Weather waffling: the passage departure decision

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 back at us in the form of the setting sun. From a calm anchorage in New Caledonia we watched changing colors stain nearby reefs and islets; and we discussed the weather. The core question was simple: were the conditions appropriate for the 900 mile passage to Australia? The dilemma is that the sources for weather forecasting don’t agree, ranging from moderate to rough conditions. So we sat, watched, and waited.

At moments of indecision about uncertain weather forecasts, two phrases get hurled about like cannon shot: weather waffling and analysis paralysis. The meanings of both reside in the shallows between a retreat to the calm anchorage and the bold move to weigh anchor – big seas be damned. Both phrases carry an intrinsic sense of stubborn cowardice as reflected in perhaps the most famous weather waffle in history.

When Captain William Bligh announced his plan to sail Bounty around Cape Horn to reach Tahiti, his otherwise joyous crew became anxious. Upon reaching “the horn” and subsequent month of snow and storm conditions trying to round it, Bligh waffled. After investing so much in one route he ordered the Bounty to turn eastward to begin a journey 4/5ths of the way around the world to anchor at Point Venus in Tahiti. As we know from history, things did not go well for the Captain.

Due to several variables that didn’t exist during Bligh’s time, contemporary use of weather waffle has more to do with pre-departure indecision. With technology and centuries of accumulated knowledge, we easily and accurately know what was previously unknowable. With GPS, a cruising guide, and a VHF radio I know our exact position, how to safely get into a new anchorage, and when the supply ship will be in with fresh produce. Weather forecasting is an amazing discipline of science that accounts for most of the variables most of the time. Unlike a GPS giving latitude and longitude, weather forecasters with the aid of satellites and supercomputers can and do get it wrong. Who hasn’t been out on the boat listening to a NOAA forecast broadcasting sun with light and variable winds, when in reality it’s so windy you’re just trying to keep your ears affixed to your head?

When one experiences an incongruity between forecast and reality, the tendency is to check several sources of weather forecasting. This gets to the heart of the weather waffle. When the sources agree, you can confidently announce to the crew what to expect. When the sources disagree, the next logical step is to seek out more information. Invariably this leads to more confusion and with time a demoralized, and dare I say mutinous, crew. Well, are we going or not?

The frustration of not knowing which path to choose can unhinge novice and salty sailors alike. Our buddy boat apologized in advance of our session of waffling in New Caledonia, saying “I know this week is going to make me grouchy.” The reality is that the accumulated stress of passage prep capped by weather uncertainty can make many people become grouchy. In our particular situation, overlaying the already unsettled weather is the beginning of cyclone season.

Sunset squalls: Grenada, 2017

At this tenuous stage, that is, having downloaded countless GRIB files and text forecasts and reading a weather router’s opinion, two trends emerge. The first is that you want to do something- anything- to avoid further waffling. Often, emotions push the “let’s just go” approach. The supporting logic being we’ve been in worse weather before, and besides, maybe it won’t be as bad as the so called expert weather router says. That is true, but maybe it will be that bad. The second trend is “group think.” This occurs as the crews of various boats with similar routes get together to discuss weather. Everyone present has the same unspoken hope: that someone with unquestionable authority will walk among them and say, “the time has come to go sailing, and we will be safe.” Unfortunately this usually doesn’t happen.

Then, just as despair is creeping up over the swim step, a glimmer of hope comes as the various weather sources begin to agree on wind speed and direction and sea state that fits within your comfort level. A genuine weather window is finally here.

Somewhere between Sri Lanka and Maldives, 2015

Lessons Learned

Although weather waffling carries a negative connotation, it is clearly born out of good intentions for the health and welfare of the crew. Every crew has different abilities and comfort levels. Every boat differs in capability and handling. Every trip brings different demands on both crew and boat. Mismatching what the crew or boat can safely handle with adverse weather is simply poor seamanship. Choosing poorly is the cause of many unfulfilled cruising dreams. When a crewmember experiences discomfort or fear, they naturally don’t want to be in that situation again. When faced with uncertain weather, the captain and crew must make decisions that suit their own needs. If the people anchored next to you choose to “go anyway,” you don’t have follow them out. Weigh anchor only if it is right for you.

We choose to cruise knowing some of the days in paradise may resemble hell. Playing follow the leader can be just as misguided as choosing to never leave the dock because it may be too windy. After nearly two weeks of waiting, we finally had weather conditions that make sense for our departure. Some would say we waffled for nearly two weeks. The uncertainty of when to go was frustrating, but we spent hours of cowardly time swimming with sea turtle, giant trevally, and sharks.

