A Day in the Life . . . Guest Cruising on Totem


Snapshot of one day on board Totem, a Stevens 47, sailing in the Guna Yala province of Panama (which you may know of as the San Blas Islands) On board for the week are the usual crew of 5 – Jamie and Behan Gifford and kids Niall (18), Mairen (15), and Siobhan (13) plus Mochi the hamster – and visiting cruisers the Waters family – Jeremy and Nica Waters with Julian (18) and Bee (16)

6:30 am. It’s Wednesday, I think. The smell of coffee wakes me, though when I check the clock I decide I don’t need to wake up quite yet and I roll over for another 30 minutes of snoozing.

coffee and sunscreen with a view

coffee and sunscreen with a view

7 am. Coffee in the cockpit is my absolute favorite way to start the day. I see frigate birds whirl overhead, listen to the wind generator spin power, and marvel at the way the clouds move in the sky.

8 am. Behan is making bannock, kind of oatcake muffin scone things that you cook on the stovetop. I’d like to learn the recipe. Mairen tackles the dish mountain from last night while Bee and Siobhan tidy up the main cabin, putting away the extra bedding needed for Bee. 9 people on a boat suited for 5 is a stretch, but so far there have been no complaints. (Read more about living aboard)



            Julian and Niall are still asleep. They’ll likely be there for a while.

            The loose plan for today is to move to another anchorage where we think we can get on a beach and where there are likely to be fewer boats. With this wind, it may well be too rolly for an overnight stay, so it’ll be a lunch stop.

            Here, though, there is decent internet available, and there’s some email and a blog post to take care of. Once that’s done, we’ll get underway. The college application work Niall needed to get out yesterday is done, with the receipt confirmed by the school. Fingers crossed it pays off!

            Jamie changes spark plugs on the dinghy engine, which is not working as smoothly as he’d like.

9:30 am. Hatches closed, anchor is up. It’s a short trek, so we’re charging, running the watermaker, and heating water for showers.

10:30. Anchor down at Gun Cay, a reef just ahead of us and another island where Gilligan might have been shipwrecked off to port. Utopia is 50 yards away. It’s been a 5 mile passage, and it’s Totem’s 555th time anchoring. We’ll celebrate with a swim. The snorkel expedition is a 2-dinghy, 9 people, one. We’re calling it successful, with soft corals, a moray eel, a nurse shark, lobster and crab sightings, and enough fish to keep our interest for a while.


12:30. Corn chowder on the stove, laundry being hung from lifelines. Niall regales us with some highlights from Totem’s almost-complete circumnavigation.

2 pm. I start my workout on the foredeck while the boys go to shore to ask permission to fly the drone. After a sound rebuff, they return to up anchor while I work hard to keep my balance and finish my sweat session.

My gym.

My gym.

3:10 pm. We’re anchored off of Isla Maquina, a Guna village island we’ve been invited by Islaflora, Venanzio’s brother, to visit and tour with him. Venanzio is the master mola maker we bought some wares from the other day. All of us are going in for the tour, though Jamie and Andrew are making noises about wanting to work on Utopia’s watermaker. It just needs to last until Shelter Bay, where the new one is waiting.

4:30 pm. We’re anchored at Gaygar for the night. “Pool is closed,” says Jamie, indicating the silty water, sloped and jungle-y waterfront. Prime crocodile territory. Andrew thinks he saw one on his fish finder, and though we look across the water for logs moving against the wind, we don’t see anything. I’m not sure we’re pleased or not. In any case, there is no swimming tonight!


5:00 pm. The shower parade has begun, as has the conversation about what to have for dinner. Burgers it will be! Behan whips up dough for rolls and we slice onions for the grill, mixing burger meat with seasonings and a few things to stretch the 2 pounds of meat. Leftovers are heated up for nibbles with sundowners in the cockpit – lobster paella and cheese dip. Perfect! Use up leftovers and celebrate another lovely sunset. Wins all around.

5:30 pm. Forward head is clogged again. It takes a little cajoling, a little turning off of water pressure and priming the pump, and it’s clear. Whew.

7:30 pm. Buns are baked, burgers are grilled, and everyone is happily eating. Kids are in fierce competition over bananagrams, so we adults leave them below and eat in the cockpit, discussing the plans for tomorrow and checking weather. The second box of peppermint JoJos is broken into for dessert.

