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.
“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
In Loving Memory of Mary Tanner Hackney 12/13/62 – 10/12/22
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.
“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:
“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
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.
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.
The crew of Take Two is setting off on their own adventures. Aaron graduated from high school in December and applied to Universal Technical Institute’s Orlando campus to study automotive and light-diesel repair, as well as doing some Ford-specific training. He moved into an apartment with roommates from the school, transferred to an Orlando Advance Auto Parts store, and started classes at the beginning of April. It’s an intensive, hands-on, one-year course that will give him an Applied Sciences degree and have him well on his way to being a master mechanic. He’s feeling enthusiastic about the program–he was not enjoying the academic track he was on at the College of the Florida Keys. We are not surprised, as he was always the tool-kid, the take-your-toys apart kid, the I don’t-want-to-read-and-write kid. He’s finding his own path to success, which is what we always wanted for each of our children.
Sarah is in Colorado for the summer, working at Wind River Ranch, a dude ranch outside of Estes Park. It is her first time away from home, and she is loving the work and the social aspects of the ranch.
We are now just four aboard—Jay, me, Sam, and Rachel. As we have noted before, every time someone joins or leaves the family, the chemistry changes. I find it strangely quiet. The two youngest crew members used to bicker like crazy, but they are suddenly getting along great. There’s not even conflict over the chores, which now have to get done with fewer helpers. Then again, there’s less laundry, fewer dishes, and less clutter. We are finding a new rhythm, and I am realizing that as our kids get older (and move out), I will have plenty of time and energy to write.
Below is an excerpt from my journal, written while I was in Colorado with Mary and Sarah, during our weeklong stay in Estes Park, before we dropped Sarah off and flew back to Florida without her. I shed a few tears as I hugged her goodbye but managed not to be embarrassing. Even though you prepare yourself for the day your kids leave, it is still bittersweet.
May 16, 2022
In my life before children, as a kindergarten teacher, I remember the weepy moms in the hallway on the first day of school. As a homeschool mom, I have been able to delay this day of “dropping off” for about eighteen years, but still it must come, as inevitable as time itself. Now I am the weepy mom.
We have spent a wonderful week together, my mother-in-law/best friend Mary, and my oldest daughter Sarah. We rented a little cabin on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the mountains, and have made the most of our time here—hiking in gorgeous spring weather in Rocky Mountain National Park, shopping for necessary items like boots, jeans, and a cowboy hat in Fort Collins, making fires on chilly mornings, watching chick-flicks, working on jigsaw puzzles or playing games, and sharing good meals.
It is mid-May, but there is still snow at the top of the trails we have hiked in the park. We step over slushy ice, muddy patches, and the dribbling brooks of snowmelt, the remains of winter. These drips and dribbles gather into brooks and streams, which gravity takes trickling over rocks and tumbling over waterfalls down into the valley, delivering rushing water to the Big Thompson River that runs through town, and then through a mountain gorge with flash flood warning signs, to the base of these majestic peaks. This water, which once fell as tiny ice crystals from a cloud, ends up hundreds or even thousands of miles away, some of it eventually making its way to the salty ocean at the mouth of the Colorado River.
Sarah has just turned eighteen, the same age I was when I left for Middlebury college in Vermont. How callous I was then, hugging my parents goodbye outside my dormitory! They unloaded not only my stuff, but also a part of themselves, and until now, I had no idea what that must have felt like, how devastating it is to say goodbye to a daughter’s childhood. But just as a droplet of water runs to the ocean, only to be picked up and dropped again on a distant mountain peak, so goes the cycle of life. It is a joyful, painful experience, not unlike childbirth: watching my children become adults and begin their own adventures.
I finally did it. I took my Caribbean rum collection to a Mom’s Night and did a tasting tour of the islands. The bottles have been sitting half-empty in the bottom of our pantry–the oldest ones since 2016 and the newest since 2019. It wasn’t exactly a temperature or humidity-controlled environment, and some had decidedly not improved with age. Then again, some were not particularly good to start with! Did the Puerto Rican Don Q Limón always taste like Lemon Pledge polish? What happened to our favorite St. Lucian rum, Admiral Rodney, that made it taste like cheap cologne? It was worth a few laughs, anyway.
