The Gifford family left their home in Washington in 2008 to sail around the world. They have not stopped since. We met up with them in the summer of 2016 in Noank, Connecticut to learn their story and to see how they all live on a 47-foot sailboat.
Follow the Giffords on their journey.
Special thanks to Aline Escalon for providing some additional footage from her own film, “Totem.”
Special thanks to Sophie Boudet for providing additional DJI Inspire One drone footage: [email protected]
Following is a transcript of the video.
Jamie (Husband): We were a suburban family. We had three kids, and a nice house, and a minivan.
Behan (Wife): My husband and I had been busier and busier with our jobs, and our kids were growing up faster and faster.
Jamie: And at some point, it just felt life was going by too quickly.
Behan: We’ve been through 30 countries. There’s a little debate on the boat. What’s a country? Sometimes it’s a territory.
Siobhan (Daughter): Yeah, I don’t remember a lot of living in a house, on land, or really just starting cruising.
Producer: Right, so this has been your entire life.
Siobhan: Yeah. Yeah, pretty much.
Mairen (Daughter): I only have little bits and pieces of memories before we started cruising.
Niall (Son): I’m not sure I would like living on land so much. I just … I’m a lot more comfortable on the water.
Behan: The adventures that we’re on are like having a field trip every day. When you think back about school growing up, it’s the field trips usually that you remember. Those are the days that stand out. And so we’ve had this incredible opportunity to make every day feel like a field trip.
This is our floating home, the good ship Totem. She is a Stevens 47 built in 1982. And we kind of think of her as the floating equivalent of a tiny house.
We’ve got solar panels, three solar panels, and a wind turbine. Between the wind turbine and the solar panels, we are able to supply our energy in the tropics where there are trade winds and good sun.
We use a solar oven when we can. I put pots in here with rice and a chicken and it is roasted, falling off the bone in four hours.
The washing machine. This is where we do our laundry. It’s a five-gallon bucket. It’s really not fun.
So when you look at the main cabin you see a living space, but what you don’t see is that every little tiny bit of space here has to be useful. So underneath the settee is our water tank.
This is all the galley, our kitchen onboard. This part of the galley is also the engine room because our engine is entirely enclosed within this. Some of the differences that we have with a conventional kitchen would be that our stove which hangs here, it can move because the seas can move.
So, Niall, how many articles of clothing do you own?
Niall: Well, I probably own about 15 articles of clothing. Of that, I wear probably four or five.
Behan: This is the head. This is one of two heads onboard. This one goes straight overboard. That’s ok in some places. It’s really not ok in others. And, you’ve just got to be aware of where you can and can’t flush.
So all the way forward we have Mairen and Sioban’s cabin. They share it. There’s an invisible line that runs down the middle. That’s Sioban’s side. That’s Mairen’s side.
This is the master cabin I guess you’d call it. This is our room where Jamie and I sleep. We also have a full set of encyclopedias. Although a lot of our kids’ learning is very digital, there’s not really a substitute for the learning that you do by browsing. It’s not replicated.
We live on a poverty-level income. Our typical annual expenditures are about $US25,000 a year. Our income comes from a few sources now. The first one is that my husband is a sailmaker. And Jamie works with cruisers to specify sails — help them get a great sail at a great price — the right sail at a great price. That’s been a really important part of our financial picture.
I wrote a book with two other cruising parents about how to do what we’re doing. It’s called “Voyaging with Kids.” There’s a little income from that and it’s given us some credibility to sell other freelance writing. And, so, we get a little freelance writing income.
And then Jamie and I are now doing some coaching where we work with people who want to do what we do and try to help them through all of the hurdles and questions to go cruising. And that’s another trickle stream.
Niall: If there are other boats that have kids my age around, then definitely I’ll hang out with them. We’ll go to the beach, hang out on their boat. Besides that, I have a guitar. We have games on the computer. We have card games, all that stuff.
Siobhan: I like to draw, to read, to write.
Mairen: Yeah, I like to draw and read and writing is nice too at times when we have a working computer. I’m also reading the “Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” I’ve only just started, though.
Niall: Being on a boat is actually very social, but I think I would have liked to have experienced some of the peer culture of a school on land.
Behan: I miss my friends from home, I miss —
Niall: I definitely see how my international lifestyle growing up in different countries and maturing
in different countries could affect what kind of career I have later on. I think there’s a lot that I have an insight into that I could benefit from.
Jamie: My fear going into it was that we wouldn’t actually leave because many people go in with this dream whether it’s a retirement dream that they’re gonna see the world, or whether it’s something they’re
gonna do as a 25-year-old adventurous kid.
Producer: How much longer are you gonna do this?
Behan: “As long as it’s fun,” is a quote from Lin Pardey. For us, the twist on that is, as long as everybody is on board, it’s got to be something that we’re doing as a family, that nobody is dragged along, as long as we’re physically able to do it, and as long as we’re able to financially string it together, which is always a question.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.