First Mate

April 23, 2024. Current situation: I am holding a pot over a flame, staring out my galley window at the unfurled jib, whose telltales flutter in the wind as we sail east across the Bay of Florida toward the Keys.

Pot holder
Pot holder, Bay of Florida

The port bow is crashing into little waves and spraying the deck with a salty mist, and every now and then, a large wave gives us a disorienting shove sideways—thus, the pot-holding. My husband, a.k.a. Pirate Captain Dad, is cranking at the main and jib periodically to squeeze out an extra fraction of a knot of boat speed, crossing the cockpit to adjust sails, look at the chart, and change course as necessary. Right up until I suggested making egg salad sandwiches for the hungry crew, I was out on deck in the glorious wind and sun, coiling dock lines that we had untied yesterday and left out to dry while we did the work of getting underway. I also tidied the previous day’s rat’s nest of main halyard and Code Zero halyard, sheet, and furling line, separating and flaking each of them so they could run fair if the need were to arise. I also checked to make sure the anchor bridles were clipped to the trampolines so they wouldn’t get dragged under the boat. Then I put away the dishes in the drying rack and finished the breakfast tidy-up, poured my daughter and her cousin a ginger-ale over ice to enjoy in the cockpit while they do their nails and listen to audiobooks, and here I am: holding this pot and confirming the truth of the adage, “a watched pot never boils.”

Captain Jay
Pirate Captain Dad at the helm

Maybe some women would resent this arrangement. I see blogs and social media posts about husbands and wives who call themselves co-captains, or single women sailors who feel angry when dock mates ask them, “Where is the captain?”  On our boat, I cook and clean and tidy lines while my husband solves problems like taking apart the giant Harken winch because it wouldn’t hold a line yesterday without slipping. He hoisted the main this morning while I made tea. I was checking on the cats (to make sure they weren’t getting seasick in someone’s bed) when he unfurled the jib and wrapped the sheet on the now-working winch (which I watched him oil and reassemble so I can help with the other one). If I felt that this division of labor was somehow unjust or that I was missing out on some important part of our adventure, my perception might be colored by bitterness, but today I just felt thankful. I love my job: making people (and cats!) more comfortable on passages, thinking about safety and preventing disaster, keeping things orderly, and planning menus, routes, shoreside excursions, and homeschool lessons.

Homemade bread
Homemade bread

I suffer from occasional imposter syndrome. I am introduced on podcasts as a brave live-aboard sailor who boldly went over the edge of the horizon with my homeschooled kids in tow and lived to tell the tale in an award-winning book, all of which is technically true. But I am the first one to say that I am also a big chicken, closer to a trad-wife than a feminist, happiest on the days when I sit on the edge of the cockpit like “deck fluff” while we sail across sparkling seas. I would not be doing this without Jay, who grew up sailing, nor would I feel comfortable taking our boat out without him, though I do take watches at all hours. I consult him about almost every sailing or navigational decision I make. I feel silly saying I’m a sailor, even though I have been sailing for twenty years, and living aboard Take Two for fifteen. I have taken sailing classes, navigation classes (including celestial), safety-at-sea classes, and first aid classes, and read dozens of books (many by my sailing heroes Lin and Larry Pardy). I have experience in coastal cruising, offshore passages, rough weather, night sailing, crossing busy shipping channels, and piloting in uncharted waters. But I haven’t spent a lot of time on small boats, certainly not by myself, and I tend to think of myself more as a liveaboard boat-school mom than a sailor.

Tanya on Blue Bear 2006
Tanya at the helm of Blue Bear in 2004

When I explained to Jay how I felt about the boat, he pointed out that he has never taken it out without me, either. Yesterday, when he furled the Code Zero in the dark after we had to jibe the boat toward our destination, he had to rest from the physical and emotional exertion. We had a terrible time with that sail once on the way to Bonaire, and I’m sure he was having flashbacks. Everything was fine, but he just needed a moment to relax. While he was doing his thing, I went out on deck and re-rigged the line in case he wanted to use it again on the other side of the boat. I checked the lines for the jib to make sure they would run fair if he preferred to use that sail. When we got close to the spot where we would anchor for the night, I went forward and got our bridles rigged, checked the anchor and windlass, and got ready to drop the hook. While Jay turned upwind and lowered the mainsail, I paid out anchor chain and tied the bridles. We operated like a well-oiled machine. We have been sailing together for so long we don’t even need to communicate verbally. And this is where our strength lies—not in our ability to do the same jobs, or to do them independently, but to complement each other perfectly.

In some areas, we overlap. We both take watches at night. We both do sail changes, though often I take the helm while he raises or lowers the main because it is a hard job and he’s physically stronger than I am. We both clean things, though in different areas of the boat. We both sew things when necessary. In other areas, we operate completely separately, filling in gaps where the other lacks the skills or interest. He fixes anything having to do with electricity, plumbing, or engines. I fix anything having to do with food and drink. He works more than full-time running a business and providing for our family, and I run a household, homeschool kids, feed everyone, make sure we have clean laundry, and keep things tidy. This team approach, while old-fashioned, really makes sense to us. We can get so much done when we are both doing our jobs well. We can’t figure out why so many in our culture seem to be fighting for the same pair of pants: men and women are inherently different, have different skill sets and strengths and weaknesses. I’m not saying a different division of labor or reversal of traditional masculine or feminine roles can’t work, only that there are some underlying design features that hint at our differing capabilities.

Truth be told, I am very happy to be “First Mate” and not “Co-Captain,” but I feel like I have to apologize or explain why I’m happy to “settle” for this role. My generation was raised by liberated women; we were taught to think that we were like Ginger Rogers, a woman who could do everything Fred Astaire could do, only backwards and in high heels. I have a good education, I was a paid professional on a good career path, I had so much potential. And then I gave it all up to be a stay-at-home mom, to homeschool my kids, to play “second fiddle” to my hard-working husband. I have come to see that this is not the right perspective of “women’s work.” I chose to stay at home because I felt that institutions could not do as good a job as I could raising my kids. I chose to support Jay at home so he could support our family at work. I chose to go on an adventure with a person who grew up sailing, and I have tried to take an active role in all things boat-life, though it doesn’t always come naturally to me. I’ve been able to use my knack for writing to document it all and even publish a book. I don’t just like the balance we have in our partnership—I love it—and wouldn’t have it any other way.     

winch
Well-oiled machine?