After tiny sips of rums from a dozen places, we finished off with my favorite, the Guatemalan Zacapa 23. And then had Bahama Mamas, my favorite fruity cocktail. It was fun to relive, by taste and smell anyway, the 5,000-mile voyage we took on Take Two.
Today I sorted the remaining bottles by drinkability. Some got stored away and others got poured out and recycled. It was cathartic to clean out that space. I realized that we have these wonderful memories, and I don’t need to keep all the detritus around to remind me. You would think that someone who lives in a small space would know better than to store souvenirs, but I admit that I am a sentimental fool. I bought necklaces, tiny art, and artifacts at open-air markets, and picked up shells, seaglass, and rocks on countless beaches from the Bahamas to Bonaire and from San Blas to Belize. I am now asking myself: “Am I keeping this stuff because I am afraid of forgetting?”
Those who make travel a lifestyle, as we have, are like gluttons at a smorgasbord of new places–we feast on new cultures and languages, new sights, smells, and tastes. We collect new friends like mementos. When I’m traveling, I may have a pang for the familiar occasionally, but the thrill of exploring pushes it out of my mind. When I come back from a long sailing trip, it feels so good to slip into comfortable old habits and visit old friends and old haunts that the opposite happens. The longer I stay, the more it feels as though the travels were just part of a nice dream from which I have awakened. A souvenir is like a talisman that can magically transport me back to a place I have been, a hint that jogs the memory and reminds me it was very real.
I felt a little melancholy when I poured out the Marigot Bay St. Lucia Coconut Cream, because it smelled so good, almost as if the place itself was going down the drain. On the other hand, it had turned a funny color, and I was using precious space to store something I will never use. Perhaps this is indicative of the stage of life we are in. Every time I clean something out, like the cabin my son Aaron inhabited until he left a month ago for a new life in Orlando, I have to admit that nothing lasts–that travelers must eventually come home, that children grow up and leave on their own adventures, and that everything in life is, ultimately, ephemeral. As with rum, experiences must be savored and enjoyed as much as possible, in the moment. Their very fragility is what makes them precious. I have come to the conclusion that is fine to keep some reminders–humans are forgetful, after all–but not to be weighed down by them, or to attempt to live in the past.
While we’ve been “holding station” and busily working on Take Two’s water tanks, launching our teenagers, homeschooling, and making a living, I’ve also been writing something new. My morning routine (based on Hal Elrod’s book,The Miracle Morning) has been so beneficial that I want to share an entry from my daily journal, which is slowly becoming a new book of daily readings, Deep Calls to Deep (working title). Here’s a sneak peek:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” —Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthian Church (chapter 4 verses 7-8)
I have a jar full of sea glass that I have found during our travels while walking on the beaches of various Bahamian and Caribbean islands. I have collected the pieces one at a time, meandering slowly while looking down, searching for anything that stands out against the sand like a colorful gem embedded in rock.
The collection is a mixture of beautiful earth tones that borrow their hues from the sky and ocean: the frosty white of clouds, the turquoise of shallow water, the green of mangroves, the brown of sand, and the cobalt blue of the deep sea. It is a treasure made of up of broken, but not crushed, glass. The edges have been worn smooth by the tumult of wave motion against sand.
And this is the lesson I take from sea-glass: we too can be made beautiful by hardship. Our rough edges are sanded down by mistakes from which we have learned, by trials we have survived, by pain we have overcome. If we find the grace to forgive and change hurt to compassion, even the suffering we have undergone can round our sharp corners.
Everything in God’s kingdom can serve a purpose: not just the joys we experience, but also the adversity we face and the burdens we share with others. It is the ultimate trash-to-treasure recycling program—the wonderful upside-down nature of God’s love that makes “all things work together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 8 verse 28). Without the hope that our suffering will serve a purpose, many of the hard things in life would be cause for regret, bitterness, or despair. Knowing that good can come from bad is a source of peace in a turbulent world.
What mistakes or hardships have you experienced that later brought you wisdom or led to something good in your life? Are you experiencing regret, bitterness, or despair? What would it look like to let go of it and see God use it for good? Write down one hard thing for which you can give thanks-in-advance and revisit this journal entry later to see if anything good has come out of it.
Once a year, I make a loaf of this tasty bread to go with the corned beef, potatoes and cabbage cooked in our 20-qt Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker. Recipe below!
