Crew’s view: joining Totem for a passage

santas bag

This post is penned by our crew across the Atlantic, Ty Anderson. We’ve known Ty for a long time (backstory in this post); he’s also been aboard for legs in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. He wanted to share some of his perspective on life aboard Totem; this also seemed like a great opportunity to let readers get an alternate opinion on some questions!

What’s it like traveling with a family that’s not your own?

Six years ago when we crossed the Pacific to Hiva Oa I was a stranger. Today I’m an old friend of the family, bringing Santa’s bag of goodies when I visit the boat [see top image!]. I know the personalities of everyone on the boat and they know me. Think of it as adoption.

If you could modify the yacht, what one thing/feature would you add to make the sailing experience better?

How do you make Totem a better sailor? Maybe a Code Zero, but I don’t know where to stow it.

What has been the most difficult adjustment on this passage specifically?

My iPod crashed just before I flew to Namibia so my night watches have been without sailor’s songs. Bummer. But, truly difficult was being so out of touch with my family when my 30 year old son had a life threatening health crisis. There are tear stains on Behan’s iPad from reading my wife’s emails.

What are the kids REALLY like. Do they do schoolwork? Have to work at not being board? Are they helpful? Etc.

Yep, the kids do homework every day. They are constantly helping out with chores. Computer time, Kindles and iPad along with drawing and games help pass long passage days. When at anchor, snorkeling with fish, night hikes to watch sea turtles, sand boarding down some of the world’s largest dunes and safaris in Africa have filled their days.

Is Behan’s cooking as good as it sounds? [I did not plant this question!]

Behan is a fantastic cook! So is Jamie. Her real talent is provisioning for the passage and she’s an ace. We ate the last of the fresh vegetables the night before landfall (our last night of a 17 day passage) and I think the last three eggs were used for arrival breakfast muffins.

Ty reading in the cockpit as we sailed past Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Ty reading in the cockpit as we sailed past Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Guest view of a passage with Totem

I tell people I come to Totem for the sailing. What you don’t hear is what I find aboard while I’m here. Life aboard Totem is that “fork in the road” I never took. Instead of sailing around the world I became a Ferry Captain and had a thirty year career. Now I get to live over and take some time on “the road less traveled”

When you read the “Sailing Totem” blog you see and hear the adventure unfold. Being on Totem allows you to see why this extraordinary story plays out. Simply put when the Gifford family comes ashore they make every effort to get to know and support the local community in all ways they can. It’s like magic! Overnight people are chatting with us about their lives and what ours are like. Helping hands are shared and smiles abound. This type of interaction is rare at any time in the world of modern travelers and brings a deep emotional feeling of wellbeing into your life. At times it also breaks your heart to leave some of the remote villages to an uncertain fate and a very hard existence. In my three passages with Totem my life has gained a perspective that has profoundly changed my type A demeanor.

Ty reading at sunset...letting the chilled vibe of this passage take over.
Ty reading at sunset…letting the chilled vibe of this passage take over.

Sailing a passage of several thousand miles is work for everyone on board. We stand watch 24hrs a day and divide the night watches up to allow for the best rest pattern for everyone. Sitting in the cockpit at midnight with a vault full of stars is wonderful. The ski is brilliant when the nearest land is more then a thousand miles in any direction. Dawn is such a pleasure to watch starting with the twilight sky and then glowing orange and gold as the sun climbs above the horizon. Now within a few degrees of the Equator squall clouds build and pass several times a day. Sail trimming and hatch closing are repeated drills. With the air temperature at 88 degrees we leave the hatches open if we can. Dinner signals the start of our night watch routine. Changing watches in the quite of the night presents a few minutes time to pass information on things relevant to navigation and the peace of the passage.

Reading is a favorite pastime and everyone on board has an e-book or hard bound in some stage of completion. The well-worn Shipstrike Chelsea clock counts the passage in for half hour increments from one to eight. We move to the rhythm of its tune and count the miles fast or slow (mostly fast) as Totem makes her way west and north for Barbados. When I leave Totem in Barbados it will be a bitter sweet moment for future is as yet uncharted. Right now I’m looking forward to the days of passage, an Equator crossing and trade winds to Barbados as the son of a son of a son of a sailor should.

Night watch reflections

It’s near midnight, six bells on the Shipstrike clock. Totem is running before the wind at 8 knots in 20 knots of breeze. One night after the new moon and the waxing finger nail paring sheds no light in the roiling Rorschach mask of black and gray that stretches horizon to dark horizon.

The black moving masses in the sky above are tropical rain squalls, towering clouds of hot, wet air rising and falling in these near equator latitudes of the South Atlantic Ocean.

Three things about rain squalls have us playing a little keep away instead of charging in to the center with a bottle of Dr. Bonners soap and taking an 88 degree shower on deck.

Ty took this one night, with nothing but the light of the full moon
Ty took this one night, with nothing but the light of the full moon

1 – They are wet. Wet like your old Aunt Matilda’s Christmas visit kiss. Totem is a 47′ x 14′ pointed shoe box with all its windows on the roof. Six people live in this space that is the same temperature as the warm sea she floats in. We like to keep hatches and ports (windows & doors) open but the water out. That’s tough to do when it’s raining two inches an hour.

2 – There is lots of wind; SUDDENLY! Reefing sails in the dark, soaking wet and heeled over on your ear maybe fun while racing but not so much while standing watch alone while cruising. And,

3 – The wind changes direction. Again, SUDDENLY! This tests the preventer lines you have in place to keep the main boom from flying by your head with the real possibility of removing it.

So how do you dodge something three miles across when you can’t see which direction it’s moving? Radar. Totem has a great navigation system all linked to a computer screen. Just like the radar on your TV weather channel we can see the rain on the screen. A little course change, some time, speed, distance awareness and it’s a light sprinkle instead of a soaking, raging downpour.

Off course every now and again you just get nailed! Winds to 30 + knots, rain falling in a deluge and you are standing in a fire hose of water furling up the jib feeling very drenched, such is sailing. Oh, and I think I forgot to mention the lighting.

Soon it’s Jamie’s turn for some hours then Behan’s. Dawn comes with golden glows behind fleecy clouds with fresh winds and a new day on passage.

Ty’s now helping us with an evaluation of house rum punch recipes in Barbados.

3 Responses

  1. Such a wonderful perspective to hear from – thanks Ty! I really liked hearing about the magic that happens when the Gifford clan heads ashore and develops relationships with the community. This is something I certainly aspire too as our journey gets closer.

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