Big picture routing and Totem’s plans


The Mystic river was blanketed with fog when we poked our heads into the cockpit this morning. Totem is anchored roughly between Mason’s Island and Noank: the shoreline is only about six boat-lengths away, but impossible to see. We had to get a compass direction to know which way to point the dinghy to go ashore. Lack of visibility mixed with sound insulation gave the strange feeling of being adrift while moored in our little floating home.

Amtrak south station (thank you Joy & Alex!)

That sense of being out of step with our environment follows us during these first weeks back in the US. We’re happy to be here, just feeling a little unmoored. Focusing on the reason we’re back—time with family—helps. Early morning walks with my sister-in-law and her dogs…a new ritual. “Cousin camp” in Boston this last week, visiting my brother and his family (the kids’ cousin Lana has doubled in age since they last saw her in 2013). It’s nearly three years since the kids have seen their grandparents, too, who joined us in Boston for a mini-Fravel-reunion.

Mairen and Siobhan bookend their cousin Lana


Niall toasts his grandparents

When we feel our Differentness a little too keenly, it helps to focus on what’s ahead instead. What’s ahead breaks down into three stages: 1) this summer in New England 2) fall in the Chesapeake and working south, then 3) winter in the Caribbean.

Next week, we’ll head up to Narragansett Bay to visit with friends, old and new. Then it’s Buzzard’s Bay for a few days: Totem crew will speak as part of Falmouth Academy’s community series on July 18th (details on their website). From there we’ll sail to Nantucket before making our way back to the Mystic river, and settling back off Noank for the remainder of the summer. Planning an “open boat” for the second weekend– August 13-14–for whoever wants to come by. Just let us know.

long island sound2
Radically scaled back plans for summer ’16: Maine? NH? maybe next year.

Our southbound track begins in early September. I can’t wait to come down the East River into New York City – I’ve dreamed about looking up at the buildings of Manhattan from the deck of Totem! We’d like to spend a week there before coast-hopping our way to the Chesapeake. Destination: the SSCA gam in Camp Letts, Maryland, which starts September 29. The US Boat Show follows a few days later in Annapolis (I’ll be with Voyaging with Kids publisher, Lin Pardey, in her booth). Niall tells us he needs at LEAST a week in DC to see the museums, and I bet he’d use more time if he had it, so we hope to linger in the Chesapeake for a solid month at least. There are things to do, people to meet up with, places to visit.

The problem with that, of course, is it will eventually get cold. You know what we miss already? That we’ll miss even more by then? Water this blue, and warm as a bath. So there’s really no question about the fact we’ll be heading back to the Caribbean for the winter.


Plans are fuzzier once we point south of the Chesapeake, late-Octoberish. There are myriad ways to get tot he Caribbean: it isn’t the straight up march south that left coast cruisers do to Mexico. Where will we land first? And how will we route after we get there? The only thing we KNOW at this point is that we want to spend a chunk of time in Cuba. For the rest, we have some decisions to make:

…a tiny fraction of the options. Purple line was our track this spring.
  • Where to leave from the US? Carolinas, Georgia… or all the way to Florida?
  • How to route through Cuba? (Preference on board: the more rural south coast)
  • What’s the goal destination at the end of the season? We need to take this and prevailing conditions into account for a big-picture route. (Is it time for the Panama canal? Can we save enough $$ to do some work on Totem in Trinidad or Grenada? Another summer in New England, via Bermuda and the America’s Cup? CHOICES!).

I’m all for opinions, so drop a comment about places we shouldn’t ‘miss. There’s no rush to figure it out: a route will unfold, probably slowly. And meanwhile, we pick our way through the fog.


26 Responses

  1. Ahhhh I know that stake in the picture above well! I’ll be paying very close attention when you do hit Cuba as it’s on my bucket list as well.

    As for Bermuda in 2017…..well they’ve just confirmed that they’ve also squeezed in a super yacht regatta including the J Boats the week before the finals kick off……So much sail boat porn!

    Yeah, I”m dangling carrots here. 🙂

  2. If Panama is in the near future, head up the Sea of Cortez. You will love the little half American town of San Carlos. Just not in the summer due to extreme heat.

