As many of you know, I’ve been sailing around the world since I was little.
I’ve completed my circumnavigation, just a few days ago actually.
We left Vancouver, Canada when I was seven, and we’ve sailed 37000 nautical miles miles. I’ve spent over half my life on our catamaran, which isn’t exactly a normal childhood. But it is a great one. There are ups and downs, as there are in anything, and it’s taught me a lot about my self and the world.
Hopefully it’s made me a better person, and at the very least, it’s made me one with more exotic anecdotes than I might’ve had if we stayed on land.
I was nine when I did the Puddlejump, and most of my time was spent doing school, reading, constructing elaborate desserts out of play-doh, and counting the flying fish that had ended up in our nets.
Now that I’m older, things are a little different.
I still do school and I still read, but now I listen to podcasts, cook, clean, take watches, binge watch TV when I’m feeling lazy and write stories when I’m feeling productive.
Passages are a chance to take a break from the outside world and do all the things you’ve been meaning to do but never got around to.
So write. Read. Play an instrument, paint a picture. If you have good balance, do some yoga. If you’re still in school, catch up on it. Fish. Make sushi if you catch a fish! I seldom catch fish.
Enjoy yourself and your time away from the world.
You’re also away from the internet, which can be very, very hard. About three days out, I start getting twitchy.
What’s happening? What are my friends doing? What’s going on in the world?
But now I’ve begun to view my time away from the WiFi as a way to decompress, if you will. The internet is a marvellous tool but it can get stressful too. And another cool thing about crossing the Pacific Ocean is that you get serious bragging rights. That’s something you can bring up at parties and at school for the rest of your life.
Kids on boats. I’m sure you all get a lot of questions from people who don’t live on boats.
Are you just taking a break? Do you go to a new school everywhere you travel? How do you keep up with the world?
And at least with me, a more than a few people have assumed that I’m a maladjusted, anti-social weirdo because of my unconventional childhood.
But you know what; I think we’re pretty cool.
We’re seeing more of the world at this young age than many of our peers ever will.
Many of us make friends with people all over the world, and we learn more about the earth and its issues than you ever will by reading about it in a newspaper or a history book.
One of my favourite parts of cruising is the chance to meet women all over the world, from so many different backgrounds.
When I was in Fiji, we met the oldest female chief in the country and took part in a traditional sevu-sevu ceremony. She was in her nineties, and her skin was dark and worn from the sun. She smiled at me joyfully as I offered her the kava roots I held.
When I bought a sari in Sri Lanka, women would stop on the streets to offer their own ways of wrapping it and to tell me their stories of their first sari. A twenty year old plantation worker had helped me wrap it for the first time, busily folding and pleating the silk as she explained how most Sri Lankan girls would have a party to celebrate getting their first sari, similar to a Bat Mitzvah or a Quinceañera. I still have that sari, carefully tucked away and protected from damp. It still smells like fresh black tea, and I still remember practising wrapping it and folding it over and over again in the cockpit of my boat until I could do it in five minutes. The first time I tried it, it took about thirty minutes.
In Madagascar women dance all the time. In bars, on beaches, at soccer games – it’s part of their life. I cannot, for the life of me, describe how they move. Imagine paint shakers – and then imagine those paint shakers strapped to their hips. That’s something like it. One day, at an impromptu soccer game in a tiny village, someone hooked up the speakers and a tall, black haired woman seized my hands and tried to show me how to wiggle my hips in the way she was.
Meeting all these women in the countries I visit is wonderful. And of course, meeting other women sailors. They are all so brave.
However, despite all these great things, there are challenges.
I haven’t seen kids my own age in a year, (which is unusual – we were just going a route that doesn’t see many people. Across the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, there were loads of kids. Don’t worry). The internet’s been expensive, meaning it’s hard to keep in touch with people, and I haven’t always been able to get new episodes of Game of Thrones, which is torturous.
You get homesick and you get pretty damn sick of using a little wee boat to drive everywhere. Your clothes get damp and salty when you drive to shore, and you have to bail out your dinghy in the pouring rain.
I’ve never heard of anyone having to bail their car.
Sometimes it’s dangerous.
A few days out from the Marquesas, we lost one of our rudders. We’ve know many people whose boats have gone up on reefs, or developed catastrophic leaks.
I’m sure many of you have also heard the concerns voiced by family members or friends.
You’re going sailing? With kids? Are you crazy?
I’ve had quite a few friends ask me anxiously about pirates, or inform me that a hurricane was headed right at us and MAIA YOU MIGHT DIE.
But most of us are pretty careful.
Another thing that boats make tricky – making friends and having privacy.
I don’t actually have a door. I’ve had friends over, and we’re sitting in my room, talking, and my friend mentions a school project or something and my mum chimes in from the other hull because you can hear everything on my boat.
