cruising attitude

Looking Back to Look Ahead

There are times when it's fun to read old blogs, to see what the me-of-then was thinking. This one struck a chord with me - recognize any themes? This is a post from our SVCalypso blog, from the 2009-2010 cruise we took with the kids. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

Shiny winch.

Shiny winch.

August 26, 2009

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and the concept gelled this morning as I shed some tears over my friend Lee's blog (last cruising entry for a while).  Her final lines are “We recommend to everyone that they take time now to fulfill that dream or vision.  There is no other time, only the present.”  Lee and her husband, Chris, took off a year ago and went to the Exumas and back, up to Martha’s Vineyard and back to Deltaville.  Reading their blog is a lesson in being PRESENT – a lesson I know I would do well to heed.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

And that’s where I am struggling right now.  I have the hardest time being present to all that is happening.  Part of is the feeling that I have feet in a couple of different worlds, part of it is wanting time to hurry up and go by.  Part of it is, quite probably, a mourning for the stability and comfort of the routine we have shed already – with more to come in the next week, even, as I put in my final day at work on Monday.  And with that mourning is a frustration with myself – I am choosing this (we are choosing this) – why be sad about the choice?

Our transition began in the summer, really, when we moved out of our newly-renovated, much beloved house so the renters could come in with their boxes and different chaos.  We are now living in a one-bedroom apartment, all four of us, which I joke (semi-seriously) about being bigger than the boat. (It is, square footage-wise.)  The kids had to pack up their toys and books, and all they could bring with them (other than clothes) had to fit in a small plastic box*.  They are being remarkably resilient and accepting, except that Julian cannot kick a cold and Maddie is now grinding her teeth at night.  Hard, hard, hard to share with them (convince them? help them understand?) WHY it is so imperative that we do this cruising thing NOW.

School started for the kids yesterday.  They are in new classrooms, with new teachers and new friends.  But they know (as do their teachers and classmates) that they will only be there for 5 weeks.  Strange situation.  Possibly for them the hardest part (or the hardest part they can verbalize) is not riding the school bus.

I am frantically finishing up things at work (I have been the Admissions Director at a local private school for the past 5 years, and my job culminates on Monday with the orientation of the new kids the day before school starts), feeling like a bit of a ghost.  My colleagues are wonderful and supportive, but they (obviously) are caught up in the excitement of a new year while I am not involved at all with those details.

Jeremy’s replacement starts on Monday, for close to a month of overlap.  He is working hard as ever at work, trying to leave procedures and lists in place for his team – and then coming home to work on boat projects or research boat parts.

And through it all I am wondering how the reentry will be.  Lee’s blog has reminded me of my one real regret from last time – that I was too busy looking at what was coming next to appreciate where we were. (In reading the old journal from that trip, I can read 4 separate, distinct times when I wrote, “Now the cruising can really begin.”  What cruising did I miss while waiting for it to “start?”)

Stop, Nica.  Concentrate on the NOW.  Even as chaotic as it seems, it is what is going on.  If I look too far in the future I may well miss the present.

Pizza on the boat grill.

Pizza on the boat grill.

So bring it back to the present.  Yesterday was the first day of school for the kids, and they looked great (and all too tall) as I scrambled them into the car for the drive to school.  Today we made pizza on the grill for dinner – not all that exciting (for us) except that we did it on the boat grill and it WORKED!!! (We had been worried that it would burn before cooking properly)  Kids are in bed now, reading, and Jeremy and I are playing dueling computers working on different boat projects.  (This blog must count as a boat project, yes?)

There you go.  Rantings and philosophical wanderings and perhaps some self-centered whining from me.  Ah well.  At least I ate well tonight.

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Privacy Concerns

One of the things we take for granted living in a house is privacy. Doors lock, the walls are thick, there’s another room you can escape to if you need your own space. On a boat, sometimes that privacy is hard to come by. (Read about living on a boat here!)

There’s privacy and there’s alone time, and for the purposes of this blog I’m using the terms somewhat interchangeably. I think of privacy as, well, things you want to keep to yourself. These tend to be items of the bodily function type, but they can be emotions and reactions as well. Alone time is just that – solitude. Feel free to shift the vocabulary to suit.

Space and quiet and your own thing to do.

Space and quiet and your own thing to do.