    1. Hi Kathy – We spent 18 months in Mexico, from Z-town in the south to Bahia de Los Angeles in the Sea of Cortez. The sea is one of our favorite areas – and we did it in late summer/fall during hurricane season. Hot, but okay with lots of water time.

  3. Please consider visiting Charleston on your travels. We have a great sailing community here and the city is wonderful in so many ways — charming architecture, deep history, fantastic food, friendly people,and much more. Selfishly, I’d love to meet y’all in person, especially since our family of four (2 adults and 10-year old twins) is gearing up to launch our own sailing adventure next year. Coastal Carolina is calling your names! 🙂

  4. I love reading about other people’s sailing plans! This is like a peak into our future: next year we’re heading north from Antigua and will eventually end up on the East Coast of the USA- but where to go from there!? Cuba also very much on our to-do list, so looking forward to reading about your experiences there. Enjoy your time with family, perhaps we’ll bump into you in the Caribbean next year 🙂
    Terysa and Nick
    s/v Ruby Rose

  5. If you are doing the South coast of Cuba heading for the Caribbean, you might consider Ile a Vache Haiti. We did the Windward passage last season on the thorny path with Gypsy Queen, now laid up in Grenada. Ile a Vache was a very special experience that you should not miss. Amazing people in a unique community in the category “now for something completely different”

    We hope to bump into Totem to this Winter in the Caribbean. Gypsy Queen is also a kid boat with plans to do the Caribbean downwind (slower this time) on our way the next hurricane season layup in Rio Dulce.

  6. Sailing family here on the East coast who are fans and would love to meet y’all as well. We’ll probably be in Ga/north FL in October. Will watch your travels to see if our paths cross. The coasts of SC and GA are beautiful and have tons to explore.

    1. Sounds great Caroline. I can’t wait to see that coast! We are too tall for the ICW so hope to learn about good places to dip in from outside.

  7. It sounds like Totem and Sionna will be wandering about in the Chesapeake at the same time, perhaps passing through New York City at the same time too! We’d love to meet up somewhere! Hope we do!

  8. idea for next season: the Great Lakes. Beautiful cruising and sailing destinations throughout Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior

    1. I spent summers growing up at “the tip of the thumb” on Lake Huron! It *is* lovely. Unlikely we’ll be going that way, though…

  9. Hey! I’ll have to keep tabs on where you are in the caribbean this winter… Jon is turning 40 & wants us all to charter a boat somewhere down there after Christmas! That would be a bit surreal to run into you guys again after all these years! Would feel a bit like coming full circle – though not in the same sense that you have 😉

  10. Rumor has it that you can’t cruise the Bahamas in a boat with more than 5′.draft. Not so if you choose your destinations with care. Eluthera with its charming small towns and dearth of cruising boats for example. And I kept looking toward Cuba just over the horizon—.

    1. We draw 6′, but I’m really not concerned about going to the Bahamas, and think the world is full of people who use “can’t” as an excuse for complacency. I do expect we will have to be more careful, that we will often have to take the long way around, and we won’t be RIGHT off the beach – but those don’t concern or put us off at all. Cruising destinations with a dearth of cruising boats is too much of a temptation!

  11. Our family’s hunkered down in the North Channel of Lake Huron at the moment, but expect to be in Cuba by mid-January, and we’d be thrilled to cross paths with y’all (we have an 11-year-old girl becoming desperate for friends…). We have family in Cuba, and have heard that it’s maybe preferable to park your boat and travel by land. Marinas are extremely safe, land travel is cheap, and checking in and out of ports is still a hassle…of course, everything’s changing at the moment, but our family reports that the changes are incremental. Email us if you want to chat (although we’re heading out of internet/phone data land for a bit!!).