Irish Soda Bread
Prep time: 1 hour+
Makes: 1 large loaf, about 8 servings
1 and 3/4 cups buttermilk (or plain yogurt mixed with milk/water)
1 large egg
4 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons butter, cold and cubed
1 Tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)
1 cup raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Oil a 10-12 inch cast iron skillet (or baking sheet). Whisk the buttermilk (or yogurt and milk/water) and egg together. Set aside. Whisk the flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour in the buttermilk/egg mixture. Gently stir the liquid into the flour mixture, folding in raisins and caraway seeds (if desired). Stir until dough begins to form a ball. Place dough ball on a floured work surface. With floured hands, work the dough into a ball as best you can, then knead for about 30 seconds or until all the flour is moistened. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. Transfer the dough ball to the skillet (or baking sheet). Using a very sharp knife, score a cross 1/2 inch deep into the top. Bake until the bread is golden brown and center appears cooked through, about 45-55 minutes. Loosely tent the bread with aluminum foil if you notice heavy browning on top.
I was on a mission this morning to get something out of my car, which is parked in the driveway at my in-laws’ house where Rachel and I have been visiting. I woke up this morning, as I often do lately, feeling troubled. I filled my gas tank yesterday and it cost $114. This was a reminder of the horrible conflict happening in Ukraine, and how something seemingly far away has an effect on everyone, because we are all interconnected. I have a friend whose marriage is collapsing, multiple friends whose teenagers are struggling, and a family member beginning cancer treatment this week. And yet–I was stopped in my tracks by a rose, it’s glowing face turned to welcome the morning sun. I could not walk past it; it demanded attention. I needed to know if it smelled as beautiful as it looked. It did not disappoint. And then I chuckled, because stopping and smelling roses is something I often advocate, at least metaphorically, but rare is the rose in the subtropical climate where I live.
Here’s what it means to stop and smell the roses: to be arrested by that which is lovely; to think, if just for a moment, about something other than war and cancer and teen suicide. It is not to deny or ignore the loss and pain happening in and around us, but to acknowledge that even this dark and broken world there are moments of clarity and delight, things that seem absurdly out of place sometimes. It is to change our focus. Amid some hardship, we may be told to look at the “big picture,” to see a rough time as a chapter, and not the whole story. This isn’t bad advice, but we can also zoom in on the details, and know that even when everything looks grim, there is breathtaking beauty—it reminds us that there are always things for which we can be grateful.
Stopping and smelling roses becomes a kind of prayer. Despite the horrors I see on the news, despite the gaping pits of sadness around me, despite the inevitability of death: thank you! Thank you for this freshness, this loveliness, this reminder that all is not lost. Thank you for growth, for a new day, for life itself.
Stop and smell the roses. Do not be overcome by despair. As long as there is life, there is hope.
(If you have not read it, I recommend Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, a book that helped me form a gratitude habit.)
This is the text of the speech I prepared to give at the Marathon Library Tuesday, March 1, for those of you who couldn’t be there but want to know what I said. Of course, after the first five minutes, and knowing most of my audience, I went off-roading and barely looked down at the outline on my notecards. So this isn’t exactly the talk that I gave!
I. Welcome and Introduction
Good evening, welcome, and thank you for coming. My name is Tanya Hackney: I am a graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, a wife to my high school sweetheart, Jay, and mother to five children (Eli, age 20, Aaron, 19, Sarah, 17, Sam, 15, and Rachel, 10). I am a public-school teacher who shifted to homeschooling my own children aboard a 48’ sailing catamaran, Take Two, in 2008. I’m a liveaboard sailor, a ukulele player, and a writer. My book, Leaving the Safe Harbor: the Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat, was published in October of 2021, and much to my surprise, won several awards and spent some time on Amazon Best Seller lists.
This evening, I want to give you a little “behind the scenes” tour of my book—where I come from, what it’s about, and why I wrote it. For about 25-30 minutes, I’d like to talk about what it means to “leave the safe harbor,” to find the adventure life offers, overcome the fear that holds us back, learn to live now so we won’t have regret later, and to keep the promises we make to ourselves. At the end, we’ll have some time for a Q&A, and then if you would like to purchase a copy of my book, I will be signing them and giving a portion of the proceeds to the library.
I’d like to begin with two quotes, first, Marcus Aurelius (the Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher):
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
And next, Oscar Wilde: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
II. A Vicarious Journey
I would like to take you with me on a vicarious journey. You won’t need a ticket, a passport, a suitcase, money, or a PCR test! We’ll travel back in time, into the future, through the minefield of the human psyche, over land and sea, and to distant islands—from right here in Marathon, Boot Key Harbor, and back again. All you need is a good imagination.