The passage to Australia was mostly uneventful. Here in Banderas Bay, we’ll wait and watch and live vicariously as the next wave of boats waits for their weather window. Mike Danielson (PV Sailing) shares his extensive weather knowledge to help the fleet with departure decisions, Jamie’s been helping coach cruisers on how to use PredictWind and become better at interpreting forecasts for themselves — like the PPJ event pictured below. It’s a great place to base while getting ready to take off! We hope to be lining ourselves up for another run at the South Pacific from here at this time next year. 

Weather prep: Jamie talks the fleet through GRIB interpretation with PredictWind last week. Thanks Flo for the pic!

 

 

Morning Glory at anchor, Maldives, 2015

Cruiser karma: alive and well in La Cruz

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 our confidence in cruising fundamentals, but also reinforced how much we didn’t know. Departure for the 3,000 mile passage to French Polynesia loomed ever closer. Perched on the edge of the cliff, staring out at the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, the first big leap is intimidating.

That cliff-edge marks multiple inflection points on the way to realizing cruising dreams. It keeps some boats languishing at the dock, waiting indefinitely on unnecessary improvements as stand-ins for the psychological barrier to embracing “ready enough.” It stops others short from the level of cruising they hoped to achieve, as the numbers of kitted-out boats who never go far, parked in places like La Paz or Langkawi attest.

Sunrise, Banderas Bay, just before we heard whalesong through the hull

In overcoming those hurdles, support from fellow cruisers has been among our most important factors: the presentations we saw before we left, the mentors who nudged us forward. It’s an incredible privilege to be on the other side of that relationship, and help others leap whichever hurdle they’re currently facing. Much of this has been through our coaching service (it’s SO COOL to see the rising number of ‘graduates’ from the TRU crew out there cruising!), but more recently, it’s been through formal and informal presentations. A LOT OF THEM.

The day after Niall flew back to resume classes at Lewis & Clark college in January, Jamie and I were winging our way to Toronto – and a few days later, on to Seattle – to give seminars at their big annual boat shows. We estimate giving about 25 hours of seminars between them. Bonus: good times connecting with our TRU crew in both cities!

Toronto hotel room view: terrifying for these warm-weather humans!

Returning to La Cruz this month, we’ve put more than a dozen free seminars on the calendar. It’s that déjà vu all over again, in the best way! To be in the same room were “Kavenga” Steve showed us his ideas for routing through the Marquesas and Linda from Jacaranda helped us think through long-passage provisioning… and sharing from our experience. Well, it’s alternately thrilling and something that wells up a deep gratitude inside.

After the seriously hectic last few months, we’ve shelved to sailing back to Barra de Navidad and south to Zihuat in favor of chilling out here. Although “chilling out” means playing catch up and giving a lot of seminars – it’s all good! There’s so much to do here – La Cruz is full of resources for cruisers. It is a sweet base during peak season, whether you’re looking for camaraderie, or some day sailing, or tapping the awesome resources available for cruisers.

Our daughters aren’t little kids any more (I can still see them bombing around the marina on their scooters, aged 5 and 7, blonde terrors on two wheels), the La Cruz Kids Club is a great outlet – they have fun and help wrangle the littlest ones.

Siobhan (l) and Mairen (r) bombing around La Cruz: Feb 2009

Siobhan (l) and Mairen (r) bombing around La Cruz: Feb 2019 edition, the LCKC beach cleanup! thanks Kat for the photo!

On the east side of the harbor is Cruisers Comfort, a shady palapa meeting space next to (and hosted by) PV Sailing: it has a lending library with pretty much any cruising guide/reference you could want, and has been the meeting space for the PPJ (as French Polynesia bound “Pacific Puddle Jumpers” call themselves).

Talking ’bout South Pac planning in the palapa! thanks to Scuba Ninja for the photo.

The VIP lounge at the marina is our main seminar venue: I stopped counting attendees, but it was around 50 joining Mike Danielson (PV Sailing) and Jamie to learn about finding a weather window for jumping to the South Pacific yesterday.

Mike and Jamie talking through passage dynamics for the fleet at Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz yesterday

Movie nights under the stars? Yes please! The marina’s open-air amphitheater has weekly feature films and an ongoing environmental series. You can BYO or buy brews and cheap delicious eats (would you like grilled pineapple on your burger? Bacon? Cheese? The works? That’s about $2.50 and SO GOOD).

