The decision to leave behind everything we knew, to cruise on an old sailing boat on the other side of the world, was one that forever changed us.
Guest post by Erin Carey
My husband and I thought living off the grid and sailing the world’s oceans with our three young boys would provide us with adventure, a change of pace and a chance to connect in a way the rat race had so far prevented us from doing.
Little did it know that it would change us forever.
Two years and two months from watching the documentary that put the crazy idea in our minds, we waved our families and friends goodbye and flew to the other side of the world. The monumental effort required to achieve this goal was all-encompassing; after all, we had never owned a boat and had no idea how to sail!
Yet, after two years of hard work, dedication, training and planning, we departed Australia and arrived into the Caribbean to lay eyes upon the vessel we had purchased sight unseen, the vessel that would keep us afloat for the next two years.
The yacht, a 1984 Moody 47, was stored on land at the time, and we needed a ladder to climb aboard. As the boys clambered up the dangerously tall makeshift ladder, their squeals of delight could be heard throughout the entire boatyard. She looked enormous from the outside but felt tiny on the inside.
How on earth would we live in a space smaller than our living room?
Settling into our new home was not as comfortable as we had hoped. It turned out that a yacht on land is not half as much fun as a yacht on the water. The fridge couldn’t run, the toilets couldn’t be flushed, and without the seas breeze, it was as hot as hell! The nearby mangrove system also ensured there were plenty of buzzing night-time visitors to keep us company.
Needless to say, by the time we finished the enormous list of required boat work and launched six weeks later, I was more than ready for the next phase of our adventure.
When we finally splashed our boat, the reality of life afloat really hit home. We were living on the water, it surrounded us in every direction, and our home moved up and down as the swell dictated.
The direction we faced changed daily according to the direction of the wind and sleeping took a bit to get used to. The feeling of floating in the bay with all the other boats, swimming and fishing in our own backyard and using our dinghy to run to shore and back, was surreal. The kids took to this new lifestyle like fish to water, with excitement and resilience.
While we may not have had much experience with boats, we made up for it with a massive can-do attitude, and, while the learning curve was incredibly steep, we never gave up hope that eventually we’d feel at home on the water.
When we finally mustered up the courage to leave the safety of the harbour for the very first time and sail to the nearest island, some 90 miles away, our engine died mid passage, and we were tossed around like a toy boat in a bathtub, encountering 40-knot winds and large swell. Eventually, we were towed into an unfamiliar port at night, our egos bruised and battered.
The second island we visited saw us leaving a mooring buoy only to be blown onto the nearby reef as one of our ropes has fallen overboard and fouled the propeller.
But as the miles under our keel grew, so too did our confidence.
Yet the dramas didn’t end there.
Sailing to the gorgeous Tobago Quays, a mecca for turquoise waters and giant sea turtles, saw us catch a wayward net in our propeller that once again killed our engine and saw us very nearly drift into the boat behind us.
Thankfully these mishaps didn’t kill our spirits; after all, we were completely free and anchored in paradise. Seeing our boys swim with turtles, hike mountains and build forts on the beach trumped any mishap we encountered at sea and day by day we felt more confident in our abilities and fell more in love with the lifestyle and all it embodied.
As time went on, our children experienced things most kids their age would have never even dreamt of.
They danced in the Grenadian Jab Jab festival amidst the locals, whose bodies were covered in motor oil, shimmering in the hot tropical sun. Dressed in shackles and chains, the sassy display was a cultural experience they won’t soon forget and a lesson in the country’s emancipation from slavery and the meaning of freedom.
They slept in the cockpit on starry nights, sailing into darkness, yet safe and warm tucked up in a blanket while lying their heads in our lap. While dolphins played in our bow wave, they would lie on their tummies and watch with awe, giggling each time one would splash them.
Then, one night on a Grenadian beach, they witnessed the Giant Leatherback turtle giving birth to her eggs, her guttural moans so raw and primitive. They hiked active volcanoes and rode in the back of trucks, tasted Iguana and snails and cooked marshmallows over beach fires. Snorkelling, swimming and paddle boarding were a daily occurrence, done in the company of other boat kids, equally as adventurous and confident.
Yet life on the water wasn’t all sunshine and cocktails, it was a tough lifestyle filled with tremendously amazing experiences, luckily balancing each other out.
However, it was the little everyday problems that living a nomadic lifestyle provided, that strengthened our bond and showed us our strength. Whether we were shopping for groceries on foot, carrying bags of cans and dried goods for what felt like miles, each of us chipping in. Or loading those groceries into the boat from our dinghy, bouncing up and down in the swell and trying not to drop them overboard, teamwork was an essential part of boat life.