And sometimes, there are simply no friends to be had. My advice for boat kids just setting off – if there’s a person roughly around your age, just make friends with them. You never know when you’re going to see another.
Throw away worries about age differences, gender, interests, whatever. Chances are, they’re just as eager for a friend as you are.
One of my first boat friends was a thirteen year old girl. I met her when I was eight.
We talked so much when we first met, that we both had sore throats the next day. Boat kids are some of the most interesting, engaged people I’ve ever met, and I think we’ll all grow up to be pretty interesting adults too.
I’ve also made amazing online friends that are as dear to me as my ‘real’ friends.
We’ve connected over shared political views, loving the same book series, or learning languages.
This past year, they kept me from being impossibly lonely.
I think I got Facebook when I was nine, just so I could keep in touch with friends. I know some cruising families steer away from the internet and advocate the off-the-grid path, and that’s fine as well, but for me, an only child, the internet is awesome.
I’ve known many of my internet friends for a few years and they’re all wonderful people who’re kind, supportive and smart.
Cruising life is not perfect. It’s not some lovely fantasy filled with golden beaches and days filled with swimming. It’s hard.
But it’s also wonderful.
It gives you the very best and the very worst of the world, and for me at least, that’s where I’m most happy.
It challenges me, and my beliefs, and it reaffirms my faith in humanity.
In Sri Lanka – I hiked up Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada, at 3am, along with thousands of religious pilgrims. I was hiking to see the sunrise. In Sri Lanka, it’s believed that Adam’s Peak is where Adam first set foot on earth. From above, the 7400 feet mountain looks a bit like a giant foot print. About halfway up, my injured ankle gave way and an elderly couple took me into their tiny teahouse that doubled as their home.
The woman’s sister lived with them in this tiny, freezing shack, and at night they shared a communal bed. In their few words of English and some dedicated miming on my part, they told me about their daughter who had moved to Canada. They wondered if I knew her. I was wearing cut off denim shorts and it was 12 degrees Celsius, (that’s 54 Fahrenheit for you crazy Americans), so they gave me a blanket and sat me down in their bed.
My parents weren’t with me on that trip. Another thing that cruising has taught me is the importance of creating your own goals.
Cruising was never my dream, just like hiking up Sri Pada was never my parents’. But cruising has given me the platform to pursue my own goals.
I’ve become a published author, writing about my travels, and I’ve also developed my love of writing fiction. I don’t know if I would’ve done these things if I stayed on land.
Some of the things you see in the world are amazing – or horrifying.
In the Maldives, which is a collection of remote coral atolls, the seas are rising and the islands are really low so the fear is that they’ll be covered by the ocean soon.
But also in the Maldives, I met the marine biologist who was creating coral nurseries so that they could replant damaged sections of the reef.
In Borneo, Bruite Galdikas, one of ‘Leaky’s Ladies’ created several sanctuaries for orang-utans where the rangers are knowledgeable and fiercely protective of the orang-utans and their palm forest habitat.
In St Helena, the resident marine biologist has created a program monitoring the whale sharks that visit, as well as the endemic species. She was also involved in making sure that tourists don’t adversely affect any of the sea life.
Things like that are inspiring and amazing to see.
But as much as I’ve loved this life, it can be important to take breaks, too.
I went to school in Australia for three years, half way through our circumnavigation and I think that was a really important time for me.
It gave me a little break from cruising and I got to be a normal kid. It let me learn about my peers that were living a more traditional life and it let me engage with the world that they were living in.
I learned about pop culture! I went to malls with my friends! I got fro-yo! It was fantastic, and I’m really glad that I had that time.
Schooling on boats can be different for everyone. Some families go the unschooling path – letting their kids learn what they will. Others order stacks of textbooks and keep in constant contact with a teacher on shore, and use official homeschooling programs. I buy textbooks at my level and just work through them and that works pretty well for me.
But the great thing about this life is that you’re learning all the time.
I took ukulele lessons in Tahiti from a professional teacher and musician.
A friend on another boat taught me the style of jewellery making that was passed down from her grandmother.
A French woman taught me the traditional brioche recipe that an old man in her village had been making for decades.
I learned to scuba dive in Fiji and I went on hikes with biologists who waxed poetic about the diverse flora and fauna of the region.
Never pass up an opportunity to learn. Ask questions. Listen to everyone.
In conclusion boat life can be really hard.
Actually, it should be hard.
You get scared.
You get lonely.
You get homesick.
And you overcome them all.
You learn that having a bit of your boat fall off isn’t actually the end of the world; you realize that while feeling seasick is awful in the moment, it does end, and you discover that your boat becomes your home.
And there are new friends and new experiences in every harbour.
I’ll be going home in a few months – back to normal school and extracurricular activities.
Weekend trips to the mall and visiting with family that I haven’t seen in years.
I’m excited beyond belief, and I’m also sad to be leaving cruising.
It’s been some of the best years of my life.