And then there’s just the sweetness of this anchorage. OK, it gets a little rolly sometimes, but it’s nothing we can’t manage in stride. And you know what we’re hearing through the hull, in early morning calms? WHALE SONG. Right through the hull. And when you can hear it just sitting on a settee, it’s impossible to resist going for better quality sound: click below, and let yourself be carried into a bit of marine meditation.


 

It all adds up to the reasons La Cruz is a kind of ground zero during peak season for cruising in Mexico. It’s why we based here to prep for the big South Pac bound passage in 2009, and it’s why we’re enjoying it so much now.

In the area? Come to a seminar! Our Events page is up-to-date with seminars planned for Feb & March, plus a peek ahead at what’s in store for Jamie and I at boat shows later this year.

Meanwhile, if you’ve thought about taking the two-day Cruising Women master class with me and Pam Wall: make plans for Annapolis NOW, this year could be your last chance! We are hoping to point Totem to French Polynesia in 2020, and that could make the hike back to Annapolis a squidge too far. Jamie and I are giving a bunch of seminars and will head back in April and October this year. The full schedule for Cruisers U is here; to register for Annapolis, visit AnnapolisBoatShows.com.

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! 

Schedules, cruising, and the 800-mile passage nobody wants to make

Sailboat motoring with distant coastline ahead

“After this, no more schedules!” Jamie ranted a little while coiling lines at the mast possibly a little more vigorously than necessary while we motored into Banderas Bay yesterday morning. It’s a basic principle of cruising to avoid a schedule. Usually we’re pretty good at it, but this last week we sailed Totem more than 800 nautical miles, passing stunning cruising grounds, all to make a deadline. Jamie is over it.

pinterest image schedules and cruisingWhat’s the problem with schedules, anyway? Our pre-cruising life was run by schedules and routines that kept life nicely on the rails for a busy family. But for cruisers, schedules are incompatible on a few levels.

Weather. This is the primary enemy of the schedule: weather is unpredictable, and non-negotiable. The catchphrase for many is “weather always wins,” and it does. Want a current example? Check out the Golden Globe Race, where competitors are dropping like . Plan to depart on a particular day if you want: the weather may cooperate, and it may not. Weather does drive our big picture schedule: anticipate hurricane season, and be somewhere that minimizes risk. Swapping hemispheres is a nice way to do that.

Rushing through paradise. Time moves differently when you’re cruising, and feeling the minimum of experiential satisfaction in a place takes time; and then, there is always more to explore. Living in a world of 12 days annual vacation makes us look ridiculous when we express feeling totally shortchanged that we could only spend two and a half weeks sailing in Vanuatu before moving on to New Caledonia. But that’s exactly the conversation I had with Good Old Boat editor (my Voyaging with Kids co-author!) Michael Robertson recently; we both felt cheated by the couple of weeks we’d spent in Vanuatu. His family even flew back from Australia to Vanuatu in order to see more of the country they had only been able to cruise in for a few weeks on their way to the big land down under.

shrimp boat leaving puerto penasco

Shrimper leaving Puerto Penasco, not long before our own departure to sail south to Puerto Vallarta

Schedules are also the enemy because they get in the way of the ability of spontaneity. Being able to adapt plans on the fly because you’ve made a friend on shore and he’s like to lead you up ‘his’ volcano in a few days is the kind of flexibility you want to have in your life as a cruiser!

Kid boats. When we work with coaching clients who will go cruising with kids aboard, we try to impress the importance of flexibility so that when they connect with another cruising family and the kids (and parents!) hit it off, it’s not a big deal to make a last-minute change in plans to facilitate playdates or movie nights or whatever kid community is needed. And yet, we see new cruisers committing months ahead to places where friends or family will fly in “to see their new life!” that force the need to move on, to sail in an opposite direction from those new friends. One family wondered to us why they were struggling to connect with boats, not connecting the dots that their schedule-driven route wasn’t compatible.

Rugged Baja mountains glow at sunrise.

What about visitors?

We like to describe having intentions, vs. having plans. Of course we make an effort to match the one that lines up with their arrival, but have to impress the point that we might not be able to despite best intentions. When we’ve had crew fly in, they’re advised to consider booking a hotel for at least one night – just in case.

