“However small or large the boat, the rocking is uncomfortable. Perhaps that is why we are told our whole lives, ‘Don’t rock the boat.’ At best it means keep the peace, but at worst, it means maintain the status quo. It sends the message, ‘Don’t do anything unpredictable, uncertain, unsafe–don’t take any unnecessary risks.’ But a life without risk is a life without adventure.”–From Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat by Tanya Hackney
“Sometimes we measure success on the boat by the absence of failure–nothing broke! Nothing leaked! No one got seasick today! Sometimes sailing looks like merely not sinking. There are glorious, wonderful, sparkling days, but they stand out in memory like an oasis in a desert of rough passages. Staying afloat acknowledges the hope-amidst-hardship of the sailing life.”
–From the prologue of Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat by Tanya Hackney
Good News! My memoir, Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat, won an International Impact Book Award (Family Category.) The book will be released in digital and paperback formats at the end of the month at Amazon and wherever books are sold. I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering the digital copy at the special pre-release price of $1.99. Interest generated early for a book can help it make a big splash once it’s released. As part of my launch initiative, I’m asking readers to participate in a “review blitz” by posting their reviews to Amazon in November and December. If you like it, recommend it to a friend (or consider giving it as a Christmas gift). You can stay updated by following Take Two Sailing on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Also check out my author page at Ingenium Books! I am so grateful for all the love and support the book and it’s author have already received.
I was reminded recently of a time in our lives I don’t think about very often. We were once yuppies in Atlanta–we had a house with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a weekend car.
I still get teary when I think of that first home we made, the place where we became a family. It was a safe, wonderful life, but we felt unfulfilled. We ditched the American Dream for a Big Adventure, and I’m so glad we did it, though leaving that home was incredibly hard.
The following is an excerpt from Tom Neale’s Book, All in the Same Boat. It was something we framed and hung in our house–daily inspiration when we were just crazy young dreamers.
People often ask us why we gave up a comfortable home ashore, and successful careers…to move aboard and cruise. They also wonder why we did it with two babies. And then they wonder why we are still doing it, more than 17 years later, with around 5,000 miles per year passing under the keel.
The answer doesn’t lend itself to cocktail party quips.We do it because it’s fun. We do it because it’s beautiful. We do it because we love nature and the sea and the winds and the sky. We do it because it allows us to raise a family the way a family should be raised—and to know our children. We do it because it gives us more control over the way our family lives and survives, over the education and nurturing of our children, over the air we breathe. It gives us more control over our lives…
I frequently talk to people about our life on Chez Nous. They say,”Oh, I wish I could do that.”
“But you can,” I say.
“Oh, no, we don’t have the money.”
“But you probably do. It doesn’t take much money; it takes something else. It takes wanting to do it bad enough and making sacrifices; and you have to do things yourself, not pay someone else. You can do it, but you have to work hard and give up things you don’t need anyway.” Their eyes glaze, they smile wanly, and they change the subject.
But you can do it.
You can take control of your existence. You can start doing things for yourself instead of for a “system.” You can be a family instead of a splintered group. You can raise your children to understand responsibility, to know self-discipline, and to appreciate real values. And you can know the children you raise. You can breathe clean air. You can see the stars through clear skies. You can fill your days with adventure, and you can walk on white sands and share beautiful sunsets. You and your family can go cruising. But you’ve got to work at it.
I talked about this life we left behind, what it’s like to live aboard and cruise with children, and how we faced our fears to follow our dreams in a podcast, Living Louder with Chauncy Renay. Follow the link and have a listen! https://www.buzzsprout.com/1287464/9200894
This is the longest we have ever lived in one location since we moved onto our boat. We returned from the Caribbean in July 2019, picking up a mooring in the Florida Keys with hopes of reconnecting with old friends and helping our kids figure out the next steps toward independence. And here we are, still in the Keys, doing exactly that, two years having whizzed past at record speed. For those who have been following our journey over the years, you know that we often take breathers between sailing trips to work or fix the boat. And just because we’re in one place does not mean that we’re not making progress.