Buckle your proverbial seatbelts, close your eyes, and open your minds. In your thoughts, I want you to turn around and run back in time. Run as fast and as far back as you need to in order to find a happy childhood memory. Can you see yourself in this memory? Reconnect with this younger version of yourself. Introduce yourself, shake hands, tell this young you that you are here with an important question.
Ask yourself: “What do you dream about?” Not your night-time dreams or nightmares, but the deepest desires of your heart, your hopes for the future—the thing you think about when you’re supposed to be reading your history book or doing your math homework. What do you really want out of life? The answer might sound silly to your older, more jaded self, but try to listen without judgment or laughter. Do you have the answer? Thank your young you…and open your eyes.
Hold onto that answer, that dream you once had—or maybe still have—and take it with you on the next leg of your journey. You’re going to stow away with me, travel the world, get a glimpse of life on a sailboat with a large family, and explore the treacherous waters of fear and regret.
III. Travel Memories
My earliest memories involve travel. My dad had a unique job: he was in urethane foam construction and coatings. We lived in one of those funky foam dome houses in the mountains of Colorado in the 1970s (think Woody Allen’s The Sleeper). My dad traveled all over the world working on interesting projects like the Sydney Opera House, dome constuction in the desert of Saudi Arabia, and the roof of the Chiang Kai-Shek Airport in Taipei, Taiwan. He brought back amazing gifts and coffee table books with photographs that my siblings and I would pore over.
When he finished the roof of the Chiang Kai-Shek airport, I was four years old. My sister was two, and my mom was pregnant with my baby brother. When he called to say that he wouldn’t be home in time for the birth, my brave mother got on an airplane eight months pregnant with two little girls in tow, and went to live in Taiwan, having a baby in a hospital where no one (not even her doctor) spoke English. My earliest memories are of that time: going to the fish market, learning to use chopsticks, eating sugar apples, standing in a doorway during an earthquake, and the monsoon season during which our house flooded and my dad served us breakfast on the stairs with his pants rolled up to his knees.
When we returned from that trip, my dad decided he needed to find domestic work to support our family. As an independent contractor, it was feast and famine. His business was affected by weather, the rise and fall of local economies, and the clients he worked for. But even when we were struggling financially, travel was always a priority. We couldn’t afford to fly, so we drove. We couldn’t afford hotels, so we stayed with family or camped in tents. I have wonderful childhood memories of mountains, deserts, coastlines, forests, waterfalls, farmland, big cities, small towns…we camped in Rocky Mountain National Park, peered into the Grand Canyon, went to Yellowstone, and slid down the Great Sand Dunes. We stopped in Washington D.C. and New York City on our way to Niagara Falls. We drove to California, went to Disneyland, and toured the Queen Mary.
These early travels are not just the things of memory, but also shaped my dreams of the future, too. You could say that the travel bug bit early. Whatever I would do with my life, I knew it would involve travel. When I went to college, I studied English and French. I chose a college with a good study-abroad program and spent a semester in France taking classes at the University of Paris. On weekends, I took the train to Normandy, London, and the Loire Valley to see the Chateaus. I spent a Christmas break with family friends in Italy, Switzerland, and Sardinia. It was amazing, but hard on the long-distance relationship with my boyfriend back home.
When I got back, we got engaged. I graduated from college in June of 1997 and we married in August. Jay is the son of a son of a sailor, seventh generation born in Florida. He spent his childhood sailing with his family, exploring the ten thousand islands, Everglades National Park, the Bay of Florida, and the Florida Keys. We honeymooned in the Yucatan of Mexico—rode horses through the jungle, snorkeled in crystal-clear water, and climbed the great pyramid at Chichen Itza. We loved every minute and said we’d come back someday. (We did eventually return—on our sailboat, with our children, in 2019).
