Family Magazine

Sailing into 2015

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem

seas between penang and langkawi

By many measures, we did not have a great year. 2014 was not marked by exotic anchorages and interesting cultural exchanges, but routine maintenance (and breakdown, and more maintenance), costly equipment replacements, and attempts at upgrades with varying degrees of success. Gear failures cost us plans for sailing to Borneo and the Philippines, and just much everything we tackled took significantly longer than it could or should. It is marked by complications and aggravations.

But a good year, or not, is mostly what you make of it. And although we would rather not repeat much of 2014, we had some incredible experiences that stand out like fireworks in hindsight- events and encounters and trends that added light to life. Those are the measures to have.

Sundowners in Totem's cockpit with good friends, all spread out in different directions now

Sundowners with good friends in Totem’s cockpit – all gone separate directions now

The symbolic start came early in the year when we were facing a number of necessary but expensive maintenance costs on Totem. We’ve been skating on thin financial ice, so this was stressful. One of our blog followers asked what we needed; we told him, and thanks to a giving and kind human, the cost of replacing our dying battery bank was covered. It was both humbling as well as uplifting at a time when we could use the boost, and in the process, has brought to us a new, virtual crew member.

Jamie builds the new battery box

Jamie builds the new battery box

Our outlook further improved as Jamie returned to selling sails, his first career as a sailmaker coming around again. He’s working with a Kiwi designer based in Langkawi and building out of China Sail Factory, and has helped a number of boats with new sails: vessels near us in Southeast Asia, but also in the US, Caribbean, and Australia. The income will help us keep going, but importantly, Jamie really loves what he’s doing- sharing from his deep experience as a sailmaker, now filtered through the practicality of years of cruising experience.

In 2014, we didn’t make miles so much as we made friends. When engine troubles kept us in places for long and unplanned stretches, the fixed time let us make new friends and grow existing friendships. It has been an incredibly rich year for cruising community in our life, and when I think of the boats and the people we have met and connected with, I’m incredibly grateful.

thana sam ong

with friends in Penang – more unforgettable memories

The cumulative effect of all this is pure goodness. Although there’s a project list as long as my arm and only a few weeks before our intended departure for Sri Lanka and points west, we are now ready in the most important ways.

shipyard thanks

best part of my year: organizing a fundraiser for shipyard family kids

When we splashed Totem from the shipyard last month, it would have been easy to stay close to Langkawi. We could have gone over to the lovely and popular Butang islands for a holiday break and some of the R&R we needed. But had we done that, we wouldn’t have had a good test of Totem. So instead, we decided to make the roughly 600 mile round trip trek from Langkawi to Koh Phayam, a sleepy little Thai island near the Myanmar border. With all the projects of the last year, Totem’s systems needed a hard workout. Our trial paid off almost immediately as our watermaker decided to more or less implode just as we reached Phuket, where there’s a service center equipped with the parts and skills to make it right again.

We also returned to Koh Phayam to get ourselves ready, because it’s not just having systems and gear in order. For my part, it’s wrapping up a book manuscript on a guide for cruising with kids – a project I’m incredibly excited to be a part of. For Jamie, while “getting ready” would probably make him think of maintenance tasks, what he’s needed more than anything is a break: after a year with lots of work, spending weeks of flat-out work on the hardstand drained him.


working hands – Jamie in the shipyard

And so we did. And while there was still a lot of writing, and a lot of project work, happening during our stay in Koh Phayam… there were some unforgettable hours where the only thing we tried to do was enjoy ourselves, in good company, in a pretty place.

About two beats after I realized this was a surprise party for my birthday! Thanks to SV Atea for the photo.

About two beats after I realized this was a surprise party for my birthday! Thanks to SV Atea for the photo.

As we return south to Langkawi, our heads are getting into countdown mode. We’re seeing places and people for the last time. The project list is evolving into a punchlist, with the must-do pulling away from the want-to-do. And it is tremendously exciting: 2015 is full of promise and adventure, and we just cannot wait!


On the move again at last – and feeling good!

Cruisey sailors know when you click through to the Sailfeed page for this post, it kicks a little change in our cruising kitty.

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