When I’m living aboard, it’s on a really small boat. There’s not much inherent privacy in a space that’s 28 feet long from end to end (37 if you stretch from the tip of the bowsprit to the end of the boomkin), and one where there’s not a single door other than ones on cabinet fronts to be found. And I can promise you, as much as I love my husband and my children, there are times when I Just. Want. To. Be. Alone.

 

Granted, you are likely dealing with a larger boat than I am. What I’ve found, though, is that there are a lot of  similarities when you’re talking about boat living, no matter the size. Whatever boat you’ve got, there’s less privacy than in a house.

 

On land it’s easy. Different work and school schedules often result in at least some time where you’re alone in the house, no matter who you are in the family after about age 13. On a cruising boat, when your schedules are the same and there is little space that doesn’t serve multiple purposes, it’s a little harder. On land, you can escape easily by going for a walk or even just closing the door to your room. On a boat? Not so easy! Don’t fear! You can attain that much-desired level of privacy on board even a boat as small as Calypso, and though it takes a bit more work than it might on land, the trade-offs are well worth it. 

You might choose to solo sail.

You might choose to solo sail.

First of all is the “take yourself for a walk” option. On land, you strap on your shoes, open the door, and off you go. On a boat, it’s more involved. Unless you’re tied to a dock, you need to get into the dinghy (whatever that entails) and head off. Wow is it worth it for everyone! It provides alone time, recharge time, for the person staying on board as well as the person zipping off somewhere in the dinghy. There are some natural times when this happens. Dinghy expeditions with a fellow cruiser, walks on the beach. Going off to help another cruiser with a boat project, or heading into land to clear customs. Laundry or shopping! I’ve had times when I’ve volunteered to stay on board to “mind the watermaker”, content to pass up a shore activity; Jeremy has done the same when I’ve had some small errand to run.

 

This aspect of alone time requires transportation, unless you’re in a marina or all you’re doing is snorkeling off the boat (which is a very fine excuse!). If you’re traveling with a family, having a second dinghy of some sort is a really worthwhile indulgence. It can be a simple kayak or even a stand up paddle board*, but a way to get ashore or off the boat is so helpful to keep tempers in check. This means that if someone has the big dink, someone else can also escape. Even on Calypso, we carried a kayak (2 of them) as well as the inflatable, and though we grumbled at times at the space they took up we loved having them – the kids could go off on their own and often did. At anchor in the Abacos, our son wanted to go build a sand fort; having that kayak meant he could just go do it. Another memorable moment was in Eleuthera, when our daughter, age 8, took a kayak by herself and went to the library in Governor’s Harbour. Safety angles for those who are concerned? We’d gone in as a family earlier in the visit, so she knew exactly where she was going. We could see her all the way in, and she had a handheld VHF which she knew how to use. She felt such a sense of independence, plus she loved having her own thing to do. Her mood was so much improved when she returned from that expedition!

Kayaking (and swimming) in South Carolina.

Kayaking (and swimming) in South Carolina.

Even now, as we plan the next trip which will be just the 2 of us on board, we know we’ll have another transportation “device”, likely one which doubles as a water toy. They’re just good to have!

 

One thing worth mentioning – communication is key. Not only communicating where you’re going and when you’ll be back, but also respecting someone else’s need for alone time. If an invitation of a shore jaunt is passed up, don’t take it personally – it could well be that the other person just needs to chill on the boat without you there. And taking a handheld VHF is a very good idea.

 

What about times when you just can’t get off the boat? The high wind or nasty weather times. The passage times. The it’s almost dark and not safe to go off times. These times happen, and somehow it’s during those times when tempers run hot and privacy becomes critical. What then?

Good headphones are awesome!

Good headphones are awesome!

 

Where in a house you can head to your room and close the door, boats sometimes don’t have doors. They sometimes don’t have dedicated rooms either. Our v-berth is the workbench, the head, and the spare food storage area. The quarterberth, where Julian slept, was also where we tucked the watermaker and the batteries. Though your boat might have more defined use spaces, my guess it it’s still much closer quarters than even the smallest apartment.

 

What we found, both cruising before kids and with them, is that each of us gravitated to a certain space on board. If our daughter needed to feel like she was really on her own, she took herself to the foredeck or tucked herself into the v-berth and hid behind the bulkhead. I snuck to the cockpit, wrapped in a blanket if needed. Julian and Jeremy pulled out computers and lost themselves in a game or video. There were times when the kids (ah, when they were small!) cuddled together in the quarterberth, laughing at some episode of "Gilligan’s Island" or a Looney Tunes dvd. The visual break was the critical piece for us.

