Sailing Totem: Our Hurricane Season Plans

The upcoming storm season is the perfect time to tick items off of the chore list.

April 6, 2021
Sailing totem on the passage north
A prior passage north…counting on mellow conditions again! Behan Gifford

This story originally appeared on Sailing Totem.

Along part of the west coast of North America, hurricane season officially starts on May 15. That’s still just a date on the calendar; it’s unusual to worry about systems in the Sea of Cortez until sometime in August. Even so, we’re sailing north and hauling out next week.

Since learning at the beginning of the year that our engine had …issues, we have intended to get back to the Cabrales yard in Puerto Peñasco. It’s probably “just” a head gasket, but we wonder what other issues are looming after 8,00 hours of running it. It’s been reliable and we’re diligent with maintenance. But that’s a lot of transmission wear. And the seawater pump has recently started weeping. We believe a reliable engine is an important piece of safety gear on board, so it’s time for a Yanmar whisperer (if you know one, get in touch!). This could mean putting our engine into the back of a truck and driving it to San Diego; who knows. Expertise will help us determine if we’ll put money into our 76hp 4JH3-TE (turbo), or if we’ll start researching options to repower.

hurricane track paths
Peñasco is that top star: a whopping 20 knots recorded last remnant swipe. Yawn Behan Gifford

At a gut level we see this swinging towards a repower (and no, not even for a second contemplating engineless – in case you saw our April Fool’s Day posts on Facebook or Instagram). We would rather not repower further south in Mexico for a few reasons. Not because there aren’t good mechanics here. Actually, there are genius mechanics to be found! So, why the move?

First, we believe the process will be a lot easier with where we can drive new stuff over the border than shipping and importing it elsewhere. It’s only an hour to Arizona from there (Salvador swears you can do it in 45 minutes, we drive… more slowly!) And San Diego may be a good place to sell it for parts, if that’s the right decision.

Sailing totem crew playing cards
When friends send you groupies of the fun they are having with the game you taught them, you know you’re doing something right! Scuba Ninjas, we can’t wait to play with you again. Behan Gifford

Second, hurricane season isn’t THAT far off. Cabrales Boatyard is the only hardstand in the Sea of Cortez that is not impacted by hurricanes. Northerly wind events generated up in Four Corners, yes. These usually blow in the 30s, and we’ve seen 50 knots! That that’s not a hurricane. Over the years, historical tracks show tropical remnants that make it that far, and they have even less wind than the northers. Kansas has had more remnant hurricanes than Puerto Peñasco! If you want a safe place to leave your boat, this is it.


Third, that pandemic that’s on? Our family are all now eligible for vaccinations in north of the border. Why wait for our jabs when we could do it soon, as a number of other shipyard denizens have already done?

Grandparents Poppy and Plug
Pictured here are my parents: known as Poppy and Plug to their grandchildren. Behan Gifford

Fourth, we can visit friends and family so much more easily. Generous friends are again making a car they aren’t using available for us. Having wheels translates directly to quality time stateside to connect with people we love. We SINCERELY HOPE to be headed for remote islands in 2022, so those visits are extra precious. (Look out Castle clan, we are practicing our Chicago rummy!). Pictured here are my parents: known as Poppy and Plug to their grandchildren. Mum is in a residence for memory care, and after many months, Papa can finally visit her in person instead of through a pane of glass or a screen. She doesn’t know our names any more, but she KNOWS US, and it will be really nice to get some time with both of them.

prepping a boat for coppercoat
Yard manager Salvador Cabrales helping us prep for Coppercoat; 2018. April’s Cruising World has an in-depth article about our experience, from application to years in-water. Behan Gifford

Fifth, the prospect of time on the hard is making us look anew at other projects on Totem. While we refit in 2018 and 2019 with the intention of time in remote corners again (damn you, COVID!) as usual our spending was all on safety and reliability. This time, we’re looking at making a few aesthetic improvements. Totem is pretty scruffy, inside and out; while that’s not a big deal in the scheme of things, we’re all excited about a little spiffing up. I have a half-built workstation. There are two cabins with primer but no paint. There’s a stove on its last legs. Galley countertop wearing through. With help from the crew at Cabrales, we can affordably do a lot of sprucing up.

PredictWind track
Docklines are off: follow along on our PredictWind track. Behan Gifford

Finally, and far from the least driving our enthusiasm to get north—rejoining the excellent company of friends at the boatyard. Several of our bubble boats from 2020 are there, and others are coming. Our socializing has been very cautious during COVID, and we are REALLY READY for that to change!


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