3 kids, 2 years, 1 sailboat in the Caribbean and the family that made it happen
When Adelaide mum, Erin Carey, and her husband Dave sat down to watch Netflix one night, they didn’t know it was going to change their lives, and the lives of their three boys.
A sailing documentary they happened upon that evening sparked an idea for the family of five, an idea they worked for two years to bring to reality.
From tight budgeting, scrimping and saving, to pulling their kids out of private schools and selling their cars; Erin and Dave moved heaven and earth in a bid to sail around the world with their sons.
We chat with Erin about how they did it, and the huge life changing adventure it turned out to be.
Tell us about your decision to take your three sons and sail the Caribbean seas, how did this come about?
To be honest, it was a spur of the moment decision. My husband and I sat down one evening to watch Netflix. It was a random chance that he played Laura Dekker’s documentary about her solo journey sailing around the world. I wasn’t even planning on watching it, I was looking on my phone, but something grabbed my attention and for the next 90 or so minutes I was completely transfixed, we both were. At the end of the documentary we turned to each other and said, “wow”. We moved to the computer and googled “families sailing the world”. When we discovered that there were normal families out there doing it, we said, “if they can do it, so can we!” And we never looked back. From that moment on we were determined to live on a boat and sail the world’s oceans. At that stage we had no idea how we were going to do it, we just knew we’d figure it out.
How did you take the dream of this huge adventure and make it into a reality?
The first step in turning it into a reality was mindset. We truly believed we were going to do it, I think that was a huge part of our success. We were very determined, despite having no savings, some credit card debt and no idea how to sail. I always knew we’d do something big regarding travel, I thought we might live overseas at some stage, I had no idea we would live on a boat. It was as foreign to us as speaking another language. While I had spent some time sailing with my Dad as a kid, it was on an inland lake in a dinghy, and I didn’t enjoy it. I think the idea of freedom, exploration and adventure was more appealing than the sailing part, but I was also excited for that.
We bought a 21 foot trailer sailor and my Dad taught us how to sail. We’d head out every opportunity we got and we fell in love with the peace and tranquillity of being on the water. We also transformed our budget, cutting costs, making sacrifices and we even pulled our kids out of a private school and sent them public. We hosted international university students in our home for months at a time (sometimes two at a time) to earn more money and we applied for promotions. We sold many of our belongings and wouldn’t buy anything unless it was going to be used on the boat.
We researched and studied, networked and planned, never wavering in our dedication. My husband completed his coxswains course and we both did safety at sea and first aid. We knew that we didn’t want to start in Australia. Boats were more expensive in Australia than they were in the Caribbean and the oceans were more treacherous around Australia. When we found our boat online located in Grenada in the Caribbean, we knew she was the one. We got some online friends whom we’d met through the process to check her out for us and we had a surveyor do a survey and when she checked out, we bought her sight unseen. Two years and two months after watching that documentary, we flew to Grenada on one way tickets and saw our boat for the very first time.
What was the biggest challenge living predominantly on a yacht with three children for so long?
The biggest challenge was definitely homeschooling. It was harder than learning to sail, navigate and read weather!
We decided that we wanted to cross an ocean in our boat, which was also a huge challenge. We had to do a lot of work to our boat to make it as safe and seaworthy as possible and it cost quite a lot of money, but once we were out on the ocean, all the hard work was worth it. We sailed from St Martin in the Caribbean to the tiny islands of the Azores, 900 miles off the coast of Spain. It took us 17 days non-stop. During that time we couldn’t see land and we were a tiny fleck in the middle of the ocean. It is one of my most proudest achievements and I will always be in awe of the fact that we did that. I loved being at sea, the ever changing ocean was like looking at a fire and the ability to switch off and totally disconnect from the world around us was like nothing else. I definitely look back on that time with the fondest of memories.
What are your highlights and lowlights for life at sea and living port to port?
Highlights were definitely crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the island of Grenada and the beautiful locals we met, attending Carnival and just everything about the stunning island.
The people we met were also by far one of the best parts about living on a boat. The community of likeminded folk sailing the world’s oceans are a special bunch. We made so many lifelong friends, people we know we could visit at any time, all over the world. The opportunity to really slow down and connect with people was such a wonderful part of cruising. The camaraderie, kindness and support of strangers (who soon became friends) was amazing.
The time we could spend together as a family was also priceless. We became very close and now that we are home, the little quality time we do get together is quite a shock.
Lowlights include things on the boat breaking a lot. That is normal but it definitely got my husband down and drained our bank account. Like I said, homeschooling was also hard. We discovered that my son has a learning disability that was not identified at school, so at least that was a positive that came out of that. We can now understand how my son learns, which will make round two much easier (I hope!!)
What life lessons did you and your children come away with in 18 months of adventure and seeing the world?
We were away from Australia for 22 months and the life lessons we learned were huge. We all learnt that we are far more capable than we ever imagined. Now, when my kids are struggling with something, I just have to remind them how strong they are, they crossed an ocean for gods sake! Not many five year olds can say that!
We learnt that we are also far more adaptable and resilient than we realised and I think my patience also improved a lot. While we have returned to the same house, jobs, friends and even wardrobe of clothes, I’ve learnt that possessions really aren’t important to me. I want to have experiences with my kids, I want them to have memories of our adventure rather than our stuff.
I feel very disillusioned since returning home. I can’t help but feel that everything about our society is out of whack. I miss our simple (but hard) life on the boat, I miss human connections with likeminded people, I miss the daily feeling of really feeling alive. I miss the high highs and also the low lows, because that how you know you’re doing something amazing. I miss my kids. Even though we are still together, it’s just not the same back here.
While we were living on our boat, I also discovered that I am a natural entrepreneur, because I started my own business in an entirely new field. I fell in love with writing and used my 15 years of interviewing skills to write about the amazing people we were meeting along the way. That turned into me starting my own PR an communications company called Roam Generation helping adventurers, YouTube creators and digital nomads share their unique and inspiring story. I obviously love a challenge, because now my business is keeping me busy while we save for part two of our adventure, continuing across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Med towards Greece and Turkey.
Do you have other adventures in the works? What’s next for the Carey family?
Our plan is to save as much as we can, establish my business as well as I can and then return to the boat (which is currently stored on land in the Azores) in Feb 2021. After that, who knows how long we’ll cruise for next time. Perhaps we’ll sail all the way back to Australia?
Erin’s tips for families wanting to make a huge lifestyle change
- Set a goal that feels crazy and scary and talk about it as though failure is not an option
- Set a date and work backwards from there
- Make a date far enough away that you can save enough money but also close enough that you won’t lose your motivation
- Be prepared to make big sacrifices because it will be worth it
- Be aware that once you’ve experienced a different way of life, you may never be satisfied living in the rat race again
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