Living onboard a 50-foot sailboat with six members of your family for a year isn’t always easy—especially in a space the size of your living room. For example, what are you to do when your brother uses up all the hot water—for the rest of the day? Or when, after a bitter spat with your sister, the length of the saloon is the farthest you’re going to get away from each other—for the next two weeks? And it can be tough keeping everyone’s eating habits, bedtimes, musical tastes, waking hours, drink preferences, and trips ashore in sync. (Bad moods, however, always seem wondrously concurrent.)
Of course there are compensations, like clambering up on deck in the morning and finding yourself in Europe, Africa, or the Caribbean. Or watching dolphins trace phosphorescent trails through bioluminescent algae in the midnight darkness of a moonless night watch at sea. And, for every quarrel you have, there are surely two or three moments of deep bonding through adversity and exotic experience—like that time you survived a raging gale in the North Atlantic together.
This was my family’s life for twelve months.
In late June of 2006 we set out aboard Medley, a 50-foot cutter-rigged ketch, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, accompanied by the piped strains of “Farewell to Nova Scotia” and the bittersweet hurrahs of the friends who had gathered to see us off. There were seven of us: my aunt Suezan Aikins, my uncle Sam Rogers, my father, Greg Aikins, my two younger brothers, Michael and Taylor, and my sister, Christianne, the youngest, whom we would home-school throughout the trip.
We were all sailors, of various stripes, but this would be the first time any of us had embarked on a journey of this magnitude: a yearlong, 11,000-mile loop clockwise around the North Atlantic, during which we’d visit the coast of Europe and the islands of West Africa and the Caribbean. It was my father’s dream, incubated during his days as a naval officer, to steal the family away to sea and escape the quotidian hustle-bustle, if just for a year. Of course, dreams have a way of being deferred by the tangles of mortgages, careers, and the educations of four children. But when I, the eldest, approached my final year in university, my father realized that his last chance to actually do it would soon be at hand.
At the same time, my aunt Suezan and my uncle Sam, artists and longtime residents of Prospect, Nova Scotia, were hoping to do something similar. Together they and my father searched out and purchased a boat—and the fellowship of seven was formed.