Stella Bennett and her family have spent the past two school years traveling by boat to the far reaches of the world. She and sisters Cleo and Jade will return to TPS next fall. Stella shares her account of boat life as her family prepares for their return to land life in Philadelphia later this year.
In some ways boat life can be the same as land life, but the differences stand out. The most obvious is the boat, the fact that we live on top of the water and are free to move about as we like. We are constantly relocating to different countries and islands and moving in and out of different time zones and having to adjust to each. Recently we moved from Fiji to Australia with a time difference of 3 hours earlier. The first morning I woke up at 5:00 am, and the sun was up and shining brightly. Because of the constant changes in our surroundings, it’s difficult to have a set routine. Sometimes, if we stay in one place long enough, we will start having a rhythm to our days, but as soon as we leave something around us changes and disrupts it. For example, in Grenada, we homeschooled in the morning, played in the afternoon, and had Sundays off from school. The people we meet and the climate of our surroundings are two things that affect our routine; in Colombia, because of the hot hours at noon, we decided to save school for the afternoon so we wouldn’t be out and about at siesta.
There are two sides of boat life, cultural and natural. A good example of the natural side is our month spent in the Galapagos Archipelago; we watched whales, swam with sea lions, and rode giant tortoises in an isolated natural landscape. Some islands are so isolated that there are plants and animals found nowhere else on earth, but isolation can affect people as well as animals. The people that found their way to these islands have developed different traditions and ways of life than their relatives on the mainland. When we visited Fiji, we went to an island called Fulaga and met the villagers there. They had been living on that island for a long time. They showed us the caves where bones from the cannibals victims still were and the valley where the ruins from the last village still lay. We climbed the cliff to the lookout spot the people’s ancestors had used to watch for enemies and where one misstep could send you falling off the mountain.
My family all have different opinions on boat life. My sister Cleo loves it and doesn’t regret leaving anything behind besides friends. My sister Jade doesn’t have a long enough memory to remember much from land life so she thinks she has it all. My mom loves the best parts but occasionally wishes for more. For example, it’s hard on everybody when we go to a place that has no Internet and no communication with the outside world; sometimes we feel as isolated as if we lived in one of the remote villages instead of being just visitors. My dad is crazy about everything to do with our new life; he loves the oddities and routine (when we have one) and doesn’t want to stop sailing. I, on the other hand, miss home, friends, and family and get homesick a lot; but this life is amazing and much more interesting and fun than plain, old, boring land life. Everyday we do something different than the day before, and our school reflects our natural and cultural surroundings. We make new friends everywhere we go, and if we bond well with one boat, we plan ahead to travel together. We’ve traversed the entire Pacific Ocean and seen more in two years than most people will see in a lifetime. We’ve seen beautiful natural landscapes and experienced harsh weather and dead seas; we’ve traveled to islands that are barely more than a rock out at sea and yet manage to provide for the magic of nature.
Usually boat life is everything anyone could dream of, but there are some parts that are not as exciting as others. For example, I really don’t like it when we visit places that have a strict conservative culture. That means I have to wear long pants (actually I’m supposed to wear long skirts but I don’t own any) and long shirts, even if it’s 102 degrees. We also have to deal with polluted harbors (Trinidad), language differences (Colombia), and dangerous creatures (sharks/crocodiles). In Panama, where we stayed for a month stocking up to go into the Pacific, we saw more than one crocodile swimming around the harbors and anchorages. We had heard horrible stories of people getting eaten by crocodiles and stopped swimming while we were there. The South Pacific is also overrun by sharks, which makes swimming in some places dangerous. Most of the sharks we see are not dangerous at all. The black-tipped reef shark, for instance, has never attacked anyone, but there are some that you need to watch out for. Once I got chased by two gray reef sharks while snorkeling. They do attack, but I managed to swim over a reef in time.
While all these things define the bad side of boat life, most of the time it’s great. We have the freedom of our own schedules and the liberty to move our home around as we like. We will make life-long friendships in this endeavor and have these memories forever.