Cruising to slow down the clock

drone islands sailboats

This is all going too fast.

Events that impressed deeply on our memories, still fresh, have tallied months distance despite feeling like they just happened: Sailing west again, towards Bonaire (three months). Remotely watching landfall for hurricane Irma (six months). Sailing away the USA for a while again (12 months). Saying goodbye to Utopia when we left South Africa (25 months). Setting out to cross the Indian Ocean (three years already?).

Looking ahead, milestones rush towards us and compress time again. On Friday March 9th, Totem will enter the Panama Canal to begin our two-day transit to the Pacific. This incredible event brings the coming milestones into sharper focus.

In about four weeks—just four weeks!—we expect to cross Totem’s outbound track in Zihuatenejo, Mexico, and technically complete our circumnavigation. Wow.

In about six weeks, Jamie and I will fly to Annapolis and deliver seminars as part of Cruisers University. When we signed on for it, the trip back to the USA seemed so far way. Only six weeks away?

In about four months, our family will be back on the home turf of Bainbridge island for the first time in nearly 10 years. That’s going to be here so soon! It’s going to be so good to see our friends and family after so many years. How did they years fly so fast?

I’ve wished so many times that life had a PAUSE button: the ability to freeze ourselves in some of the stunning, otherworldly destinations we’ve been lucky to visit. Like the year we crossed the South Pacific: in eight months we went from Mexico to Australia; many of our stops were only long enough to wait for a weather window to make the three- to five-day passage to the next island group ahead. That year was exceptional, but the year we crossed the Indian Ocean wasn’t terribly different, and we sailed even more miles in 2016 between South Africa and the USA… over 9,000 nautical miles. Fast. So many exceptional places.

Even when it’s felt like time is flying by, it’s the good fortune of experiencing exactly these stunning, otherworldly destinations that helps. There’s a theory that adding to retrievable memories creates the feeling of time slowing. That the more of this positive disruption you fit in, the better; they are speed bumps that extend the perception of time in our rear view mirror. This reminiscence effect makes sense at a gut level. Think about it this way: when everyday life has less differentiation that it blends together, and feels more like time is flying by… disrupt that with less predictable, more unique experiences to stretch it out. Not quite a pause button. But this is why we went cruising: to slow down time, and spend it together as a family. It didn’t occur to me there were theories and all that.

Kids in 2008, and this past year

Pictures like the above, taken during our first months of cruising (sailing under San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge!) and taken in the last year of our growing-up-too-fast teens, warm my heart. It still feels like they flew by. But I’m grateful for the packed year of memories we’ve had, whether it can be bundled in psychology theory or not.

Of course, you can speed things up if you want. The World ARC fleet that we encountered in the Santa Marta marina gets around the globe in 15 months. It’s not our choice, but it’s still a great one for a year of incredible memories! But as one of those sailors we met there pointed out – this isn’t cruising, really. This is circumnavigating. There’s a different purpose for those crews, to accomplish a specific and remarkable achievement by sailing around the world.  Like when families go cruising for a sabbatical year, and choose to spend that a remarkable year in a small geographical region, exploring trails and language and culture and the mysteries of a starry night. Whether you lap the globe or hang out locally, there are so many ways to hit PAUSE and stretch out the time spent together with loved ones. IT’S ALL GOOD.

Care to follow Totem’s canal transit?

The Panama Canal authority actually has live cameras taking stills of the locks at several points! Here’s where to look. The master page of live cams is here: Note: non-flash versions of the cams are working better for me… and some cams are simply not working at all.

On Friday, March 9, we’ll transit from the Caribbean side to Lake Gatun between 3:00 and 5:00, US Eastern Standard time. After anchoring overnight in Lake Gatun, we’ll transit the balance of locks to the Pacific side on Saturday – timing TBD. I’ll post updates on Facebook and Twitter, though.

The website shows cam locations. Here’s the Totems-eye-view of them. Isn’t it strange that to go to the Pacific, we travel… EAST more than west? And how about that collection of AIS targets near Totem’s current location? IT’S BUSY, FOLKS.

I’m equal parts excited and nervous about the next two days!

Once we get through the canal we have a challenges to face between Panama and the “safe” ground of Zihuatenejo. Two in particular: their names are Papagayo and Tehuano. You know it’s time to pay very close attention when weather effects get a vanity name! Take a look at the angrier colors on the map below and you’ll see what I mean… I’m sure we’ll have plenty to say about them soon enough.

Interested in Cruisers University?

Jamie and I are thrilled to both present at the Annapolis Boat Show’s Cruisers University this spring! We’re planning a pizzeria dinner with coaching clients as well, and can’t wait to catch up with friends. Sign up for two, three, or four day access depending on which sessions you’re interested in – and let us know if you’ll be there!

Healthcare in Paradise (Behan)
Cruising on a Budget – Gold, Silver & Bronze (Behan)
Cruising Docs – You Can’t Go Paperless (Behan)
Countdown to Cruising (Behan)
Top Newbie Cruising Mistakes (Behan)
Offshore Rigging & Sails (Jamie)
Crisis Management while Cruising (Jamie + Behan)

In addition, I’ll co-lead an intensive Cruising Women seminar. This is two full days of practical information and uncensored conversations, about skills, and tips about what it’s REALLY like to go cruising. Grateful, and honored, that my partner is the (irrepressible, enthusiastic, so fun to be around, and I’ll say it–iconic) Pam Wall. We both feel keenly about empowering women and want everyone to have a really good time in the process! Join us – or, get in touch with me if you want more information about the content, or any the sessions, really.

More haps!

