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Bainbridge family sets sail for 'nomadic' life at sea

Top: Behan and Jamie Gifford pull away from the marina in their 47-foot sloop, destined for a multi-year tour of the world. Left: Behan secures one of the fenders on the starboard side of the boat. Above: The family voyage also includes their three children, who will be picked up in San Francisco. -
Top: Behan and Jamie Gifford pull away from the marina in their 47-foot sloop, destined for a multi-year tour of the world. Left: Behan secures one of the fenders on the starboard side of the boat. Above: The family voyage also includes their three children, who will be picked up in San Francisco.
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On Thursday, islanders Behan and Jamie Gifford sailed their 47-foot sloop Totem out of Eagle Harbor with no clear notion of when they will return.

Soon to be joined with their children – Niall, 9, Mairen, 6, and Siobhan, 4 – the Giffords will spend the next several years sailing the Pacific. Their itinerary is purposefully vague.

“As long as we’re all having a really good time, and we can afford it, we’ll keep going,” Behan said.

Their departure last week was a realization of years of preparation and adjustment for a life with broader horizons and a smaller footprint.

A family cruise on a world scale was a dream Behan and Jamie, a former professional sailor and sailmaker, shared since meeting on a Connecticut College sailing club.

Children, careers and a life on Bainbridge intervened, but the Giffords kept the dream alive, tucking away savings and supplies.

Finally they decided the children were old enough, but not too old for a family voyage, and both felt comfortable taking a break from their work.

“All the stars just sort of aligned,” Behan said.

The couple upgraded last year from their 38-foot sailboat to a 47-foot Stevens sloop, a design seaworthy enough for ocean cruising, with a cabin roomy enough for a family of five.

They spent the year using garage sales, thrift-shop donations and dumpster runs to rid themselves of possessions that had once filled a 2,800-square-foot house down to fit a roughly 500-square-foot floating home.

This summer, the Giffords began the transition to an aquatic lifestyle in earnest, renting their island home and moving onto Totem in Eagle Harbor. It gave Niall, Mairen and Siobhan a chance to adjust to their new small space. It also gave the children the opportunity to explore with kayaks and flippers a constantly changing, watery backyard

Meanwhile, plenty needed to be done to prepare the 25-year-old Totem for sea. They remodeled its salon and forward cabin, reconfigured its tanks and installed new wiring, plumbing and through hulls.

The departure date came in a flurry of last minute chores and provisioning, including the replacement of the boat’s auto-pilot system, which had failed unexpectedly.

But depart they did, escorted to the mouth of the harbor by friends, their children and Behan’s parents Maris and Judy Fravel, who were aboard the boat Abuela.

With crew members Curtis Edwards and P.J. Baker they navigated the Straight of Juan de Fuca and pointed Totem south.

A first leg of their voyage will take them as far as San Francisco where they will be joined by their children. (It was decided the open coasts of Washington and Oregon could be too rough an introduction to cruising.)

Then it’s on to Mexico where they plan to stage a trans-Pacific hop. However, since the best time to cross the South Pacific is in March and they want to be well prepared, they likely won’t start west until early 2010.

Then, the Totem’s destinations are largely unknown, though the Giffords plan to be away for several years. Niall, Mairen and Siobhan will be home-schooled at sea while getting a taste of life at ports around the Pacific.

“I’m really excited about that,” Behan said. “The world will be their classroom.”

The Giffords are logging their adventures on the blog “S/V Totem Family,” which they will update whenever they can pick up a wireless Internet signal.

Behan reported that Saturday found them en route to Newport, Ore., cruising through waters they dubbed “Humpback Highway” amid tail slapping and breaching whales.

Finally away from port, motoring Totem south under sunny skies, the reality of their new “nomadic” life began to sink in, Behan wrote.

“We have the opportunity at least to take a deep breath, look around, and enjoy and appreciate the place where we are and this time in our lives.”

Box: Follow the Giffords’ journey on their blog “S/V Totem Family,” at http://sv-totem.blogspot.com/.

t An island family begins a ‘nomadic life’ at sea as it sets sail for destinations unkown.

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