My Excellent Boating Adventure

Published: December 2011

Most children don't have the "trip of a lifetime" under their belts before their ninth birthday; but after two years cruising on Zora, the family's trusty Mariner 39, Olivia Collins had notched up one-quarter of her young life on the high seas. Here, she tells us about her family's big adventure.

Photo of Oliva running on a beach in the Bahamas

While I was four and five, my mother got breast cancer I was so scared. But she survived, and it left my family with an important message, live while you can, and make the best of it, because you never know what will happen next. So our family made a huge decision — to save every penny we could, get a boat, and go cruising for a while. My parents found Zora in an old boatyard lying in a field, feral cats had been using her as a litter box, stuff was falling off. For two years while Dad sanded, I came and watched movies on a small TV. While Mom varnished, I drew. I was completely bored.

Photo of cruising playmates swimmingCruising playmates.

During the second year, we rented out our house, and moved on Halloween night to my grandmother's house in Maine. Every morning, I took the ferry to school, sometimes alone — and once with actress Liv Tyler! — then back again in the evenings. Sometimes for days on end my dad worked all day at his job, then worked really hard all night on Zora in the boatyard. Eventually she was finished and launched.

Photo of Olivia and her mom riding horses
Olivia and her mom riding horses.

The first night of our two-year trip aboard Zora brought us an unexpected visitor — a baby beluga whale we nicknamed Poco. We were motoring back to Zora in our little dinghy when ... BUMP! "What on earth was that?" said my mom. We looked over the side and a friendly little white face peered up at us. Poco! He was like a dog, playing with our dinghy, letting us pet his rubbery skin. When we left to sail south the next day, the friendly little whale squirted my mom in the face!

For my eighth birthday I got a great present — a kitten I named Daisy. We spent hours and hours laughing at "Kittovision" — the new 24-hour-a-day cat-entertainment show. She was my best friend on the boat trip and gave me somebody to play with as we motored down the ICW. "ICW" stands for intracoastal waterway, a string of locks, bridges, and man-made rivers. It was there we started home schooling. Although it only took one or two hours in the morning, I had just about the worst math and English books ever. What was kind of neat, however, was that my mom designed my classes, so I got to study things that had to do with the trip, such as Mayan civilization and sea creatures. Part of my science class was studying my vast shell collection.

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Photo of Oliva holding a spiny lobster
The funny thing is, I remember I always thought I wanted to go home on the trip, but now that I'm back in Portland, I dream of going back cruising again.


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