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.

Cruising gear: what about the phone?

Ferry crossing Puget Sound in a smoky sunset

Ah, the freedom of cruising! No commute, no schedule, no phone ringing… WAIT A MINUTE THERE. Phones? We gave our cell phones up when we took off in 2008 for a blue horizon. But the world changed and they crept back in a few years later, and are now indispensable travelers tools. Used as a hotspot, a smartphone is our primary vehicle for getting online aboard Totem. Apps connect us to helpful tools from mapping to translation and a myriad of other tools. Necessary to keep up Totem’s Instagram! Can you use what you have? Do you get a local burner? What about international roaming? Here’s what works when you’re a border-hopping nomad.

Our current solution is to have two phones: one is a permanent US number (keeps us connected to folks at home and gets us online faster in a new place), and the other gets a new SIM card for whatever country we’re in (local rates are more affordable, and we may want to make local calls/texts).

Screenshot of Project Fi app saying Welcome to El Salvador

The US phone is part of Google’s Project Fi; it means we are instantly online when we pick up a new country’s cell tower, as long as it’s one of the 135 countries in their plan (right, that’s most, although not French Polynesia). We are easily reached on a single number for text or calls, and billing is scaled at transparent, affordable rates: free texts, international roaming calls at $.20/minute, and data metered at $10/gigabyte.

It cracked me up as we sailed up the west side of central America this spring when Project Fi announcement on our phone was the first clue an international boundary line was crossed.

The local phone starts with any international-friendly unlocked phone.  Unlocked is essential for swapping out SIM cards when you’re in a new country, of course, so make sure that doesn’t require a trip to the Genius Bar first. Will your current phone will work internationally? Ask the carrier, try this map, or look up the device in Wikipedia. If you’re buying a new phone, look for phones that are GSM, or work on “quad band,” or work specifically on 850/900/1800/1900 MHz bands.

Why do you want a local number? If we only had one phone aboard, we’d choose this route. First, because this is our primary way to get online, and a local carrier’s plan has cheaper data rates (Telcel in Mexico runs around $5/gb, for example) than Project Fi ($10/gb) in most places/situations.

Second, because we make and receive calls and texts in other countries, and a local contact isn’t going to place an international call to reach our US number. For example: local calls/texts to arrange inland travel or just to coordinate a ride with a taxi to get fuel. Getting around on the back of a motorcycle is common in Indonesia, and when I had a good driver I’d text to request them specifically. 

A teenage girls holds a chicken in front of a backyard coop
Mairen tries out suburban chicken farming

Want to keep your current US phone number? That’s possible but more complicated. If you stay with your current service, know that the international roaming data is likely to be throttled (T-mobile swore we’d have 4G in the Bahamas and Caribbean, but that was only possible with local plans; we were limited to 2G). Also, your service will be cut off with minimal notice if you use it for some months without being back in the USA. Harsh, right? It happens! The fine print in Terms & Conditions for US carriers limit international use (at their discretion); this roaming is intended for part-time only.

Keep your number another way by forwarding it to your local country number. It requires paying for your US service and a VOIP phone number in the US, but that might be important for you. How does the magic happen? This is written up in detail by SV Liquid, check out the post.

I want to try Project Fi!

We think Project Fi kind of awesome. We’re able to help a handful of people save $20 on their first bill if they sign up with this link: https://g.co/fi/r/3208HT (I think it’s capped at 10 referrals. First come first served! It saves us $20, too, so… thanks!). A US address is required to sign up for Project Fi.

Signing up with Project Fi may mean buying a new phone, as only select models are compatible. You can buy one from Google, or buy the right model elsewhere and purchase a plan from Google (the SIM is free). Phones start under $200 for a Moto G6, or you can spend hundreds more for schmancier Pixel 2 or LG models. Nice to know: both Fi-friendly Motorola models have meaningful water resistance, so wet dinghy rides (and even a dunking) aren’t going to kill your device.

Overcast skies and the silhouette of boats in a Puget Sound evening
Long twilight and gray days in the Pacific Northwest summer

Other tips

Apps not direct dial! Despite these two phone numbers we now carry around, what we use most for calls is an app: usually Whatsapp or Skype. Whatsapp is widely used (not just in the USA), and means I can use my US-number-phone to “call” the Costa Rican taxi driver on his phone. Skype is useful because you can use Skype to call a physical phone (landline or mobile), and the rates are much cheaper than Project Fi (a couple of cents per minute, instead of $0.20/minute; it adds up over an hourlong call!).

We added a mobile signal booster to Totem’s kit in 2016. The Wilson WeBoost works by amplifying an existing cellular signal; pick that up with a phone/device on board the boat. Unit pricing varies by how many devices can connect at once, and start around $150. They don’t work everywhere and international benefit is unclear, but we definitely felt the boost in the Bahamas, and again in Mexico… retaining a signal in areas we were told there was none on our way up the Sea of Cortez.

Staying in touch, taking snapshots of your adventures, getting online, growing your Instagram, whatever it is: a phone is indispensable. Got a question about use as a cruiser I didn’t cover? Ask in the comments and I’ll follow up!

Puget Sound denizens, join us in September!

