Monday, June 26, 2017

Our "Normal" Life Aboard a Sailboat in Paradise: "Same, Same, but Different"

Our family of five lives aboard our 48 foot sailboat in paradise. I'm not going to lie, it's pretty awesome and as far as I'm concerned, I would have it no other way (no joke, I thank the Universe daily). That said, our living situation - while most definitely not for everyone - might just resemble your life in more ways than you think. I've written before about how >>>this is our "normal"<<< and how every step of our life has been an natural progression and evolution to this point...but what I have not written about is the fact that despite living in a rather unconventional home on a small tropical island how very normal our lives actually are in some ways.


Yes, we live on a (relatively) small sailboat. However, we are no longer "cruising" as in "journeying to places far and wide" like we once were, which greatly changes things. Sure, we go out island hopping, daysailing and >>> spend weekends at anchor <<<. But we are no longer accumulating passport stamps or doing long passages. We have, for now, >>> 'settled' here in Tortola <<< to focus on growing >>> our business <<< and our bank account for the next adventure. What does this mean? It means we are a part of a community. That we have some very regular routines in our lives. We know the lay of the land and go about our day to day like many other families. When you put down "roots" or - in our case - tie yourself to a dock, it doesn't matter how unconventional your home might be, life falls into step in a very - dare I say - "normal" sort of way.


We live in a "neighborhood" - granted, it's floating - but it is still very much a neighborhood. We are part of a wonderful community that we love and rely on. I call upon my neighbors for milk, eggs and the occasional urgent babysitting gig just like you probably do. My girls go to a little school three mornings a week and we wake up, have breakfast, and frantically try to make it out of the door before 9am - usually with me looking like a hot mess and barking orders out like a drill sergeant - just like many moms. I do morning drop-off, get school notices, and participate in school activities like many other stay at home moms. Just like most parents, I relish in the few hours my girls are in school and I use the precious time to run errands like grocery shopping, cleaning, and general house-keeping. Every now and then I'll treat myself to a pedicure and If I'm really lucky, I carve out time to write and edit photos.

My husband goes to work every day, too. It can be stressful, frustrating and a burden that limits us, just like on land. He doesn't commute to an office or wear a suit and tie, but he works very hard and very long hours. Sometimes he is home for dinner, sometimes not. Sometimes he leaves at the crack of dawn to fix a broken boat, and sometimes we get to have breakfast together. Most days he is up until midnight or later on his computer, working. So while the backdrop is pretty and the perks of being our own bosses are many, he'll be the first to tell you that he is very much in the "daily grind", which kind of flies in the face of the whole "living an endless vacation" image.

We adhere to a loose little routine and while the potential for island adventure (boating, beaches, hikes...etc) is always there, a lot of our days I am spending time with the girls doing things they love like playing grocery, coloring and swimming. While Instagram might make our life seem like a never-ending tropic-ation, it is not. The scenery in our photos might look a bit different than yours, but I'm doing the same thing as many other stay at home moms, namely: taking my kids outside to play and burn off some energy while trying to keep my shit together. Some families go to children's museums or parks, we go to the beach. We see local children's theater (much more rudimentary than home, but still), birthday parties, and school sponsored events. Packing my three girls and whatever gear we need to 'x' activity into the car is just as big of a pain in the ass here as it is on land. Sigh.

Despite the fact that I lean toward the "un-busy" life with kids (go ahead, call me lazy but there is also some reasoning here) we go to dance classes, play dates and tennis lessons. I have a car to get me to and fro and maybe like yours, mine is a total disaster area of dried up food, random toys, sticky wrappers and crumpled up papers. We have a television and while we hugely limit tv time and have banned iPads for our kids, we watch cartoons and movies. Our boat looks like a toy store vomited when our girls are in full-blown play mode and I have to harp at them to clean it up. We do crafts and go to the park. I make dinner while my girls play in our 'living room', we try to eat as a family as much as we can. We get the girls ready for bed, brush their teeth, read them books and tuck them in. Each day of our life, with some variation here and there, has some predicability. Normalcy.

My point? While the keywords of our life, namely: sailboat, tropics... rightfully elicits thoughts of an exotic existence, of which there are definitely elements - there are also many attributes of our life that are normal, mundane and - well - just. plain. life.


