Tell us about your family.
We are a family of 4; Russel, Greer, Kai (boy-13yrs) and Jaiya (girl-10yrs). Russel is a super competent sailor; his mum and dad circumnavigated and he sailed from Melbourne to Greece with them in his 20’s. He is also a mad-keen windsurfer, a number cruncher and one of those people who are (annoyingly) good at absolutely everything. Greer is an artist who loves yoga. Kai is also a superb windsurfer and dinghy sailor. He has a special talent for computers- coding and programming. He loves maths, reading and hanging out with other cruising kids. Jaiya is an insatiable reader, another windsurfer, dinghy sailor and baker. She also loves maths and writing, plays the piano (we have a keyboard aboard) and is looking forward to getting a dog once we return to land life!
Tell us about your journey?
We started our trip in Panama where we bought our boat Tika (an Outremer 55) in August 2015. We did a whirlwind tour of the Caribbean in 7 months (from Panama to Columbia, a land based trip to Peru, then we sailed to Cuba, Florida, The Bahamas, down the islands to Grenada, across to the Venazualan Islands, then Bonaire, San Blas, back to Panama and through the canal). We crossed the Pacific in 2016; to the Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia (Marquesas, Tuomotus and the Society Islands), Suwarrow in the northern Cooks and then to Fiji and New Zealand. We spent a summer in NZ hanging out in the Bay of Islands and circumnavigating the north island. We did a road trip and an 8 day hike in the south island and sailed the Abel Tasman area, Nelson, the Marlborough Sounds. We enjoyed cruising the Corramandel Peninsula, the Murcury islands, the Great Barrier and Waihiki islands before heading back to Opua and then out to Tonga in May 2017.
After 3 months in Tonga, we returned to Fiji (this time Kedavu and briefly the Yasawas to catch up with friends) before heading to Vanuatu for 2 months and then New Caledonia (where we are as we write this). We are heading next to Chesterfield Reef on our way back to the east coast of Australia- Coffs harbor, Sydney and then Melbourne for Christmas. As soon as Santa has departed, we will be looking for a weather window to take us to Tasmania, where we plan to cruise in January 2018. In February, we will cross the Great Australian Bite and head west, homeward bound for Perth. We hope to sail into Fremantle Harbour in April 2018
Where is your home country?
Perth, Western Australia.
Is your trip open ended or finite?
We left Perth with a 1.5yr plan that I soon worked out was a ridiculously short period to cruise the Pacific! We quickly got tired of moving too fast and chose to extend our trip by another year. This meant adding in a summer in NZ and getting back to Perth for the beginning of school 2018. We have now pushed out starting school to second term as we want to avoid any time pressure as we cross the bite- weather doesn’t follow school term calendars! And I would be lying if we didn’t have conversations over dinner that explore the idea of ‘just stopping into Perth’ and then continuing north to Asia….. But at this point in time, our plan is to return to land life, sell our boat (sob!) and return to work/school in April 2018.
Have you ever feared for your safety? In what capacity? Where?
No not really.
We have had our moments and once, when we dragged anchor, we feared for Tika’s safety! We were ashore. Without a dinghy or a VHF (we had been canyoning for the day and a water taxi had picked us up) Tika had been anchored for 36 hrs without a problem but before our eyes- and at dusk- we watched her drifting out to sea. It was Carnival so there were no water taxi’s in sight. We eventually, with the help of another cruiser got to her but she was 2 miles out to sea by the time we did. It was a horrible feeling and to this day we are not exactly sure what happened- we think another boat anchored and re-anchored and dislodged chain. We then invested in a new anchor- a Rocna 40 kilo just to be on the safe side (and we have not moved an inch since). We also learned our lesson about not having our dinghy ashore and we always carry a handheld VHF with us to shore since that day.
We have had rough passages but nothing unsafe- just uncomfortable. We had a screecher start to unfurl in 35knots off the coast of Columbia- that shook the boat a bit! But we dealt with it and worse case scenario, we were prepared to cut away the sail if we weren’t able to get it back in (fortunately we did)!
I had an infected tear duct or sty during the long passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas. Not a big deal- but as it worsened and became really painful I started to think about the potential issues it could cause (especially if the infection spread to the other eye). I couldn’t see, felt stabs of pain when I blinked and one night, was unable to do my shift so poor Russ had to sail through the night. At that point, I hit the antibiotics and it cleared up immediately but I learned the lesson to stay on top of the small things that could become a bigger issue when 1500nm from anywhere.
Have you had a favorite destination?
Ooooh not fair asking this question! We loved many places for different reasons. Cuba, The Bahamas and the San Blas Islands are our favorites in the Caribbean; and the Tuamotus and the Ha’apais in Tonga are our favorite two destinations in the Pacific.
Do you have a home base?
Yes. Perth, although we have not been home for over 2 years.
What is the education level of the parents? Previous type of work of the parents?
Russel has an Economics degree with honours and Greer has a B.A. in Visual art and a trade as a Signwriter. Previously, Russ has been a management consultant, an investment banker and a full time Foreign Exchange trader. Greer was a co-founder of a small coastal café in Perth that (over 15 years) morphed into 3 successful restaurant/ cafes with up to 180 staff. Russel became involved in the café’s as they expanded and was the GM towards the time that we sold to go cruising.
Do you follow an outlined curriculum? Do you incorporate traditional learning (language arts, math pages) or completely unschool or something in between?
We follow our own curriculum. We started with Western Australia’s SIDE (distant education) program but threw it overboard after about 2 weeks! It was way too easy for Kai and Jaiya and also very irrelevant.