Travel has certainly taken a back seat, though we took a month-long Thanksgiving cruise last year, buddy-boating with Jay’s Parents on Lovely Cruise. We also spent more than two-months driving across the country on a road trip this year, plus lots of small trips to visit family, something we do not take for granted after being gone for several years. Assuming humanity figures out how to deal with the novel Coronavirus (or that it runs its course), we plan to set sail again with Sam and Rachel after Eli, Aaron, and Sarah are off on their own adventures, but for now, most of our journeys are metaphysical.
Since we’ve been back, Jay has rebooted his career, working long hours on multiple projects. He somehow balances consulting, building a side business, maintaining and upgrading Take Two, and being a husband and father. It is no easy task! Take Two got a new galley last year, and a major water-tank renovation project is underway while we’re on the dock this summer. Jay is also installing an electric winch to make raising and lowering the dinghy easier.
I finished a book manuscript in 2020 that is in the process of being published now, with a release date of October 31, 2021. I have dreamed of publishing a book since the first grade, so when I received the first paperback copy last week, I was over the moon! Not only that, but I also recently won an International Impact Book Award (“Family” category), something I never expected to happen with my first published work. Hopefully our story will find an audience and inspire others to live life to the fullest!
Eli, now a young man of 20, got a job, bought a truck, and moved off the boat in January 2021. He is now working full time, living in a house with a cousin and a co-worker, and finishing his AA degree. He is still interested in a career in aviation and is in the process of finding the best way forward. Navigating the transition to adulthood in the middle of a pandemic is tricky and requires an amount of courage and flexibility. As much as we had hoped to spare our kids the angst and heart-ache of young adulthood and shorten the time spent “finding oneself,” I am beginning to think this is a vital part of growing up. As is letting go…I miss my kid every day.
Aaron, nearly 19, has a job at an auto parts store, which is convenient, since he’s also fixing an old Ford truck. He took the summer session off from college classes in order to replace the transmission and do other major projects—a real-world, hands-on education! He graduates in December and is almost finished with his AA at the college of the Florida Keys. He’s hoping to head in a more technical direction, and with a shortage of skilled labor, he’ll never want for work.
Sarah, now 17, just purchased her first vehicle, a 1997 Jeep Wrangler, which she bought with her own earnings from work at the Art Studio and a book-keeping job. She took a break from college classes last spring so she could go on the road trip, but she’s back at school and working toward a double graduation next year, getting her high school diploma and AA degree simultaneously.
Sam, 14, started high school at home this year, and works odd jobs fixing/cleaning boats, including our own. He’s now over six feet tall, and still growing. Of all the kids, he probably misses our traveling lifestyle the most. He loved the road trip we took last spring, the main benefit being the improvement in his relationship with Sarah. The two of them hung out together on the slopes when we went skiing in Utah. Sam broke his arm on the last day—snowboarding at night on a well-lit terrain park! (He healed quickly and was very proud of his injury.)
Rachel, 10, is now in fifth grade. She made new friends last year with two other boat-kids, and that has been wonderful during COVID, when our community has experienced so much disruption. She loves music and has an amazing imagination. She took part in the kids’ summer program at the Marathon Community Theater, playing her first role on stage as a sassy cat.
Several times I have started (but never finished) an exhaustive blog post about our road trip in March and April, but in the words of Inigo Montoya, “There is too much. Let me sum up.” When we decided to take the trip, Eli had already moved out, and Aaron had just started a new job, so with one gone and the other keeping the boat afloat, the rest of us rented an SUV and drove eight thousand miles. We were on the road for more than two months—long enough to see some amazing sights and figure out the new family chemistry.
We stopped to visit the crew of S/V Abby Singer in Jacksonville and get hiking boots at REI, then took a week to drive west, staying in Airbnb houses in out-of-the-way places. I reconnected with my best friend from elementary school in Little Rock, AK—someone I have known for forty years now! After a long drive across Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, we spent an afternoon at Petrified Forest National Park on our way to the Grand Canyon, where we broke in our new boots hiking the Bright Angel Trail. We enjoyed several days with old friends from S/V Jalapeño near and on Lake Powell, which was gorgeous and empty of tourists in March. We then hiked our way through the five National Parks of Utah—relishing indescribably beautiful scenery and gorgeous weather.
Taking advantage of the last of the season’s snowfall, we spent a week in Salt Lake City, getting a great deal for spring passes at Brighton to do some skiing/snowboarding/cross country skate-skiing. In early April, we stopped at Dinosaur National Monument before crossing the Rockies and heading to Estes Park. Donning micro-spikes, we hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park in the snow and ice, an unforgettable experience.
