Sailing Totem: Totem’s Shipyard List, 39 Years in the Making

The Totem crew has their work cut out for them during this stint at the boat yard.

June 2, 2021
sailing totem maintenance
I’ll explain about the holes… OMG the holes… Behan Gifford

“It turns out that when you circumnavigate, things wear out. There’s also a dose of maintenance creep. Our crew has especially enjoyed out-of-the-way corners of the world; these more-remote locations often have fewer resources to properly fix something that’s broken. You fix it well enough, and you keep going.”

That’s a quote from our 2019 haulout at Cabrales Boatyard, during our second haulout here (this is our fourth!).

Back then, we drafted a refit list to prepare Totem for the South Pacific. As usual, our funds were allocated to requirements for safety and reliability, with a few wish-list items for cosmetic and creature improvements in the mix. As usual, we failed to realize most optional projects thanks to shortfalls in time and money. But keeping up with the maintenance and repairs on an older boat that is used hard are the priority. Twelve out of 13 projects deemed critical, from new hatches to pulling and inspecting chainplates, got done; the one we didn’t do wasn’t truly critical (introducing a graywater system to capture and reuse water).


We’re pretty used to shelving optional projects, at least if we want to get back to sailing. In fact, on that 2019 list, we accomplished exactly none of them. Now we get another chance! This year, we’re going after some of those aesthetic projects as a gift of pandemic-induced delay, in addition to having a new crop of essential maintenance—that’s how boats are. Totem will be 40 years old next year. FORTY. YEARS. OLD. It’s a nice chance to have her spruced up a little, we hope.

What eventually gets done on this list will still be a function of time and funds (and sore shoulder, blood lost, and ability to settle on functional paint colors), but we’re excited to be tackling some meaningful improvements.

Critical projects

The draft list is a little overwhelming. And in truth, that’s a good reminder for anyone planning the “cheap living” on a sailboat.


Repowering. It’s confirmed that our Yanmar is out, but… what’s going in? This is ongoing research. Meanwhile, anyone interested in our well-loved Yanmar 4JH3-TE with lots of parts to harvest? Not going electric. Other ideas welcome!

Hull paint. Totem’s original blue gelcoat was painted white by a prior owner; we speculate, maybe 20 years ago? Over time it’s worn through. And crazed, mainly where dugout canoes banged against the hull in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and… We started seeing wear spots to original gelcoat years ago. Prep started; Alexseal paint on order.

sailing totem maintenance
Yeah, it’s bad. Behan Gifford

Battery bank. We’re on our third bank since buying Totem in 2007; it’s 1020ah of Lifeline AGMs. They behaved like old batteries at two and a half years; we’re glad to be plugged in with their current state. This time, we’d like a lithium bank. Which type and how many?


Stove. We replaced the Force 10 stove with… another Force 10, in 2007. Parts have progressively failed to the point where there is no easy fix. Time to replace. It would be nice to have an oven that’s actually insulated.

Rudder post gland. We wanted to replace this in a prior Thailand haulout but couldn’t source the right bits. And it was “early preventative” maintenance. Now it’s late preventative and the next stage is what we try to avoid. Not available from the yard that built Totem; the design changed and shaft and log diameters and overall length are challenging. Researching.

We’ve had our eye on this original equipment, and while it might be fine, that’s not good enough given the age. Not available from the yard that built Totem; the design changed. Researching.

sailing totem maintenance
Not a sexy gland Behan Gifford

Headstay chainplate. This is the only one of the bunch we didn’t replace, but it is now time. We brought back a giant stainless-steel bar to Mexico last year to fabricate a new one but then the machine shop owner closed down due to health issues and we had to break in to steel our chainplate. Ongoing.

(Do you feel overwhelmed yet? Because I do! I know we’ll be OK, but – whew.)

Opportunistic projects

These are related to one of the essential projects above: work which becomes easy to add to the list, once the others have been embarked upon, which are mostly reliability improvements.

Galley counters. We replaced the (chipped, stained, yellowed) original Formica in Thailand in 2014. The “new” stuff has literally worn through to substrate! Considering options: 2-part paint, solid surfacing… it’s not a stretch to do this one right. Very much undecided about counter material.

Through hulls. We’ll deal with the above waterline seacocks, since the southern cousins are all new/sorted. New paint means we can make a cosmetic mess moving a few to more optimal locations. All improve efficiency and safety, such as a better route for Totem’s bilge pump. Fiberglass, epoxy safety kit – check check check.