 

When we were on board Totem in Panama in February, with 9 people on board, the same idea of space held true. Behan had her desk in the aft cabin while Jamie worked at the chart table. Mairen and Siobhan each sprawled on a separate settee. Niall had his space in his cabin, and Julian found a spot on the foredeck to call his. Bee claimed the v-berth for painting; Jeremy and I pursued our own stuff in different parts of the cockpit. We might not have had a physical barrier separating us visually from each other, but our attitudes and respect made it all work.

Focus.

Focus.

To add to that visual separation, try some kind of audio blanketing. Good earphones or headphones, noise canceling ones, can be worth their weight in gold for keeping crew members happy. Fans in the head can help with the body noises we all would rather forget. Do they mean you don’t hear a thing? No. But it gives you the edge you may require to tune stuff out.

 

Privacy on a boat is mostly in the respect we afford each other. It’s about pretending you don’t hear the noises from the head. It’s staying in the cockpit while a modest crew member is changing clothing down below. It’s allowing your partner, or your kid, or your parent, who is deep in a project or book or something, the time and space to do that without interruption. It’s working to give people privacy instead of just assuming it’s there. And it’s communicating early and often about what you need to make it all work, including understanding that you might need an extra dinghy-like “thing” on board.

 

Still, in my opinion, it’s worth all the hassle.

 

See you out there.

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Panama Recap, or - Flexibility is the Watchword!

Tide wash

Tide wash

"Cruising plans are best set in sand - changeable with the tides." "Cruisers and schedules don't mesh." "You can pick the time or the place, but not both."

Very very true. I think we've used these comments on would-be guests a few times, but it's the first time we've really dealt with that aspect of cruising reality from the point of view of the guest.

In an earlier blog, I mentioned that our plans to go through the Panama Canal with the Totems had been stymied by a longer-than-usual processing time between measurement and transit (and a hard-learned lesson about who to buy airplane tickets from!). I thought I'd share what happened!

Instead of this: 

Totem's in the middle here

Totem's in the middle here

We had this:

Anchorage in the Guna Yala (San Blas Islands)

Anchorage in the Guna Yala (San Blas Islands)

Plan A was to go through the canal. No go.

Plan B was to change our plane tickets to be able to go through the canal. No go. (hint - look up prices on sites like Travelocity and Kayak. Actually BOOK the ticket through the airlines. If we had done that, it would have cost us $300 to change our plans. As it was, the full-price-plus-penalty change fee made changing the tickets not possible.)

Plan C was to drive to Carti, a small Guna village on the mainland about 10 miles from the offshore islands. You may know of them as the San Blas - the indigenous peoples there are the Guna Indians, and they prefer the nomenclature of Guna Yala. They actually administer the territory, though it's officially a part of Panama. No go. The Congreso, the Guna leadership, had decreed that all traffic to the area needed to be that destined for Guna resorts. The taxi companies we contacted were reluctant to risk their ability to take anyone, ever, through the border. This change happened literally 3 days before we were to fly out.

Map source: http://www.go2sanblas.com/blog-details.html

Map source: http://www.go2sanblas.com/blog-details.html

Plan D was to fly out to the islands. No go. Despite the assurances of many people that such flights exist, we were having trouble finding any. And when we did find someone willing to fly us, when we pressed the question of the Congreso regulations, the communication suddenly dried up.

Plan E was for Totem to head to Linton (just east of Portobelo, which you can see on the map), a town outside of Congreso jurisdiction about 45 miles WEST (downwind) of the Guna Yala, where taxis were happy to deliver us. Then we could either continue the jaunt to Colon (further downwind) or decide to bash back upwind to the islands.

The flurry of emails and messages in that last 2 days was astounding. Someone got through to Carti! Oh, no they didn't! They did, but the Congreso at the border was asking to see birth certificates and crew lists. They did, but the guys on the beach at Carti were charging $100 a head for the 5 minute boat ride out to the sailboat. Oh, they actually didn't get through at all. 

