Circumnavigation: FAQs from Totem’s circle of the globe

Courtesy flags reaching from Totem’s bow to masthead flutter in the breeze, a colorful strand representing most of the countries we’ve visited while sailing around the world. It’s still hard to believe that last week we completed a circumnavigation. Already hundreds of miles further north, I look out from our cockpit at the comforting familiarity of the mountain range on the south side of Banderas Bay. In many ways, returning here has the feel of a homecoming: this anchorage in La Cruz is where we departed in 2010 for a 19 day passage to French Polynesia.

Last night our family ventured into town, grateful to find little has changed in the cobbled streets and colorful storefronts. A few more restaurants belie growth but fundamentally it is the same. Even our favorite street taco feed, now named “La Silla Roja” (The Red Chair) for the bright plastic seats set in the road next to tables clad in red checkered tablecloth. The tacos were as delicious as we remembered, washed down with ballena of icy Pacifico.

The rush has not worn off and there are complex feelings to process about this milestone. Meanwhile, some questions coming up on repeat. I hope I can answer the most frequent among them here while sharing a few of our own reactions.

Statistically speaking

  • Duration: 3,520 days (9.64 years) from departure on August 21, 2008, to crossing the track on April 7, 2018. But that track was made back on February 4, 2010 … chalking our loop up at 8 years, 2 months, 3 days if you slice it that way…including about a year and a half parked in Australia to work and refill the cruising kitty.
  • Distance: 56,806 miles / 49,363 nautical miles / 91,420 kilometers
  • Days underway: 815
  • Nights at sea: 201
  • Countries/territories: 47
  • Islands: 269
  • “Places”: 559

How old were the kids when you started?

When we sailed away, the kids were four, six, and nine. We start birthday season in the next couple of weeks and they’ll turn 14, 16, and 19.

Kids in 2008, and this past year

What’s your favorite place?

The impossible question that everyone asks! We tend to like where we are; it’s hard to pick a standout above all others. Some places are unforgettable for epic snorkeling or diving, others for cultural interest, another for history or human encounters, another for delicious food. But when we talk about favorite places, a few consistently hit the top five: we love Mexico (safe, friendly, affordable, mmmm tacos), Papua New Guinea (the people, the culture), and African destinations feature prominently (Comoros, so much to plumb; Madagascar, endlessly fascinating and beautiful; South Africa, complex and beguiling).

What did you miss on the first circle that you want to see on the second?

Best about this question is the correct assumption we’re not finished cruising! To a one, our inclinations is to pass on the usual South Pacific hurricane season destinations and head for Micronesia instead. I’d love to go back to Taiwan (where I lived in the 80s and 1990) and hear great things about cruising in Japan. We missed the Med, but it’s the Baltic and North Sea that have an allure. And then, South America! Basically: we missed most of the world the first time around, as that skinning line on our world map attests… there is so much to see.

Approaching the line in Zihuatanejo

What’s the worst maintenance problem?

In a valiant move for a Best Husband Ever award, Jamie takes care of all maintenance and repair on the heads (toilets). It is a stinker of a job. Thank you sweetie, you know how much I love you!

What was the most difficult weather?

The worst was the passage from Australia to Paupa New Guinea; for the last three days, we had sustained winds up to 45 knots and seas at 4 meters (the occasional gusts over 50 and 5m seas thrown in for fun). More about that passage in this post from October 2012. The coast of Colombia is a close second, the challenge of 4-5 meter seas compounded when our steering cable broke and we had to “hand steer” by punching buttons on the autopilot.

Dolphins play at the bow heading north from Zihuatanejo towards La Cruz

Did you have any scary encounters where you didn’t feel safe?

A few. The scariest was when a powerboat lost control in Avalon, Catalina (California), and plowed through a mooring field where we were pinned. There was the time we got separated from Siobhan (then age 8) at the mall in the massive Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. There have been ports where we took the precaution to lock ourselves in at night, but only a few; we avoid places like that. (Some posts on safety here, and on weapons aboard here.)

What’s next?

More cruising! What, this awesome but man-made milestone means we should just stop a fulfilling way of life? I don’t think so.

This summer, Totem will be hauled out in the Sea of Cortez for some spa time and we’ll road trip the west coast and spend a few months in the Seattle area. Niall will head to college (not committed to a school yet, but probably very soon), and we’ll return to Totem in the fall one crew member short.