But it was during these times that we had endless time to spend with our children, to talk and engage with one another, something that doesn’t happen often enough in everyday life. Chit chat is so rare when there are two working parents trying to maintain a house, job and endless obligations on land.
To be able to have meaningful conversations with my boys about the world and other cultures, while actually experiencing them firsthand, was priceless.
One of the best things about cruising with kids was how they experience situations that would never happen on land.
On one occasion, we were anchored in Terceira, a tiny island of the Azores archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. With winds gusting up to 40 knots, a yacht dragged anchor and became stranded on the rocks of the breakwater.
As the cruising community is a pretty tight-knit group, people were soon in their dinghies racing over to the vessel to lend a hand. So, as is commonplace in the cruising community, we decided to help out as well. I wasn’t sure how much we could do, seeing as all of my boys were under ten years old, but arriving at the boat, we discovered that our dinghy outboard, which was a 15 horsepower, was the most powerful one there.
Soon enough another cruiser had boarded the yacht and thrown us a tow line. Apparently, we were to be the tow vessel. With the three boys and myself hanging onto the rope, I revved the outboard to try and pull the boat off the rocks and into safe water.
It wasn’t going well, and I was starting to worry I had bitten off more than I could chew.
The wind began to blow us onto the rocks, and I had to perform some tricky manoeuvres with the odd wave crashing over our dinghy. Finally, we realised that if we timed the swell with us pulling the towline, the yacht would raise slightly with the swell, and we could inch her nose off a large rock that was holding her aground.
With a final rev of the engine, the yacht was free, and we towed her to deeper water. We returned to our boat and revelled in the adrenaline-pumping experience of which we had partaken. The boys had dealt with their fear and helped a vessel in need, they smiled the smiles of real heroes that day, and I was a very proud mother.
When planning our adventure, an ocean crossing was always a primary goal we wanted to achieve.
We had decided to buy an older boat because they built them more robust in those days, but this meant giving up some of the luxuries that modern boats could offer, such as light and airy spaces and extra cabins.
As we pulled anchor in the Caribbean island of St Martin and headed out into the Atlantic Ocean for what ended up being a 17-day passage to the Azores, we were nervous, excited and grateful all at once.
The freedom from distractions and unlimited time together allowed us to feel truly guilt-free. There was nowhere we had to be and nothing we had to do, a feeling rarely experienced on land.
The ever-changing ocean and endless sunrises and sunsets were the perfect backdrop for us to create our own little world together, alone in the middle of the ocean but more connected and happier than we’d ever felt.
Even when hit with some rough weather, the boat was sliding sideways down three-meter waves, the kids kept their cool and followed orders. Sleeping in the cockpit under starry skies, halfway day dress-up parties, freshly baked cookies and dance music filled the boat with a sense of calm and happiness we’d never experienced before.
Living a nomadic lifestyle may not be for everyone and basing that life on the water adds challenges that can overwhelm you.
Many times over the two years of cruising, my family and I broke down in the moment — broken, but not beaten. As a family, we have experienced some of the toughest lows, and some of the greatest highs, riding wave after wave of uncertainty and bliss, day in and day out.
But, by staying true to our vision of living life differently, we came away with far more than a great tan. Living on a boat taught us about each other, the world and ourselves. The children returned to land more confident and mature, their teachers commenting on the positivity and worldliness.
For me, our 22-month trip was life-changing.
Not only did I discover that I am far stronger than I knew possible, but I also discovered a new passion for writing and started a new career. I created my own business offering promotional and marketing services to high profile digital nomads and was published over 50 times in magazines around the world despite having no writing experience.
I am now also able to help replicate the feeling of freedom and adventure for other families who want to learn how they too can quit the rat race and travel the world with their family. And Roam, well she inspired it all. My business is now called Roam Creative, and thanks to our experience, I can create, sustain and enhance others’ Roam lifestyle!
While sailing the world, I felt like I belonged on the water, I found my tribe, and I felt at peace. Today though, I sit and write from my home in Adelaide, Australia. After returning to the ‘real world’ six weeks ago, I have struggled to find that sense of belonging and freedom I had on the boat and so badly want again.
Thankfully, our experience taught us that we don’t want to return to ‘normal’ long-term, for us, our adventure is not over, and we will sail the oceans again aboard Roam, who is waiting for us on the other side of the world, ready for our next adventure in 2021. In the meantime, we will look back on our experience together and remind ourselves that it wasn’t all just a really great dream.
To follow our journey, head to Sailing to Roam on Facebook and Instagram. Alternatively, if you want to discuss my promotional packages, find out more about my coaching service or ask me to write an article for your blog or publication, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org