When we had been married for about a year, Jay’s parents invited us to go on a sailing trip with them. We took off on an adventure on their Prout Quest 31-foot catamaran, Double Entry. We sailed overnight to Dry Tortugas National Park and then on to Key West before returning to Naples, Florida. It was a typical sailing trip—sunsets at sea, clear blue water, snorkeling, exploring, long talks, starry skies, and, of course, storms and breakage! On the return trip, I made a terrible mistake that led to a terrific revelation. We were motor-sailing away from Key West in light wind when I clumsily broke a fitting on the fuel tank that connected it to the outboard engine. Though Jay and his dad got it jury-rigged and running again, they couldn’t get the engine back in gear because of a previous transmission problem, and so we were forced to sail all night over calm seas and call for a tow when we reached Naples. I sat up in the cockpit all night—amazed by the stars and the phosphorescence in the water. Had it not been for my little blunder, I might not be standing here today. That beautiful night sail was the spark that lit a smoldering fire—one that burned for years until we were able to break away, buy our own boat, and travel with our family. It was on that trip that I knew what I wanted to with the rest of my life.
IV. Easier Said than Done
It is easy for me now, standing here in this library, having traveled for more than a decade aboard our boat, having successfully homeschooled our children from kindergarten to high school, having written a book about the experience, to talk pithily about overcoming fear to follow a dream, but there was nothing easy about doing those things. In fact, every aspect of turning an idea into reality is fraught with difficulty, from figuring out what you want to do and how to do it to overcoming the inevitable obstacles that crop up. And these driving questions which I had to answer, I also ask you:
What do you really want and why do you want it? (You will have to find a vision for yourself that is so clear you can imagine all the details and see yourself in it.)
How will you get it? (You will have to figure out the million tiny steps that take you in the right direction.)
How badly do you want it? (You will have to put so much faith in that idea that you never give up, that you overcome all your excuses and fears and surmount any obstacle that gets in the way.)
It’s a herculean task, but worth doing or dying in the attempt. Here’s what’s easy: going along with the crowd, doing what’s expected of you, following the status quo, letting your life slip by one day at a time until it seems like it’s too late to do the things you really wanted.
When attempting something difficult, but worthwhile, sometimes the hardest thing is getting over our own fears. We often ask “what if…?” In my case, going sailing seemed impossible. How could we afford a boat? What if we bought one and then hated it? What if it broke? What if we ran out of money? What if we want to have a family? What if we encounter storms at sea, sharks, or pirates? What if we sink? What if we fail? Fear doesn’t seem to know the difference between life-threatening and comfort-threatening.
What we don’t do, but should, is ask the other “what if…” questions. What if it’s amazing? What if we love it? What if we get to live a life of travel and adventure? What if we could take our kids sailing? What if we make great memories, learn new languages, and meet other travelers? What if we don’t try and later regret it? Following our dreams gives life a sense of purpose and direction and helps us step out of a safe and boring life and into one of adventure and fulfillment. We need our dreams, no matter how crazy or impractical they seem, to keep us from stagnating. If, by some amazing combination of determination and circumstance, you too have followed a dream to its exciting conclusion, you know exactly what I am talking about.
I promised you a journey through space and time, through landscapes both real and metaphysical—and I will keep that promise, at least in part. To get the whole story in all its detail, you’ll have to read the book, but I can give you a glimpse of my own dream-come-true, and the things we have learned from chasing a crazy dream.
The adventure begins in an unlikely place: a suburban house with a white-picket fence. After we married, Jay and I moved to Atlanta and got regular jobs. We loved the idea of sailing off into the proverbial sunset, but we were sensible people, so we did what everyone else around us was doing: we went into debt, bought new cars, bought a house, bought furniture, worked all the time to pay bills, and then started a family. It’s the American Dream! We should have been satisfied, but, oddly, we felt unfulfilled.
Jay was sitting in traffic for hours each day, I had quit my teaching job (which I loved) to stay home with two boys under the age of two (up to my elbows in poopy diapers). We bought a mini-van when I got pregnant with our daughter and Jay acquired a weekend car, a Porsche Boxster. We had been talking about moving to a nicer neighborhood with better schools, but we began to feel uneasy. Where were those young people who wanted to go on a sailing adventure? Where was the romance and travel that I had dreamed of? Taking annual trips to visit family with small children in tow was not my idea of “exotic.” We were doing all the things we were supposed to do—working hard, raising kids, going to church, paying our bills, putting money away for college and retirement—but something was missing.
