The Shaw family is a Canadian family of five who left in 2012 to live on their sailboat, Fluenta. Throughout their journey, they had a baby in Mexico, have revamped their curriculum style, and have sailed more than half way around the world. They are one of the nicest and most wonderful families you could be lucky enough to meet while out on your own adventure. Continue reading to learn more about them in their own words.
Tell us about your family.
We are a Canadian family living on a sailboat and have been traveling for the past almost 5 years. We have three children. Victoria is 13 and likes to cook and make things with her hands. A Victoria speciality is decorating cakes. Johnathan is 11 and enjoys adventuring in the outdoors, camping, researching and is currently working on his second novel. Benjamin is three and a lifelong sailor.
Tell us about your journey?
We have been traveling full-time since July 2012. We bought Fluenta just south of the Canadian border in Anacortes, WA. We had a quick but drama-filled (boat repairs, bad weather, steep learning curve) trip down the west coast of the US and then sailed to Mexico in late 2012. We stayed in Mexico for a year and half, refitting the boat and having a baby. Four months after Benjamin was born, we left Bandaras Bay in Mexico for French Polynesia. We spent the 2014 season sailing through French Polynesia, Pehnryn and Suwarrow in the Cook Islands, Niue and then briefly in Tonga before spending the cyclone season in NZ. The following season we departed towards Tonga but on realizing the kid boats we knew were going to Fiji, we changed course mid-passage and spent the season in Fiji. After another cyclone season in NZ, we went back to Fiji for a season before heading north to Tuvalu, Kiribati and then the Marshall Islands for the South Pacific cyclone season. After our great season in the Marshalls, we sailed to Vanuatu with a brief stop in the Solomons. We are presently in New Caledonia.
Where is your home country?
Canada is our home country and where we were both raised. Our family is there and we try to visit about once a year.
Is your trip open ended or finite?
We started the trip open ended but have recently decided that we would start to head slowly back to Canada over the next two years. We realized that we weren’t necessarily finished traveling, but that we wanted to give our kids some significant experiences in their own country, rather than continually visiting other people’s countries.
Have you ever feared for your safety? In what capacity? Where?
We travel fairly conservatively and try as much as practical to mitigate risks as we go. For example, we spend lot of time studying weather and we wait considerable periods of time for what looks like a good weather window. Our worst weather was during our first few months as we rushed down the west coast of the US to get to San Diego for the start of the Baja Ha Ha Rally to Mexico.
As with any boat we have had little dramas and equipment failures – small electrical fires, fuel contamination, autopilot failures, minor floods, separating steering cables, rudder issues – but none that really caused a continuing level of fear for our safety (maybe it could be called a “heightened level of concern …”). We did have one accident when a spinnaker halyard let go and one of the children got hurt. At first we were concerned that the accident had caused a broken leg but it turned out to be a 2nd/3rd degree rope burn which took a few weeks to heal. Another time, we brought Fluenta into a harbour with high levels of surf around us. We were “committed” to this location due that most dangerous of things on a boat – a “schedule”. The harbour entry ended up being anti-climactic as we timed our entry with a lull, but we were all clipped in case it got more exciting.
No pirates despite the usual question from the non-sailing public. Benjamin does like to dress up as a partially naked pirate though – that might have scared them away!
We have not had any problems with crime other than in one known dodgy place we suspect someone tried to steal our outboard but then found out that it was locked and gave up. In Mexico – which always features in the media as such a dangerous place – we left our iPad behind on a counter in a busy village market and it was returned to us a week later when we revisited the market!
We joke when we read drama-filled sailing magazine articles that our objective is to not be able to write such an article!
Have you had a favorite destination?
Our favourite destinations have been remote Pacific Islands that we have visited, often with other cruising families, and sometimes on our own. We have visited islands like this in Fiji and the Marshall Islands. We also loved visiting Niue, even though we were only there a short time, as the topography for both hiking (ie caves and trails above ground) and snorkeling (ie caverns with mixed salt and fresh water) was so unusual.
Do you have a home base?
Not really. Our parents are in BC (Max) and NS (Liz). We have stored some of our stuff at each of their houses. When we go home to Canada to visit, which we have done every 12-18 months, we stay with them, which minimizes our expenses and maximizes our time together.
What is the education level of the parents? Previous type of work of the parents?
Both parents were in the Canadian Forces (military) for 20+ years. Both have engineering degrees and Max has two post-graduate degrees as well (geek).
What sort of curriculum do you follow?