By this time, though (and some of these messages/rumors were shared as we were sitting in the airport in DC!), Totem was underway to Linton. Our taxi driver was getting us at the airport in Panama City and delivering us to Linton. We'd decide on the next 10 days over sundowners in Totem's cockpit that very night. Jeremy warned me (as I'd already figured out) that we may well decide NOT to head back upwind - who wants to beat to windward against strong trades if you don't have to?

Safe arrival in Panama City, then Linton. And after unearthing all the US goodies we'd brought to ease the shock of having 4 extra people on a 47 foot boat (maple syrup! Chocolate chips!), the decision was made. Guna Yala, here we come. So Sunday morning, after Behan and I walked to the nearby village of Isla Grande to see what fresh foods we could add to the Totem galley, we picked up the anchor and headed back into the trades, retracing that 45 mile trek they'd done the day before. Jamie says it was one of the 10 worst trips in their almost-finished circumnavigation.

Was it worth it? You tell me.

How Big a Boat do You Need?

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The title of this blog really could be “why don’t you buy a bigger boat?” We’ve been sailing Calypso, our 28’ Bristol Channel Cutter, since we bought her in 1992 (okay, fine, we spent a few months actually getting her ready to go in the water . . .). She’s carried us, when it was just Jeremy and me and our beagle, Toby, from Texas to Florida, down the Eastern Caribbean all the way to Trinidad and west to Bonaire. Back up the East coast of the US to Virginia. She’s carried us, as a family of 4, from Virginia to the Bahamas and Dominican Republic and back again. And we’re getting her ready to take us, just the two of us, no kids or dog, on the next adventure, though where that adventure will be remains up in the air.

 

Yes, she’s cozy. The current set up down below has the head under our bunk. This was fine when we were in our 20s, but now, ahem, the bladder doesn’t last all night. There’s no way to take a shower down below. I don’t mind jumping over the side for the bulk of my bathing, but these days I’d like to make sure I can get clean even if it’s not the best weather outside or we’re on passage for longer than 4 days. Jeremy, who’s 6’2” tall, can stand up only under the hatches.

 

So why not buy a bigger boat? One that has, say, a dedicated space for a head and shower down below, with an actual door that closes? One that has, say, standing head room all through for my vertically-endowed husband? Why not spend the money, save the effort of an interior refit, and get something more comfortable?

                                   Under construction. Looking aft from the forward bulkhead.

                                   Under construction. Looking aft from the forward bulkhead.

Believe me, we’ve discussed this one to pieces. We’ve chased boats on Yachtworld, flirted with the idea of weekend trips to see some, and even exchanged emails with a builder. I send Jeremy links to interesting looking boats when they flit like fairies across my screen.

 

There aren’t a lot of boats that fit our criteria. Boats that look gorgeous (and unique) in our eyes as we dinghy away from them in an anchorage. Boats that sail well. Boats that can carry sufficient supplies for the passagemaking we plan to do. Boats that are simple, robust. Boats that offer substantially more of most of these items than we’ve already got with Calypso, which means we’re looking likely at boats in the 40’ range. Boats that won’t require a mortgage.

 

Here’s what it comes down to, for us. Comfort is in more than space. Comfort is in knowing the boat. I know where to store things, how to access them. Jeremy installed the engine, installed the watermaker, ran the wiring. I can hoist the main by hand, no need for a winch until that last bit of tightening. We’ve got our anchoring hand signals down, know the routine about how to tack, and can put a full coat of topsides paint on in an hour.

 

Comfort is in knowing the issues we face. Any boat that would fit our budget, the budget we’ve settled on that will enable us to sail for a long time, will have to be one that’s older. One that requires a lot of work, likely. We know the work Calypso needs. Any new-to-us-boat would come with challenges known and unknown – we might spend a lot of time and money on a different boat and realize that she doesn’t work for other reasons. 

                                               28'. 4 people. 4 jerry jugs. 2 kayaks. 

                                               28'. 4 people. 4 jerry jugs. 2 kayaks. 

We’ve had enough experience with cruising on Calypso to feel reasonably sure of our projected budget, though of course healthcare and health insurance is the hugest unknown factor out there. We are also practical enough to know that at some point, we’ll be no longer able to live on the boat. We want to have a cushion for that eventuality.

 

This isn’t to say we won’t get out cruising and decide we need a larger boat. We’re keeping that possibility in mind. But maybe, with the changes we’re making to the interior of the boat, we’ll find that cruising in her is as possible now as it’s been since 1992.

