Circumnavigation, check! What’s next?

At anchor before playa de Balandra, Mexico

Motoring north from La Paz, parched mountains reach up on Totem’s starboard side along a gently winding channel. On the far side of a wide blue bay bask the low desert hills of southern Baja. Tonight we’ll anchor in a quiet bay where the water turns to clear turquoise near shore, and we scan the hillsides with binoculars to glimpse coyotes at sunset.

Leaving this sweet town in the lower reaches of the Sea of Cortez is an inflection point: it starts our last weeks with Niall aboard. In a life that is rich with so many “firsts,” suddenly we’re chalking up the opposite. The last overnight passage as a nuclear family is probably just in our wake. We’re doing our last stretch of route planning with the whole family for crew. I’ll be looking at every hike, every swim, every bonfire on the beach and thinking – this is the last time we’ll do this, before he leaves.

From here we sail to Gulf of California’s far north and haul Totem in Puerto Penasco. Totem will sit on the hard in the Sonora desert for at least three months, and we’ll spend the summer back in the Seattle area – land based for a change, on Bainbridge Island. In October Jamie and I return to the Annapolis boat show for a round of seminars and meetups, then back to Totem with Mairen and Siobhan.

Niall has accepted Lewis & Clark, where classes begin in August. We are thrilled (that explorers are the college’s namesake is only one hint to the excellent fit of this institution for our adventurous son!) and terrified (have you seen tuition rates?). His transition marks an exciting chapter on many fronts. This mama bear may get choked up, but Jamie and I know he’s ready. While I’m sure they’ll miss him, but Mairen and Siobhan have long since anticipated how they’ll reallocate his cabin space to meet their needs.

The family completes a circumnavigation. The boat goes on the hard. The crew goes return to their point of departure. A boat kid goes off to college. I guess that blew some vivid smoke signals: more than I realized since I was surprised to keep hearing: What’s next? The unspoken assumption, almost every time: you’re finished cruising now that the circumnav loop is closed, so, now what?

Sea lions near La Paz
Basking sea lions near La Paz, Mexico

Now what is, in short, continued cruising. Circumnavigation was not a bucket list notch we sought to whittle before calling an end to life afloat. That’s not why we’re out here, so no, we never planned to be finished because we crossed that outbound track. It irks me that these circumnavigating is bundled up with being done, when (for our family anyway) they have exactly nothing to do with each other beyond wanting to complete it as a family (before Niall headed to college) once we realized it was in reach.

Circumnavigating is an achievement we are humbled and proud to have achieved, but it’s what happened along the way to achieving our greater objective: deliberately choosing a different way to raise our family. Growing children in tune with nature, with perspective on the real difference between want and need, with first hand exposure to the natural and societal challenges faced on our planet. Knowledge and experiences we hope will inspire them to be part of solutions, instead of jut another developed-world consumer automaton. This hasn’t changed, and so neither has our intention to continue cruising.

Siobhan and Mairen clowning around - Bahia de los Muertos
Siobhan and Mairen clowning around – Bahia de los Muertos

So what’s REALLY next? Most likely, a couple of years along the coast of Mexico. After 10 years and more than 50,000 miles, Totem needs work– projects that will take time, and funds. The funds trickle slowly so we’ll need a while. I’d love to head back to the South Pacific next spring, but 2020 is the realistic window that we’ll sail again towards Polynesia.

Our lifestyle choice continues to rest on a kind of three-legged stool. The first is that every family member has a say: we must all want to do this. And then, we must be healthy enough. And finally, most practically, we must financially string it together. One of those may change at any time (particularly as the needs of our teens evolve!), but it hasn’t happened yet.

Puget Sound bound

Meanwhile, we’re all excited at the prospect of a summer in Puget Sound. This will be long overdue time with friends and family, people we love dearly and in many cases haven’t seen in a very long time… in most cases since we left, which will be 10 years on August 21. It will be a welcome opportunity to meet up with denizens of Salish Sea we’ve met more virtually over the years, or through this blog and our coaching services, and share time in person.

Let’s meet up!

For folks back in the Pacific Northwest, a few speaking engagements are lining up. These are open to anyone (and more meetups are pending). We’d love to meet readers, so please come and say hello!

  • July 12, 7:00 pm: Seattle Yacht Club. Free, cash bar, pre-registration required; 206-325-1000
  • Sept 11, 6:30 pm: Bluewater Cruising Association, Vancouver, BC.  Details TBD.
  • Sept 14, 7:00 pm: Corinthian Yacht Club, Seattle. Details TBD.

Can we help you?

Our coaching service works from anywhere through video chat sessions. Being back in Puget Sound for the summer gives us even more reach to help gonna-go cruisers in person. Whether planning for the big cruise or a long summer sailing holiday, Jamie and I are available by appointment to help on a variety of fronts. Bring Jamie’s expertise on board for sail handling or sail/rig inspection. 1:1 seminars on navigation, piloting, route planning, and more. Talk to us about systems or gear choices/setup. We’ll go out with you and practice anchoring skills. Affordable rates, plus travel costs – get in touch, and we’ll look forward to meeting you.

Until next time

It doesn’t feel like a coincidence at all that the day we crossed our outbound track, I finished At Home in the World, Tsh Oxenreider’s memoir of her family’s nine month backpack/plane world adventures. Seeking a connection with our history and our plans, we found many with these land bound travelers. Her book also surfaced a quote from Pat Conroy that resonated perfectly and brought peace in embracing an uncertain future. And the point to me, is, it doesn’t matter. We are on the continuum of our life’s journey, forever influenced by experiences, where ever they take us.

Pat Conroy, quoted in the best book I’ve read in a while: At Home in the World.

Regardless of our place on the continuum: the sea has changed us. And having embarked on this journey, we view everyday life through a new lens no matter where the future path extends.