  • Friday-Sunday, 7th -9th: Wooden Boat Festival, Port Townsend. Presenting all three days
  • Friday 14th, 7 pm: Seattle’s Corinthian Yacht Club. Details here
  • Tuesday 18, 5:30 pm: Shilshole Bay Yacht Club’s September dinner meeting. This event is for SBYC members; if you’d like to attend, contact me for details to join as a guest.
  • Friday 21st, 7:30 pm: Puget Sound Cruising Club’s September meeting
  • Vancouver friends, we regret that the BCA event planned for the 12th has been canceled, and hope you might find us near Seattle instead.

Come find us at the Annapolis Boat Show, starting October 4!

  • Oct. 4-8th, afternoons: Cardinal publishing and Good Old Boat booths
  • Oct. 5-7th, mornings: instructors for Take The Wheel
  • Oct. 5th, afternoon: seminar sponsored by Cruising World 
  • Oct. 8-11th: Cruisers U seminars, including Cruising Women with (Behan co-leads with Pam Wall) and Jamie’s popular Crisis Management class

It’s about seven weeks until we return to Totem, but who’s counting? The Pacific Northwest summer is fading an it appears There Will Be Socks before we can return to Mexico. Enjoy these snapshots of our summer and wish us warmth! 

Two women talk gaily in Adirondack chairs on a dock, a sailboat anchored in the distance
lazy summer days with old friends
A large family groups together in a lush backyard for a reunion portrait
Reunion time for Behan’s family

Lessons in flexibility, nurtured by cruising

Three kids and their mama as the eldest moves in at college

Last week we crossed into our eleventh year of cruising aboard Totem. Except we aren’t aboard Totem right now, and this summer has taken a different trajectory than planned. (Pictured today in Portland, Oregon; moving-in day for Niall at Lewis & Clark college.)

Shifting plans isn’t unusual for our family, for our voyaging life. We’re accustomed to having our plans swing, making big changes with little notice. Like last October’s diagnosis of Totem’s wet hull in Grenada, which changed our routing plans for the coming year. Or this summer’s revelation of my mother’s escalating dementia, which rewrote the plans for how we’d spend these few months back in the USA.

What makes change a constant?

Weather is the primary everyday factor influencing plans, making any schedule impossible to keep. You don’t leave port when the calendar says so, you leave when the weather indicates. Calendars are helpful as guidelines only! I cringe when I hear “we’re going to leave on (fill in a specific date).”

PredictWind screenshot showing ocean current data
Bermuda to Connecticut was an extended waiting game: PredictWind shows the Gulf Stream current meanders

Company alters plans, too. Any kid boat knows that intentions to depart may be thrown to the wind if a new arrival in the anchorage turns out have kids that hit it off with yours. It’s not just kids; other boats we wanted more time with have prompted Jamie and me to shift plans to meet them.

Plans should be swayed by the experiences in a new place: another reason why schedules are the enemy. When you find yourself in that perfect anchorage, for whatever reason—the reef to snorkel, the trails to hike, the connections made ashore: why rush off because your timeline says the next destination is due? Of course, this works both ways: when visiting swarms of bees made Puerto Ballandra unpleasant this spring, we left on minimal notice despite stated intentions to remain in place for a few days!

Sailboat at anchor in front of rugged desert hills off Baja
Voyager at anchor in Ballandra
A bee drinking dew from a sailboat deck
That first one seems so innocent, drinking dew from the nonskid on deck… then 1,000 friends show up

New cultures and landscapes prompt us to adapt, too. In step with new norms, we change our interactions with people and places. It’s a whopping 48 countries/territories that we have experienced since sailing away from Eagle Harbor in August of 2008; each arrival prompts familiar questions. Will the markets be weekly or daily? At the crack of dawn or heat of afternoon? Is bargaining expected or unwelcome? How do people greet each other (and what’s the response)?  Is it safe to walk anywhere, or must care be taken?

This steady series of everyday decisions and regular transitions hones adaptability into a skill.  The common sense to seek what you need to know. The courage to base plans on human priorities instead of inhuman timelines.

This adaptability is one of the valuable skills we hope our son, Niall, took with him today as he moved into his college dormitory. It’s an exciting new chapter for our academic eldest, one sure to be full of new features to adjust to. One of the easiest, at least, will be personal space! He turned around in the capacious dorm room, and commented that the closet had more space than his cabin on Totem. (It does, too.) But he faces myriad adjustments in the weeks and months ahead.

The huge closet and comical shoe rack
There’s even a three tiered shoe rack in the closet! So we had to put in Niall’s shoes, for a photo op.

Two girls sitting on the edge of a bed in a college dorm room
Normal dorm room = palatial to a boat kid. Apparently we need Pinterest help for decor however.

Reaching for another tissue this afternoon, it hit home that adaptation is not just his, but ours: finding new rhythms as a family of four aboard. Expanding to fill the gaps he’ll leave around the dinner table, the chores list, the watch schedule, the ironic commentary. We’ll miss him, but embrace what’s ahead. As he has opportunities to grow, so do we: for Mairen and Siobhan, owning roles aboard Totem that he generally assumed with anchoring, reefing, watchkeeping.