Next month, a production company is coming to Totem to film our life aboard (kind of exciting! Kind of scary). When we determined some weeks ago that we might not make their first choice of timing, she laughed and reminded me that when we were first discussing possibilities with them, I told her (sort of joking, sort of not) what we tell all our guests: “you can pick the date, or pick the place, but not both.” We were pretty sure we could manage the boatyard project timeline to arrive at their chosen place on the chosen date, but the weather was a wild card and entirely out of our control. The timeframe for filming was shifted to one we’re 100% sure of aligning date/place around, since we’ll spend the next few months in a relatively small range of the Mexican coastline.

Hanging out in the cockpit, mid-Gulf of California

This aspect of the evils of scheduling can be hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been cruising yet. A few times we’ve seen carefully outlined itineraries; multi-year routing plans with arrival dates and departure dates from one place to the next. Sometimes they even come with marina reservations! And sometimes I have to bite my tongue. “Your plan is never going to happen the way you imagine” is not a supportive response. But sometimes, people get so wedded to the schedule that when it fails, so does the cruise; our goal is to get people successfully, happily cruising on their terms. Schedules sabotage that success for most people. And really: when you find paradise, why rush through it, just because you laid out a timeline?

That 800 n.m. passage…

Our deadline was wholly worthwhile: meeting Niall’s flight into Puerto Vallarta, where he’ll spend winter break on Totem. But those 817 miles wound through island-sprinkled cruising grounds that many take months and even years to explore. Not gonna lie: it smarts a little! But it’s OK: we’ve been there, and we’ll be back next year, and we’ll take our time then.

dolphin spotting from sailboat bow

Yes, we have crew aboard! Sharing this passage with two of our coaching clients

This passage… it was pretty cool, honestly. A shakedown to be at sea for pretty much a week straight (we anchored one night, about halfway through) after six months on the hard. A chance to feel that slick new Coppercoat bottom. A chance to share the sail with a couple of our coaching clients, too, something new for us that enriched the experience.

Dates and deadlines inevitably creep in, but we make every effort to hold them at bay. Cruising on a schedule is an oxymoron: learning patience is the reality. Instead of rushing, we invest in our present environment as much as possible. It’s why we went cruising, after all: breaking out from a scripted life to seek the unexpected.

We did it! Decorating Totem this morning with ALL THREE kids aboard

~

Update: we have an EVENTS page now! Speaking dates / locations, boat shows, etc. at a single point of reference. Yes, I appreciate the irony of this in a post about how we avoid schedules! Ahhh… right. Embrace scheduling a little and come meet us!

Email subscribers: please note our events post about January speaking engagements in Toronto & Seattle included the wrong date for the Seattle Yacht Club. The correct date is Thursday evening, January 31st. Details on the events page.

 

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! 

Forever boat: bigger upkeep on an older sailboat

Two girls petting a dog in front of a marine travellift with a sailboat in the slings.

  

Jamie and Salvador talking about work to be done on Totem

  

Totem turned 36 this year. We treat her like our forever boat, and prioritize maintenance to ensure our sailboat / home remains a sound vessel with a long future ahead. Lately that means turning attention to a projects that accumulated into something more than “routine maintenance.” While organizing plans for the new bottom (we’ve made a decision on bottom paint, by the way, details coming soon – I am VERY excited about our plans, details coming!), a number of these kicked off.

Step one is simply getting supplies. Some things are easy to get in Mexico; others aren’t. Because Cabrales Boatyard is only an hour and a half south of Arizona, it’s not hard to source from north of the border. There’s even a West Marine in Phoenix! Several other cruisers in the yard are making trips back and forth; we’ve been able to tag along with road trips to get our supplies down, and our friend Michael (my co-author for Voyaging with Kids and Good Old Boat editor) has provided invaluable mailstop support from his home in Arizona, and Pam Wall helped secure good prices all the way from Fort Lauderdale. (Rhetorical question: is it still cruising when you can get an Amazon Prime order?)

While waiting on materials to get the bottom done, Jamie’s tackled power train work. The engine mounts are probably original to the engine; Totem was repowered in 2002.

Old and new, side by side: I think it’s time, what do you think?

