The Gifford home spans 47 feet (14 meters). It also floats. Aug. 21, 2017, marked the 10th year of cruising on their beloved boat for the family of five. Based in Bainbridge Island, Wash., Behan and Jamie and their three kids (aged 4, 6 and 9 at the time) picked up and headed out on the seas for good.
Sailing long-term had been a far-off dream for them from a young age. Behan says of Jamie’s early travels, “When most twenty-somethings go backpacking, what he did was go to Europe and meet up with people who were living on their boats and sailing around the world. And a combination of meeting them and a book that he’d read growing up really inspired him to want to sail around the world on a boat.” Behan herself “had incurable wanderlust and loved being on boats and hadn’t really put them together until meeting my husband, so it became a part of our story, something that we would do someday.”
But after a bit of a stunning year with a new baby as well as a death in the family, they realized that someday wouldn’t be around forever, so they made a plan to spend the next few years sailing around the world and left the dock on their new boat, Totem, in August 2008. For two and a half years, they lived a (mostly) blissful sailing life, but their funds were depleting faster than anticipated, so the Giffords headed to Australia, where Behan worked for a year and a half. They got a taste of normality once again and didn’t quite want it. “What happened in Australia changed us in kind of a profound way as travelers. Our family went from being sabbatical travelers to wanting to make it into a lifestyle. […] It was very unanimous that we wanted to keep going and continue west around the world. It was a mental shift.” Faced with the option of transitioning back to normalcy, neither of them wanted to go back! “The boat is home.”
From then on, it’s been a life on the water for Behan, Jamie, Niall (18), Mairen (15) and Siobhan (13). Typically, they spend anywhere from one to three months in a country before heading out again. Behan says the family togetherness that life on a boat affords them is without a doubt the best part of their lifestyle. And the experience that her children are getting is priceless; Behan tears up recounting the immense value of travel for young ones: “I wish every kid could spend at least a year outside—not even their country—just their county. The opportunities that full-time traveling kids have is so tremendous. […] I feel like they have a chance to see firsthand how people live all over the world and to appreciate that they have so many opportunities in this world. And to know the differences between having and not having, thankfully without experiencing the pain of it but to see it in a very intimate way at the same time and to hopefully be able to put those things together to make the world a better place.”
Currently in the British Virgin Islands, Behan expresses such pure appreciation: “I love it so much. I’m so incredibly grateful we get to live this life.”
Follow their sailing adventures at http://www.sailingtotem.com/.