Many cruising friends have moved back to land. Swallowed the anchor, as they say. And usually, they report that returning to “normal” sucks…and then they adapt.

We expect an October return to Totem in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. Back to an unscheduled, flexible life for most of the Totem crew. Niall has the double whammy of adjusting both to land life and schedule far more rigorous than the 3rd grade he sailed away from 10 years ago. It’s OK. He’ll adapt!

Niall on campus at Lewis & Clark

Cooking aboard: migrating kitchen to galley

spicy red chiles in a calabash bowl

pinterest kitchen to galley migration

We love to cook. Moving from a spacious, well-equipped kitchen on land to a compact galley on a sailboat did nothing to impact our enthusiasm for creating and enjoying delicious meals. Until you live this truth, it may feel elusive; it’s easy to presume that cooking aboard approximates camping cuisine. I want to kick that misconception to the curb. Or reef. Or whatever! 

This post is part one in a series of galleywise topics, starting with a look at kitchen appliances. What makes the transition to the boat, what doesn’t, and how we compensate for equipment that doesn’t cross over. Are there some compromises? Probably, but do I feel for a moment deprived? Absolutely not!

[Yesterday’s article and video in CNN brought a raft of visitors. If you’re new to our blog, you might want to Start Here or read Who and Why. Welcome!]

Our kitchen on land included a professional range and more electrics than I can count on my hands. Some were everyday appliances, like our espresso machine; others had specialty use, like the Kitchen Aid standup mixer. We liked to entertain and these tools made it easier to cook for a crowd.

Aboard Totem, our galley may be a micro-sized and lightly equipped by comparison, but hasn’t compromised what we’re able to do. We still love to cook, to share meals aboard with friends, to explore the world through tastes and dishes. It cracked me up to see that CNN’s choice of a thumbnail for the video about our family happened to reference our love of food. THAT’S US!

CNN video about Sailing Totem family

In truth: most of our kitchen appliances did not get to the boat. It’s also true that I don’t miss them. OK, that’s a lie. Whipping cream by hand is a pain in the arm, but that’s why I have helpers! But only rarely do the gadgets offer function that can’t be replicated with a simpler tool, or time, or both. Here’s a comparison of commonly used appliances and how they fit in our land-to-boat transition.

On shore: On Totem:
Blender Immersion blender. This gadget (aka stick blender, hand blender) makes everything from smoothies to pureed soups to hummus. AC powered and a big amperage draw, but that’s OK since it’s only on for about 30 seconds! Ours is a much older version of this 400 watt model. Don’t undersize the wattage! At a more extreme end, I have a friend on a relatively low-tech boat that sized their inverter JUST so she could have her VitaMix on board.
Food processor Mandoline. What can I say, I like making perfectly thin and uniform slices of vegetables sometimes! This makes easy, pretty work of things like potatoes and tomatoes. Get 3-4 years from the blades, we currently have an Oxo mandoline. 

More chopper than processor, but there are manual devices that stand in for smaller jobs. Many immersion blender models come with an attachment bowl with a blad powered by the wand.

Mixer For more general mixing, a bowl and spoon are enough. For whipping cream, beating egg whites, or emulsifying aioli (OK so that’s about once a year), a flat whisk stores compactly and gets the job done with a little elbow grease. Helpers are nice.
Coffee/espresso machine Nothing! There are many ways to make coffee aboard, but our shmancy machine isn’t necessary. OK, so I do miss the frother/steamer for milk…

Bread machine Making bread by hand is actually pretty easy; it just takes time, which we have. Sometimes the bread onshore is good enough that I don’t feel compelled (why compete with baguettes on a French island?). Bread machines need space and power, so aren’t a great fit for most boats, but cruisers with power to run one benefit from a cooler galley when baking bread. (Land- and sea-version recipe for our favorite bread, pictured above, in this post.)
Microwave There’s a stove? Microwaves offer convenience we don’t need. The best use other than reheating might be making a hot drink for night watch – but if you’re moving around much on a passage, kettles are safer than the microwave as vessel for boiling hot water.
Toaster Stovetop. Some boats have a toaster; we just make toast in a griddle pan on the stovetop; monitoring necessary, but an electric appliance is not required.
Crock pot Power-hungry crock pots aren’t a good fit for most boats. Our Solavore solar oven acts a lot like a crock pot, cooking at low temperatures for hours; we don’t have one, but friends who do swear by a Thermal Cooker or Wonderbag for the same purpose: slow, unattended cooking.
Instant pot Pressure cooker. A pressure cooker on steroids is all that Instant Pot is! Modern pressure cookers are kind of awesome; programmable functions aren’t necessary.

Some boats do have items we chose to forego; it’s a function of having space and power to make them work. But my point here: so much of what we’re convinced are “needs” … aren’t, really. Like a lot of life afloat, things are simpler. Pared back, what served as a helpful convenience before becomes unnecessary clutter.

Baguettes delivered boatside making baking optional in this anchorage. Mexico, 2010.
Often our methods just need a little more time, and that’s OK. Malaysia, 2013.
At the end of the day, a simple meal is often best. Thailand, 2014.