Chasing spring, we crossed the Great Plains, drove through St. Louis (saw, but didn’t stop, at the Arch), and spent an afternoon at Mammoth Cave National Park. Our last few days were passed enjoying spring days in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, where the red bud and dogwood trees were in full bloom. We reconnected with the crew of S/V September Winds, and Pam, who grew up near the park, was able to guide us through some of her favorite places. It was with full hearts that we returned to Florida, and though I enjoyed our road travels, I realized that I prefer boat life, where you can change locations without packing and unpacking!
After our return from the epic road trip, we decided it was time to re-visit the pet question. Sugar and Spice had been gone for more than five years, and we really missed having boat cats. Stella and Raya, two kittens adopted from the Humane Society of Naples, came home to the boat in July and have adjusted nicely. So, now we have boat kitties again, and they bring us a lot of joy.
As for the future…who knows? Should we stay or should we go? We have always held onto plans lightly because tomorrow was never guaranteed. If nothing else, living on a boat has taught us that we must be flexible when things don’t go the way we expect, something for which we are very grateful. We are counting blessings in a year that’s been hard all over the world: our family and our parents are healthy, we are able to continue work and school from our boat, and we have a supportive community of friends, nearly all of whom have had a bout with COVID and recovered. We are praying for our leaders, whose decisions will have far-reaching consequences, and we are trusting that God knows what’s best, so we’ll follow His lead as we always have—whether our journeys are ones of the body or the spirit.
*For more photos, check out our Flickr photostream by clicking on any photo in the blog post. Also, find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
My memoir, Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat will be released at the end of October by Ingenium Books (in paperback and e-book wherever books are sold), but you can pre-order the digital copy from Amazon now! It is not merely a re-write of this blog, but rather a narrative that weaves together life lessons, nautical idioms, and our adventures as we go from teenage dreamers to suburbanites to barefoot sailors raising five kids on our 48′ catamaran, Take Two. Find the book here.
From the back cover:
Seafaring stories inspire us to do great things, help us laugh at our mistakes, and create a sense of wonder about the wild world we live in. We need these stories to shake us out of our complacency and give us the courage to chase new horizons.
Two high-school sweethearts from middle-class America go off to college, get married, follow all the rules, play it safe, and pursue the American dream. And promptly find themselves boxed in. Looking for adventure, they turn the shared dreams of their youth into reality. They leave the safety of suburbia to buy and live aboard a sailboat, s/v Take Two—while raising five children.
The sailboat becomes a classroom for the whole family. From the first overnight sail with small children to island-hopping in the Caribbean with teenagers, the ocean teaches life lessons and develops character traits like teamwork, discipline, hope, flexibility, and perseverance.
Returning to the United States after voyaging, their children on the cusp of adulthood, the couple discovers they’re not the same people who left the house with the white picket fence.
Sometimes the world is on fire and there is nothing you can do about it. It is the most frustrating feeling in the world.
The news has been dramatic recently: the president of Haiti was assassinated, the Cuban people have taken to the streets in counterrevolutionary protests, churches are burning in Canada, Venezuelans are fleeing their country in record numbers (I read that 17,000 have arrived in the United States via Mexico in the last eight months alone), and armed mobs were looting and burning their way across South Africa. But it’s not just “news” to me—I am weighed down by the personal impact it has on people close to me.
I have a Cuban friend who escaped Communist Cuba when he was a teenager. He has been waiting a lifetime for an end to that failed form of government on his island homeland. He is wondering, “Will the voice of the people be heard this time, or will their hopes be dashed as they have been before?” Support for the protestors made it all the way to our small town—with Cuban expats demonstrating and flying Cuban flags. “Patria y Vida” is everywhere. My friend in Venezuela informs me that the situation is getting worse there, too. His family is rationing food and trying to figure out how to escape because staying is becoming harder and harder. He is a doctor whose hospital can no longer pay him to work, nor can it afford supplies and medicine. Another close friend and fellow sailor returned to South Africa to sell her house and renew her passport (which expired during COVID lockdowns while she was stuck in another country). Nearby villages have been destroyed in the violence of recent days and neither the police nor military were much help to the citizens. She and her neighbors defended their own community and scrounged supplies until delivery trucks could move and stores could open again. I am checking in with her regularly, both to provide moral support and to reassure myself that she is still okay. Amidst all this trouble, what can I do?