Everglades Adventures

Alligator Port of the Islands
Regular visitor to our dock at Port of the Islands

We arrived at Port of the Islands last August, after a trip to the Dry Tortugas and a quick haulout in Key Largo, to get a change of scenery, find a safe place to wait out hurricane season, and be near family in Naples for some important events (graduations, weddings, birthdays).

Take Two at Port of the Islands 2
Take Two at Port of the Islands

That was seven months ago. Much has changed, and what started out as a temporary stay has started to feel semi-permanent. I took over management of much of my mom’s medical care, giving my brother and sister-in-law a much-needed break. She’s had three hospital stays since Christmas, and I’m glad I was only thirty minutes away. Jay’s dad has also been in the hospital and continues to have medical issues that make us feel like we need to be nearby—both to be helpful and to spend time with him.

St. Patty's Day at Skipper's
Family Dinner, St. Patty’s Day

My dad and his wife also live in town, and Jay’s mom and stepdad are only a few hours away, so this is a very convenient location. In addition, it gave Sarah a stable place from which to launch—she joined the Coast Guard in December and shipped out of Miami, only an hour and a half away. She’s now serving at her first station in Shinnecock, NY. We were able to go as a family to New Jersey to see her graduate and spend a day in Philadelphia sightseeing before flying home. Aaron got a job at Mercedes-Benz and moved back to Naples at the end of February and is sharing a rental with Eli and one of their cousins. I never expected to be here so long, but I’ve been grateful for the family time. When we’re not out seeking adventure, we take the adventures that come to us!

Sarah, graduation USCG basic training
Sarah’s Graduation from USCG Basic Training, Cape May, NJ

We have used the opportunity to do an in-depth, interdisciplinary, homeschool unit on the Florida Everglades*, getting outdoors as much as the weather (and the bugs!) allow. My brother and his wife, who live about thirty minutes from our marina, have ten kids, ranging in age from five to twenty-three (all of whom are/were homeschooled; the oldest graduates from college this spring). My sister-and-law and I tried to plan one field trip every week and it’s been fun to go exploring as a group.

Everglades National Park Shark Valley Tower View
Moms and Kids at the Shark Valley Observation Tower, Everglades National Park

My favorite field trip so far was the wet walk at the Swamp Celebration at Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery. Our introduction to Big Cypress National Preserve was at the Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor’s Center, about fifteen minutes east of Port of the Islands, where we saw a video about the ecology of the cypress swamp. In the video, a group of school students is on a tour with a biologist, wading through chest deep water. My six-year-old nephew was sitting next to me in the dark, and whispered, “I want to do that!” I became determined to figure out how to make that dream a reality.

Big Cypress National Preserve 3
Big Cypress National Preserve, Loop Road

While visiting the Clyde Butcher gallery on another field trip, I asked how we could get out into the swamp, and they helped me make a reservation for their event in October. It was a perfect Florida fall day—the weather was warm, the water cool, and the sky a cloudless blue. We packed a picnic and headed east on 41. We received the VIP treatment, and our group (me with Rachel and Sam and my brother and his wife with five of their kids) spent an hour and a half hiking through the Cypress swamp ecosystem in surprisingly clear water, learning about flora and fauna from a very knowledgeable and engaging naturalist. On the way home, we stopped at the Kirby Storter boardwalk and got to see a mama alligator and a dozen babies. I hope it was as unforgettable for the kids as it was for me.

Swamp Walk at Clyde Butcher Big Cypress 2
Swamp Celebration, Wet Walk at Clyde Butcher Big Cypress Gallery

The first week of April marks sixteen years since we bought Take Two. As long-term liveaboard sailors, there have been times we felt a little “stuck,” like when we had a newborn, or when we were doing major repairs, or when the weather just didn’t cooperate with our travel plans. For the last few years, we’ve had teenagers who needed some stability, a boat that needed a lot of work, and aging parents who needed help and companionship. Taking the long view, we know that we will eventually travel again, but we may have to settle for short sailing trips or land-based adventures until we’re in a different season of life. When we can’t control the circumstances, we can control our response to them, and make the most of the place we find ourselves.

Dirty Jeep
Jay and Eli getting Sarah’s Jeep muddy in the Picayune Strand State Forest

*Here’s a list of the field trips:

1. Ten Thousand Islands–Port of the Islands (boat tours, kayaking, manatees, alligators), Marsh Trail (wading birds, birds of prey), Collier-Seminole Sate Park (historic walking dredge display and hiking trails), Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center, Marco Island Historical Museum

2. Everglades City—Museum of the Everglades (history of the area), Smallwood Store in Chokoloskee (historic general store), Earnest Hamilton Observation Tower

3. Everglades National Park—Shark Valley Tram Ride/Bicycle Trail and Observation Tower

4. Big Cypress National Preserve—Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor’s Center, Ochopee Post Office (smallest post office), Loop Road, Skunk Ape Headquarters, Kirby Storter Roadside Park (boardwalk)

5. Immokalee—Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Robert’s Ranch, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Rearview Mirror

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau 

Road Trip Self Portrait
Road-trip Self-portrait, 2018

In the process of doing my annual clean-out and goal-setting, I found a half-filled journal from 2007. It is rare that I would leave blank pages in a journal—I fill at least one each year—but this one was large, and since we moved aboard during its short lifetime, it got placed on the only shelf it fit on, then forgotten in the whirlwind of cleaning and fixing and learning to sail with four small children. I’ve moved it to clean the shelf several times, but it always got put back, “out of sight, out of mind.” Like the wooden box that holds my unused sextant, it hasn’t been opened in years. When I finally blew the dust off and looked inside, I found a time capsule from my life before Take Two. These are the words I read (edited for brevity):

“November 4, 2007

It’s been a year since Katie Rose sailed away, and I’m still whining about it. I hate regret. It is one of my greatest fears that I will die with regret, not having lived the life I desired to live, not having lived fully, but merely “existed.”

