Sailing Totem: Sea Change

For the crew aboard Totem, change is the constant during their cruising life.

August 7, 2019
on boat deck
Jamie and the girls checking out a new anchorage neighbor. Behan Gifford

Our language is full of words and phrases drawn from maritime origins. Whether you’re hoping to be on an even keel, can’t fathom what that is, or simply need Dutch courage to ask—terms with nautical roots pepper our everyday lexicon. The one most present on Totem lately: sea change. Thank Shakespeare for the term that literally referred to change wrought by the sea, which has evolved to refer to almost any change. Recent milestones for Totem‘s crew prompt reflections on our own sea changes. We recently turned our 4,000th day since sailing away from Eagle Harbor. Later this month we cross into our 12th year of cruising. I write this on the 24th anniversary of the day Jamie and I married.

arctic sailing
Our son Niall’s summer view, from the skiff he drives at Uncruise. Niall Gifford

Other significant changes mark this past year, and loom in the next. We graduated a boat kid, and subsequently realized a significant shift in boat dynamics, space, and grocery bill! While Totem cruises Mexico’s Sea of Cortez this summer, our son, Niall, went from a successful freshman year at Lewis & Clark to a great summer job as a deckhand with Uncruise Adventures. On our weekly call last Saturday, he wondered how hard it would be to return to land when classes start again this month… navigating his own changes now.

jumping rays
Rays! Behan Gifford

Last week I flew home to help with family to take care of another encompassing sea change: addressing my mother’s progressive dementia. Over months our family circled around to support my father in transitioning my mother from their home into the memory-care residence she needed. Embarking on the cruising life as a thirty-something mother of littles, this wasn’t a chapter I considered: I’m grateful for the proximity that lets me help during a difficult transition.


A sea change I’m especially excited about: joining Cruising World as a regular contributor! Watch this space for details. Aptly described as “your passport to exploring the world’s coastlines and oceans while voyaging under sail” – a sweet match for our own goals –we look forward to sharing Totem‘s blog and more through Cruising World’s magazine and website.

family time
Jamie and a small friend: somewhere in Baja Behan Gifford

Further sea change is expected in the year ahead. Ten years after we sailed from Mexico to the Marquesas, we’ll set off again next spring with French Polynesia in sight. In 2010, I was grateful for a third adult to ease the demands of parenting with watchkeeping; now, those children have grown into able crew. This, too, is another sea change of sorts in our family. One crew fledged and pointing for blue horizons again, there will be no confusing our goals with chalking up a circumnav.

Contemplating sea changes may be a defensive response to the comparably fixed months we’re facing. Totem will shortly haul again at Puerto Peñasco’s Cabrales Shipyard in the Sonora desert—at the peak of summer heat. Yes, it will be hard. And it’s grounded in our priorities: working together as a family with an eye on our better future together, weathering sea changes as they come.


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