The measure of a year: 2019 reflections

Sailboat at sea with sunset

Totem rocks at anchor in the gentle swell off La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico. We approached the end of the year on a mellow passage down the Sea of Cortez, sailing from Puerto Peñasco to our winter base in Banderas Bay. It was a little under five days – four nights at sea – to transit the 800 nautical miles. Gently sailing downwind, water sliding by the hull, provided a perfect environment for meditating on the last year.

It’s natural want to chalk up cruising achievement by counting miles. Goodness, we’ve got them, but I don’t think they’re a good achievement measure. Miles didn’t play into this year anyway: it was one of our most stationary, other than parking at the dock to work in Australia. We made longer stops in fewer places. Didn’t cross an ocean; didn’t even leave Mexico!

Satellite view with tracks sailed by Totem and crew in 2019
The extent of our 2019 range: between Barra and Penasco.

Jamie’s a database guy so we’ve got a few facts and figures to flesh that out.

  • Distance: 2280 NM (one of our lowest ever)
  • Countries: 1 (¡hola México!)   
  • Anchored: 182 days (more than average)
  • Docked: 59 days (less than usual, despite needing to for a bunch of travel)
  • On the hard: 127 days (longest ever by a wide margin!)
  • On passage: 8 nights (three weeks of passage nights is about average)

What did we do, then? We retrenched a bit, to prepare for this year’s anticipated departure for the South Pacific. Totem’s refit was a dominant feature there, as was growing our digital businesses – coaching and sailmaking – while internet is easy: it won’t be in Polynesia. We also took advantage of proximity to the US to travel for speaking engagements, and for me to visit my parents; as a (budget) rule we don’t fly back, but I traveled four times to see them in 2019.

Man bundled in many clothes reading on kindle in cockpit
Bundled up to sail south from Puerto Penasco

This past year was thinner on the exotic experiences that give cruising its appeal, that make cruising enviable and look good on Instagram.

OK, so some of them looked pretty good on Instagram.

It was extraordinary instead in experiences you would not expect to read on a bucket list. Enrichment came from growing relationships with the people: those we have come to know by virtue of staying longer in one place, those we helped by supporting the 2019 South Pacific bound fleet prepare for their big leap, and those who fostered with us the community that grew in the shipyard. Those fellow cruisers who are our found family. These measures make my heart happy. These mean more than miles.

Family in cockpit entering tropical harbor
Layers traded for shirtsleeves on arrival in Banderas Bay

The role of these relationships in making our year crystallized for me upon our arrival in La Cruz, when the first day ashore my feet carried me to seek out those faces I missed.

Three women happy to be together
Much more than the best chilaquiles in town at Tortas y Ring

Whether a year is “good” in hindsight is largely about perception. Faced with little mobility, with long hours of hard work, with challenges that didn’t bring easy rewards – this could have been a… well, not a good year through the hindsight lens. Yet my heart is full with what it did hold for our family; not what it didn’t. The article a friend recently wrote in an article titled The Choice of Happiness: “Happiness…is being at peace with yourself and the universe around you.” Happiness has a lot to do with attitude, with finding opportunity in frustrating circumstances, and ultimately making the choice to be happy.

Jamie pointed out the other day we are under 100 days from our intended departure for French Polynesia. (Did you hear the POP of my happiness bubble as some mild panic crept in?!) This fact is both thrilling and terrifying, and effort towards that end consumes most of our waking hours. We are both very well planned (grateful for years of practice to be comfortable with our ability to prep!) and not well planned at all (our route is one big question mark: where too after French Polynesia?).

Next week, the three youngest Totem crew – pictured below in the Bahamas, 2017 – will give a presentation here in La Cruz about Growing Up as a Boat Kid. We hope to share a recording of later (still working on that tripod!). What would you want to know, in their words, about their experiences? Comment here, or use our contact form.

17 Responses

  1. Sounds like you’ve become human beings instead of human doings this year. Kudos!

    I’d love to post a short excerpt of your video of the young ones in the OCC video gallery. I’d love to know what they found most surprising about growing up on a boat.

  2. We would be interested to know if they long to become part of the mainstream society with their own families…job, house etc or have they found real freedom in the cruising lifestyle?

  3. Can you give an account of a typical day whether 1, at sea 2 at anchor 3 in Port?
    Also what do you most look forward to when arriving in a new port/anchorage?
    I have two Boys, 3 & 5 years old, my boat is a Saltram 36, I’d leave tomorrow but my wife says we need to wait until the boys are old and get a bigger boat!
    Thanks you!
    Look forward to hearing from you soon!

    1. Great questions Daniel! IMHO your boat is big enough… for RIGHT NOW. If you want to sail longer term (bigger kids), your wife is wise to wait for more space. 😉

  4. I’ve immensely enjoyed reading about your trip. My wife and I are approaching retirement and are planning a trip to the South Pacific and beyond from Seattle in approximately 4 yrs. I’m sure you have discussed the budget issue before. Can you give me your advice on adequately budgeting for an extended trip. We plan on a 5 to 7 yr cruis e aboard our sailboat. I know maintenance is one factor that can vary wildly. Interested in the typical daily budget for such a trip that is reasonable.

    Any advice is greatly appreciated


    1. Hi Behan! I love following your adventures. And some feedback as a fellow social media guru is that your posts are a solid ‘bite’ to read when I need a pick me up (not too long or too short) and the pictures are stellar. Thank you for inspiring so many and being positive. It takes people like you to brighten and open up the world a little more. Hugh and I look forward to meeting you out there…

      P.S. Please put me in contact with Don as we are in Seattle too and would love to connect.

    2. Hi Don, thank you for the kind words! The budget question is something we discuss in depth with coaching clients: budgets, including maintenance, really do vary wildly from one boat/crew to the next, and is very difficult to make generalizations on…impossible to make accurate generalizations about, absent knowing a whole lot more about you / your plans. We’d love to talk to you about your plans and help you come up with a realistic budget, perhaps you’d like to sign on for mentoring with us? We’ll be in Seattle for the boat show and plan a meetup with our client family, AKA the TRU crew, on the 25th…great time to join! I’ll send you an email re: connecting with Lynn, replying to your comment.

  5. This isn’t really a ‘growing up as a boat kid’ question . . . but . . . .
    How do you think teenagers who are currently fully immersed in on-land life – high school, sports, phone-glued-to-hand, drivers licenses, part-time jobs, etc. – would handle being transplanted into a learn-as-you-go sailing adventure? What tips could you offer that would help them prepare for a major lifestyle change?

  6. Hi Behan, your family is a certified nomadic. The real deal compared to some making the claim. Your kids growing up in a boat reminds me of the movie “The Legend of 1900.” Stay safe guys!

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