Kids and bananagrams

Kids and bananagrams

9:00. Cruisers midnight. Behan and I leave Jamie and Jeremy pulling out the ipad and the starwalk app to look at the stars, and I fall asleep to the sound of laughter from the main cabin as well as the cockpit.

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Fit2Sail - an Introduction

Fit, in the dictionary

Fit, in the dictionary

Welcome to Fit2Sail, where I’m all about making you be ready to grind winches on an America’s Cup boat . . .

No. Back up.

My name is Nica Waters. I live, for now, in Charlottesville, Virginia, with my husband, Jeremy, our 2 kids, Julian (18) and Bee (16), and a recently-adopted 18 year old deaf cat named Noonie. We have owned our Bristol Channel Cutter, a 28' Lyle Hess designed fiberglass cutter named Calypso, since 1992. She's taken us on 2 extended cruises and we're gearing up for the next one. We spend a lot of time working on her, talking about working on her, and buying things to work on her.

                            A very old family picture, when the kids were both shorter than I am.

                            A very old family picture, when the kids were both shorter than I am.


I spend a lot of time working on being fit to go cruising again.

When I say that, when I say being fit to go cruising, what do you think of? Do you think of grinding winches and effortlessly hoisting sails? Gracing the bow of a boat looking all photo-shopped and muscle-y perfect? Not succumbing to seasickness on a daily basis?


Sure, there’s that. Maybe. But that’s just a part of a larger picture. When I talk about being fit to sail, fit to cruise, I’m talking about every aspect of being FIT. Adapted, appropriate. Physically sound and healthy. Suitable, happy, felicitous.

                                         Happy cruiser, doing schoolwork at anchor.

                                         Happy cruiser, doing schoolwork at anchor.

Being fit for cruising encompasses things like mental attitude and aptitude. Preparation for a different lifestyle. An attitude of adventure and possibility. It means being physically ready to handle the rigors of life aboard – which has absolutely nothing to do with what you weigh or what size jeans you wear.


I was in college when the idea of chucking it all and sailing into the sunset was first broached by my now-husband (for more of that story and how it all played out, check out the “When Does Cruising Really Start”!). After the initial euphoria wore off, the worry set in.


What did I know about sailing? What did I know about living in a small space? What did I know about cooking on board? Budgeting. Anchoring. Provisioning. Crossing the Gulf Stream. Mail. The list went on and on.


I muddled through. Learned a lot. And when we returned from that first cruise, in 1997, the world had changed – the internet had exploded onto the scene. Suddenly information that once took days or weeks to acquire and was limited to what books were available in your local library (hint, not many) could be found literally in minutes. Blogs appeared. Google became a verb.


When we decided to head off on our second cruise, this time with 2 kids on board, we chronicled our adventures on a blog. A chance encounter with a boat in the ICW that once would have been relegated to a line in the log book became the impetus for an email-enabled meeting in a far-flung island in the Bahamas – and we’re still close friends with the family from that boat. The internet has its place, there is absolutely no doubt.

                                                 Calypso, Osprey, and Kaya in the DR

                                                 Calypso, Osprey, and Kaya in the DR

It was on that second cruise, though, that I began to really realize that many people don’t realize that lifestyle is something you need to be ready to take on, with all the ups and downs it encompasses. It’s not all beach walks and sunsets – and it’s not all rogue waves and hurricanes either. Ease of access to information lulls some into a false sense of security; when you’re used to looking at wunderground.com for your weather each day, the idea of needing to learn and plan and research is a totally foreign concept. Stories of people who buy a boat for $1 and set off to sail around the world make you think anyone can do it – but what you don’t see is the hard work, endless setbacks, and horrifying amounts of money that go into making that dream a reality.


I’m a personal trainer and wellness motivation coach, so sure, I’m interested in the physical fitness of people aspiring to live the cruising lifestyle. But it’s so much more. It’s about confidence and understanding. Attitude and willingness to learn. Acceptance of the tough times, and gratitude for the moments of beauty and grace.


Cruising successfully takes a special kind of person. One who is truly fit to sail. Can't wait to see you out there.