There was nothing wrong with the things we were doing—the “have-tos” are a necessary part of life. But whole days, weeks, months, and years were zooming by and we were in danger of becoming entrenched in a safe and boring life. Under the yuppie veneer, we were still longing for more adventure, more challenge, more freedom. Our restlessness led us to re-examine the direction we were heading. Jay was on a sailboat race crew on Lake Lanier. We subscribed to sailing magazines and talked about leaving Atlanta, but it seemed impossible.
The story of how we broke free and left our suburban trap is a good one, a roller coaster ride of ups and downs and twists and turns, one that took a lot of faith, courage, and stubborn determination. In brief, we almost bought a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood, but at the last moment, we realized that what we really needed to do was downsize, move back to Florida, and trade the sports car for a sailboat. We prayed a lot during that transition, trying to determine what God’s plan for our lives was. We wanted not just what felt comfortable, but what would grow and stretch us. The faith we developed during that time is what gave us the courage to do all the things that came next.
V. Practical Steps
It is one thing to have a dream—you’ve got one with you right now! And another to make it reality. Without practical steps, it remains in the realm of castles in the air. In a nutshell, these are the things we did to change our trajectory: we got out of debt. We had made a plan before we had children that one of us would stay home, so we had learned to live on one salary and use the other to pay off debt. When we lost my salary, we lost the gravy, but not the meat and potatoes. We decided to homeschool our kids so that we wouldn’t have to yank them out of a “normal life.” We sold our Atlanta house and downsized. We made a five-year plan.
We moved to Florida, sold the sports car and bought a small sailboat to practice sailing on Tampa Bay. Jay took his job in database engineering and consulting and moved it to a home office that could eventually be taken anywhere. We saved money to buy a bigger boat, trading stuff now for adventures later. We went to boat shows and read everything we could get our hands on. We looked at a Tayana ’55 and almost bought it, but we were expecting a fourth child and felt really nervous about taking the leap. We learned from that failure and put ourselves in a position of receptivity and readiness, surrounded ourselves with supportive people, and cut out things and people that did not propel us forward. Just after Sam was born, Jay found Take Two—our second chance! It was a catamaran, bigger, more stable, perfect for our growing family, so we bought it. Within a year, and just hitting the end of our five-year plan, we had moved aboard, sold most of our belongings, and put our house on the market. We took day trips, then weekend trips, then a week-long thanksgiving trip, and then, after selling the house, we left!
Of course, summing it up this way makes it sound easy, but it was hard—hard to face our own doubts and fears, hard to go against societal norms, hard to make what seemed like an unwise financial decision, hard to live in a small space with lots of small children, hard to fix the boat and learn to sail it, hard to untie the dock lines and leave the safety of the known for the unknown adventure. But one thing propelled us forward: the possibility of regret. We knew a lot could go wrong with our plan, but we also knew that if we didn’t try, we would always wonder what it would have been like. We did not want to wait, because life is unpredictable and if we didn’t take the chance when we were young and capable (and a little crazy), we might not get another opportunity. Most importantly, we did not want to die with regret—wishing we had done things differently.
When we set off into the proverbial and literal sunset—we sailed back to the Dry Tortugas. It was our first overnight, and we had aboard an 8, 7, 5, and 3-year-old. When you travel with small children, you are always single-handing; one person is on-watch and the other person is responsible for the safety and comfort of the kids. When we arrived the next morning just in time to see the sea plane touch town near Fort Jefferson, we felt a rush of excitement and accomplishment. We had made it! We were cruising with our family! We set the anchor and all jumped in for a swim. That week was so much fun—touring the old fort with our kids, snorkeling, going exploring in the dinghy, learning how to be truly self-sufficient. We sailed to Key West and did some sightseeing—introducing our children to the historic southernmost city. And then we made our way to Marathon and motored into Boot Key Harbor.
If you are sitting here, you probably know what a special place Marathon is. There are many metaphorical “safe harbors” that we have had to leave in order to live an adventurous life, but Boot Key Harbor is the literal safe harbor where we really began our journeys. It was where we first met the community of cruisers and liveaboard sailors, where we learned to provision by boat, to manage our power and water usage, and to take care of chores and repairs while living on a mooring ball. We met a colorful cast of characters that call this place home and made friends in the homeschool community. It was where we learned to get comfortable with discomfort. I learned I was expecting a baby in the summer of 2010—and we lived on a mooring for about six months until we could get our boat ready to cross the Gulf Stream in November. It was hot and buggy and I was pregnant! We knew we only had a few months before we would need to be in a stable place for the birth of our baby, so ready or not, we left the safe harbor and set off for the Bahamas.
