Five Years After

The daydream went something like this: we’ll pick up the hook and sail all night while the children sleep, and when they wake up in the morning and look out the window, they will see something completely new and amazing. We used to tickle ourselves with this idea, especially at the beginning, when we were so bogged down with repairs that it seemed that we would never go anywhere except to the West Marine for parts and the bank to withdraw more money. As with many things in life, what seems to take forever while you’re waiting gets compressed when looking back; it’s been five years this week since we bought Take Two, and although she’s spent a good bit of that time at a dock getting worked on, she’s also taken us to new and amazing places. The things we dreamed about with our young children have actually come to pass. This came home for me as we anchored in the dark a couple of weeks ago off the western side of Highborne Cay in the Central Bahamas. We had used the calm North-westerly breeze to make our way south and east over night from the Berry Islands to the Exumas. It was magical to wake up in the shadow of a new island surrounded by beautiful water.

Someone commented recently on how nice Take Two looked (especially for a twenty-two-year-old wooden boat), and asked me how much we had put into her. My response? “Everything.” Every ounce of energy, every spare penny, every drop of love, every moment of our time. When I related this conversation to Jay, he wondered if I regretted any of it. What could I possibly trade that would be worth as much to me as the last five years? We bought the boat in April of 2008, moved aboard August of 2009, sold our house in May of 2010 and never looked back. There is nothing I would rather be doing than living aboard, boat-schooling the children, and traveling whenever we can. Very little of it has been easy—just try cramming 7 people (at least one of whom is an actual toddler) into a tiny, constantly moving space for long periods of time and see what happens. It is a crucible of the character, I can tell you, and the things that rise to the top are none too pretty. But it has been rewarding. We have made countless happy memories that far surpass any of the difficulties or unpleasantness.

I don’t know what you dream of doing, or where it is you’d like to go in your life. But even if sailing away is the last thing you would think of, just know that it is possible to envision something and then make the thousand tiny choices that will turn your path slowly but inexorably toward that thing. I leave you with an excerpt from the introduction to Tom Neale’s book, All in the Same Boat. I framed this many years ago and hung it at Jay’s eye level in the bathroom. I like to think it helped motivate us to keep trying and never give up.

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…

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.