Sailing Totem: The measure of a year—2019 reflections

Although 2019 may have been low on sailing miles, the year included plenty of the experiences that make cruising great.

January 7, 2020
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
Totem off La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico. Behan Gifford

Totem rocks at anchor in the gentle swell off La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico. We approached the end of the year on a mellow passage down the Sea of Cortez, sailing from Puerto Peñasco to our winter base in Banderas Bay. It was a little under five days – four nights at sea – to transit the 800 nautical miles. Gently sailing downwind, water sliding by the hull, provided a perfect environment for meditating on the last year.

It’s natural want to chalk up cruising achievement by counting miles. Goodness, we’ve got them, but I don’t think they’re a good achievement measure. Miles didn’t play into this year anyway: it was one of our most stationary, other than parking at the dock to work in Australia. We made longer stops in fewer places. Didn’t cross an ocean; didn’t even leave Mexico!

Tracking Totem
The extent of our 2019 range: between Barra and Penasco. PredictWind

Jamie’s a database guy so we’ve got a few facts and figures to flesh that out.

  • Distance: 2280 NM (one of our lowest ever)
  • Countries: 1 (¡hola México!)
  • Anchored: 182 days (more than average)
  • Docked: 59 days (less than usual, despite needing to for a bunch of travel)
  • On the hard: 127 days (longest ever by a wide margin!)
  • On passage: 8 nights (three weeks of passage nights is about average)

What did we do, then? We retrenched a bit, to prepare for this year’s anticipated departure for the South Pacific. Totem’s refit was a dominant feature there, as was growing our digital businesses – coaching and sailmaking – while internet is easy since it won’t be in Polynesia. We also took advantage of proximity to the US to travel for speaking engagements, and for me to visit my parents; as a (budget) rule we don’t fly back, but I traveled four times to see them in 2019.

Bundled up
Bundled up to sail south from Puerto Penasco. Behan Gifford

This past year was thinner on the exotic experiences that give cruising its appeal, that make cruising enviable and look good on Instagram.

coastal shot
OK, so some of them looked pretty good on Instagram. Behan Gifford

It was extraordinary instead in experiences you would not expect to read on a bucket list. Enrichment came from growing relationships with people: those we have come to know by virtue of staying longer in one place, those we helped by supporting the 2019 South Pacific-bound fleet prepare for their big leap, and those who fostered with us the community that grew in the shipyard. Those fellow cruisers who are our found family. These measures make my heart happy. These mean more than miles.

Banderas Bay
Layers traded for shirtsleeves on arrival in Banderas Bay. Behan Gifford

The role of these relationships in making our year crystallized for me upon our arrival in La Cruz, when the first day ashore my feet carried me to seek out those faces I missed.

Tortas y Ring
Much more than the best chilaquiles in town at Tortas y Ring. Behan Gifford

Whether a year is “good” in hindsight is largely about perception. Faced with little mobility, with long hours of hard work, with challenges that didn’t bring easy rewards – this could have been a… well, not a good year through the hindsight lens. Yet my heart is full with what it did hold for our family; not what it didn’t. A friend recently wrote in an article titled The Choice of Happiness, “Happiness…is being at peace with yourself and the universe around you.” Happiness has a lot to do with attitude, with finding opportunity in frustrating circumstances, and ultimately making the choice to be happy.

Jamie pointed out the other day we are under 100 days from our intended departure for French Polynesia. (Did you hear the POP of my happiness bubble as some mild panic crept in?!) This fact is both thrilling and terrifying, and effort toward that end consumes most of our waking hours. We are both very well planned (grateful for years of practice to be comfortable with our ability to prep!) and not well planned at all (our route is one big question mark: where to after French Polynesia?).

Totem kids
Niall, Mairen and Siobhan Behan Gifford

Next week, the three youngest Totem crew – pictured above in the Bahamas, 2017 – will give a presentation here in La Cruz about Growing Up as a Boat Kid. We hope to share a recording of it later (still working on that tripod!).


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