LEAVING; IS IT JUST A MATTER OF DARING TO?
Leaving for a sabbatical year: how do we go about it? How do we finance it? And is it really worth it? How will the children live through this adventure? These are the kind of questions, amongst others, that potential long-term sailors ask.
LEAVING; WHAT IF ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS DARE?…
More and more men and women are making the dream real, by leaving for a year or more, to sail around the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, or even the world. This is a dream which is not just for millionaires or experienced sailors.
A sabbatical year aboard a catamaran – in the end, perhaps you just have to have the courage?
Yet before actually taking the step and casting off, there will be so many anxious, sleepless nights, and so many questions to ask… And above all, the feeling of guilt at wanting to take the family on an adventure which is often a childhood dream that the other members of the family do not necessarily share...
Amongst the main questions asked before leaving, one that is asked most often is about safety. Generally, your own anxieties are relayed by grandparents and friends, for whom boats are dangerous. Although the possibility shouldn’t be ignored – accidents can happen - they are very rare on a classic Atlantic circuit. The two biggest dangers at sea are fire and falling overboard. The builders and safety standards have considerably limited the risk of fire; here at the magazine we have not been told of a cruising catamaran completely destroyed by fire in the last twenty years… the risk of falling overboard is a real one. But a few simple precautions limit the possibility of falling overboard considerably: strong stanchions, well-positioned hand rails and above all, clipping on once the conditions demand it and systematically when on watch alone on deck. Finally, the stability of the catamaran’s platform contributes to safety and avoiding this risk. Then there is piracy, illness or accidents a long way from any doctors… And the never-ending questions about the return. What will happen? Will we be able to integrate into society after having spent a self-sufficient year aboard our catamaran? And the children… How does that work out, etc… And then one day the desire becomes stronger than these constantly repeated questions. There are those who take the plunge and those who remain behind: those who dare and those for whom the dream will never become reality. In the opinion of all those who set off, the most difficult part is taking the decision. DARE! What follows, generally, is nothing but pleasure…
Once the decision to leave has been taken, the hardest part is done… The rest is just organisation! Certain people must then organise their professional life by taking a sabbatical year (or more). Others will resign purely and simply. Some people are lucky enough to be able to sell their business and leave as a free spirit, for a period which depends on the amount they have in the bank…
Potential long distance cruisers are all different and have had various careers. The one thing they have in common is their desire to set off as a family (or as a couple, or even alone) to live differently. All the socio-professional categories are represented on the water, from the solicitor to the multinational company manager, via the dentist and even a journalist from Multihulls World…
Once the budget has been defined and the sabbatical organised, everything must be planned so
that things work out for the best. How do you prepare a sabbatical year? Leaving to live aboard a boat for a year or more is almost always the fruit of a long-imagined dream. When you take the plunge, there numerous choices to be made: to sell or let your apartment, to get rid of the car, organise the relationship with the bank, the tax and other authorities… In the opinion of this magazine’s readers, this ‘private secretary’ role is perfectly suited to the grandparents, unless you have a volunteer living a few kilometres away… And then you must also perfect your training, so that in the case of a family, as a minimum the two adults and even the teenagers are capable of steering the boat and picking up a ‘man overboard’. There are courses organised on multihulls, for a reasonable price, which allow all those aboard to learn the minimum skills required to cope with the unexpected. It is essential to have a good first-aid kit aboard, and having attended a first-aid course is a real plus. And then, if your route takes you to remote places, you must be able to repair easily anything which can break down and spoil your cruise: a diesel mechanic’s course is a good idea…
AND THE CHILDREN?
Children aboard… There are lots of questions about them. How will they adapt? Safety? School? The great majority of children adapt to life aboard much quicker than the adults. In a few days, they assimilate the safety rules, find their place aboard and find real pleasure in this new life, where their parents are finally available… Leaving with your children is the best experience you can offer them. Opening the world to them, showing them things that others will never see and above all, quite simply spending a full year with them.
Although adaptation is not a problem, you must remain vigilant regarding safety. At this level, the catamaran’s stability is a real plus. However, it must be borne in mind that a young child must be supervised by an adult, all the time. When sailing, their movements should be limited to the interior of the boat and the cockpit, and getting them into the habit of always asking an adult before going out is the basis of safety. Rigging jackstays aboard and having a harness which is easy for them to put on and wear is also essential.
