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/VSeptember 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.