 

When we first bought Calypso, we were (and remain) heavily influenced by Lin and Larry Pardey, whose philosophy is “Go small, go simple, and go now.” Other boats on our short list included boats like the Beneteau 30. A Jeanneau 32. A NorSea 27. Even an F-27 trimaran. They were boats we could afford, not only to buy but to maintain and cruise on. The choice we made has stood the test of time.

 

I know that a lot of people reading this are thinking we’re nuts. I’m not sure, if I were making the decision as a boatless person right now, I’d choose something quite as cozy as Calypso. But there is deep value in changing the question from “how big a boat should I buy” to “how small a boat can I make work for me?”

 

Your boat may have a separate head and shower. But when we share an anchorage, we’ll still see the same sunset.

 

See you out there.

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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.

Being Flexible About a Cruising Vacation

At anchor

At anchor

About a year and a half ago, our friends on S/V Totem  (check their website!) came for Thanksgiving. Behan and I had "met" while serving as admins together on the facebook group Women Who Sail, met in real life at the Annapolis Sailboat Show in October of 2016, and when it became clear that they'd still be in the US (and even in the relative geographical area to our landlocked Charlottesville) we invited them for Thanksgiving at our house.

Hanging out with cruisers is a joy. The vocabulary, the shared experiences, even the sense of flexibility in space-sharing and cooking together is something that is hard to translate. Behan and I have the kind of friendship that feels effortless in many ways. It's hard to believe we haven't known each other forever.

Movie time!

Movie time!

During that visit, we casually talked about their plans to go through the Panama Canal and joked about coming down to help them transit.

That joke solidified into something approaching a plan. We've purchased plane tickets, told work (and school) we are taking 10 days off in February to go through the canal with friends, and started assembling the stuff we need. Stuff like masks and snorkels, easy-to-dry towels, and all the goodies they might want us to bring down.

There's an old adage that cruisers and schedules don't mesh well. Trying to get somewhere on a schedule can mean making poor decisions, ignoring weather, or pushing past discomfort in ways that might not be safe. As cruisers (only TEMPORARILY land-bound), we get that, of course - it's far easier for us to be flexible than it is for them. 

This may read as weird, if you're not a cruiser reading this. It's easier for a job-and-school constrained person to be flexible? How? Last I checked my boss was not exactly hot on me saying, "Hey, I'll take vacation next week. Or it might be tomorrow. Or maybe in a couple of weeks. That's cool, right?"

Cruisers moving their boats, though, are moving their homes. A move that on paper is "only" 20 miles away might take a week of waiting for the right wind, current, waves. As a land-based traveler, a change might be  an inconvenience; for a sailor, a change might be disastrous.

Part of the extra challenge with a canal transit for a sailboat is that you're dependent on the canal authorities for everything, from getting measured to getting a transit time and even getting a (required) pilot on board the boat. There is just no way to say, "Hey, let's go through on xxxx date" and have it magically happen. This makes it tough if there is crew flying in, with the need to get airfare at a decent price but not knowing when the transit can happen.

The phone call came in on a January Saturday, about 2 weeks before we were supposed to fly down to help go through.  The word from Totem was that the lag time between measuring and locking in (to start the transit) was running an average of 15 days, not the 7 days that's a traditional average. The weather was crap, making movement difficult and uncomfortable. If Totem was to move as quickly as they comfortably could, they'd get to the marina in Colon to be measured no sooner than the next Thursday, and with the 15 day lag time that put a transit right at the tail end of our existing flight schedule.

So we had a choice. Change flights (which may or may not be possible). Or fly in on our already-booked schedule and figure out getting to the Guna Yala (San Blas islands) where we can play with the Totems on board, in cool islands with amazing culture but miss a transit. 

Bahamas cool islands. Not the Guna Yala.

Bahamas cool islands. Not the Guna Yala.

Both were options. Both required more planning than either of us had anticipated.

But this, when it comes down to it, is sort of a cruising reminder. Best laid plans need to be cast in sand on a tidal beach, with flexibility required for all involved.

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Whichever we decided, the crews of Totem and Calypso were together again soon, this time in Panama. Keep reading!

The kids are all taller now. The next picture will be an interesting one!

The kids are all taller now. The next picture will be an interesting one!