Shiny new engine mount in front of a well worn older one

Propeller shaft woes: it’s original, but that’s not the problem. Unfortunately, it seems that it wasn’t sufficiently protected during blasting to remove all paint from the bottom in Grenada last year. The little bit of grit that got inside was enough to cause wear in the shaft in the subsequent miles: that’s gotta go! Jamie’s ordered a new shaft made from Aqualoy 22. I’d never heard of Aqualoy, but it’s an alloy specifically designed for marine environment applications: corrosion resistant and stronger than the comparable grade of steel that would be used for the shaft. That sounds like an excellent “forever boat” choice.

man holding cut-off propeller shaft
cut-off prop showing damage from the area inside the two bearings

 

cutting off the prop shaft
Honestly I’m happy I didn’t witness this (Siobhan’s photo)! Jamie: “The angle grinder paid for itself today.”

Remember that steerage failure off Colombia? We’re replacing the failed chain, but instead of a stainless cable we’ll use Dyneema. The fix Jamie put into place 4,000 miles ago has proven itself. Additional work on the steering system includes replacing sheave pins and bearings: bushing from Oilite (a bronze alloy) will replace the old bearings, providing lower friction. After 36 years, the stainless pins showed wear, so those will be replaced as well.

Jamie holding two steering cable sheaves in dirty, work-hardened hands
Some see the sheaves. I see hands of a very hard working boat dad.

 

Up at the bow, we’ve long wanted to repair the anchor rollers. They are TOASTED and have been for some time, but the right size rollers never seemed to be on the shelf when we passed through better-supplied chandleries. When Jamie saw the machine shop at the yard, he had an idea; improve on off-the-shelf rollers with a slight change in profile that makes it harder for anchor chain to skip over the top. He purchased cylinders of durable plastic stock ordered from McMaster-Carr (love this resource for boat bits at non-marine-markup prices) and is having the profile machined to order.

Salvador and Jamie squatting on the ground with materials and plans for anchor rollers
Jamie and Salvador making a plan for the anchor roller

 

Plastic stock for future anchor roller, plans sketched on paper, and beat up old roller.

 

Three men confer inside a well used machine shop
Salvador communicating direction for the machine shop crew

The bow pulpit needs attention too. Like many boats built in the 1980s in Taiwan, mixed quality stainless steel was used for everything from tankage to stanchions. Bit by bit we’ve addressed original stainless components; it’s the bow pulpit’s turn. The feet are cracked. It’s not imminently dangerous, but time to replace, and the skillset and resources are here to do the job at a reasonable rate.

Totem’s swim ladder is another piece of original stainless being improved by the welders at Cabrales Boatyard. The support legs which help our swim ladder stand off Totem’s transom when deployed make for pesky obstacles and chafe risk when raising our dinghy on the davits. It would be nice not to have to finesse that process every time we haul the dinghy and eliminate the risk so those blunt legs have been replaced with a gentle curve that will function much better, and be kinder to the dinghy.

The bare fiberglass bottom is also a great opportunity to clean up Totem’s through hull scene. We replaced most of the  36-year-old seacocks in Thailand five years ago, but a few of the originals  remained. Instead of replacing them, Jamie’s removed them. Each divot left by a former through hull is now filled with a large sandwich made up of layers fiberglass and epoxy.

How did we manage to eliminate so many through hulls? Well, one was unused. Two were sink drains which will now drain to a greywater system in the bilge. The fourth is a raw water intake for a toilet, which will use water from a greywater system instead of seawater.  We’re happy to minimize holes in the boat, and pleased to have just five for a boat of Totem’s size and layout.

One project that’s more of a luxury item than upkeep of a good old boat is our plan to expand solar charging capacity. Solar power keeps getting more affordable: quality panels are about $1/watt, and we had an opportunity to buy gently used solar panels at an irresistible bargain. A pair will soon come down from Arizona and we’ll increase our capacity from the current 270 to about 650… cost to us about $0.37/watt. SWEET! OK, so it will cost a little more because we’ll need another charge controller: still feeling very good about improving our green power generation.

Meanwhile, Totem looks like there was a small Stuff explosion inside. We had a lot of fine dust to clean out after the summer on the hard: bits that filtered in through solar vents and other crannies. 

Looking down into the main cabin where tools and gear spread on table, bench, settees, and cabin sole

The state of chaos is a sinusoidal wave between “messy” and “chaos” that won’t improve dramatically util projects are done and we’re on our way. That’s OK. The work getting done right now feels really, really good: important steps to ensure the long future life of our floating home.

Masts and rigging from boats in the shipyard are silhouetted by a vibrant sunset in Puerto Penasco