Holiday gifts that cruisers want

Paddling in Guadeloupe

As avowed minimalists, this feels slightly awkward putting a post of holiday gifts together. But the reality is that there are useful needs to meet in a life afloat. This peek into what works hopefully aids those anticipating a similar path: a personal look what’s worked for us, and what’s on our wish list, as idea fodder for gifts to the the sailors in your life. It’s organized into four angles:

  1. Best additions to Totem this year
  2. Wish list: functional gifts
  3. Wish list: what the crew really wants!
  4. Especially for kids 

I. Best additions to Totem this year

This is a shortlist of items that had the biggest positive impact on board in the last year. Some are practical, some are just for fun / quality of life, a few are a bit of both.

    • Paddleboard – finally got one on board after The Great Kayak Debacle of 2016. Weighing pros/cons, we picked the durability of a fixed board over a space-saving inflatable. A shorter (10’) Jimmy Styx model (year-end closeout!) is right-sized for our humans and has provided hours of fun and fitness. Siobhan paddles in front of Totem, photo at top.
    • Underwater dome lens – talk about bang for the buck. Only $50 to get some of my favoritest pictures ever. Just fit the GoPro inside and swim! It’s so flippin’ cool to have split images with above/below water…like this one showing Totem  floating in crystal Bahamian water while a nurse shark dozes on the sand below.
Pic made possible with a dome

Pic made possible with a dome port lens over GoPro. Me on deck, Jamie in the water; Staniel Cay, Bahamas.

  • Winches – Jamie likes to fondle our new Andersen stainless steel winches. No, seriously. Aside from the fact they are incredibly sexy mirror-finish stainless, the engineering of these makes them a better mousetrap, starting with guts that require less maintenance. Ribs on the drum don’t need as many wraps for sufficient friction, and they’re kinder to lines than conventional drum texturing. Jamie is all the warm fuzzies from that ribbed drum. I kinda want to get a lascivious picture of him with one.
  • Mantus scuba– we used to wish for dive gear on Totem, but it never made sense; a mix of upfront cost, equipment x 5 crew, limited space, and just not being die-hard divers. But we do really like getting underwater…a lot! Adding a pair of Mantus tanks has been perfect. Good fun for more marine exploring beyond our freediving skills, plus peace of mind as added safety equipment (invaluable if an anchor fouled below freediving depth / hang time capability).
Kids dive with Mantus scuba

Kids dive with Mantus scuba. There’s that dome port lens again too!

  • ACR ResQLink+. This personal locater beacon (PLB) was added to our safety kit for taking off to the Bahamas and beyond. My worst nightmare is losing on-watch crew overboard; I still worry when Jamie’s on watch and I’m “sleeping” off watch – these help me actually relax, knowing he’s basically attached to an EPIRB.
  • Drone – we picked up a Phantom 3 pro during the post-holiday-sales last year. I know, have been lame about sharing the footage (will provide room & board on Totem for anyone who can train us up!) but – WOW. The images are amazing! I love the bird’s eye view it offers of our life afloat! New Years Resolution: learn editing and share some videos. I’m not kidding about hosting someone who can school us! (Aline are you reading?! 😊 )
Dakity bay Culebra Puerto Rico anchorage

Culebra, Puerto Rico

  • Dinghy. When our trusty Avon finally gave up (well, it was 19 years old) in Thailand, the Highfield we replaced it with was… suboptimal. Not big enough, didn’t ride as well. A dinghy is one of the most frequently used bits of gear on board so we felt the gap. The 10.5’ AB (aluminum, double floor, bow locker) we picked up at Tradewind Yachting Services in Nanny Cay in September is AWESOME.
  • TOTEM shirts! New earlier this year, we adore these super-soft, organic cotton shirts and LOVE seeing people wear them. If you order Totem gear (Ts, caps and a hemp market bag too), send us a picture! 
Show your (neutral, water-based) colors with a yummy soft Totem Tshirt!

Show your (neutral, water-based) colors with a yummy soft Totem Tshirt!

II. Wish list: practical

The next set… well, they aren’t exactly sexy holiday gifts. But the way our family looks at the world is in more practical term (I just realized how crazy that probably sounds to a lot of readers- yes, chucking convention to live on a boat with no fixed address is very practical. Really!): these are the practical wish-list expenditures. Right now we’re saving all our pennies to transit the Panama Canal but; some of these we expect (chaps, shade) others are less likely.

