Maintenance: neither routine or exotic


One of the aphorisms of cruising describes our lifestyle as performing routine maintenance (or repairs) in exotic locations. This rings true, for better and for worse. “If you can’t fix it, be able to live without it” is another truism for voyagers, and a good reason to go simple. Bundle these with the additional reality that most tasks in our floating life take more time than they do in a normal (fixed, land-based, connected) existence. That’s a good summary of life on Totem right now, although northern Florida is NOT exotic, and this particular outboard fix has proved to be anything but routine.

ortega marina

Jamie does all our outboard maintenance and repair (ably assisted by #1 grease monkey, Siobhan). A service manual is key: those exploded diagrams and part number references. He’s become very capable, but this time, the unshakable problem (and shifting symptoms) ultimately flummoxed him. Here in Jacksonville, Florida, professional servicing is affordable, parts are available, and we can finally be warm! We have no interested in going any longer without a dependable outboard. Totem’s Our RIB doesn’t row well–none of them really do–and we can’t wait to be liberated from the necessity of docks to get ashore.

The “fix it or deal” aphorism is all too true: when you’ve become accustomed to a creature comfort that suddenly goes away, your everyday life may go from comfortable to camping in a swoop.  It’s a good reason to try and equip minimally, even if you think some choices skew you towards camping. It is so much easier to add than it is to take away. We’ve also seen people who probably over-equipped, then later dropped out of cruising because the reality of constant maintenance to support that gear was more cost or time (or both) than they anticipated. Simply put, cruising involves a LOT of this maintenance/repair thing, and when you’re doing it right, it’s in exotic locations.


Totem is middle-of-the road in terms of gear. I’m grateful Jamie has the hands-on mechanical skills needed. Shop manuals (like the one for ourourboard, top photo) should be on essential gear lists. Because when we finally had a diagnosis on the part (or maybe, two parts) which are behind our outboard woes, Jamie can see in the exploded diagram how to install it himself, and use the part number to source spares/replacement affordably.

tohatsu page2

With hindsight, I also appreciate that some of the things I thought were essential to a happy life aboard…weren’t. For example, back on land, we had a big chest freezer in the garage (gotta put that steer share somewhere!) as well as a standard upright in our capacious kitchen. I never would have dreamed that life without a freezer wouldn’t be a problem. But that was one of the early adjustments to life aboard, and although we installed a small freezer a couple of years ago, I’ve never quite gotten used to using it. At this moment, it’s entirely empty!

Staying put to get this done (whyyyyy must it always take so long?) opens other opportunities. Like giving a presentation to a standing-room-only group at Jacksonville University: I love sharing our stories! And hanging out after with families who have dedicated chunks of their lives to cruising or full-time RV travel. Some long anticipated meetups, like Sara, Tim and kids– coaching clients we’ve gotten to know over the last few months–and the family from Ditching Suburbia who I’ve been in touch with for years now. They’re six year RV life vets currently WWOOFing on a Salatin-modeled farm a couple of hours away. Isn’t their name great?! It says so much in two words. And this family – they are ALL that.

ditching suburbia mike jamie tim
I don’t even want to know! (Jamie with Mike, from Ditching Suburbia, and Tim)

Jennifer and I started emailing each other when we were on opposite sides of the world a few years ago. Following the route she’s taken with her husband Mark on their Nordhavn, Starlet, has been my dream fodder for places to go in the Mediterranean and Red Sea. It was great to finally intersect, and no surprise to find her as fun and positive in person as she is over the internet. I wish I could say we’ll be seeing them again soon, but this boat is South Pacific bound. Give me a year or so…


When not making plans to meet up in the marina, we’ve been hosted “off campus” by a local family I hoped we’d connect with on the way south. Here’s another great name: McMermaids! It was inevitable when the McCarthy took their water-happy girls cruising. They’re JAX residents and marine scientists who brought us into JU.


There have been happy hours lost in the maze of books at Chamblin’s, just steps from the marina and the first bookstore I’ve ever seen which might just rival Powell’s. Besides the sheer joy of exploring books, I’ve found some winners to help our travel plans (or just dream with), and we’ve unloaded at least 1o0 lbs of books from Totem there. It is a maze: there are occasionally “you are here” signs with a floor plan to assist. It is FULL of temptation.chamblins

I AM SO EXCITED! Thanks to contributions from my brother and my aunt (and a killer year-end sale), Totem’s deck is now decorated with a paddleboard and SUP excursions are in our future. Our marina neighbor Kristen and her daughter picked me up for the inaugural jaunt. I think I’m supposed to share this SUP with the kids… going to have to work on that.


