Green Boater Highlight: Behan Gifford, s/v Totem - Sailors for the Sea

Green Boater Highlight: Behan Gifford, s/v Totem

 May 23, 2022  | By: Jennifer Brett

Being a Green Boater involves making choices that take the potential impact on the marine environment into account, and perhaps at no other time during boat ownership are there more decisions to make than when doing upgrades and projects on an older vessel. Behan Gifford, along with her husband, Jamie, are in the process of refitting their 40-year-old Stevens 47 sailboat, Totem, which they have lived aboard and cruised since 2008, for more extended offshore adventures.

Recently I had a chance to catch up with Behan to see how their time in the boatyard is going and how sustainability factored into their decisions aboard Totem.

Sailors for the Sea: When planning Totem’s refit (either this current one or previous), were there any “green” or sustainability considerations made when choosing systems, upgrades or materials?

Behan Gifford: Having a lighter footprint is one of the reasons we find living on a boat to be so fulfilling! While undergoing a refit, our goal is to find a practical balance between what’s available, what we can afford, and what makes sense with our cruising plans. 

For the fourth time in 14 years, we’re increasing Totem’s solar capacity. This is a greener choice for energy generation, although the manufacture of those panels has a footprint. The panels we’ve replaced are then passed to others to extend their useful life.  

In our last refit, we rebuilt Totem’s refrigerator to make it drastically more efficient. The aging box provided poor insulation. And the amount of energy wasted, at the time, translated directly to diesel or gas burned by our engine or portable generator. 

When choosing materials for a project, we try to consider not just the source or type of material, but also how long it will last. In our galley, we’re currently replacing failing Formica countertops. It’s frustrating because the Formica was only installed in 2014—just 8 years ago! At the time we were led to believe it was a quality, durable product that should have lasted a couple of decades at least. Instead, there’s fiberboard wearing through. We’re hopeful our replacement choice, quartz, will last as long as Totem.

Portions of Totem’s cabin sole have rot and now need replacement. Vinyl is popular for durability, but has a poor environmental record. We weighed recycled rubber flooring, but settled on a cork tile that’s designed for wet environments. Cork sheet designed for exterior marine use will be the nonskid on our new swim steps.

A new headsail is part of this current refit, and picking cloth that is more durable and UV resistant is a green choice, too. A sail that lasts for more years of active tropical sailing—8 to 10 years instead of 4 to 5—is a more sustainable option. 

SfS: Looking ahead, do you have any future updates that you would like to make that would make Totem “greener”?

BG: A lot comes down to energy, whether it’s creating or storing or using it!

We still have a 2-stroke outboard, but trading that for less power, or poorer serviceability, doesn’t work for the way we cruise. But this is changing, as improvements to significantly less polluting 4-stroke outboards make them a more viable choice. Eventually, electric may make sense. Sailors who are more coastal, or hopping around the Caribbean, don’t have to be as concerned about these factors as they have shorter distances to cover as well as more access to service, in general.

As far as power generation, for now we’re leaning on solar and have even pulled our wind turbine. Finding a way to re-integrate a turbine or two is possible, but not at the cost of solar. We may have less trade-wind sailing for a few years, so it’s a lower priority at the moment.

Are you a Green Boater who has made choices aboard with sustainability in mind? Whether it’s a big project, like switching to an electric engine, or smaller daily choices, like eliminating single-use plastics aboard, we would love to showcase what you’ve done in our Green Boater Highlight series. Interested? Send an email to