BreakAway Heroes Sail in from France

Posted on: Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | 5 comments

So I have this Big Idea—about retiring now and then instead of waiting until your final years, even if it means working longer at the end or enacting some sacrifices along the way. But just when I’m feeling pretty smug about taking 4 Sabbaticals in 19 years, along come some real experts, my new heroes, this intrepid family from France.

Frank, France, Juliette, Jeanne & Colin, Lifehackers extraordinaire

Frank, France, Juliette, Jeanne & Colin, Lifehackers extraordinaire

My idea is hardly original.  And folks like this prove that advanced actualization is possible.  You see, they are in the middle of executing the unthinkable:  Taking one year to sail; including to and from Europe; while home-schooling their 3 children via a vigorous program; and leaving a 100-employee business behind in the mist. 
Truth is, we’ve met many Euro-families doing this—from Sweden, the Netherlands, and beyond.  You see their flags flying and hear their children playing on vessels throughout the islands.  But we connected for a lovely, long time with these good people. 
They were living on their sailboat in the harbor of our resort when we arrived.  Our children soon found each other, we started sharing meals, and spent many hours relaxing and chatting with them—from which I assemble this collage of quotes, courtesy of Frank and France, with ongoing validation from their children, Colin, Jeanne & Juliette (ages 6, 10, 12).
It Starts with a Dream
At first it was just my dream, but then it got shared by the whole family.  I wanted to show the kids that if you have a dream, it takes time—year after year.  It’s important to keep it, even if you’re not realizing it.  But if you want it bad enough, and work hard, you can usually achieve most of your goals. 
My dream was a big sail.  I’ve had it for 20 years.  The family became part of it 10 years ago, because we had children.  5 years ago, I made it a real project.  And three years ago, I told my business partner and company we need to make this possible.  To not disturb the company was important.  And yet, my customers were actually impressed, not upset. 
I made a deal with my partner:  I do this, and you can also have a year off to use however you wish.  He still has that to look forward to. 
Workaholism Became Big Motivator
I work a lot.  The average week is 60 hours, I’d say.  A big awakening moment for me was realizing that I’d almost missed the births of two out of my three children.  I realized:  These are the big occasions of your life.  You have to be there.  They won’t happen again.  I decided if I wanted to see my children grow up, it was time to recalibrate my priorities. 

Getting the Children on Board
The timing was based largely on the children.  We figured that our oldest, 12, would be harder to remove from her social life at 13 or 14.  During planning, she did think a year would be too long.  But now that we are doing it, she keeps asking if we can keep sailing for another year! 
We had to convince them that this was our big chance for time together.  For exciting exploration—which I think is more important than school. 
The transition was difficult for all of us.  Being on a boat 24/7 with no escapes, well, sometimes that led to big explosions.  It’s easier now.  We’ve found ways to give free space and time.  Navigating.  Photos.  Art and play.  We all work on a website about the trip.  And of course, home schooling eats up a lot of time. 

Home Schooling a la France:  All Hands on Deck! 
As French citizens, to leave for a year, we MUST educate our children through a program called Centre Nationalee D’Enseignement a’ Distance.  There are 200,000 French students all over the world!  It goes as high as Ph.D.  We are registered to two different schools.  We belong to classes with teachers.  It’s very challenging and administrative. 
There are many, many books and supplies on board.  We have to do things like record music lessons on cassette and send it to France.  There, a teacher listens, records comments, and sends it back.  They even expect us to do chemistry experiments!  We’ve gotten bad grades and been scolded in e-mails for being late.  It’s taken much more time and focus than we expected, but we keep at it and do our best. 

