A cruising year: milestones and introspection from Totem’s 2017

Jamie looks back

Inspiration and gratitude flow from the mundane in an annual review of Totem’s year by the numbers. We’re serious about tracking data on Totem; Jamie can’t resist having fun with analysis (annual cheese consumption, anyone? After all, cheese provisioning data is vital on a boat with three hungry teenagers!). But pondering the data and events of 2017 he turned reflective. Read on for Jamie’s takeaways.

pinterest 2017 annualDistance traveled in 2017: 3,402 nm / 3,915 miles / 6,301 km (since 2008 – 47,095 nm / 54,196 miles / 87,220 km)

Countries/territories visited: 14 – USA, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, USVI, BVI, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, Grenada, St Vincent and Grenadines, Bonaire, Colombia

Best 24-hour run: 208 nm, Bonaire to Colombia

Nights anchored: 249 (68%), Docked – 65 (18%), Moored – 31 (8%), Hauled – 10 (3%), Passage – 10 (3%)

Shallowest anchorage: 6.08Ft / 1.85M (Totem’s draft + 1 inch) for 4 days at Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas

Number of times worked on: Toilets – 8, Watermaker – 11, Outboard – 8, Rigging – 8

Number of flight takeoffs Jamie had during 3 trips away from Totem:  21 (thankfully also an equal number of landings!)

Best new food we’d never heard of: Mofongo con langosta!

Number of field trips: 21

Number of visitors on Totem: 322

Number of audio/video calls with coaching clients: 118

Shark species we swam with most often: nurse shark

Shark species we didn’t know we swam with until getting out of the water: tiger shark!!!

three boat teens

2017: probably the last full year all five of us are together on Totem.

Biggest surprise of the year: This is a tie between a good surprise, and a bad one. The bad one was discovering that underneath Totem’s bottom paint… there is no gelcoat! Apparently, it was peeled by a prior owner and the detail did not get passed in the sale. The good surprise was finding Rita. Behan has a handmade apron from Bequia, a piece of functional art found in a thrift store that she’s owned for about two decades. From the lettering “R WILLIAMS” stitched at the bottom, she set out to find the maker when we arrived in Bequia. Like searching for unicorns, I thought, but, surprise!

Hardest part of 2017: Hurricanes…


The North Atlantic had 10 hurricanes, 6 of which were major (category 3 or higher). We were having a blast in Nanny Cay, BVI as Harvey rambled across the southern Caribbean, arcing northwest up into Texas. At the same time along the coast of Africa a tropical wave began moving westward. Forecast models had it likely going towards the northern Caribbean, so we got moving south. Martinique, where we were anchored, had potential storm force winds; to avoid them we sailed further south. St Lucia is about 230 miles below where Irma slammed into Barbuda, Sint Maarten, Tortola, and rest of the northern islands. We watched grey, streaky west-flowing clouds shift direction to the northeast. Very ominous! My log entry for that day reads, “Hurricane Irma, now cat 5, to make landfall in Leeward Islands tonight. It’s going to be bad bad…”

If you lived in Irma’s path, your world was turned upside down, lashed and smashed. Hurricane Jose was a threatening post-Irma bully that held everyone one edge but fortunately stayed out to sea. News and pictures trickling out from Irma’s destruction were unimaginably worse than my log notion. The day after Irma died, yet another tropical wave started westward across the Atlantic. This disturbance grew rapidly to tropical storm force, then Hurricane Maria. We hopped further south to Grenada. By no means a hurricane-free island, we watched Maria with intentions of shifting further south should the system stray our way. This cat 5 hurricane smacked Dominica, where we were 3 weeks before; and then Puerto Rico, where we were 6 weeks before.

Hiking near Portsmouth, Dominica, on a hillside denuded a few weeks later

Hiking near Portsmouth, Dominica, on a hillside denuded a few weeks later

We were close enough to see the atmosphere do strange things, while far away enough to feel only light winds and swell. The hard part was feeling for the friends we’d made in these, now, broken islands. A coaching client’s boat on the hard in St Martin was destroyed; another client’s boat in Tortola suffered moderate damage. A third coaching client was in the process of buying a boat called “No Worries;” it was later found sunk. We know new cruisers and very experienced cruisers whose boats were a total loss.

I admit to anger watching ShipTrack.com placing vessel AIS positions in insanely stupid places directly in the broad path of these forecast monsters. I shouted, “why are you there now!” as many boats and some people literally disappeared. People have commented to us, “it must have been so stressful dodging so many hurricanes.” It wasn’t. We had mobility and the benefit of timely decision thanks to the science of meteorology. Forecasts were not perfect, so add a margin for error. I am thankful for the easy mobility that so many people had little or none of.  Some boats weren’t ready to dash, some owners had other obligations. Islanders without means suffered deeply. We remember Sheldon Hamilton in Portsmouth, Dominica who traded his fresh fruit and interesting sea glass for our clothes and canned food. Sheldon lived in a shack on the beach and wore the same rags trading this time as we saw him in the year before.

Our year in review shows a some metrics and silliness. It was a good year for us, despite a few medical maladies. It was a nightmare year for many friends. Sheldon Hamilton didn’t have shit for opportunity before Maria. Now his home, village, and island are in ruin. Hurricane season is coming again… Sounds gloomy, right? But the message is… Get MOBILE! REBUILD better! LEANER! APPRECIATE what you have because even if it doesn’t seem great, it’s better than AFTER Irma, Maria, natural disasters, cancers, accidents, and clumsy dentists. Make a plan (as the South Africans say) to do what YOU dream of. Go _______________ (insert preferred form of transportation) and get out, whatever that means to you. Go to Dominica and to search for Sheldon Hamilton, Bequia to meet Rita, or search for your own unicorn.

Totem + Utopia kid crews - Bonaire

Totem + Utopia kid crews – Bonaire