfriend was never seen again. Even if girlfriend was a skilled boater, managing a situation with crew overboard AND lumpy conditions AND towed dinghy problem would’ve been very difficult. This was a crisis ending in tragedy.

tropical island paradise: blue sky, white clouds, sandy beach, turquoise water
Reason #73 to go cruising: perfect, remote atolls. Just because.

The cause was not a single dramatic event. Instead, seemingly inconsequential choices cascaded into crisis and terrible consequences. It’s easy to cast judgement of the man’s choices, but doing so is hollow. Who hasn’t left the cockpit in haste or taken a tiny shortcut in preparations? The take-away here is two main points.

First, multiple problems (crisis situation) divide focus and response efforts. No one problem can be resolved as well as if it were the ONLY problem.

Second, most often crisis is born from a single problem, be it serious or insignificant, that grows exponentially more complex IF more problems pile on. Meaning, when that first “thing” happens, don’t let a second thing happen! I call this “boxing the problem”. Key is understanding when risk in a situation is elevated. Sometimes it’s obvious and instantly dealing with an emergency. Often, it’s subtle and still represents elevated risk. The towed dinghy became tragedy while a sinking catamaran was a textbook rescue. 

This brings us back to the dangling halyard. It’s a typical day along the Malay Peninsula, light winds with a chance of volatility. Husband, in this real event, decides on a course of action after the halyard got away, all the way to the masthead. He chose to go up the mast to retrieve the halyard. Going aloft always brings elevated risk! Doing so at sea is rocketed risk. It was clear from the storyteller, his wife, that retrieving it was unnecessary – just a macho guy thing. Worse still, a squall was approaching but he was only going up for a minute. At the masthead, it took long enough for the squall to hit. Now a single, benign problem (halyard) became a very risky situation (going aloft) and then two problems (dude up the mast and managing the boat in a squall). Bad, right? Get this! While pitching around, mast and man came crashing down.

To recap, there is a concurrent man overboard and dismasting during a squall. Husband had to get untangled from halyard and rigging before it pulled him under while also not loosing sight of the boat in torrential conditions. At this moment we were no longer sure that the guy next to the storyteller was in fact the same macho mast climbing in the story. Confirmation, and relief, came over a stunned group of cruisers when the storyteller wife looked at the guy with a big laugh, saying – you were so stupid! Husband heartily agreed.

A simple, single problem devolved into a full crisis situation. The outcome was lucky, sans rig, but lucky nonetheless. Even if the first domino to fall is a big one, do what you can to prevent it from tumbling others. Box the problem. This takes assessed, reasoned response. I suspect the guy in Vanuatu never imagined that he could be one of those clumsy people that falls overboard. 

Long ago, on a dark, lumpy night I had to leave the cockpit to put a deeper reef in the main. I was wearing a PFD with integrated harness, tethered to Totem. Still, being a little uncomfortable with the elevated risk, I asked myself “is this the last time I leave the cockpit?” It was a question. There is a lot to crisis management at sea. A good place to start is questioning your actions before you take them. I still ask myself that question when leaving the cockpit. Some boaters will experience a crisis situation. All come close, repeatedly…

blacktip reef shark swims next to sailboat hull in clear water
Sharks swim under Totem in Chagos: still feel at greater risk in a vehicle on the highway.