Our Family Ran Away To Sea

By Angela Metro

Cruising with children in an older boat may be a challenge, but it's well worth it.

Normally, I love storms, and this black squall was beautiful to watch. The magnificent clouds seemed to explode over Ft. Lauderdale with wind and rain as if Noah were below demanding another flood. Lady Enna was cruising smoothly along the coast from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale, with my husband Nick at the helm. The children and I took pictures of the distant weather. But our excitement turned to dread as the waters around us started chopping, the wind increased from 30 knots to 40, and that black squall came for us. We were still a few miles from our destination, and outrunning storms is only a fallacy.

Our stern could no longer hold its own. We began to fishtail in the four- and five-foot chop, as the boat tossed about like a bath toy. We all wore life jackets. Visibility was nil. Nick had his hands full just trying to keep us upright in this attack of rain, wind, and waves. I was responsible for the rest of the boat, and our terrified kids (then just 6 and 8). Honestly, I was scared, too, but had to keep a positive demeanor or the kids would've completely lost control, "It's OK kids, Daddy's got it under control."

Continuing north toward our destination was no longer an option. We turned 180 degrees and put our nose into the wind and waves. That turn was one of the worst experiences of my life. Nick called out, "Get ready," and the kids and I held on as he began the turn to port. More wind pushed against the 25 feet of cabin until I thought we were going over. From my seat, all I saw was water. That turn has haunted my dreams ever since. Once Nick got the bow into the wind, things seemed easier to handle, and we stayed that way for the duration of the storm. After it passed, we resumed our journey to Ft. Lauderdale. The entire squall had taken only about 30 minutes. It's amazing how quickly beauty can turn into terror.

Photo of the Metros: Angela, Nick, Nicholas, and EileenThe Metros: Angela, Nick, Nicholas, and Eileen.

Photo of the Lady EnnaEnna is the first initial of each of our names (most people try to say "Emma").

How Did We Get Here?

Nick, our two children, and I have so far covered 4,500 miles of America's eastern shoreline and the Bahamas aboard our 56-foot Matthews motoryacht. Our journey was inspired by some simple goals: to connect as a family despite the tumult of life pulling us apart; to focus on education and learning as an interactive experience; and to explore our beautiful country and the extraordinary people in it. We're ever on the lookout for family-friendly locations, for parks, and for the best learning opportunities. Luckily, cruising has delivered.

We left St. Petersburg, Florida, on May 21, 2009, between gray skies and rocky seas. Our travels took us around Florida's peninsula, up the American southeast coast and into the Chesapeake Bay for the summer of 2009. We returned to St. Petersburg for a few repairs and modifications over the winter, and headed back out to explore the Florida Keys and Bahamas over the summer of 2010. We're currently home again to replenish our bank account and for more repairs. Ah, the joys of a 30-year-old boat ...

Photo of the family fishing from the aft salonFishing from the aft salon.

Looking For Bones

I'm not a minimalist at heart. I'd love more power, I need refrigeration, and I crave space. In short, I guess I want a house that also happens to float. When we first began searching for our boat, our criteria were few. First, we're powerboaters. Second, we needed enough staterooms and physical space for our family. Third, I wanted a large galley up, so I could have household-size appliances and be part of the family activity. Finally, my husband wanted classic lines. We were smack dab in the middle of the typical boater's conflict: bigger and older, or smaller and newer. We chose the former. We knew we had to look for "bones" and not a completed, cruising-ready boat.

Photo of Nickalos and Eileen having fun in Key WestNicholas hams it up for the camera while Eileen gets eaten by a shark in Key West.

When we found Lady Enna, my husband fell in love. The hull of our 56-foot, 30-year-old Matthews was laid up in 1974 and completed in 1979 in Portland, Massachusetts. She'd been through a few owners and was showing serious signs of wear, but she had everything we wanted.

Over the next few years, we worked on a seemingly endless list of labors, inside and out. Sure, I have dreams of a slightly larger boat to add an en suite guest stateroom, a swim-up open cockpit to store water toys and our dinghy, and a dining table for eight. But in reality, when we're underway, our boat size is perfect for the marinas and anchorages we've visited.

Photo of snorkelling in the BahamasSnorkelling in the Bahamas.

Not All Sunsets And Happy Hour

For those who dream of sailing away into the distant sunset with the wind in your hair, and your watch at the bottom of the ocean, here's the reality: Boats require constant attention, and those warm and beautiful destinations leave you sweating while working.