The morning of the St. Pete boat show last November, I stood in the shower and cried. Whatever excuses we used for not risking it all and buying that boat, I know in my heart that it was our destiny and we—at least the “I” part of “we”—chickened out. But thank God for his grace! So many times when I have screwed up, he’s given me a second chance, a replay, another opportunity to get it right. Will he do the same this time? What if our literal ship never comes in?

In any case, as I tell myself again and again, even if we never set sail, our lives will have been better for having dreamt and attempted to make the dream happen. We have made progress: our vision for our boat and our journey has crystallized. We know more and more clearly what we want in a boat, so we will recognize her when we meet her. We’ve realized that family size isn’t really the limiting factor; when Sam came along, it changed nothing, and that was a huge relief. We have changed our diet and lifestyle drastically so that a transition to living aboard as a family will be easier. We continue to simplify.

I am asking new questions: what are the next steps? Are there sacrifices we could be making, but aren’t? What in our characters needs to be refined so we will be ready? How are we to live in the waiting time—so that we are neither regretting the past nor pining for the future, but simply enjoying the part of life we’re in now? What does it mean to be content but also to never give up dreaming?

For now, while we wait for who-knows-what, we’ll continue to get an education in all things dream-sustaining, reading up on survival-at-sea, weather patterns, diesel engine repair, food preservation and storage, homeschooling, world cruising routes, and sailing adventure stories to inspire us.

Our sense of urgency is mounting, so it is a struggle to remain patient. I want to go before it is “too late.” The fear of financial downturns, destruction of wilderness, political instability at home or in other countries, the rapid growth of our children, and the unstoppable clock and approach of middle age—these are the things that drive us onward and say, “Go! Go now! Sell everything you don’t need, throw off all encumbrances, and go! Be free!”

Perhaps that’s where this begins and ends: I want to go to be more free. But, in a sense, I must be free in order to go. Free of fear—of what other people think, of discomfort, of feeling out of control, of failure. For me, that kind of freedom comes from knowing and loving God, and being loved and accepted by him, and in a sense, made invincible by his love. While we wait, we must become good at praying—asking, seeking, and knocking—until heaven answers with peace, love, joy, and divine freedom. Let me be completely free, Lord, from fear that holds me back, from the pits I dig for myself and fall into, from fretting over the past, complaining about the present, or worrying about the future. I want to be free to enjoy my life so that I will be content no matter what happens, whether we stay or go, and that I will rest easy in the life I’m in now while I wait and work for whatever comes next.

Katie Rose the boat we almost bought
The one that got away

A mere month after I wrote that entry, we drove to Fort Lauderdale to look at a 48’ custom wooden catamaran called Take Two, a boat aptly named, as it was to be our second chance at success. That was sixteen years ago, and these thoughts, now in the rearview mirror, still resonate. I still want to live in contentment now while pursuing dreams for the future. I still want to live free from fear, full of joy and hope. I still want to learn and grow and try new things. I still ask big questions and pray big prayers.

But one thing has changed: I no longer fear death-bed regrets. I have gone confidently in the direction of my dreams; I have lived the life I imagined. We not only raised our kids aboard and traveled adventurously, but we even told our story and inspired others to boldly go. And we’re not done yet! There are new dreams, new goals, and new fears to be conquered. What I have learned since I wrote this journal entry is that the remedy for regret is living with intention, moving forward even if it’s just baby-steps, course-correcting when you get off-track, and offering yourself grace when you fail, and, most importantly, never giving up. Even if you never reach your original destination (we had once dreamed of circumnavigating), you will look back at the journey with satisfaction and know that every effort was worthwhile.

My new year’s resolutions this year look a little different. Rather than making a vision board, or creating a Happiness Project (a la Gretchen Rubin), both of which have helped me achieve goals in the past, this year I wrote down the things I want most out of life, the whys behind my goal-setting. I am assessing whether my daily activities line up with what I say I want—for example, if I say I want to keep writing and finish the books I’ve started, am I using my time wisely or wasting it? If I say I want to be healthy (mind-body-spirit), am I eating the way I should? Exercising regularly? Taking the time to fill my cup so I can give out of the overflow? If I want to love well, am I spending my time and energy serving others? If I want to leave a legacy, am I living now so that I will look back with satisfaction? If I want to live adventurously, am I choosing the safe path, or continuing to challenge myself? Like Paul urged in his letter to the church in Ephesus, ultimately, I want to “live a life worthy of the calling I have received” (Ephesians 4:1). Since none of us knows our departure date, I want to live every day as if it were my last, a day without regret.

Family on Blue Bear
Our family of six aboard Blue Bear (a Ranger 22) in 2007, the year we found Take Two

Graduate-Level Gratitude

“Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it’s kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life. No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.” —Rick Warren

Thanksgiving Centerpiece
Thanksgiving centerpiece aboard Take Two

I have written several Thanksgiving posts for this blog over the years but this November I want to explore a whole new level of gratitude because I have noticed a seasonal shift in my life; we have entered a time of “goodbyes” as we send our kids out into the world, grieve the loss of one of our parents (Jay’s stepmom Mary last fall), and see the inevitable decline that aging brings. While I am grateful for all our travels and the memories we’ve made, I am also seeing the blessing in our return, in re-engaging in a community onshore, and in weathering the losses that this stage of life invariably brings with it.