It was everything we had hoped for and everything we had promised our kids—white sand beaches, palm trees, snorkeling, water that looks like a bottle of Sapphire Gin, and lots of other boats with families. There were also challenges and opportunities to learn from mistakes. We felt like we had finally “arrived”…we were doing the thing we had always dreamed of, and it was worth all the trouble to get there. Of course, just as we were beginning to get comfortable with the cruising life, it was time to decide where to stop and have a baby.
One thing we had learned while traveling is that our boat was not very “kid-friendly.” In addition to needing a physical space to put the new baby, we also needed to re-do the upholstery, update the galley, add a head (we were all sharing a single hand-pump jabsco toilet!), and generally make the living space more comfortable. After more than a year of living aboard, we had decided we were not camping and wanted to make Take Two our home long-term. So we sailed back to Florida to have a baby and re-fit the boat.
If you can’t imagine having four little kids aboard a boat full-time, then the idea of bringing a newborn baby into that environment will be inconceivable. I won’t lie—it was an intense experience. We spent a year at a marina in Bradenton, Florida, renovating the boat and learning how to manage yet another person in a small space. When you live long-term on a cruising boat, one thing that is really challenging and important to figure out is how to balance living, loving, working, traveling, parenting, and making repairs. We found that alternating seasons of travel with seasons of working to replenish funds and upgrading or fixing the boat worked really well for us. So we have these wonderful travel memories and friendships from all our voyages, and also these moments of stability that allowed us to take care of the demands of homeschooling our kids, making money, fixing the boat, and taking breathers so we would not go crazy.
That baby who was born in 2011, Rachel, is now 10 years old. She has spent her whole life afloat, and she really is a well-traveled and cool little person. Along with our older kids, she has been back and forth to the Bahamas several times, she’s learned American history hands-on and on-location as we traveled up and down the East Coast of the U.S. from colonial cities to Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields, to field trips at the museums of the Smithsonian while we spent a month at the Capitol Yacht Club in Washington D.C. We stopped in Marathon anytime we were on our way past to touch base with friends and enjoy the relative safety of Boot Key Harbor.
In 2016, we set off from here to head to the Caribbean—a trip that gave us more than 20 stamps in our passports and took us 3 ½ years. We spent six months traveling from the Bahamas to Grenada, stopping at almost all the islands on the way down the Eastern Caribbean. After a hurricane season in Grenada, we went west to the ABCs, spending a memorable December in Bonaire, one of our favorite places on planet earth. We spent a lot of time underwater there, but also toured the island, learned to windsurf, went swimming in an underwater cave system, made local friends, and celebrated holidays with boat friends. We took the last weather window of the year just before the arrival of the Christmas winds to sail for Colombia. I will never forget coming around Cabo de la Vela, a place where the wind gets funneled and even on a nice day you can see gusts to 50 knots, and seeing the mountains of the Sierra Nevadas—the snow-capped peaks in South America. We were sailing downwind under a double-reefed mainsail and surfing down 10-12-foot waves, seeing 15 knots of boat speed. It was a wild and exhilarating ride. With our brave crew taking watches, we had sailed to another continent!
We spent a month in Colombia, taking trips to Cartagena, National Parks, the mountains above Santa Marta to see coffee farms and cacao groves, brushing up on our Spanish, and waiting for the wind to abate so we could head further west. We arrived in Panama in January of 2017 and didn’t leave again until January of 2018. Imagine sailing with your family to another country where you don’t speak the language and homeschooling your children in a place where indigenous people paddle by in dugout canoes! It was an incredible experience. We explored the Bocas del Toro archipelago, had a visit with Jay’s parents, traveled overland to Costa Rica, stayed a night in the Chagres River on our way to Shelter Bay where we stayed for a month so we could travel by train along the canal and see the Pacific side from Panama City. We spent a month in the island of San Blas, explored historic Portobelo and reprovisioned for our passage north to San Andres and Providencia (probably our favorite island in all the Caribbean). We spent another year in the Western Caribbean, improving our Spanish, hanging out in Grand Cayman, the Bay Islands of Honduras, learning to free dive in Utila and swimming with whale sharks, exploring Belize, and spending a hurricane season in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. We were able to haul our boat out there for painting and repairs, visit Mayan pyramids, hang out in the ancient city of Antigua, climb active volcanos, hike in the jungle, and swim in ice-cold waterfalls as well as thermal springs.