175 Totem Art Kids FilterMeanwhile: the On The Wind podcast we recorded with Andy Schell & Mia Karlsson of 59 North went live! Our whole family sat in on the session around Totem’s main cabin table back in Annapolis not long ago, and we talked about everything from the myriad of ways to get started cruising (and our advice on getting started), how we did it, and other shared experiences on the big blue. Play from the link below, go here for iTunes, or here for Stitcher / Android.

This marina we’ve tucked into has convenience. The grocery store is walking distance. There are gobs of available services and resources. It’s an easy place to take care of paperwork and bureaucracy (Cuba permits, new passports for the kids) from a comfortable position. We’re really enjoying meeting up with people. And we’ll enjoy it to the fullest… but meanwhile, to a one, this crew cannot wait to put our homeland on the horizon and find new adventures again.




11 Responses

  1. Sounds like Totem is in nirvana what with the store handy, fresh supply of books readily at hand and a great meet-up with your email (now face-to-face) friends.. Congratulations on the enthusiastically received talk at Jacksonville!

    Best to all & Cheers for 2017!

  2. Thank you for ending the mystery of “why are they … in JAX?” Did the Hawaiian phrase book get added to Totem’s library or are you just teasing us?

  3. Thanks for the thoughts reminding us about good maintenance.

    Simplified diagnostics handled in an electronic (read “modern”) manner are an absolute necessity for keeping it simple. No one can be a master at everything, but even our cars have air pressure monitoring now, and my mechanic has a handy dandy reader for all things electrical on my car. Plug it in and see what’s wrong. Even an outboard engine should have that capability. Even with all my engine experience, I would still want my diesel engines to come that way or be adaptable, and I certainly would not buy anything new that doesn’t come with a way to plug in my computer to diagnose it. Besides, who wants a paper manual on a boat?

    Yes, maintenance is an ongoing and necessary thing, and repetition makes jobs very fast and painless. But planning for them in advance really must save in the long run; even on board a boat. Isn’t that correct?

    1. I have a kinda different reaction, actually. Stuff that requires plugging in a computer to diagnose is probably complicated enough to be problematic when you do actually need to fix it. That’s a fine option near services and internet access. But I think a cruiser is better served by simpler equipment that can more readily be serviced independently or in some random/remote corner of the planet where computers and internet access aren’t necessarily options.

      Totally agree with having digital manuals, though. We’ve got both. You’ll notice that exploded diagram comes from the digi version.

      1. I totally get that. I should clarify that I like my computer to be the diagnostic readout device, rather than one different one for each thing on board the boat, because I already have it and use it.

        Here’s how I look at it. When the cars I like to use were available in the 70s, they needed to have timing and wires and plugs and points fixed, and some even needed carbs adjusted. Then came fuel injection. That made the engine simpler, and cleaner and more economical. Then came the removal of distributors. That made the cars go much longer between “tune-ups”, and even then we only needed to change the plugs and wires. Obviously, the changes were simplifications which solved a lot of problems over the years.

        So, nowadays the engines, as one example, run very well but need “computerization” to automatically “tune” them continuously as they operated. That is great, as long as one has an electronic diagnostics device to figure out what is wrong when something goes haywire. There are no more engines without that any more, and that is good. I would much rather read out a problem on a screen than try to figure it out by testing every single part manually. The more remote we are, the more we need fast and detailed knowledge of what is wrong and how to fix it.

        After working with computers for thirty years, I can say that the software programming still leaves a lot to be desired. However, we have no choice but to learn to use the software interfaces with all equipment around us. That simply makes our maintenance so much easier than ever before. And we should not need Internet access for that.

        Now if only the radios, the lights, the winches and the electrical wiring had that built in…….

  4. Well, how’s that for a debut on…;)

    I got curious about the size of Powells vs. Chamblins – looking at their websites they each claim 1M used books, but Powells lists more square footage to present them in.

  5. Nice to be back in warmer areas! We had been hoping that as you got closer, we may be able to plan a trip to visit you again. Sounds like it won’t happen if you are headed South from Florida if I understand correctly. So true on keeping things uncomplicated – whether at sea or on land. We settled here in rural Oklahoma. It’s about as uncomplicated as we can get. Still working on building our own house from salvaged materials. Very little new materials, but some. Mattie is married now and they just had their first baby. It’s been a long time hasn’t it? 🙂
    Hope to see you all again – we miss you.

    Tim and Family

    1. Oh my goodness- Mattie is a mama! Time really does fly. Please share our congratulations with love! Homesteading in OK sounds great. Would love to hear more about it!

Comments are closed.