I can pray. I can do it at the first sign of trouble—not waiting until it’s a last resort—asking for peace or wisdom or healing as I, or my friend, or family member navigate an uncertain circumstance. It is a simple act that can have a big impact. Paul admonishes believers not to “be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). To keep my worries at bay, this is what I do: I start here, with the Serenity prayer, adding details about the frustrating situation about which I can do nothing, asking forgiveness for personal failures, and expressing a desire to change or to help where I can:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference. –Richard Niebuhr (1892-1971)
I do believe that praying makes a difference—this energy we send to and receive from an unseen (though not unperceived) God and share with others. I believe that love is real and tangible, that there is a source of this unconditional Love in the universe, that it transcends time and space, and combats evil. But even for those who don’t believe in a God who listens, prayer can, at the very least, make them feel more peaceful, and help them discern what is within and outside of their control. Even Ayn Rand, the famous author and avowed atheist, liked the serenity prayer for the way it helps a person make sense of the frustrating dilemma of existence. You can read her thought-provoking essay here: https://courses.aynrand.org/works/the-metaphysical-versus-the-man-made/.
When I can send tangible help, I do. But when money or supplies or volunteering or petitions or letters to congressmen or votes cannot fix a situation, I can certainly appeal to God, who knows what’s best and can see an outcome that I cannot. More importantly, it can help me accept, extract meaning from, and find hope despite the absurdity of life. On the other side of a difficult situation, I have often been able to see a purpose in suffering or hardship. This allows me to be grateful in tough times, even when the outcome looks unpleasant. From South Africa, I have heard similar words. Ferdi Barnard wrote an open letter to the Zuma supporters and criminal looters, to the unhelpful government, police, and military, thanking them for the circumstances that led to people of all races and backgrounds banding together to protect their own communities.
This brings me to a last point about prayer: when done in concert, prayer can bring people together in compassion and unite them for a common cause. I have prayed with a friend during a contentious election—knowing that we voted differently—but able to agree that we want a peaceful outcome, that we want whoever is in office to make wise decisions, and that we want what’s best for our country. Prayer not only gives us a way to deal with our uncertainty and frustration, but it helps us focus on the positive and create unity. Whatever your religious background or philosophy on the meaning of life, prayer can be a powerful way to deal with overwhelming circumstances. Perhaps if we spent more time praying and less time arguing, we would create the peace for which we are praying.
We have an announcement! We brought home two kittens from the Naples Humane Society. It’s been more than 5 years since Sugar and Spice passed away, leaving us catless. I had said that I didn’t want pets until after we took our long road trip. But since we returned from our 8,000-mile jaunt out west in March/April, there’s been a lot of serious talk of kittens. When we went to Naples for the Fourth of July, we decided to stop in at the Humane Society before heading home. Turns out, it’s kitten season!
These two females, named Stella (the black one with a “star” on her chest) and Raya (“stripe” in Spanish for the gray tabby), are about 2 months old. They are already well-adjusted and have found lots of interesting things to do on Take Two. We have yet to take them sailing, and I’m sure that will be another adjustment, but for now (at the dock for the summer), we are soaking up the kitten cuteness and everyone seems happy.
I’ve been playing music with a friend in the harbor. We’ve been working on a medley of Bobby McFerrin’s song Don’t Worry, Be Happy and Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, the chorus of which says, “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna’ be alright.” These words have permeated my mind, and they are timely. My musically gifted friend has plenty of reasons to worry. With a rare cancer diagnosis and an expiration date handed down by doctors, there’s no guarantee that the treatment he’s seeking will save him. Even now, he’s waiting for the VA to decide if it will even cover the treatment protocol and work with the oncologist who specializes in his type of cancer. But he’s refusing to worry anyway. He told me, “When you relax, things just have a way of working themselves out.”
Worry is a cancer of the soul. It emaciates your spirit—causing a loss of peace and joy not unlike cancer’s cachexia, the inexplicable wasting away of the body. Worry makes a terrible companion, keeping you up at night, preventing you from eating (or making the food you do eat indigestible), blinding you from the good in your life and keeping your eyes focused on all the possible bad outcomes. Worry says, “What if…?” The more imaginative the person, the more elaborate the worst-case scenarios he invents. Worry says, “We can mitigate this by…” The more goal-oriented the person, the more control she attempts to exert. Worry says, “Be careful…” The more risk-averse the person, the less adventurous his life becomes.