  • Dinghy chaps. Fabric covers fitted to the hypalon tubes extend their life by preventing chafe and reducing UV exposure. These are labor intensive and custom made, haven’t rationalized this expense just yet.
  • Outboard. Dinghy theme lately? Our outboard has been struggling for over a year, something that dependably gets a full load on a plane would be sweet. This 15hp Yamaha would do us right.
  • Repaint Totem’s hull. It’s so beat up, the guys working in the shipyard in Grenada were laughing at us—all in good fun—and asking if they could give her a makeover! Hey, there’s a dugout canoe associated with almost every ding, those are good memories…OK yeah it would be nice to have a pretty boat again.
  • Cockpit shade. We have an AWESOME, pretty new (2016) bimini frame (thank you to the great guys at TurboXS!)…but it still lacks the whole fabric-shade-that-attaches-to-it part. It will be really nice to get the last mile of this addition completed.
  • Sailrite. We’ve gone back and forth on these durable sewing machines. Cons: machines need to be used to stay workable; they are heavy, and they take up a chunk of storage. But in the Pro column: Jamie could do a lot with one, like dinghy chaps and cockpit shade! He’s a sailmaker, used to be a hands-on in the pit guy and knows his way around a pro machine. Our M.O. to date: Jamie fixes other cruiser’s Sailrites that have stopped working after languishing in a locker by bartering for usage to get a project done.
Making our dodger soft sides in Jacksonville: thanks Patty!

Making our dodger soft sides in Jacksonville: thanks Patty!

  • Countertops. The formica installed in Thailand, unfortunately, is not good. It’s a long story. But the formica is nearly worn through, the trim wasn’t done right, and a bunch of other stuff. For the Someday files. Solid surfacing would be so dreamy!
  • Solid state external drives. The movable parts on hard drives, in computers and external drives, have shorter lifespans with the small constant motions of a boat. SSDs would be less prone to failure. The multiple of expense is unfortunate (and almost rationalized by failed drives!). The only downside: external SSDs are mostly small, so you’d need a bunch to accomodate all the photo and video files a family accumulates. Sample: this Samsung 2TB drive, ~$800.

III. Wish list: just for fun

What’s your heart’s desire? I asked everyone on board to contribute their “wish” gift idea for something they have zero need for, but a dose of desire. This turned out to be difficult: we are pretty good at being satisfied with what we have instead of craving what the boat next door has! But there are some great ways to be indulgent on board. The top five are our personal picks, the rest are from family brainstorming.

  1. Niall: PADI dive certification. (shhh: I think we figured out how to do this affordably enough in Bonaire next month! He doesn’t read the blog – don’t spill the beans anyone!!)
  2. Mairen: horseback riding. (still with the experiences. C’mon Mairen it’s about Stuff! She never got beyond “more art supplies then?”)
  3. Siobhan: a puppy. KIDDING. Except she wasn’t. Her BATNA wish is to have any book she wants for a year. Qualified with “you know I use the library mostly.” People, she reads a LOT. Thank goodness for ebook loans from our hometown library!
  4. Jamie: Code zero with a continuous line furler on a sprit. Because the sailmaker’s boat is a little bit like the cobblerss kids… often wanting. Here’s why Jamie thinks this is a winner sail for cruisers.
  5. Behan: fancypants freediving fins, and lessons to go with them. (As long as we’re daydreaming, I’d learn from supermama and freediving champion Ashley Chapman at Evolve Freediving, with a whole- family lesson!)

More Totem crew wish-list picks that may generate ideas for giftees on your list:

  • Water-friendly drone. We’re having so much fun with the ‘regular’ drone, imagine one that lands on the water, or follows behind the dinghy – saltwater spray be damned?! This very cool looking Splash Drone 3 lands on the water and floats. Whoa. Or the QuadH2O: double whoa.
  • Mini home theater projector. We watched movies outside on the Delos deck once upon a time; I harbor dreams of hosting anchorage movie nights with a film displayed on a sail “screen.” One that’s bright enough, not to big, and doesn’t draw too much power, decent speakers…or 3 out of 4. Like this maybe (and wow, that’s a good price!)?
  • New computer. OK, not family but Jamie. The Toughbook that is our navigation computer doubles as his personal machine, but doesn’t play well with Windows 10. Newer models do. Still a big fan of Toughbooks for their durability on board.
  • Camera equipment. Better underwater shots with an Olympus Tough: the GoPro is awesome for environmental shots, but fails on macro, and those are fun to take underwater. Above sea level, I traded in all my Nikon gear to migrate towards Sony’s mirrorless a7 series, and will always be drooling over lenses.
  • A dozen Luci lights. We have one and it’s fantastic: indulgent wish list version,- how cool would a strand of them be hung tiki-light style around the cockpit?! 

IV. Just for kids

The genesis of this year’s list is a question fom one of our coaching clients. Less than a year from taking off cruising and looking for Christmas gift ideas for their four children, they had this assignment for our kids: “What is 1-2 things do they wished they had or have had on the boat, and what are their favorite 3 things/toys they cannot live without?” Simplifying slightly I asked our kids what things on the boat were most important to them. Turns out phrasing matters. Answer #1: friends. Their friend showed up a few minutes later; asked the same questions she looked at me as if to say “duh” and said – “My family, of course.” It took a lot of prompting to come up with Things You Put Under a Christmas tree. But we got there, and this is good!