By this time, our crew was beginning to grow restless. We had left the United States with a 14, 13, 11, 9, and 4-year-old, but during our travels, they had grown from children to young adults. At 17, 16, 14, 12, and 7, they were capable crew-members, seasoned travelers, and Spanish-speakers. We had made lots of friends on other boats, but they were missing friends and family back home. They were beginning to wonder about their own journeys and what the next steps were for their educations and life goals. Though we had pretended that we would just travel around with our kids forever, we knew that a parent’s goal involves working yourself out of a job, and that it was time to come back to our home country and give our teenagers a stable place from which to launch. We exited the Rio Dulce in April of 2019, and headed north to Belize and Mexico. By the first of July, when we motored toward the Florida Keys over seas so glassy they looked like a mirror, we had sailed over 5000 nautical miles in our circle of the Caribbean.
My oldest son was just weeks shy of his 18th birthday, and he had never owned a phone, gone to class, or driven a car. Though we returned to the safe harbor, we were not the same people who had left, and we felt as though we were beginning a different kind of adventure. There was certainly a lot of reverse culture shock! I felt overwhelmed in Publix—everything was so bright, so clean, and so plentiful! Gone were the days of pulling my wagon from the produce stand to the butcher to the street vendor. Gone were the small Caribbean shops the size of a walk-in closet. Gone were the mysterious food items with labels in another language. As happy as I was to come “home,” I also really missed our traveling lifestyle.
Our kids went full-speed into a “normal” life for the first time—the teenagers took standardized tests, started classes at the College of the Florida Keys, learned to drive, got jobs, and hung out with friends. Our younger two joined a community basketball league and reconnected with homeschool friends—and we found ourselves taking multiple trips ashore every day and spending a lot of time zooming around like chickens with our heads cut off! My one consolation was coming back to the boat in the evening to watch the sunset from our peaceful back deck. Some days I just wanted to push the “pause button.”
VII. What We Learned
And then came COVID. You can all thank me (or forgive me!) when that giant “pause button” was pushed. We went from busy-busy-busy to being all seven back on the boat 24-7. It was a rude awakening for many of us, but for me, it was also a confirmation: you never know what can happen, which is why you have to live as if every day is your last! We had not waited until “someday” to travel, had lived outside the box, developed self-sufficiency, and made so many wonderful memories. We had no regrets. And, most helpfully, we already knew how to homeschool!
Like Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” so we used the time provided by COVID to take a long road trip out west and go to all the places you can’t travel by boat—the Grand Canyon, the National Parks of Utah, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mammoth Cave, and the Great Smoky Mountains. I decided to take a manuscript I had been working on and finish and publish it. I did this for three reasons: to relive all the good memories during a time when we were feeling stuck, to reflect on all that we had learned, and to inspire others to live boldly and pursue their wildest dreams.
I’m sure you have questions about some of the difficulties we faced—storms at sea, long passages, close calls, encounters with dangerous animals and people, and how we stayed sane while living aboard with five kids—so I will close with this: the real danger for humans is not the obvious fearful circumstances that we all must face. It is not even death, which is inevitable. It is a life unlived. My daughter has a shirt with Coyote Peterson’s slogan on it: “Be Brave, Stay Wild.” And this is what I want to leave you with. We have safety messaging all around us all the time. But if we follow all the advice given, we will never leave the safe harbor to experience the wild beauty of the world. If we risk little, we gain little. Fear can keep us alive, yes, but it can also keep us from really living.
My book is largely about the risks we took and the rewards we reaped: how sailing is a perfect metaphor for life, how we learned more from failure than success, and how we prioritized relationships and memories over collecting stuff. It is about evaluating risk and living despite our fears—how ordinary people can live an extraordinary life. It explores the physical journeys we took, yes, but also looks at the spiritual journey, the inner voyages of the heart and soul that is the real adventure God offers each of us.
Do you still have that dream you brought with you from the past? It is time to carry it with you into the future. What does your dream from back then tell you about what you want out of life now? What keeps you from pursuing a life full of risks and rewards? If you have already fulfilled a dream, what is your next adventure? What is the next step to getting yourself out of the safe harbor?
Thank you so much for giving me your time and attention this evening. Does anyone have any questions?