Ruminating further on circumnavigating—what it means to us, how the outside perception strikes us—is more articulately shared in our 48 North article in June. Grab the new issue from stands in the Pacific Northwest next week, or download from June 1 on

22 Responses

  1. What a great read. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.
    Good luck to you all in what ever comes next.

    Totem is, in part, why we are working towards setting off on our own adventures. Still some steps ahead of us, but the fact these steps exist is a good thing, right…. ?

  2. Hey Behan,
    Can’t wait to see you when you are back in Seatown. Congrats to Niall!
    Nick and the Peters

    1. Likewise Nick! And I hear there may even be a TAS REUNION in store? In Portland? Imagine that! I never, ever thought I’d make it to a high school reunion (there were 5 other schools in addition to Taiwan…).

  3. looking forward to our paths crossing this summer. Wow does that Conroy quote strike a chord – thanks.

    1. I am too – very much! It’s going to be wonderful catching up with your family. yes, that quote got me too. <3

  4. Since you have raised your children in a non-conventional way, I’m a bit surprised your son is choosing the college route, especially given the costs. It was pretty much a requirement for my generation (I’m 70), but I think a lot has changed since then.

    1. I agree that a lot has changed. But in many ways it’s changed in the wrong direction, and now it’s not enough to have an undergrad degree – you need grad school too. Unless, that is, you’re off on a wildly independent / entrepreneurial path. This choice is our son’s, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves!

  5. I’ve been lurking here for years, following you and your family as you traversed the globe. I’ve enjoyed being along for the ride! While we are conventional Midwesterners, we have something in common in that we are sending our youngest son off to college this fall. It’s kind of scary (and I don’t just mean the tuition)!

    Enjoy your downtime this summer and I look forward to picking back up with you again once you set sail!

  6. Thank you all so much for sharing some of your incredible journey through life with us, your readers. I have really enjoyed getting your beautifully written posts over these past 10 years Behan and I hope that you are very proud of all of your accomplishments through the years! Especially the fact that you and your amazing husband have raised 3 beautiful human beings. Wow! Congratulations to Niall and all the best at school!
    Life is a journey for all of us and it is what we choose to do with it that makes us who we are. It is clear that you as a family have made a positive impact for so many beautiful people that you befriended in your travels and in doing so have received many gifts and lessons in return. I think that you guys have left amazing foot prints that are full of respect, consideration, love, thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity. Bless you all and keep in touch!!
    Mahalo from Hilo on the Big Island where Madam Pele is doing what she does best… creating new land!!!

    1. Thank you for such kind words. Life really is a journey, and we have so much to be grateful for in our opportunity to even make these choices! <3 Glad you're OK on the big island, Pele is definitely making her presence known!

  7. It all sounds perfectly lovely. Hope to cross paths with you guys again sometime, on land or by the water. 🙂

  8. Looking forward to seeing you back on Bainbridge! What’s the best way for us islanders to get in touch once you are here? Should I just hang out at the Yoga House until we cross paths? ?

  9. Hi Niall

    Went to Lewis & Clark for two years finishing up my undergraduate degree in Econ 40 years ago. I’ll bet it will be a more pleasant experience than one of the mass factories like the UW or Berkeley. I hope that the Econ department isn’t as as lame as when I was a student, or that you can avoid it entirely!

    I’m not going to reveal how much a term of tuition plus room and board cost back then! Probably about the same as the cost of a hamburger in the dining room today.

    1. No kidding! That’s very cool Richard. Thank you for sparing me the pain of comparing tuition then and now! 😀

  10. The important thing about a college education is not what you learn (usually not much) but who you meet. What is the most class structured and unequal society in the western hemisphere? The USA. Why do you think parents send their kids to Yale or Harvard?

  11. Out of curiosity I just did a quick research of worldwide tuition costs. In the US a top ranked university like Harvard, Yale or Chicago will demand about 50k per year for tuition, plus room, board, lease on the Porsche, and other necessities. At this level of “higher education” universities operate primarily as hedge funds with education (sometimes excellent) serving as a front for profit maximization.

    Should you be accepted into any university in Denmark the tuition cost is $00.

    When I lived in Vancouver BC I had a friend from Montenegro who was doing graduate studies in computational fluid mathematics at Simon Frazer. Her annual tuition was $5,300 CAD, largely offset by a fellowship. (ps: she didn’t have a Porsche– not even a Subaru!.)

    If you go to ETH Zurich (ranked in the top ten in the world) for your PHD, not only is tuition minimal, but you will receive a salary minimum of $45,000 up to $80,000. (A university degree from ETHZ is is regarded as one of the most prestigious in Europe along with Oxbridge, Imperial, TUM, Polytechnique, TU Delft..), and you can actually make money while earning your degree instead of accumulating a lifetime of debt like in the US..

    American Exceptionalism at work.

  12. Hi!! Love catching up a bit with what you guys are up to and expecting for the future. Believe it or not, Matt and I have started ruminating on the possibility of packing up the kiddos and heading back out on a boat in a few years… We kind of can’t believe it ourselves – that we’re considering it – but it’s exciting to imagine sharing those experiences with our boys. In the meantime, we’ve started a new blog chronicling our land-locked adventures, if you care to check it out ( I’m so impressed you guys made it all the way around and have to say that I teared up when you said that Niall was heading off to college! All of a sudden, the years felt so incredibly short (as they are) as I remember your kids being so little and it feels like just yesterday you were giving Mairen dinghy-driving lessons! Exciting times for your fam as you ebb & flow 🙂 Karen (SV Syzygy 2010)

    1. Karen, what a treat to hear from you! I can’t believe we made it and yes, those years fly fast. Plans with your boys sound good to me. Will check out your new blog!

Comments are closed.