Then what? We’d like to go back to the South Pacific, and a Pacific lap is tempting (Taiwan! Japan!), but think it’s more likely we’ll spend a couple of years in Mexico and Pacific coast of the Americas. The islands sing a siren song, but proximity to the US helps us best manage needs for family and finances. Our ongoing plans are always contingent on three things:

  1. everyone aboard wants to do this
  2. we are healthy enough to do this
  3. we can string it together financially

It’s always possible that one of those will change, and on very short notice, our plans would as well. It’s just not what we expect anytime soon.

Near term, Jamie and I will be at the Annapolis Boat Show next week (and again in the fall). Sign up for one of our seminars, or if you’ll be around, sing out! We’re offering seminars at Cruisers U and are looking forward to checking out the show.

We hosted a Facebook live event a couple of hours after closing the loop. You don’t need to be a Facebooker to watch the recording.



25 Responses

  1. Just in awe. Will you adopt me?

    Just a little bit sad you won’t beat back up here to really make it full circle. Congratulations.

    1. Hahaha yeah no not sailing north up the W coast, no thanks! Maybe we’ll come from the west & north in a few years, though. And we did “really” make it full circle…

  2. Whether it was their life spent on a boat sailing around the world, their amazing parents bringing them up, or just their dumb luck DNA that made them who they are, when I see pictures of the young adults aboard Totem (aka Totem kids), I am constantly smiling. I wish you could hear me every time I talk about meeting you all and the time we spent together in the Bahamas. I’ve been called “Totem-obsessed” due to the number of times I’ve declared that said young adults are some of the most respectful, independent, intelligent, and well-adjusted I have yet to meet.

  3. I love reading about your adventures! The photos make me feel like I’m right there. Remember your posts from Africa; those were so fascinating. Also, I had known a little bit about the Panama Canal, but you gave me such an education on how it works. Your voyage gives your kids a unique and amazing education.Blessings to you all. I’ll be looking forward to hearing about your upcoming adventures in South America or wherever you go.

  4. Amazing! This is my absolute dream so watch out for me in a couple years haha. Let me know if you ever end up back on the east coast and want a private tour of the University of Rhode Island!

  5. Hi Totemites,

    If you feel the urge to get up into the mountains while in Puerto Vallarta, take a ride up to San Sebastian del Oeste. It dates from 1605—- one of the oldest Spanish towns in Mexico by virtue of a landslide laying bare a treasure trove of silver. For a tourist destination it is wonderfully laid back. And 20 degrees cooler than sea level!

    You can pick up a mini-bus at the NE end of the main PV marina.

    1. Great tip Richard! I’d love to visit San Sebastian. We missed it when we were in MX before. Not sure we’ll make it this time through, but certainly when we pass by PV again.

  6. I loved reading this post. What a wonderful life you all lead! I’m looking forward to reading about more adventures and hope we get a chance to meet someday. – Kristin 🙂

  7. Behan, Thank you so much for leading the way for so many cruising families like ours. I am so grateful for the time and effort and heart you have poured into your blog, and it continues to be one I go back to time and time again! You have lived up to Jacques Cousteau’s quote, “When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.” Thank you so much for sharing your adventures with us! Glad you’re continuing on! Happy Sailing! Sarah on SV Field Trip

  8. Behan, If you print out the entire blog from beginning to end and slap two covers on it….you have a fine sailing book! Hold on while I go over here and sit on the dock and wait for it to come out 😉

  9. Been meaning to ask: you didn’t happen to run into a fellow in Zihuatanejo by the name of Andy Dufrane and his buddy Red that were working on a boat to do some charter fishing on did you? Just a thought…

  10. Congratulations!!! 🙂 And yes, I did notice that your first time around followed the equatorial latitudes pretty well and the want-to-see destinations are more out of that- I guess it’s pretty obvious how that comes about geographically.

    No idea what your plans are for your road trip, but I have an observing run in mid-June in southern Arizona. If you’re around there at the time and are interested in seeing big telescopes, I’ll see if I can arrange something…

  11. Congratulations, Totem! From one kid boat to another…when you breeze through Portland, if you have time, we’d love to see and meet you! I will always owe you a big one for the solar oven…my favorite onboard cooking device. 🙂

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