Many SpinSheet readers may be familiar with the name Behan Gifford, as the cruiser who’s sailed the world with her family on Totem has been mentioned in the magazine both for her book “Voyaging with Kids” and for her teaching at Cruisers University. For those of us who’ve met her at the U.S. Sailboat Show, it was exciting to see her and the whole family give this terrific interview on the Today Show!
A California native, Gifford has been living on a sailboat since 2008, practicing “slow travel” with her husband Jamie and three children, Niall, Mairen, and Siobhan. Here’s the family’s backstory from their SailingTotem website:
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, 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.