I heard a sermon on gratitude many years ago that I have never forgotten (Randy Pope preaching at Perimeter Church in Atlanta). He talked about the three levels of gratitude: basic, when you are thankful for the obvious blessings in your life; next-level, when you find ways to be grateful in the middle of difficult circumstances (the “silver linings” to big, dark clouds); and graduate-level, when you are thankful for the hard things, not just despite them. This kind of thanksgiving is only possible if you let go of your preconceived notions of “good” and “bad” and trust God to decide what’s “best” in the long-term, then thank Him for it, even if it hurts in the moment. Think of the pleasant things in life that seem “good” at the time, but have negative consequences, and all the “bad” or difficult things that later have happy outcomes. My trust in an omniscient and omnipresent God, outside of time and above circumstance, allows me to let go of expectations, be grateful in the moment, and find hope in the middle of hardship.

An extreme example of this kind of gratitude can be found in Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, in which she documents her family’s experiences in the Netherlands during WWII. After the Nazis invaded her country, her family hid Jews in a secret room in their home and helped smuggle them to safety. After the family was caught, all the members were sent to concentration camps to suffer alongside the people they were trying to save (only Corrie survived). She and her sister Betsie were sent to several camps but ended up at Ravensbrück, where the living quarters were infested with fleas and lice. Her sister insisted that they thank God for their new residence, and though Corrie balked at the idea at first, she reluctantly prayed with her sister. They held illicit Bible studies and worship services using a smuggled Bible wherever they went, offering comfort and encouragement in dark and difficult places, and because their new barracks were pest-infested, the guards would not come in to stop them, allowing Corrie to see they were blessed because of the unpleasant circumstances.

Counting my own blessings, I am so grateful for our health, our family, and our relative comfort in a world full of conflict, pain, and suffering. I feel especially thankful that we were able to take the buddy-boat sailing trip in August, with Jay’s dad and Eli meeting us in the Dry Tortugas on Lovely Cruise; we made happy memories that are worth more than any “thing” I can think of.

Crew of Lovely Cruise
“Skipper,” Eli, and Bailey aboard Lovely Cruise

I feel grateful that we found a spot at a good marina, made new friends, and were able to be close to family for the last few months (not to mention making it through another hurricane season without incident.) I’m thankful we got to be present for Aaron’s graduation from Universal Technical Institute, my nephew Toby’s wedding, Sam’s driving test for his license, Eli’s first successful Jiu Jitsu competition, Sarah’s swearing-in at the Coast Guard, Jay’s dad’s 75th birthday party, and all the fun homeschool field trips in the Everglades with Rachel and her cousins (my brother’s family).

Aaron's Graduation 2
Aaron graduating with flying colors (Automotive Technology and Ford FACT program, heading to Mercedes Benz)

But there have been some hard things this year, too. While we were on our sailing trip in August, our close friends in the Keys, the Segards, lost their thirteen-year-old son Ben in a freediving accident. Our kids grew up with Ben and his sisters, and his loss has impacted everyone in our family and in our tight-knit homeschool community. Despite our hectic schedule (including sailing back from the Dry Tortugas, hauling out and painting the bottom of Take Two in Key Largo, relocating our family and vehicles, and moving Take Two to a new marina in southwest Florida) we were able to make it back to Marathon for Ben’s celebration of life. It was so good to be with all our friends at this tough time—a shared grief is more easily borne. There was so much love and gratitude for Ben’s life that I felt a deep joy alongside the sadness. The blessings of these friendships, for which I have always felt grateful, are even more evident when things get hard. We have a “home” in the Keys, even though we have a transient lifestyle, something I do not take for granted. 

Driftwood castle 2015
Homeschool friends in the Keys, 2015 (Ben Segard in the middle in red shirt/white cap)

And while I have always been a person who appreciates “silver linings,” this past year has taught me graduate-level gratitude as well. I never thought I would say that I was thankful for a hurricane, or a death, but this time last year, I was grateful for both. My son Eli was made homeless by Hurricane Ian just weeks before the passing of Mary at hospice after unsuccessful treatment for pancreatic cancer. This confluence of events led to my father-in-law asking Eli to come live with him for a few months while Eli’s rental was being repaired. Not only was my son shown love in a practical way, but his “Skipper” was not alone during the first few months after the loss of his wife. Of course, I didn’t want Mary to die—and I miss her terribly—but witnessing her dying at peace with her Maker, surrounded by loving family and friends, and without further suffering, made me thankful in a whole new way. I don’t always understand the “whys” of life’s absurdities, but I have definitely experienced the “who” in a difficult time. The twenty-third Psalm says that God is a good shepherd who walks with us whether we are in green pastures beside still waters or in the valley of the shadow of death, and I now have a tangible sense of that presence.

Mary's Roses
Life goes on: Mary’s roses are still blooming

The joy and gratitude I felt at that time has stayed with me ever since; every breath now seems like a miracle, and I have a new appreciation for life in all its highs and lows, which seem to run concurrently. We have just canceled our traditional Thanksgiving buddy-boat cruise to Cayo Costa State Park because Jay’s dad is now experiencing some serious health problems, but I know there is a Bigger Plan than mine. I feel thankful that he’s getting the care he needs, that Jay’s brother’s family will be here next week, and that we have a place for the family to gather for a holiday before Sarah leaves home in a few weeks. I feel grateful that a slip opened up at our marina so that we can keep the boat nearby a little longer, especially so we can spend time with our parents, all of whom have challenges at this stage of life. I’m still hoping we can go sailing this winter with Sam and Rachel, but I have learned that surrendering what I want allows me to receive unexpected gifts, that suffering puts everything into perspective, and that love’s light shines brighter in the dark. Whether you find yourself on a mountain, in a valley, or along the railroad tracks of life, the crew of Take Two wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Family at cousin's wedding
Family all together at cousin’s wedding

The Prison Cell of Dr. Mudd

Take Two and Lovely Cruise (with Eli and Skipper aboard) spent a week at Dry Tortugas National Park, anchored near Fort Jefferson, a Civil War-Era Brick fort about 70 miles west of Key West. It was used as a prison, and this is an essay about its most famous prisoner.