Setting Sail on an Ambitious Adventure
The nice thing about life on a boat is that you can go anywhere.  It’s like having a move-able house on water.  We started from France, of course, and have done stops in Spain, the Canary Islands, Senegal, the Capo Verde islands, Barbados, the Grenadines, and Bequia.  We’ll spend some serious time in the French-Caribbean islands and Cuba before crossing the Atlantic to go home again. 
As for rough moments—besides privacy and home schooling.  We did have a medical emergency while crossing in September.  For a few hours, it was very scary.  One daughter got seriously ill, with many symptoms, and we thought it might be appendicitis.  That would NOT be easy to handle alone in stormy seas. 
Another terrible moment was going through customs on one particular island.  We made a simple mistake:  We had a friend on board—who had helped us cross over.  We arrived late, after customs was closed, and he had an early flight out the next morning, so we didn’t declare him.  Bad idea.  Customs figured that out and five agents surrounded, shouted, and grilled me for thirty minutes, like a scene from Midnight Express.
They told me the penalty is $5,000, one year in prison, or both.  Somehow, I kept my cool.  And they eventually backed off.  The calendar helped save me because, in the end, they said, “You’re lucky tomorrow is Christmas and we’re closed, so we’re going to drop the whole matter.”  That is NOT a good memory, though. 

Soon Comes the Hard Part:  Return to Reality
First came planning, and then the trip itself.  But the part that may be most difficult is going home.  We get back in July and school begins in September.  So for the kids, that transition will probably be easier.  But some of their friends may have moved on, so there could be other issues. 
I fear going back to work, I guess.  What if people have taken on too much autonomy and won’t listen to me any more?  I may have to refocus some people, or even ask if the company still needs me at all.  And my partner and I will need to learn to work together again after all this time and change. 
I don’t look forward to the weather, of course.  Where we live in France has a long, gray winter.  Would you believe I prefer this beautiful tropical season? 
  • But more than anything, I worry about ennui—being bored.  After a dream-come-true like this, will routine and work feel worthwhile and satisfying?  We will see. Perhaps to start thinking about the next big dream will be one way to survive the transition…

Thanks for the reminder.  Our Sabbatical ends months before you sail back across the big pond. So yes, it’s time to savor every setting, prepare for the impending re-entry, and start working toward the next big BreakAway.

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5 Responses to “BreakAway Heroes Sail in from France”

  1. Lynette Lamb Says:

    Why are there no photos of Kyia?? I’m not sure she’s even with you. Devoted friends demand photographic evidence!

  2. khorsted Says:

    Call me crazy, call me foolish, call me old fashioned or private…but I don’t view this site as my chance to show off my family so much or open that window too wide. I’m taking plenty, though, so a private viewing of those shots will be avails to any and all that request one when we get home. : )

  3. Gale Says:

    Used to be a Solheim from SC,IA. Know your parents well, went to HS with Kevin. Love your site(Thanks Rosalie) and read your and your son’s blogs. Am so grateful that you and your family dare to do what many of us wish for but are too scared to try. I teach Spanish IV and we read Don Quijote. You and your family are my family “of La Mancha”!!!! (That’s a compliment if you haven’t read it)

  4. Don Ball Says:

    Kirk, with all the drug trade in the Caribbean, are there accounts of yachties running into unsavory types while at sea? Once read that that could be an issue. I also might have seen one too many pirate movies.

  5. kirk Says:

    In other parts of the world, nasty pirates are a big problem, and have rerouted not only yachties, but even cargo vessels. Those are pretty remote places, though.

    Here, occasionally, drug-runner stories come up. But I think most have learned to be sneaky, rather than act like bad pirates and draw attention to themselves. If anything, naughty yachties might trade a gun or two for some contraband. Most common are the stories of corruption. An airplane will drop loads of blow to awaiting ‘fishing’ boats below. A few police or coast cops wait and watch to make sure no trouble happens, and then get a little snow-white commission (which they can sell and/or enjoy). With high unemployment and low opportunities, word is there are plenty of fearless young men willing to carry goods in various forms. Some islands have virtually allowed ganja growth because it’s good for the economy; even in the US, it’s now the #1 cash crop, you know…

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