Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising A Family on a Boat

By Tanya Hackney

Leaving the Safe Harbor

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.

Kirkus Star

Praise for Leaving the Safe Harbor:

In this debut memoir, Hackney tells the story of her family’s decision to sell their house, buy a sailboat, and live on it for a decade.

In chapters with nautical titles (“Learning the Ropes,” “All Hands on Deck”), Hackney writes about how she and her husband, high school sweethearts who married soon after college, decided that the world of suburban Atlanta did not suit them and arranged their lives to realize their dream of full-time boat living. Hackney, a former teacher, home-schooled her five children (the youngest arrived after the family moved onto the boat) as they traveled between Florida and the Bahamas, adding more challenging destinations in the Caribbean and Central and South America as they grew more skilled and adventurous. Hackney, a religious person, was intentional about her family’s way of life, and she writes thoughtfully about the connections between her spirituality and her independent lifestyle and how boat living shaped their relationships to one another, their friends and occasional neighbors, and the wider world. By the book’s conclusion, the family has returned to a permanent port to accommodate a new phase in life as the oldest children neared adulthood. Hackney is a strong writer, at home describing her band of sailors successfully pulling together in a sudden squall or the disorienting effects of snorkeling in deep water. She presents a cleareyed assessment of her family (“The truth is that we more often resemble the cast of Gilligan’s Island than an Olympic sailing team”) that makes them sympathetic and accessible. Hackney writes about her parenting decisions in detail but without giving the impression that others should follow in her footsteps, allowing the reader to join the crew vicariously without feeling inadequate and to absorb the book’s lessons without being bludgeoned by them. The blend of reminiscence and analysis makes for a satisfying read, both entertaining and insightful.

An engaging, thoughtful look at life on a sailboat.

Kirkus Reviews

Being a lifelong cruiser, I see a lot of folks try to escape to our lifestyle. They just sell out, jump on a boat and are back on land after a season or two. Success stories are rare. Success stories with the added facet of raising children are even more rare. Tanya’s book should be mandatory reading for all of them.

So, you want to go from the magazine pictures of permanent cruising to the real thing? This book should be your very first step. With forty years of cruising, my wife and I can tell you that Tanya has captured the absolute essence of our culture out here. Relationship challenges, finance issues, and seamanship are all captured in unadulterated light and penned with magical wit.             

Michael A. Barber (Captain of S/V Whensday),author of The Water: Life and Adventure

Leaving the Safe Harbor will either inspire you to take a leap into the scary unknown and move onto a small boat with your family – or else it will renew your sense of gratitude for your cozy, dry, and comparatively uncrowded life on land.

Either way, Leaving the Safe Harbor will have you in turns holding your breath, laughing out loud, and staring at the pages in awe. This book is a fascinating insight into a wildly different way to raise a family, rich with life lessons on courage, relationships and parenting that can benefit any of us.

I’m sure sailors, wanna-be sailors and parents looking for some escapism from the mundane will gobble it up. 

—Torre  DeRoche, author of Love with a Chance of Drowning

If you are forty-five or below and interested in living the dream with a family in tow, or you’re older and just curious about what it is like to truly live and raise your children on a boat, this is your book.

What Leaving the Safe Harbor is not is a compendium of hair-raising sea stories, a travelogue, or an instruction manual on sailing.  What it is—is a very personal and frank description of what decisions were made, why, and how they turned out with respect to the remarkable Hackney family over the years of their extensive travels.

Suffice it to say that the twists and turns of Hackney, her husband, and their children’s lives together can truly be referenced as a work-in-progress.

A highly recommended read.

—Rex Cowan, formerly of S/V Genesis

Leaving the Safe Harbor is the most honest account of the cruising life that I’ve read: the highs, the lows, and the amazing rewards that come with a more adventurous life. This book proves, once again, that cruising families are truly special.

Yes, I absolutely LOVED this book!

—Carolyn Shearlock, author of The Boat Galley

Through the voice of Tanya, self-professed control freak and loving mother of five, Leaving the Safe Harbor propels the reader through the riveting, thought-provoking, and often humorous voyages her family undertakes. A sense of wonder and humor pepper the pages of this fantastically penned memoir. The reader will find themselves filled with emotions as they experience the wonders of the ocean and nature, enhanced by the profound love this family has for each other.

One is able to taste the ocean waves splashing their face, smell the sparkling sea, and feel the shining sun on their skin with her vivid recount of their adventures. I could really picture all the details she so eloquently weaves into their story. By the end, I found myself wanting to buy a catamaran and sail alongside this amazing family!

Overall, this is a superbly written memoir that I would rate a five out of five stars. This book is most appropriate for mothers who yearn for something more. Those who may need the inspiration to take the necessary steps to reach their own unique dreams. It is also appropriate for those people who like reading a memoir about love, family adventure, personal growth, and life at sea.

—Dashaina  Gibbs, NetGalley reviewer

Tanya’s story is a perfect example of what can happen when “someday” becomes “what if”, then “why don’t we” and finally “we’re doing this”. Should you read this book? I’ll answer with a question – are you someone who often wonders if there’s more to life than you’re currently experiencing? If the answer is yes, then yes, you should.

–Celeste Orr, author of Togetherness Redefined

Book awards

About the Author:

Tanya Hackney graduated with a B.A. from Middlebury College in 1997, where she majored in English and double-minored in French and Education. She attended the Breadloaf Writers Conference in 1996. She taught kindergarten in Atlanta, Georgia before transitioning to homeschooling her own five children aboard sailing vessel Take Two. She learned to sail in 2007 and did the coursework for ASA101 and ASA103 after attending a women’s sailing seminar in St. Petersburg, Florida. She’s lived aboard, traveled, and written for the sailing blog www.taketwosailing.com for more than a decade. She has always had a bad case of wanderlust, having taken countless road trips as a child, spent a semester abroad during college, and honeymooned in Central America. In her free time, she plays the ukulele, paints landscapes, and kayaks. She wrote her first story at age six, but this is her first published work.

First Books