Fort Jefferson 1
Eli, Sam, Rachel, and Sarah at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas NP


On April 14, 1865, during a play at Ford’s Theatre, John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincon in the head. Did anyone conspire with Booth in the assassination plot? Perhaps we will never know for sure, but he certainly had help afterward. After firing his gun, Booth jumped off the balcony and broke his leg. He got away and ran to the house of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who set his leg and let him rest. Booth snuck away in the early hours of the morning with his friend David Herald but when federal agents searched for Booth at Mudd’s house, he said he did not know who or where Booth was, though it has been established that the two men knew each other from previous meetings. When they found Booth and Herald in a barn at Garret’s farm, Herald surrendered but Booth resisted arrest, so they set fire to the barn and later shot Booth, killing him and destroying any chance of finding out his secrets.

Back in Washington D.C., eight conspirators, people who knew Booth or had helped him in some way, were questioned and tried in a military court. They were all found guilty and four were hanged, including the first woman ever to be executed in the United States. Four were sent to prison and one escaped. Dr. Mudd was given a life sentence to be carried out at Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas. Mudd ended up only serving four years because he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1869, after heroically treating patients during a severe yellow fever outbreak at the fort. When visiting Dry Tortugas National Park, you can still see the cell of Samuel A. Mudd, the famous doctor who set the leg of the man who killed the 16th president of the United States of America.

Dr. Mudd's Cell
Rachel, standing in Dr. Mudd’s prison cell
Dr. Mudd's Cell 2
More information about Dr. Mudd
Fort Jefferson 3
View of the fort from the top of the walls
Fort Jefferson 2
View from inside the fort
Moat Fort Jefferson
View of the moat, Fort Jefferson
Take Two anchored at Fort Jefferson 2
Take Two at Fort Jefferson
Lovely Cruise and Sea Plane
Lovely Cruise anchored near where the sea planes take off and land

One Bite at a Time

This month marks four years since we returned to the Florida Keys from our circle of the Caribbean. Had you told me in July of 2019 that we would still be in Marathon in 2023, I would have laughed, and then promptly turned the boat around. We didn’t buy this boat to sit in one place; at the same time, we recognize that there are seasons of life when you need to hold still. Shortly after arrival, Jay and I went on a date to the Barracuda Grill, a place we enjoy, not just for the good food, but, oddly enough, for the paper-covered tablecloths. When you walk in, the host hands you a menu and a pack of crayons at the door and then you can go to town making table graffiti or sketching out life plans while you wait for your appetizers.

We were feeling overwhelmed with the decisions facing us. We had just accomplished a major life goal (to go cruising with our kids in the Caribbean), but we had teenagers and aging parents with needs that superseded our desire to keep traveling. So we sat with our crayons in three colors and sketched out what we thought the next few years might hold, and what direction we might head.

Take Two in Boot Key Harbor
Take Two in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida Keys, July 2019

The questions: Where should we settle to give the kids some consistency and the teenagers a stable platform from which to launch? Do we need to be geographically closer to our parents? How are we going to afford groceries? (After living in Central America for two years, coming back to Florida instantly doubled our grocery bill.) What are our family goals, career goals, and personal goals? We wrote them down in three color-coded columns: One Year, Five Years, Ten Years.

With Eli turning 18 later that month, we knew he would probably be out of the house by the end of one year. Aaron, almost 17, and Sarah, having just turned 15, would be independent at the end of five years. All three would need their drivers’ licenses and we would want to find another vehicle or three. They also had education goals beyond our homeschool that would demand immediate attention to take advantage of Florida’s free dual enrollment program at the College of the Florida Keys. Sam and Rachel would need a homeschool community and activities to find new friends. Jay needed to rebuild his consulting career in the short term, but for the long haul, he wanted to grow his side business so that it provided recurring income to set him free from the “time-is-money” model. In addition to homeschooling the kids, I wanted to write and publish a book.

Crew today: Rachel (8), Sarah (15), Aaron (17), Sam (13), Eli (18)
The Crew in 2019

Our boat needed some immediate repairs, but there were other projects we had been putting off, like repairing and repainting decks, redoing the water tanks, upgrading the galley, and buying new sails, which would take longer than one year to complete. Our parents, in their seventies, would be needing more support from family, and we wanted to make some memories with them before we had to address end-of-life issues. At the same time, we didn’t want to abandon travel, so we wrote down “sail to the Bahamas” and “family road trip out west.” All of these goals went onto the one-five-ten chart on the tabletop. By the end of the evening, we had visualized a few possible scenarios for the foreseeable future.

Galley (refit 2020)
Galley Refit of Take Two, 2020

And here we find ourselves, four years into our mid-term plans. So, how did we do? In the first year, we settled in Marathon, reconnected with old friends, and rebooted Jay’s career. Our teenagers got drivers’ licenses, jobs, and started college classes. Our oldest son, Eli, finished high school during the pandemic, got his AA degree, and took flying lessons. He bought his own truck, and made an exit plan. We replaced the galley appliances and countertops in a 2020 galley refit, and even squeezed in a Thanksgiving/Christmas buddy-boating cruise with Jay’s parents before Eli left for a job at my brother’s painting company and a rental home with his cousins on the mainland.

Eli painting
Eli, heading to work 2020

Aaron graduated high school a year later, about halfway through an AA degree before deciding he wanted to go to technical school. He acquired a mid-90s Ford F150 that he slowly rebuilt, buying parts with his employee discount at Advance Auto Parts. He moved to Orlando and now works at Sunbelt rentals, where he occasionally gets to work on heavy equipment. He will graduate this August and then head to Jacksonville to train and work for Mercedes Benz for a couple of years. He’s very happy with the choices he’s made and we are pleased to see him fulfilling his own short- and long-term goals.

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Aaron working at Sunbelt Rentals 2022

We took an 8000-mile road trip with the three youngest kids in 2021, one I had always dreamed about, allowing us to hike the Grand Canyon, all five National Parks in Utah, and Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as doing some spring skiing in western powder, catching up with old friends along the way, and even seeing springtime in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the way back to Florida.