Engine compartment. With the pending replacement, there’s an opportunity for design tweaks to better use available space and improve safety: replace insulation for sound, and clean up electrical / plumbing components, etc. A great example of the typical invisible boat project (we spent how much on what?)! McMaster-Carr is a great resource for this collection of projects.

Quality of life projects

These improvements, while solidly in the “optional” camp, are the work that will be visible when we’re done (other than a good-looking hull!) …and remind us what a productive haulout this was! (yes, slightly sarcastic there – so much work will not be so visible).

Teen cabins. Siobhan’s bunk cabin has been faired and primed and very much not painted for… a long time. She also needs a better workspace; the desk in there was built for 9-year-old Niall. Mairen has the forepeak, which sports mildew-stained fabric glued to the hull (yuck). In the plans for her are similar upgrade treatment: fresh paint (over the wood, mon dieu!) and improved storage. Teens helping drive design here.

Putting up wallpaper in a sailboat
Siobhan picked out this very cool wallpaper; she and Mairen put it up. Behan Gifford

Aft cabin workstation. I write at our salon table, with some adaptations to keep it from being an ergonomic nightmare – but given the time spent, a true workstation will be pretty huge. Mental gymnastics on building it out while maximizing storage space opportunity.

Main cabin refresh. I mentioned Totem is turning 40? Bulkhead veneers need work, holey, patched, and in some place not possible to patch. In making functional improvements along the way, we’ve gotten progressively haphazard and, truth be told, kind of shabby. I’m proud of our authenticity, but… it’s nice to look nice, too. But – details? A carpenter does lovely finish work…like the aft cabin workstation/storage/electrical cabinet (oh, did I mention that?) we need figure out design, and materials. SO. MANY. DECISIONS.

We’re doing what? projects

A category for the “honey, I’ve got an idea” projects. These percolate in Jamie’s head for a long time, and are usually about making life more comfortable or efficient on board. But they land in the optional category, and don’t always happen. They are always good ideas, we just aren’t always on the same page about priorities for time and money! He’s only sprung one of these on me so far.

Swim steps. Totem has a reverse transom, which makes for somewhat awkward clambering out of the water (via a stainless ladder that folds down). We’ll have new glassed steps integrated to the hull. At this point, we’re at the hole-cutting stage, which is the scary part. Contemplating nonskid options.

sailing totem maintenance
He’s explaining and I’m trying to understand but— HOLES IN THE BOAT. Behan Gifford

There’s more… so much more. It’s a little scary if I’m honest. we have an 11-tab Google sheet attempting to track and corral them. It includes what’s here, and more, but that’s a boat, right? A floating collection of projects!

Meanwhile, we’ll move off Totem to a nearby apartment: a first for this family. After billowing fiberglass dust inside from cutting into the transom a few days ago, we’re ready… to get off, so we can dig in.

A cat asleep on a sailboat
The beans! Dulce napping on our side deck, seen through a porthole from the galley Behan Gifford

Join us for TOTEM TALKS

Next weekend – Sunday, June 6, we’ll have a livestream about sails for cruising.

Jamie started working as a sailmaker in 1986 (Americas Cup, Whitbread, Vendee, etc.), raced professionally, and took that proficiency cruising: a combination of experience that uniquely qualifies him to provide an informed opinion about what kind of sails to have for cruising. Yes, he’ll talk about catamarans as well as monohulls! To join in, register online.

Medical update

A couple of posts ago I shared about our cruising friend, Steff. She was diagnosed with lung cancer while back in the USA doing a turn as a travel nurse. She has a rare genomic variation, which actually turns out to be good news for treatment options. She’s also stage IV. No way to make that news good. For those who donated, thank you: their home, the C&C Xpression, will be shipped to them in June!

Their medical bills will be astronomical. If you’d like to ease it by even the cost of a latte, the gesture will be appreciated. The latest updates (including links to Steff’s writing about her prognosis) are on their GoFundMe site.


Jamie and I were recently guests on World of Boating, a radio program that felt a lot like sitting on the virtual porch with three guys who love talking about boats and teasing each other. The live episode can be listened to as a podcast. We recorded over Zoom, but, um they did not mention that video would be posted?! I am pretty sure we behaved, and at least we weren’t totally bedraggled!


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