The Totem crew includes me, Behan; my husband Jamie; our children, Niall, Mairen, and Siobhan.
Jamie and I met sailing, racing in Long Island Sound on the J-35 Peregrine…for one race in 1988 and again for the long journey in 1991. At the time, Jamie was a sail designer and at the top of his field, working with high end racing boats; I was on my college’s sailing team, and being on the water was my passion. When we started dating he gave me Dove, a book by a solo circumnavigator to read, “to understand him.” I had deep wanderlust and loved nothing more than being on the water, but the world of traveling by boat was a mystery. He introduced me to his close friends, Jim and Diana Jessie, who Jamie had met on a wharf in Dubrovnik in 1986. Every few years, we met up with them somewhere new: Connecticut’s Mystic River, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, Canada’s Gulf Islands. And every time, their cruising lifestyle settled deeper into our psyche. Someday, we’d go. Someday, we’d live on our sailboat and travel the world.
Jamie’s professional sailing / sailmaking career had benefits (my senior year spring break trip for a megayacht sail check in Antibes, France, comes to mind), but he burned out. Sailing took a back seat for a few years while our lives were consumed by grad school, careers, babies, and a new life in the Pacific Northwest. Fast forward to 2002. Our second child, daughter Mairen was born, and we lost Jamie’s mother to cancer- much younger than you should ever have to say goodbye. These events brought our priorities into focus: somewhere along the way, our lives had spun into a hectic pace of juggling a dual career household with hefty carpooling demands, “who travels this week?” spouse discussions, and weekends of quality time with PowerPoint. This was not the life we wanted.
We wanted to build memories with our children that involved more than flyby dinners and fleeting weekends. Already, fulfillment and joy as a family came from our days on the water together, ghosting around Puget Sound. We wanted to live minimally, and shed things that we didn’t really need. We wanted to live close to nature, sourcing power through the sun and wind, and raise our children in tune with the environment.
Our “someday” needed a date, not postponement for an amorphous retirement. We put a plan in place, and our cruising dreams were realized when we sailed out of Puget Sound on August 21, 2008. At that time, the children were aged 4, 6, and 9.
A year later, this somewhat scruffier (but very happy) family posed in Mexico for a rare group shot on our dinghy.
It is tremendous to realize that as the years have slipped by, learning and exploring together as a family, we’ve been around the world — in April 2018, we crossed our outbound track to technically complete a circumnavigation (but not completing our life afloat!).
With a growing number of years and miles behind us, living on Totem still suits us perfectly. We may not always want to be nomadic. We may not always want to live afloat. But at the moment, it’s difficult to picture either of those scenarios.
Jamie and I co-author a monthly cruising column for 48° North – The Sailing Magazine, and SAIL magazine has syndicated Totem’s blog on SAILfeed since mid-2013. If you’d like a peek from the other side, you can read other media coverage about our adventures as well.