Arizona painted desert
Tanya with Sarah, Sam, and Rachel at Petrified Forest National Park, the Painted Desert, 2021

Sarah spent six months at a dude ranch in Colorado before graduating in December of 2022—receiving her high school diploma and AA degree simultaneously. She bought a 1997 Jeep Wrangler which she works on herself, and had a job helping a fellow homeschool family successfully open an ice cream shop. She’s considering joining the Coast Guard, which will help her further her career and education goals, and likely take her back out on the water.

Sarah graduation with hat
Sarah’s graduation, homeschool and CFK, 2022

Sam and Rachel are still homeschooling, pursuing their own activities like competitive Jiu Jitsu and dance, and enjoying time with friends in the Keys. Sam just returned from a mission trip to Cuba, where he had an opportunity to use the Spanish he learned in Central America. We’re watching him grow from a boy to a man; he’s now almost as tall as Jay. By the end of our ten-year goal post, our sailing crew will have shrunk from seven to three, and, for the first time, we will have empty cabins on Take Two.

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Sam at the New Breed Jiu Jitsu Competition, 2023
Rachel dance May 2023
Rachel at her Acro-Dance recital photo shoot, 2023

After Jay rebuilt his consulting career, he decided to take a break to make his side business his main gig, something he hopes will help us plan for further travels and, if we’re lucky, retirement. I wrote and published my first book, and am about 25% into a second manuscript, with a third outlined and ready when the next book is finished. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Greece last year, a trip of a lifetime.

First Books
The first box of books, Leaving the Safe Harbor, 2021

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Jay and Tanya in Front of the Parthenon, August 2022

Take Two is doing well, too, with new galley appliances and countertops, new starboard water tanks, repaired bulkheads in the starboard head, repaired and repainted cabin top, and deck work in progress. The dinghy got a new electric winch to make lifting it easier, and discussions about going sailing have started up again, with a trip to the Dry Tortugas planned for this summer, Lord willing and barring hurricanes.

Water Tank After 7
Rebuilt water tanks, starboard side, 2022

As we suspected, our parents are happy to have us closer for this stage of life. I am so happy I got to spend the last year of Mary’s life making good memories with her, and that I was there to hold her hand at the end of her journey last October. My mom also had a medical emergency last year which prompted some changes to her living situation, and I’ve been glad I could just hop in the car, drive over a few bridges and across the Everglades to be there when I’m needed to help out and spend time with family. And I’m always relieved to return to our little island home, just far enough from civilization, but not too far. We have a wonderful community of friends around us, and we are seeing the benefits of our intentional dreaming and scheming, with the one-year goals checked off, the five-year goals almost complete, and the ten-year goals a little clearer. It reminds me of the saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…”

Sam sanding
Sam Working on the Deck of Take Two, 2023

Love at First Sight

Fifteen years ago (December 8, 2007), our family drove to Ft. Lauderdale to look at a catamaran called Take Two. Sometimes when opportunity knocks, you chicken out (we almost bought a monohull called Katie Rose), but, if you’re very fortunate, it may knock twice and give you a second chance. When we found Take Two, we just knew she would be ours and that our lives would never be the same. The following is an excerpt about finding our floating home from Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat, available here or wherever books are sold.

First look at Take Two Dec 8 2007 2

“Losing Katie Rose had taught us that regret feels worse than fear, and meeting the Tuckers showed us what was possible with a large family with young children. Our kids were growing fast, and we didn’t want to miss the chance to travel with them while we worked through a slow, multi-step process. No matter how much practice we had on small boats in inland waterways, no matter how many baby-steps we took, there would still come the unavoidable moment when we would need to actually buy a blue water boat in order to take our family out sailing on the unforgiving ocean. Regardless of preparation, that would still feel like a sink-or-swim moment. We wouldn’t know whether we were ready, or capable, or even whether we would enjoy it, until we tried. And not trying would mean always wondering, and possibly regretting. With crystalline determination, we decided to skip the baby-steps and take a giant leap. We began looking for a liveaboard boat, opening up the search to catamarans. Though we knew a multihull might be more expensive than a monohull of similar length, it would provide enough space for our growing family and maybe even satisfy my husband’s desire to go fast.  

“That is why I got so excited when, several months later, Jay came home from a week-long business trip and announced, ‘I think I found the boat.’ Not a boat, but the boat. He opened his computer to show me and, at least on the listing, Take Two looked perfect. She had four cabins with double beds, a spacious interior, an enclosed cockpit (safer with small children), inboard engines with prop shafts, a generator and watermaker, and beautiful lines. She ticked off so many of our boxes and looked so attractive that we felt that we should pursue the next steps, ready or not. We knew the cost of hesitation and didn’t want to end up like so many other planners, armchair sailors, and readers-of-adventures.

“All the same, we were naturally a little nervous about buying a large, custom-built wooden catamaran, built in Europe in the nineties, which had sat unwanted in Florida for three years, sustained some damage in a hurricane, and cost more than our first house. It was a risk against which we could not measure the benefits. What if it cost too much to fix? What if we hated living on the boat? What if we changed our minds and then couldn’t sell it? But then, what if it was wonderful? What if this boat was the answer to our hopes and prayers? What if this was a second chance at adventure—the boat’s name was Take Two, after all!

“We reminded ourselves that we weren’t committing to anything yet. We didn’t have to buy a boat, just go look at a boat. Anyone can get in their car and drive to Ft. Lauderdale—it doesn’t take much courage to do that! We buckled our four little people into their car seats and drove our van across “Alligator Alley” between Naples and Fort Lauderdale. We invited Jay’s dad and stepmom, Al and Mary, who were also boat-owners, to come along and give us their opinion.

“Looking at Take Two was like falling in love—sometimes you just know it’s the right one. All the things that had scared other buyers away excited us. She was custom-built, cold-molded marine plywood and epoxy. The designer, Dirk Kremer, had thought of everything; lots of built-in storage, a roomy galley in the main cabin, an enclosed cockpit with lots of seating. But, unlike a name-brand production boat, there would be no manual, no warrantees, and no company support. Parts would have to be special-ordered or manufactured. The electrical system was European, fifty-hertz, and needed upgrading. In fact, everything needed upgrading—it would be a labor of love, but if we took on the project, it was an opportunity to make the boat our own. Her bones were good, her lines sleek, and the space was perfect for a large family. It was as if she had been built just for us.

