Cat from Marina La Cruz recently asked my mum and I to give a talk to a group of sailing women about our experiences and thoughts on sailing. A few of them asked me to post my speech, so here it is!
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
Now that I’m older, things are a little
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
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
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
But you know what; I think we’re pretty
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
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
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
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
I’ve never heard of anyone having to bail
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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