    1. I hear there’s this really cool shop there, too? And a family to meet! Hopefully we’ll make it there this winter. 😉

  12. Behan! As you may know from chatting with Keri, we just sailed from New England (MV, Newport, Block, etc) through NYC to Chesapeake. Similar boat draft (7.5) and height (72). Here is a summary of our route which we suggest as you consider heading south:

    1. Timed the tide to max current change at The Race (Eldrige guide)
    2. We had favorable current to Port Jefferson where we dropped the hook. Tried to make it to Coldspring or Hempstead Harbor but too far for a day run at 7 knots. Considered Manhasset also.
    3. Timed NYC arrival based on Hell Gate tides. We went a little early for slower tides so we wouldn’t be flung through the city. Had about 2 knots favorable verses 4+ at max. Timed so we were at slack approaching Throgs Neck Bridge. Make sure to stay on Western side of Roosevelt Island to avoid low bridge.
    4. Many many sites as you go through city! We Enjoyed greatly with all hands on deck! Commercial traffic was at times heavy but kept on 16 and a tugcaptain hailed us once for confirmation of passing.
    5. We went through East River and tried to anchor at Liberty or Ellis but way to much roll and traffic. We decided to head up Hudson to 79th Street Anchorage (just north of mooring field): N40.47.300 W73.59.000 and anchored there for free! Tides run here so plan anchoring accordingly. Took dinghy in the next morning to marina and for $26 left it there all day. Explored Central Park and Natural History Museum all day along with dinner at Shake Shack. A fantastic day and overnight downtown NYC for $26!
    6. Left NYC at 7pm evening for straight shot overnight to Cape May. Arrived 6pm in Cape May and Anchored outside coast guard station (just west of Fl G #7).
    7. Timed the Delaware Bay tides for a slingshot up through C&D canal to Chesapeake Bay! Enjoy the magic carpet ride with 2 knots current.
    8. Anchored at Sassafras River in Ches Bay.
    9. Past Annapolis the next day and then home on the Eastern Shore.

    Regarding Heading south from Bay to Bahamas, we time our trip based on Hatteras rounding weather and decide if going to bounce down Carolina coast and straight shot from Charleston, or head right out from Norfolk.

    Always many ways to make a trip but this is what we did last month. Hope this helps!

    1. Sevan, this is AWESOME input. Thank you so much! And this: “We went a little early for slower tides so we wouldn’t be flung through the city.” <-- such a good point and not sure I would have thought about that. I used to work at the S end of Manhattan, 50th floor of a building just off Wall St, and would watch boats coming down the E river daily. I can't believe we get to do it ourselves! Grateful for these tips... I may hit you up for more later.

  13. Behan, I hope your day in NYC with family, friends and crew was great! Never been, though the comments from Sevan made the excursion sound wonderful. I have some distant kin in the northeast, scattered from Pennsylvanian and New York to Massachusetts and up to Nova Scotia. That’s a trip for the bucket list.

    Back when I was single, I mainly sailed out of Dunedin, FL., in the 80s to the early 90s; lived onshore in Clearwater Beach and aboard on an old 27′ beater in St. Joseph sound. My dearly departed buddy, Sgt. Rocco Cuccia (Force Recon Marine Ret.) and I sailed a 44′ CSY center/walk-through and a 36′ Portman (later to become the Watkins 36) as 6-pack charters all over the sun coast. We also rented, raced and chartered 18′ & 20′ Panthercraft catamarans for a living. A local TV station out of Tampa has footage of Rocco and I on an 20-foot catamaran in 80 knots of wind (right before we broke the mast). Our adventures took us all over Florida coastal waters in all conditions, from the Anclote River at Tarpon Springs to Biscayne Bay; from deep in the Gulf to as far as the Bahamas. Never made the long passage though, so feel my envy and my gratitude for sharing.

    My only advice on your next passage is limit your time in the Gulf of Mexico to the coastal areas near the States and to that part that is close to the Caribbean basin. Large shallow bodies of water make for close and confused seas, especially in bad weather. Waves are closer together than in blue water environs and it will beat you and Totem to an uncomfortable submission. The GoM is also littered with unmarked and unlit structures, impossible to see at night with out the latest fine resolution radar and just as invisible in foul weather. Not to mention that commercial traffic, especially fishing vessels, view cruising sailors and leisure boaters as trespassers. It is not a place for the faint of heart or the uninitiated.

    I’m still actively shopping for a boat; something rigged for single-hand sailing around 35′ LOA. Tucked in the recesses of my repressed desires is a Merlot sundowner with a water view of San Pedro in Belize. If on the way to Panama, you make it there before I do, then please share. The choice of vino is optional.

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