We started out with a public school (ie publicly funded) distance learning school based out of our home province in Canada (BC), but when the teachers realized that we would be taking the materials out of the country, they limited the resources they sent with us, which made it hard to complete the lessons (and we didn’t want the resources badly enough to pay for them outright). The other thing that made it hard was that our children (6 & 8 years old) would be so engaged with their play that it was hard for me (Liz) to tear them away to do “school”. After three years of seeing that our kids were thriving, but that their learning wasn’t really reflected in anything we could send to the teachers, we stumbled across SelfDesign (selfdesign.org/selfdesign.com) in a last-ditch summertime effort to find a school that would be a better fit. This organization starts with each child’s own learning goals and builds a unique learning plan based on what lights them up, with learning reflected in “Observing for Learning” narratives sent in by the family once each week. We are now entering our third school year with SelfDesign. At our kids’ request, we now have programmes for Language Arts (BraveWriter.com) and Math (Life of Fred). We use the Rosetta Stone software for French, and the Story of the World books (x4) for history. I am pretty unschool-oriented in my approach and philosophy, but I see that it may be easier for them to integrate into post-secondary learning if they have some recognized courses behind them, so I am open to them learning through organized courses as well as on their own. They read a *lot* of books!
Have you attended schools in a foreign country? Tell us about that experience.
What has been your best “teaching moment”?
My biggest ‘aha’ moment occurred when Victoria was about nine years old. We were still working with our first school, and I had been struggling to get her to do some math sheets on fractions, to no avail (ie she would sit beside me, but instead of doing the assigned questions, she would sketch pictures in the margins). A few days later, Victoria (who loves to cook) was helping me make pancakes with a copy of my dad’s recipe, which listed the amounts for a triple batch. We only had enough eggs for a double. I started asking Victoria about the amounts we would need: “If it calls for 9 eggs, but we only have 6, and it calls for 3 cups of flour, how much will we use?” Without missing a beat, she calculated each of the amounts in turn. She didn’t need to do math worksheets – she just needed to do something that she loved that used numbers and proportions! This moment took a lot of the pressure away to be sure she was always learning the ‘right’ things at the right time – I realized that she would learn what she needed to as she was ready to do so. I still need to remind myself to trust this process once in a while!
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?
I think the biggest mistake we made was to stick with a curriculum-based school for so long when it wasn’t a good fit for us. We had other cruising friends who made that kind of programme work for them (curriculum in a box, and the kids knew each day what they needed to do for school before they could be released to ‘play’) and for years I felt that it was a shortfall on my part that I couldn’t make that kind of system for for us. In truth, I didn’t have the heart to interrupt what my kids were doing to gainfully fill their time (playing together, reading, making things) in order to substitute an externally imposed agenda on them. It took a long time (three years) to recognize that there might be support out there for another approach to learning.
Would you do anything differently next time?
This is a hard question, because, like our children, we only learn at the pace and time that we are ready. When we left to go cruising, I wasn’t ready for an entirely unschool-based approach. Doing something differently another time implies that we will have the learning earlier than we had it this time. If that were the case, however, I would let up on the self-imposed pressure I felt much earlier in the trip, and just enjoy my children at the age and stage where they were when they were there. Once again, this is advice I need to give myself every day, even now!
Did you sell everything before you left?
Yes, we sold or gave away pretty much everything but a few mementos and some winter clothing.
How do you finance your trip?
We have a small pension from the military that allows us to stay in inexpensive locations. We will likely do something else to earn income once we return to Canada (ie the first world).
What is on your bucket list?
We are really hoping to see the humpback whales in Tonga next year!!
What advice do you have to those people who are on the fence or who want to go?
If travel is calling your name, there is probably a way to do it. Since we left, we have met people who travel part of the year, people who saved up vacation time, people who took a planned sabbatical of a fixed length (eg 1 year at 50% pay) and people who sold companies to be here. I am also amazed at the variety of home-swapping arrangements that other people have made, where they didn’t need to get rid of everything, they just minimized their belongings and rented out their home for a year or so, which made reintegration much easier. There is a whole world beyond the grind of “Monday to Friday, 9 to 5” which is sometimes all we see while we are living it. Once we made the decision to go, everything else became easier. I could look at items in the store, and ask myself whether the purchase would help with my goal of leaving, or not. The same applied to our time: would this commitment help us depart or would it hold us back? Once we decided to go, we had the focus to down-size our belongings, purge our basement, let go of items that we didn’t love. This was an effort that took months of spending a few hours each weekend, but it was made easier by our decision to actually do it. It is not necessarily easier to be traveling as a family, but it is rich, and our stress is generally our own rather than caused by external factors.
How can we learn more?
Our blog is at SV-FLUENTA.blogspot.ca. Our email is sv-fluenta (at) gmail.com