Tiny Tuesday: This Family Lives On a Sailboat

The Giffords enjoy cruising. They’ve been doing it nonstop for the last nine years.

This family of five lives aboard a 47-foot yacht named Totem. They have circumnavigated the Earth, spent months at a time in Mexico and Indonesia and Australia, and shoehorned their possessions into a space they call “the equivalent of a floating tiny house.” The three kids make friends with whomever they meet onshore; instead of homeschool they attend Boat School, a combination of online courses and the hands-on learning that comes from maintaining a sailboat and seeing the world. Their parents, Jamie and Behan, earn what they call a “poverty-level income” through sailmaking, freelance writing, and consulting with others who wish to duplicate their lifestyle.

In this video, featured on Business Insider, the family members show how they take care of their necessities. They fight cabin fever by staying outside as much as possible – above deck, and the world outside, functions as their living room. They get most of their electricity from three solar panels and two wind turbines onboard, and they use a solar oven for cooking whenever possible to save fuel. The boat’s engine hides under a kitchen counter. Their laundry machine is a five-gallon bucket – “it’s not fun,” says Behan. Regarding the bathroom, they dispose overboard when it’s safe to do so, and store the waste otherwise.

If the video inspires curiosity, then Behan’s website, Sailing Totem, can answer many further questions. The Provisioning section explains how the Giffords stock up on food and fresh water anywhere in the world on a budget. (I wonder how far they can travel without a stop – the Pacific Ocean is awfully big and mostly empty!) Behan also offers advice on how to get started with a cruising lifestyle, how to choose a boat, how to how to obtain medical help in a foreign country, and what to do all day during a passage. And, yes, how to downsize.


Thanksgiving dinner onboard Totem. (photo credits: Behan Gifford, flickr)

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