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Sailing Totem: Circles Around a Small World

It’s not surprising for bluewater cruisers when people we met thousands of miles away or years before turn up in the same anchorage.

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Barry’s course wound through the Atlantic for thousands of miles more than planned. Courtesy Behan Gifford

The cruising community is both numerous and dispersed, while retaining elements of a small and readily connected community. Circles intersect again; it’s not surprising when people we met thousands of miles away or a few years before turn up on the opposite side of an anchorage. Cruising now, as opposed to some decades ago, means many of our cruiser connections are built and grow remotely. Our world feels small indeed.

Our friendship over the years with Barry Kennedy is a one example. He reached out to us in 2014 (or was it 2015?) while making cruising plans and Jamie helped him with sails for his Dudley Dix 38, Spailpin. “There are some amazing sailors out here, doing incredible things, not splashing all over social media. They’re too busy getting and keeping their boats in shape…or chipping ice…quietly being awesome.” That’s how we described Barry on our Facebook page in early February, 2020. He was about depart from Chile for South Georgia island (Shackleton, anyone?) and the world was about to blow up with the pandemic. 

A few weeks later, his already-adventurous journey to the higher latitudes got even more interesting as borders started to shut down. Barry’s initial exit plan from the Southern Ocean was South Africa, which closed while he was underway. He detoured for provisions at Tristan de Cunha, but was denied entry. He detoured again to remote St Helena (and he was out of propane now). The authorities in St. Helena didn’t want to let him in either, but they did eventually provide provisions and support. Barry and crew, Jesse Smith, didn’t get off Spailpin until the USVI, many weeks and thousands of miles at sea later. 

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We had connected with Barry’s crew, Jesse, online in 2013. Jessie had planned to sail his Skye 51 Obelisk to Papua New Guinea and we had intel to share with him from our recent pass through these less-traveled islands. During the last legs of his circumnavigation, we finally met in South Africa. Later it was St Helena, and who knows where next? 

Barry is now refitting Gringo, a Garcia Passoa 50, in Rhode Island, and making plans to take Gringo on future adventures. And last month, in Annapolis? After seven years of correspondence and video chats, we finally got to meet and tell a few more stories – in person for a change, and it was sweet.

Jamie and Behan with Barry
Jamie and Behan finally met Barry during last month’s trip to Annapolis. Courtesy Behan Gifford

When I first met Cindy Wallach, our family was poking around Puget Sound on Mau Ke Mana, the Hallberg-Rassy 352 that was our starter family boat. Cruising was still a faraway someday. I was searching for a community and I found a parenting and homeschooling group that felt like home – there was even this boat mom. Cindy lived aboard the St. Francis 44 Majestic. She offered not just a calming model for the skills and experiences that felt unknowably intimidating, but community and friendship and support. During the pre-cruising years, it felt essential for my sanity to connect with people who understood our hopes and dreams.

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It would be countless texts, emails and over a decade later before we met in person when Totem sailed into the Chesapeake. We’ll have to find a new home-away-from-home other than Majestic’s slip in Back Creek during the next Annapolis boat show, though, because Cindy and family cut dock lines a second time this month and are headed south to warm up for this winter – and then, who knows where.

Chesapeake Bay
Meeting Majestic in the Chesapeake, at last. Behan Gifford

Around the time I met Cindy, we hosted a German teenager, Hauke, at our home on Bainbridge Island. Hauke’s father was a business contact of Jamie’s who was looking for a chance to advance his son’s English through a kind of informal exchange program, during a gap year before starting university. Hauke quickly went from guest to family member; his English progressed from halting to fluid over that following year.

Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving with Hauke, in 2004. Niall is at his right… Jamie opposite. Behan Gifford

Fast forward to this fall: Niall’s a senior in college and studying in Germany. You see where this is going? Last weekend he stayed with Hauke and family in the 19th century barn they’ve converted into a home. And all of their conversations are in German, of course, except when we were on a video call.

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Germany
Niall and Hauke in Germany last week, November 2021. Courtesy Behan Gifford

Hauke shares our love of the sea. He flew out to help Jamie deliver Totem from San Francisco to Seattle when we bought her in 2007. In our pictures from 2004 and 2005, he’s more often than not holding Siobhan (who was only a few months old when he arrived— what an incredible blessing a helpful set of hands are for a busy young family!), and he’s always grinning broadly from Mau Ke Mana’s deck and cockpit. 

Mau Ke Mana
Sailing Mau Ke Mana, in the beginning. Photo credit Brad Baker

Although Barry’s plans involve high latitudes and ours center on palm trees, we assume we’ll see him somewhere down the road. Although the Majestic crew has to move at the rhythm of their family priorities just like we do, I don’t doubt our paths will cross again. And we anticipate that someday Hauke will step on Totem’s deck again. It’s all just a matter of when and where, and until then, I’ll revel in how our world can shrink in ways that allow us to lift up and support each other from afar. 


RELATED: Sailing Totem: Great Holiday Gifts for Boat Kids of All Ages

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That resonates especially during the US holidays and Thanksgiving celebrations. The great value we place upon long-term friendships, on friends who are like family, on relationships that resonate and how the interconnectedness of the cruising community can shrink our world in beautiful ways. Jamie reflected over coffee just this morning how the cruising community is like a living, breathing thing: an exhale out to scatter, inhale to reconvene. This world is small and round, and paths lead back towards intersection. 

News from our crew

We’re so excited to be headed to visit family for Thanksgiving. Our route to our family visit winds through two national parks and promises to be beautiful. But the best part is the opportunity to be with family. We might not have Thanksgiving in the US again for a while, and knowing the opportunity for time together may not present itself for some years makes this holiday extra sweet. It probably made reflections for this post a little more heartfelt, too.

We already feel the Niall-size gap— he’s on his own for both holidays. When his Berlin term ends in a few weeks, he’s planning to backpack for a short while – then he and his girlfriend will visit us in Mexico on their way back to Lewis and Clark College for his last semester before graduation. We’ll make our own holiday then!

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