When we first started, Jaiya was scheduled to do a research paper on Koala bears; we were in the San Blas Islands and had just that day been swimming with Nurse Sharks. We decided to do a paper on Nurse Sharks instead- it seemed more appropriate and Jaiya was much more excited about it.
I also found that the SIDE program required a lot of my time photocopying work sheets, completing reports and compiling piles of school work. I very quickly decided that all this time and energy would be better spent actually talking to, guiding and teaching my children so we finished with the program. We kept some of the material that we liked and ordered a few other workbooks and materials. We stayed with the International Baclareate (Haese) Maths book that Kai and Jaiya were working with at their Montessori School at home. It is one book per year to work through and we have found it to be excellent.
We have a microscope and a chemistry set aboard as well as two large art/craft boxes and the keyboard. We have a schedule that (on an ideal day) requires Kai and Jaiya to do 3 subjects (about 50 minutes x 3 each) of formal school. They also write a daily travel journal. They get to choose which subjects they do each day but they need to cover 15 subjects in the week (maths x4, and one each of grammar, spelling, comprehension, art, geography, writing, a research paper of their chosen subject, Spanish, French, Science and Naplan-an Australian curriculum overview workbook). There is flexibility when we are on passage or if there are exciting things to explore off the boat but broadly 3-4 hours a day is our aim.
Have you attended schools in a foreign country? Tell us about that experience.
No, but I am interesting in exploring it as an option as I like the idea. I have briefly looked into schools in Thailand and Penang just for fun at this stage! I love the idea of immersing our family in another language for a period of time.
What has been your best “teaching moment”?
We started integrating school into exploring new places and my favourite moments have come from a fish identification book we have created. While snorkeling (an almost daily activity) Kai and Jaiya look for fish they are interested in- they take gopro shots and footage. They then look up the species in our Reef Fish identification book when they get back to Tika. They write about that particular creature in our book. They draw the fish, write all about it and then note where we spotted it. If we spot it again in a different country/island/area they will go back and make another note. I also started noting interesting fish in the book and it has become a family-made catalogue of fish that have caught our eye. I have noticed that we are all a lot more observant while snorkeling and can describe tail shapes, types of fins, colours and habitats. I have also noticed that we never forget the names of the fish we have catalogued in our own book! There is a much greater level of learning compared to simply looking up the name of a fish and then closing the book. I love that school has been integrated into a daily ‘leisure’ activity and that it has invigorated and deepened our experience of snorkeling the reefs. I also love that this activity is very much led by the kids. No hassling them or cajoling them into doing school- they are genuinely excited about discovering cool fish and are innately interested in all available information connected to that species. It’s effortless schooling and a joy to watch.
Watching Kai and Jaiya embrace both windsurfing and dinghy sailing has also been very rewarding. They handle both like professionals. Russel taught them to windsurf at a very young age (from 4yrs) and he never gets tired of giving them tips. They both sailed optimists before we left Perth and we have a sailing dinghy aboard. Recently, they sailed with their friends to an uninhabited island out of sight with camping gear aboard. They found a suitable island, radioed in their position and camped out there for two nights. They packed their own food, lit a fire, cooked, set up tents and explored the island. They reliably stuck to the radio schedule we had set up and worked well as a team (6 kids in total) Independent kids with life skills and the freedom to use them! Longer term cruising kids that we have met have really taught me what kids are capable of given the opportunity and I love that Kai and Jaiya have had that exposure.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Probably getting too stressed about school, amount of work done and accuracy. I am a perfectionist and my lesson is always to trust that my kids are getting the education they need and that, even without the books, this lifestyle is a rich education in itself. At the beginning of the trip I was a little too hypertensive about school but I am starting to relax and enjoy watching my kids grow and learn in so many ways.
Would you do anything differently next time?
I would have planned for at least 5 years and gone a lot slower in the beginning. 14,000nm in 15 months off the bat was too much in hindsight. It put pressure on us as we were learning to live on a boat and homeschool while we were on the run trying to cover miles.
Did you sell everything before you left?
No. We rented out our house and have some other investment properties. We did sell our businesses to go cruising but we purchased the property of our most successful café.
How do you finance your trip?
We sold our 3 cafes, rented our house and have a small passive income from rent.
What is on your bucket list?
Other than our trip back to Perth (sailing into Sydney Harbour is on my list, as is Tasmania and the bite…and sailing into Fremantle Harbour will be such a fabulous bookend!); future cruising is on the list- possibly once the kids finish high-school if not before. I guess we will need to complete our circumnavigation! And enjoy slow travel the way so many boats that we have met without children seem to manage. I love South America and already I can’t wait to do the Pacific again. Non-sailing plans include more study, becoming a yoga teacher and starting another business!
What advice do you have to those people who are on the fence or who want to go?
Go! Go! GO!!!! I can’t empahasise enough how precious this time is. It is not always easy but spending this time I know will be the most treasured memories as we have been together through thick and thin, good and bad, sunsets, sunrises across oceans.
I cannot imagine not having the opportunity to get to know my kids on a whole new level through home-schooling. I look back on the pre-cruising days when they disappeared off to school for 6 hours a day and I really had no idea about what was lighting them up or what they were struggling with in the classroom.
I feel so much closer to my family and my experience is that, through the rough times, family life has become more real. Russ and I can’t hide our little disagreements like we used to in a house, so we tend to have open discussions and try to show our kids how to navigate through grumpy times and those days when the boat just doesn’t feel big enough for the 4 of us. We are closer for this time and the wondrous things we have seen and all that we have learnt is priceless!
How can we learn more?
We keep a blog- www.tikatravels.com
There is also a face-book page- TikaTravels