“While Jay was lifting every hatch and discussing systems with Al and Mary, I was corralling three excited kids while holding a baby. To them, the boat was just a new playground. After a while, I gathered them up and climbed off the boat so the adults could get down to business. At last, Jay climbed off the boat and I asked if he could watch the kids so I could have some time to look around all by myself. The next twenty minutes would likely change my life. I walked slowly around the boat, imagining what it would look like if we lived there. I climbed up into what could someday be our bunk and just lay still for a while. Even at the dock, I could feel the boat swaying beneath me. Does a person get tired of moving all the time? I wondered. I couldn’t answer that question, nor any of a dozen others. Soon it was time to get into the car and drive back to Clearwater. It turns out that just looking can be dangerous; we found ourselves buzzing with excitement on the drive home as we contemplated the next risky step.

“There was unanimous agreement about, and enthusiasm for, Take Two. She would need an out-of-the-water survey and a sea trial to tell us if she was sound, but we knew we liked her, and we felt that we could be happy living aboard. She was spacious, without the space being wasteful; she looked fast, but comfortable; and she came equipped to sail across oceans, a real blue water boat. To be fair, the kids didn’t really know what they were signing up for—they thought the boat was a new jungle gym, and they imagined that they were heading out to sea like a band of pirates. What little kid wouldn’t be enthusiastic? Jay’s parents approved, too. But there were risks—the boat would be hard to sell if we changed our minds. There would be no turning back. Added to the fear of the unknown, there were the known fears, like bad weather, endless repairs, and seasickness. Before we could even buy the boat, there would be questions to answer…” –Chapter 3: Sink or Swim

Fair Winds and Following Seas

In Loving Memory of Mary Tanner Hackney 12/13/62 – 10/12/22

Mary and Bailey
Mary and Bailey (Naples, FL July 2022)

Mary, Jay’s stepmom, has been an important part of our lives for over 30 years and joined us on our sailing adventure many times. She and Jay used to crew on race boats in Naples, Florida when we were teenagers. She and Al took us on our first cruise to the Florida Keys on their catamaran when we were newlyweds in 1998. We sought her and Al’s advice when we took them with us to see Take Two for the first time in Fort Lauderdale in December of 2007. They have buddy-boated with us over the years, meeting us in their own boat in the Bahamas and Florida. We spent time with them when we sailed to Panama in 2017, where they had a house, and Mary was always up for flying wherever Take Two traveled and spending a week in an exotic location. So it is with a heavy heart that I share that she passed away last week. I spent the last days of her life at her bedside, keeping the night watch while other family and friends kept the day watch. Her last passage was a peaceful and joyful one. She lived life to the full and I feel so thankful for all the memories we made. Her obituary is posted below.

Buddy Boats
Thanksgiving buddy-boat trip, Take Two and Lovely Cruise in Pelican Bay (Charlotte Harbor, FL, 2020)

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

–Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church (Chapter 4, verses 13-14)

Mary went bravely and joyfully to be with her Father in heaven on Wednesday, October 12 in the care of Avow Hospice in Naples, Florida, after a bout with pancreatic cancer. She spent her last days surrounded by loving family and friends, hearing words of peace, joy, and gratitude. She was herself to the very end, making jokes with the nurses and smiling when words failed.

Mary worked as a flight attendant for Allegiant Airlines. She is survived by her husband Alfred Hackney II, her sister Susane Brown, and her two stepsons Jay and Jeff Hackney.

Mary was a lifelong learner, an avid reader, a Spanish speaker, a Chartered Financial Analyst, a pilot, a sailor, a Toastmaster, a Kon-Mari consultant, and a world traveler. She was a recovering alcoholic with 25 years of sobriety and a mentor and sponsor to many, a loving wife of 33 years, a friend to nearly everyone she met, and an “adventure grandma” to her stepsons’ children. Her shi-poo Bailey and cat Charlie will miss her dearly. The depth of our sadness at her passing is a testimony to the love we bore her, to her open and outgoing personality, and to her generous investment in relationships.

Mary wished to be cremated and there will be no public service at this time. The 1281 LLC will host a celebration of Mary’s life on December 10th.                                    

If you wish to honor Mary, please consider making a donation to:

Avow Hospice

1095 Whippoorwill Lane

Naples, FL 34105

www.avowcares.org

OR

Grace Center Foundation

P.O. Box 112692

Naples, FL 34108

www.gracecenterfoundation.org 

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Mary with the crew of Take Two (Puerto Rico, 2016)
Panama 2017
Mary and Al with Eli and Sam (Bocas del Toro Panama, 2017)
Mary, Adventure Grandma
Mary visiting Take Two at Stingray City (Grand Cayman, 2018)
Bike Selfie
Mary with Tanya and Rachel on marina bikes during the Thanksgiving buddy boat trip (Punta Gorda, FL, 2020)
Colorado Trip
Trail Ridge Road with Tanya and Sarah, Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado, 2022)
Mary and Al Alaska
Mary and Al (Alaska, 2022)

Tweasure Your Wuv

“Mawage is wot bwings us togevvah today. Mawage, that bwessed awangement, that dweam within a dweam…”—the Impressive Clergyman (Peter Cook) in The Princess Bride

Jay and Tanya's Wedding 8/2/97

This August, Jay and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. While we try to do something special every year commemorate the beginning of Us, this feels like a milestone. I know it’s only silver, half-way to the golden 50th, but these days, that’s a big deal. And whether due to death or dysfunction, neither our parents nor our grandparents made it to the golden anniversary and so we’re even more determined to keep going!