Friends from the USA recently spent a week and a half aboard. The Waters family and their two teens helped create a pile of excellent memories (and brought a big pile of Stuff From The States, like – MAPLE SYRUP, which was dangerously low, our stash had a mere two tablespoons left!). Nica’s written about a day in the life aboard Totem on her blog, It’s an informed view, which you’d expect, because she and Jeremy went cruising before kids, again for a sabbatical with kids, and we are now scheming how to share anchorages in the South Pacific in another year or two… when they fledge the kids. Nica also has a food blog: on this weeks’ edition of Tasty Thursday, I teach her how to make one of my favorite cruising recipes. It’s a memory from the Maldives, it’s “exotic” but easy, and you can make it pretty much anywhere. Curious? Watch the episode and learn about Mashuni!

Also live today: our debut on a NON SAILING PODCAST. The guys at Verbal Shenanigans have a comedy program and did an excellent job of teasing stories about the cruising life out of me and Jamie, while getting us all to laugh. Possibly there was rum involved! Find it here: Totem interview starting around 12 min mark – the whys, the hows, some exceptional experiences, and a dose of everyday cruising life.

Looking for the Pause button

Life slows down when we fill it with exceptional memories. But meanwhile, we have no pause button for the days that fly by in Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. Totem has been here just over a week. My head is swimming with stories to tell about the last weeks in South America, but they’ll have to wait for now!

kids hats sunglasses boat
Totem kids, first year cruising


10 Responses

  1. How exciting to be crossing your own tracks! I am filled with happiness for you, but also a little wistful that my own kiddos are far away. Enjoy every moment you have with yours while you have them.

  2. A profound article, Behan, thanks. Ever since we got our first “big” boat (a 26′ trailer sailor) I have had this sense of the slow-down in time when onboard. You very succinctly put into words that feeling. Since time isn’t real (not like gravity or EM radiation, etc), it’s only our perception of time that matters, and altering that perception on a boat is sooo enjoyable!

  3. Ciao from the Italian Alps! I love your paragraph on the reminiscence effect! It is why we left our more traditional life as well. We have been thinking about many of the same things as we approach our five-year anniversary as a nomadic family. We are so excited that you are returning to Bainbridge and we wish we could meet your beautiful family there as we feel so connected and share the same hometown, although our paths have taken us on very different routes. I shared a poem on our blog as we came into the knowing that our kids have grown up on this journey. It is by John O’Donohue and it is long but I wanted to send this stanza as my wish for your family on your canal crossing and beyond,
    “A journey can become a sacred thing:
    Make sure, before you go,
    To take the time
    To bless your going forth,
    To free your heart of ballast
    So that the compass of your soul
    Might direct you toward
    The territories of spirit
    Where you will discover
    More of your hidden life,
    And the urgencies
    That deserve to claim you.
    May you travel in an awakened way,
    Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
    That you may not waste the invitations
    Which wait along the way to transform you.”

    Buon Viaggio from the Mariotti Family!

  4. This was such a great post. So introspective and almost a little melancholy. It’s interesting, we are saving like crazy, buying our boat, working two jobs, raising a 3 and 4 year old, allowing yime to race by, and crossing our fingers we will someday go cruising as a family together for a few years. To see your journey unfold over these years has been one of the more inspiring things I’ve seen, well, in my entire life. It almost seems like I’m getting toward the end of a great and epic novel. I’m half motivated to bring my children to the dock and cheer you on when you return. Thank you for making it all seem attainable and most importantly reminding me that life is a gift and children are a gift. I’m sure there will be much more to come!

  5. So enjoy keeping “in touch” through your site. Tried to see the canal transit today but missed it?!

    Best to all!


  6. For anyone planning to cruise the west coast of Mexico this report should give one pause:

    The murder capital of the world is not in Somolia or Mumbai, but rather Cabo San Lucas, Mexico! Five of the ten most violent cities in the world are on Mexico’s west coast. I’ve recently been in several and only in Acapulco did I find the hair on the back of my neck standing up on occasion. But in view of the facts on the ground I’d definitely limit my exploring to tourist areas.

    By the way, St . Louis is by far the most dangerous city in the USA, with a murder rate higher than any city in Europe or Asia, and any place in South America save Venezuela and Brazil.

    1. I’ve heard that about Acapulco. My take on security in Mexico is different. I think it has more to do with cartel battlegrounds and not being dumb (Cabo prob fits into both categories). I actually think Mexico is VERY safe and feel much safer there than I so in the USA. Understanding the dynamics behind when and why violence occurs – then avoiding the risk factors – is our approach.

      1. Hi Behan,

        We don’t really disagree about security in Mexico. Yet one can’t argue with the fact that it is a war zone. Remaining safe in Mexico is a matter of staying out of the crossfire of the Cartel wars and not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Something hundreds of thousands of tourists do successfully each year.

        I lived in Colombia during the later years of La Violencia which claimed several hundred thousand lives over decades. The Jefe of one of my co-operatives was standing on the podium when the progressive leader Gaitan was assassinated at his side. I’ve seen bodies laid out in the town square after a battle. When I moved to San Francisco immediately after Colombia there were areas only blocks from where I worked that I considered more dangerous than my Colombian town or the capital city of Bogota. The difference was that in Colombia I had a community of friends that had my back. Before I took a mule trip out into the countryside I always asked around about the status of the area, and friends of friends who knew both sides of the conflict would knock on my door tell me when it wasn’t safe to travel. As an outsider in Mexico you don’t have the benefit of such a network– hence my advice to stick to the safe tourist zones.

  7. Wow – 10 years, Behan! I’m in awe of your ability to create the life you dreamed of for you and your family, and I really appreciate that you kept us all updated along the way, both on your progress and your insights. Highly educational and inspirational. What a trip!

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