As I once heard someone say, "Cruising is working on your boat in exotic locations." Luckily, my superhero husband, along with his network of friends and family, can fix anything mechanical, electrical, or structural. That's the key to our ability to cruise. We can't afford to call a mechanic every time something fails. But even Nick's expertise has been taxed quite a few times, including:

A weld on our aft fuel tank blew apart, leaking 150 gallons of diesel onto the master-stateroom floor. We had good friends aboard who helped us clean it all up and not a drop ended up in our bilge or in the beautiful water.

Photo of kayaking in the BahamasKayaking in the Bahamas.

A leak in the salon ceiling allowed buckets of rain to turn our formerly dry interior into a rain forest. So instead of being able to enjoy the gorgeous passage from Eleuthera to The Abacos, Nick and I were in our flybridge, fiberglassing the leak.

We had a huge power issue that impacted our new inverter for many months. The first night, nothing worked and we had no power at all. While Nick sweated it out in the engine room, the kids and I ate cereal for dinner, lit candles, and told ghost stories. They remember that night as one of the highlights of our trip — turning adversity into a treasured memory.

My own struggle is with electricity — 110, 220, generator, inverter, 50-amp, breakers — I've learned more about electricity than I ever wanted to. I'm a city girl used to flipping an on/off switch, not load-balancing my electrical use. This is one of the main issues I struggle with even after boating for 12 years. I just want things to turn on.

"Are You Independently Wealthy Or Something?"

Boating can be expensive. As we travel around and get to know people, the ones we've grown close to always ask about how we afford to do this. The few times we've taken Nick's parents on a cruise with us, people always think Nick's dad is the real owner, assuming boating must be only for older, wealthy people.

Photo of the Lady Enna docked at the Atlantis Resort in Nassau BahamasLady Enna docked in Atlantis.

Well, we haven't won the lottery, nor do we have an inheritance. We're just telecommuters. My husband works full time as the virtual manager of a support organization and as a part-time boat broker. We rarely have issues with cell or Internet access during our cruising, so his availability and work have never been negatively impacted. I'm a freelance writer; my work is deadline based, so I can work nights and early mornings and still be available for my kids and family. We've learned that as much as we want our boat projects finished, family comes first, so it's OK that something doesn't get done if it means being with the kids or enjoying an exciting location.

Most cruisers are retired, living on retirement savings. We're working while we cruise. We have a strict budget, which requires us to eat in instead of enjoying restaurants as so many cruisers do. We've learned to find free fun instead of hitting every aquarium or expensive museum that we come across. It's about being together and self-reliance.

Photo of the Metro kids generally give cruising the thumbs upDespite some dramas, the Metro kids generally give cruising the thumbs up.

Everything Is A Learning Opportunity

As a cruising family, we had to figure out how to take care of our children's education while enjoying this adventure. When I used to hear about homeschooling, images of the patient mom sitting at the kitchen table while earnest, quiet children worked diligently on their schoolwork flashed in my head.

Reality is far different, at least on my boat. Our scholars have serious focus issues, and honestly, who can blame them with all the cool stuff going on outside the boat window? We moved schooling belowdecks, but combating seasickness while working out math problems or reading a story was counterproductive. A family conference offered a compromise; schooling is done belowdecks but not while underway.

Our homeschooling is done as much outside the boat as inside, and Nick and I do our best to incorporate our location into the lessons. Nature and travel present lots of science opportunities, but places like a retail art gallery can offer an art class. A gallery owner in Annapolis took us around and talked us through all the different techniques the artists used to create their work. For math class, we have the kids calculate miles to our next destination or the speeds of engines — "that one has three 350-horse engines, how many total horsepower is that?" We had an economics lesson in Manteo, North Carolina: We went to a furniture store, and "gave" each child $5,000 to furnish a small house. We walked around the store, prioritized what to buy, added up their purchases, and calculated the tax. Voila! Economics, math, and a practical life lesson, all wrapped up on an otherwise average day. Everything is a learning opportunity. Going to the grocery store is learning, every fix to the boat is learning, charting our course is learning. Nick feels he's learned as much as the kids: "It's like going to school all over again when we homeschool."

"Real" Life

We've been back in St. Petersburg for a while now. We're trying to catch up with friends and readjust to life in our house. The travel bug is still in us, though, and we're already planning our next cruise. Apparently we've talked positively enough about our adventures that we now have a waiting list of people who want to join us.

As we reflect on our journey and talk about all the fun adventures we've shared as a family, we see how our perspective on life has changed. Nick and I are thrilled that our kids are growing up knowing that life is what you make it and not a passive acceptance of what you're supposed to do.

We hope our children have learned that they can have a career, enjoy things they like, be responsible and self-sufficient, live within their means, and still be an active and integrated family. They can work hard and have it all. 

Angela Metro blogs about her family and their travels at www.themetrofamily.blogspot.com.

— Published: June/July 2012

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