The biggest problem with children aboard is school. The French CNED system is particularly well-suited to on-board schooling, and is cost is reasonable. For 97 euros for nursery and primary, 118 euros for middle school and 640 euros for secondary, your children will receive all the lessons for their school year, with exercises, homework and, if they work well, the certificate allowing them to move up into the next class, so they can pick up classic schooling when you return… The only snag is that you are on a sabbatical year, and they are not. They therefore have to work. In general, experience shows that by ‘going to school’ every morning and keeping a few holidays for when friends or family visit, the programme can be followed, but it is sometimes difficult to get certain children to work when you are anchored in a tropical paradise… If you are interested in the subject of children aboard, have a look at our full dossier.
THE CHOICE OF THE (RIGHT) BOAT
Yes, to leave, you must have a boat. Having this magazine in your hand shows that choosing a multihull seems to you to be the solution… Stable, comfortable, faster than an equivalent monohull, offering privacy for each member of the family, easy to manoeuvre; the catamaran is THE ideal solution for a sabbatical year as a family. The proof is that we all know monohull fanatics who have gone over to multihulls, but the opposite is much, much rarer. When you have tasted the delights of the catamaran, it is difficult to return to a boat which is narrow, which leans, and whose draught bars you from the best anchorages…
But within the multihull family, the choice is huge: although the trimaran is not ideal for a long-distance cruise as a family, the catamaran market offers an abundance of choice. New or second-hand; production cat or one-off; in ply, sandwich or aluminium; fast or faster; accepting a greater or lesser load: there is something for all tastes and all budgets (from 50,000 to 3 million euros!). It is therefore above all a question of personal choices. Nowadays, the majority of sabbatical year cruisers opt for a production catamaran, equipped more or less for ‘ocean cruising’. They are easily found on the market and can be resold easily after the voyage, as long as the boat is in good condition and the price asked is coherent. This part of the preparation requires the most work, as during the cruise the boat chosen will become the family home. It must therefore meet the wishes and needs of the family - sufficient number of cabins, ability to carry the necessary load - as well as the crew’s nautical skills. There is nothing worse than having to put up with a heavy boat if you and your family are sport catamaran racing enthusiasts. Whilst in the opposite case, constantly having to manoeuvre, adjust the daggerboards and play with the spinnaker sheets can quickly become boring for a family crew…The choice will therefore largely depend on your crew and the programme. This must be defined carefully so as not to make a mistake and spoil your dream!
THE SAILING PROGRAMME
So, a sabbatical year, or leaving for ‘as long as the wind will carry me’? Around the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the West Indies, or the world?
The classic for a sabbatical year is the Atlantic circuit: leaving from the port where you have prepared the boat, you cross the Atlantic via the Canaries, sometimes the Cape Verde Islands. Then you spend 9 months in the West Indies, before crossing the Atlantic a second time to return. The other solution is to buy the catamaran in the West Indies and spend the year there: the catamaran can be sold locally, or in Europe after the return Atlantic crossing. In general, the choice will depend on whether you want to cross the Atlantic, as well as finding the right boat in the right place.
The Mediterranean circuit is rarer, but unquestionably offers a greater variety of destinations. The only drawback is the weather during the winter months, which is harder to live with than that in the West Indies, where the temperature remains in the 30s…
And then, for those who leave for at least three years, there is the mythical round-the-world trip via the trade winds. A beautiful adventure, made up of ocean passages, wild, remote anchorages, unique encounters and destinations… Whatever your programme, it will have to be adapted to your boat (difficult to envisage crossing the Atlantic aboard an 8-metre catamaran…), as well as your crew. Why impose an Atlantic crossing on your family, if your wife suffers chronic sea-sickness, or is terrified once the land disappears over the horizon? It would be best to have a good trip round the West Indies, where everyone would be happy, rather than imposing a schedule that your crew can not follow…
AND THE RETURN?
Yes, even the most beautiful adventure has to come to an end. You have to return home and take up a ‘normal’ life again. Going back to work and getting back into the daily routine, after having lived a full and complete life with the family, is not always easy. Here again, children show an incredible ability to adapt. In a few days, they become landlubbers again and get back into their ways with relish. For the adults, it is sometimes more difficult and takes longer. Some of them write a book (‘Histoire de Partir’ – Nieutin family, or ‘Un temps pour un rêve’ - Geoffroy de Bouillane) to continue the adventure, and ‘come down again’ more gently. In any case, all of them recognise that they have learned a very positive lesson from their adventure, have above all the feeling of having lived their lives to the full, and keep memories in their hearts which will last for the rest of their lives. They did it!
At the beginning of this article, we spoke to you about the many Multihulls World readers who took the step… After having handled the return, they are unanimous, even those who experienced lots of problems: this break in their lives was EXTRAORDINARY. A special moment of serenity, a feeling of living life to the full, and especially, a plus which for most of them allowed them to begin a new life, much fuller and richer than the one they had before they left.
So, a bit of courage and take the plunge: it seems that the only step that counts is the first one!