Recently, I have been contemplating what this relationship means to me. I watched a young couple get married on a quiet beach one morning in June. It was just the two of them, barefoot, with an officiant and a photographer for a witness. I was remembering my own wedding, the promises we made before we knew what they meant, the giddy feeling that is equal parts joy and terror, and how far we’ve come in the intervening years. What we did with our family—leaving the beaten track to follow our dreams and live an adventurous life—would not have been possible without the stability our marriage, the partnership based in love, teamwork, good communication, and hard-won problem-solving strategies. What is this “dream within a dream” we call marriage, and why is it worth fighting for? Though the global divorce rate hovers around 50%, we all know that a good marriage is more than a flip of a coin. These are my reflections after spending a quarter of a century with the same person.

  • The promise I made on my wedding day was not only to Jay, but also to God. Marriage is not merely a contract between two people, but a covenant made before and with the Creator. It is a promise to stick it out and treat each other with love and respect regardless of changing circumstances, and not merely a legal arrangement between two people that can be easily broken when one person doesn’t uphold their end of the deal.
  • Because we have children, this covenant involves them, too. By promising to work out our difficulties and stay together, we provide stability for our family. We are also setting an example, and we want our kids to be in relationships where mutual respect is the norm, where they feel safe to be themselves, and where conflict can be resolved.
  • The benefits of staying are things you can only learn by staying. Romance is magical, honeymoons are wonderful, and early marriage is full of both mountains and valleys, but “middle marriage” is when maturity happens, when (ideally) you have stopped trying to change your partner, stopped expecting the impossible, and have even begun to appreciate the things about him or her that you might have complained about at the beginning of the marriage.
  • Love is not just a feeling, it’s also a choice. We may describe love as something we can fall in or out of, like an accident, but the kind of love that makes a marriage work is purposeful. It involves a lot of hard work and forgiveness. Unconditional love is demonstrated only when challenges are faced, when potential conditions present themselves. Sometimes, love is how you act toward another person despite the way you feel at the moment.
  • Sex is important, but it’s not everything. Our culture celebrates sex before marriage and makes fun of sex after marriage. But a good sex life in a committed relationship is a rare and beautiful thing. It can promote bonding, build trust and communication, encourage selflessness, add fun and pleasure, prevent infidelity, and create new life. Over a lifetime, a couple’s sex life will go through many transitions, but if intimacy and communication are at the center of the relationship, sex complements the emotional bond, but doesn’t make or break it.
  • Love is like your favorite pair of old shoes. At this point, our relationship is comfortable. We have begun to take our marriage for granted and can finish each other’s sentences. But comfort can lead to complacency, so we still have to do the little things that say “I love you.” We need to take care of the old shoes so they last a long time.  
  • Love never fails. That’s what it says next to the date engraved on the inside of the gold wedding rings we exchanged. And I still believe it. I may fail, Jay may fail, but love itself—the Eternal Source of love, the power of love, the feelings that follow the choices to love—these things do not fail. When we pick ourselves up after a failure and try again, we witness the power of this kind of love that doesn’t quit or walk out. It is, perhaps, the best demonstration of the gospel: we have a God who loves his people unconditionally, a God who forgives, a God who is faithful. The fact that we survived and stayed happily married despite raising five kids on a boat is a modern-day miracle! By the grace of God, we still love each other.

I read a book with a group of friends this year by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? His observations are timely and echo my own sentiments: “I love marriage, and I love my marriage. I love the fun parts, the easy parts, and the pleasurable parts, but also the difficult parts—the parts that frustrate me but help me understand myself and my spouse on a deeper level; the parts that are painful but that crucify the aspects of me that I hate; the parts that force me to my knees and teach me that I need to learn to love with God’s love instead of just trying harder. Marriage has led me to deeper levels of understanding, more pronounced worship, and a sense of fellowship that I never knew existed.”

I don’t know what curve balls the next few years will throw at us, but because our love is based on something transcendent, something that lasts even after we are gone, we face the future with optimism and hope. In the immortal words of Westley (Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride), “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for awhile.”

Click here to listen to an interview with Elise Peck on her podcast about how a stable love relationship helped us fulfill our dreams, break negative patterns, and stay in love in different seasons of life.

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Jay and Tanya in Santorini for their 25th wedding anniversary

Return to the Safe Harbor

Take Two on Passage to Florida

Three years ago this week, we returned to Florida after a 5000-mile circle of the Caribbean. We have never stayed in one place so long, and due to my incurable wanderlust, I am itching to go cruising again. We came back to the U.S. to pursue some important goals–many of which have been crossed off our list. Our three oldest kids completed two years each of college, and have their own vehicles, jobs, activities, and plans for the future. Jay rebooted his career. I published a book. Sam competed in his first Jiu Jitsu tournaments. Rachel participated in her first dance recitals. We’re taking care of some much-needed boat projects. We took an epic road trip. We adopted kittens. We have gotten to see our families a lot more than we did while traveling, even though we miss sailing and island-hopping.

The emotions I feel when I see this picture from three years ago are not merely nostalgia and longing, but also deep gratitude and a sense of accomplishment. We did it! When we were teenagers, we dreamed a dream that we never gave up on. We left a comfortable life in suburbia for a harder, but more rewarding, life on a boat. We have paid the price and also reaped the rewards of that choice. We homeschooled our kids, we learned new languages, we made friends from all over the world. We saw the incredible beauty and diversity of nature. That we were able to do these things is an incredible privilege, one for which we are so thankful.

In a world that sometimes feels like it’s falling apart, in the middle of grieving losses, amid illness and disruption and disappointment–I am so grateful. I wrote a blog post many years ago called “Store It Up” , documenting a beautiful day, a snapshot of words, if you will, that I could take out and savor on a rainy day. I have hundreds of these memories stored up. In retrospect, there is nothing I would trade for these days–no amount of money, spacious housing, comfort, or luxury. It was worth every sacrifice.

I say this not to gloat, but to encourage. If you are in a position to buy an experience instead of a gift, if you are considering doing something different with your life, if you want to go on an adventure with your family but are feeling uncertain: do it. There may be risk and difficulty, it will most assuredly not go exactly according to plan, but if you “collect verbs and not nouns,” you will never regret it.