  • Quality snorkeling gear: mask, snorkel, fins…also good rashguard and wetsuits. Shorties are great for extending in-water time! Many cruisers (and most boat kids) spend a lot of time in the water; get good stuff that won’t fall apart, it’s harder after you leave. The kids really like the masks they got from Divers Direct in Florida this year, and they’re very reasonably priced (holiday sale: $40?!).
  • Beach fun: boogie boards and beach bocce are our favorites.
  • Fishing kit. Get kids their own tackle box, handline, a net to grab stuff that goes overboard; even a Hawaiian sling spear if they can handle it.
  • Field guides. Not kid books, but GOOD field guides. Identification of underwater life was a big hit from the time we started cruising with littles. Region-specific matters, I believe: the Gottshall two-book set is amazing for Pacific Mexico; DeLoach guides rule for the Caribbean: one for Reef Fish, one for Coral, one for, well, everything else (Reef Creatures).
  • Scooters.  Bikes are impractical; kids like wheels and folding scooters fit. Utility varies by cruising grounds (not a lot of roads in some oceanic regions!), but these are great get-around fun.
  • Arts & crafts. I’m not very crafty, so packaged kits like Klutz are perfect for me. Getting good materials will serve you later: these watercolors are richly pigmented and last a long time. Oragami, beading, or whatever! There are lists for this in Voyaging with Kids.
  • Chocolate. Yes this was on their list. Clearly these are my children.
  • Board games, cards. Our current favorite is Dread Pirate (thank you Sallianne and Doug!). Try cooperative games! Family Pastimes games got us started… Pandemic is the classic. This post about games cruisers play lists a number of other favorites on board.
  • Legos. Our lego days are over, but the kids know these are huge for the younger set.
sailboats anchored rafted drone Caribbean

Totem and Utopia, rafted up for Thanksgiving last week: because 1) better with friends and 2) drones rock!

Want more ideas?

Here are the Christmas gift posts from the last few years. They’re all aimed at cruisers, but each with a slightly different take:

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8 Responses to Holiday gifts that cruisers want

  1. Lynne M Rey November 27, 2017 at 5:59 am #

    Great post! I’m excited to find that half underwater camera for xmas! Will be fun to have on TIMBALERO…

  2. Heather Hanson November 27, 2017 at 7:43 am #

    I was trying to figure out how to explain to my family that our needs will be very different come June and that we won’t be needing so much stuff, so your list is very helpful. I also want my sisters to save their money so they can come visit; that would be a great gift!

  3. Colin Streeter November 27, 2017 at 8:03 am #

    Awesome post as usual Behan. We always read pretty much everything you publish, and now looking forward to more drone shots and some videos too by the sounds of things. Wishing all the Totem crew a wonderful Christmas and festive season. We finally started cruising 6 months ago and are in Malaysia now, headed for Phuket this weekend, ahead of crossing the Indian Ocean sometime next year. Colin & Lauren on svislandpearl.com

  4. Kevin November 27, 2017 at 2:04 pm #

    Behan, do you have enough bandwidth to download tutorials? If so, I can research what’s out there for flying the Phantom. I’ve been piloting remote vehicles (planes originally) since 1986. I dove into the drone market with both feet last year when I purchased the DJI Mavic Pro. I love it! The features are more than I’d ever have hoped for even a few years ago. Also, what software do you use to edit your video?
    Kristi suggested that I offer to take you up on your offer and fly to where you are, but with everything going on here, I can’t justify a trip like that…no matter how tempting it is! But I would like to help if I can.

  5. Sean Soares November 27, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    Hey guys,
    Instead of going the laptop route, I went and got anIntel NUC kit. slapped in a SSD and memory. We’re wallmounting a flat screen TV on the bulkhead on a swing arm mount. The PC will serve as media center / home PC, and literally fits in the palm of your hand, so can be mounted anywhere, even behind the TV, or sit on a shelf using an HDMI cable. Just an idea.

    Cheers you guys,

    Sean and Samantha

  6. Josh November 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm #

    Great info, Behan!

    Three comments/questions…
    1. We love Luci lights and have three. I once attached one to a small grapple anchor and submerged it to about 10 feet below the water surface while at anchor in the BVI… it was a very effective redneck alternative to hull lights.
    2. With tiny Legos, I’ve always been worried they’ll fall under the sole of the boat and clog up the limber holes. Am I being silly?
    3. I wrestle with the water-friendly drone idea. Most people I’ve seen use them have had bad luck with the quality of the drones, but maybe they’ve gotten better in the last year. I’ve been doing a lot of hand launch and catch practicing on land, but do worry about it on a moving boat. I’m surprised no one has come up with a drone capture net yet for safely “catching” drones while underway on the water. Hmmm… maybe I should patent that. 😉

  7. Christian November 27, 2017 at 8:09 pm #

    Great post Totem !

    Several items on my want list now.

  8. Allen Labels December 5, 2017 at 9:59 pm #

    This is an incredible list of resources! Thanks so much for posting. I have checked all the items listed above and I totally agree with this list.

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