Sometimes our worries are completely unfounded—so much of what we fear does not come to pass. But sometimes we worry because circumstances are worrisome. In this case, it takes a herculean act to refuse to worry. Many of us have real worries. I have friends in places where the next meal is not guaranteed, let alone the next paycheck. The whole world is consumed with worry about an invisible virus, and about the cascading effects of trying to mitigate its spread. One generation worries about the world it will hand to the next—about the environment, about violence, about education, about jobs, about relationships, about government. There is no part of our lives untouched by these concerns, because no part of life is guaranteed. We know that life is fragile and that suffering is real.
But worry takes this uncertainty and amplifies it, creating deafening fears. One Bob warns, “in your life, expect some trouble, but when you worry, you make it double,” and the other offers an antidote, “smile with the risin’ sun” and listen to the message of the three little birds: “don’t worry ’bout a thing.” Perhaps they are echoing the wise words of another teacher: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew, chapter 6, verses 26-27). Our worries have no power, on the one hand, to change the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and a lot of power, on the other, to make a bad situation feel worse.
I should know. I am a worrier by nature, a nervous nail-biter with an internal monolog that sounds like a broken record (“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”). The heightened uncertainty of this past year’s events has forced me to deal with this repetitive voice, and to tell it to shut up. It is an act of the will, and of the spirit. I have no way of knowing what comes next. I don’t even know if I will live to see this day’s sunset. There are dark clouds on the horizon, and it may indeed rain on me. What if the sky is falling? When I can’t change the circumstances, all I can change is my response. I don’t know what comforts you when you worry, but for me the answer has been prayer and gratitude. Keeping my eyes focused on the good, choosing to believe that all things eventually work out the way they’re supposed to, and asking God to take care of all the things I can’t control is what gives me peace of mind. Whatever comes next, I will be praying—and singing—my way through it.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, chapter 4, verses 6-7)
I’ve been homeschooled all my life, and I’ve never had reason to complain. Before our return to the United States from our four-year jaunt to the Caribbean, I’d never even set foot in an actual school building. However, when we did return, I was finishing high school and looking to start college. There is a local college nearby, College of the Florida Keys (CFK), so my younger brother and sister and I, along with a few friends, started attending as dual enrollment students. Dual enrollment is a pretty good deal: as long as you can pass the PERT tests to show that you are ready for college-level work, Florida allows you to take classes for free. So essentially, we were finishing our high school requirements by going to college and pursuing AA degrees in general education, instead of merely seeking a high school diploma.
It looked good on paper, at least, an economic use of time and effort. It was also my first experience in an actual classroom, and it was a pleasant change. During my first semester, the two classes I took were on the small side, with maybe 30 people. Most of the students were around my age, some were dual enrollment students from the local public high school, and a few were older. We would sit at tables facing the professor and the whiteboard, notebooks out and phones away, and take notes while he talked. I found I liked the classroom setting. You could ask questions and receive a knowledgeable answer, unlike simply learning from a textbook. You could engage the professor in debate and listen to intellectual arguments. You could achieve recognition for your work.
It was also intensely uncomfortable for the first few weeks, because I’m an introvert and I don’t like large groups of people. I got the hang of it though, and life settled into a rhythm. The two classes I took held sessions early every other weekday, so it was a bit of a runaround to get to the college from our boat in the mooring field every morning. The workload was heavy, and the material challenging, but I found that I was actually enjoying school. I was getting As. However, it could have been a lot easier. I had no real idea what I was stepping into with the whole college thing. So even though it wasn’t significantly more difficult than homeschool (at first, that is), it threw me off because it was different, and it took me a while to figure everything out.
Well, I’m finishing my last year of classes, and I would say I’ve done pretty well. Recently, my English Composition II professor gave the class the assignment of creating a college handbook, something to give to new students so that they aren’t completely lost. Below you will find the link to mine (you can read it in a browser or download the PDF). It contains anything I could think of that I would have wanted to know going in. Hopefully other homeschooled high school students will find it useful.