There are, however, glaring differences between our life and a more traditional one. For starters, >>> we are expatriates <<< which means that we are visitors here and, technically, could be booted out on a moment's notice which is slightly unnerving. As Americans, we are also in the minority on our rock; both in terms of skin color and culture. Every day our girls see and interact with a whole host of nationalities, accents, and languages. Our girls understand Rastafarianism and can tell you that it's a religion, that they wear dreadlocks and that most are strict vegetarians. When Isla first started school and told me about her best friend, Danya, I wasn't sure who she was. "Which one is Danya?" I asked her. "Danya is the one with the curly hair" she said very matter of factly. I still had no idea who that was. Turns out, Danya is black. Never once did Isla mention that as something that set her apart, and still hasn't six months later.

As expatriates, we are also prone to >>> bureaucratic adventures <<< that citizens do not have to deal with. We wait in lines in customs, we sit for hours on end at the immigration office, and every year we need to ask for permission to stay here and have a multitude of forms stamped, signed and filled out (just so) to make it happen. Combined, it is a tremendous amount of time spent waiting and it can get very frustrating, but it's a small price to pay for the privilege of calling this place home. Island time is for real and the pace of life is S-L-O-W, not much gets done in a hurry here. If you are impatient, >>> island life probably would not be for you <<<.

As for our home, well >>> ours can move <<<, which is unique and pretty cool. At a moment's notice - work and weather permitting - we can untie the lines from our dock and set sail to a whole host of places. Normal Island is just 45 minutes, Virgin Gorda four hours, we can be in St. John in just over an hour, St. Thomas in two hours, Culebra (Puerto Rico) in a full day, and St. Maarten (Dutch West Indies) is an overnight away. And that's just a few of our options! Island life is best enjoyed from the water and we are very lucky to have a front row seat.

Our boat is very comfortable and homey, but compared to most homes it is most definitely "tiny". While I find the benefits of living smaller massive (less stuff, easy to clean, close sisterly bond, more time in nature...etc), it is very different from a home. We have no garage, no back yard, and space is always a compromise. We will never host a big birthday bash or large dinner party in our 'house' because there's simply not the room for it. Our girls have fewer toys and less indoor space than their peers and as a result, we are off the boat and running around outside most of the time. I would say our girls spend an average of at least four unstructured hours outside in nature per day. Squirrels are replaced with chickens, our "yard' is the beach, and we spend a lot of time in the water. Our girls have held starfish, collected conch shells, and seen an octopus in the wild.

Life on our rock is also a lot less convenient than life back home. We don't have any big box stores and from time to time the produce ship doesn't come in leaving or grocery stores barren. Options for just about everything you can imagine from clothing to household good to foodstuff are not only limited, but much more expensive than back home (I can pay $10 for a carton of strawberries). Choices for everything are fewer and it all requires a little more effort to get. Amazon prime doesn't deliver here and receiving mail and/or packages is costly and timely. Forget the instant gratification from hitting the "buy" button, we have to buy and then either wait for a ship to come in or a visitor to act as a sherpa for goodies. Basically, everything on an island takes more time. A lot more time.

Speeeeeaking of time, we have more of it. Life is a bit less rushed. There is less to do. Fewer directions to be pulled. When I go home it takes weeks and weeks to get together with all of my girlfriends. Here? Planning a get together is pretty easy because, frankly, most of us are available. Life on our rock is like living in a very small town....surrounded by water ;)

So while our life has some very obvious differences to a family that has taken a more traditional route, we also share some similarities. Our days aren't always exciting and full of fun and adventure. Some are normal days devoid of beautiful, beachy pictures and Insta-worthy moments. Some, of course, are moments that dreams are made of. For the most part, however, we live somewhere comfortably in the middle.
This is a view we are treated to pretty regularly, but in a lot of other ways, our life might look like yours.


Jen @ Drinking the Whole Bottle said...

Yesssss. Everything about all the time you have. Samesies in DR. and I loooooved that!

MaryJo Boyle said...

You're giving your girls a priceless childhood and they will be strong, wonderful women!

Anonymous said...

I love your insights about your lifestyle. One point: Not "seeing" race isn't really enough. It's something that you need to talk about with kids:

Unknown said...

I don't know if you got my other comment from Aug 16 2017. It was on Google + I think.I am on FB as Charlotte Schreffler, or Char. Your boat is so nice. I am. 73 yr old lady, can't swim, but live lighthouses. and I always will remember you all.Thanks for showing your home to the world.����

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