Browsed by
Month: January 2017

How We Homeschool On a Boat, Charlotte Mason Style

How We Homeschool On a Boat, Charlotte Mason Style

Of all the leaps we took in planning to buy a boat, move aboard and travel with our children, I’m grateful that education was the least of our worries. We hear so often that the transition from public or private education, to homeschooling can be a major stumbling block for some families who want to travel, but we had been preparing to homeschool our children since our first daughter was born.

Our main family living and learning space

Living in Texas before moving aboard, we had a huge network of supportive families and groups who encouraged us in all things homeschooling. In Texas, homeschooling is common and requires no oversight from the state at all. As a homeschool parent in Texas, we had every option available to us. And there are so many options available to parents. Unschooling, radical unschooling, various co-ops, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Classical Conversation, not to mention the many Christian based curriculums we were considering like A Beka, Sonlight, and My Father’s World.

Mike and I wrestled with how we were going to educate our girls. Mike leaned toward more formal curriculums with schedules. I gagged at the thought. I loved the idea of unschooling- the child-led, play based, more relaxed approach. Eventually we agreed we could incorporate both. We rejected the idea of not requiring our girls to do any kind of formal work, but we also didn’t want school to become a chore. We agreed to nurture in our children the pure love of learning.

With a preschooler (Hannah, 3 years old) and a kindergartner (Marlee, 5 years old) on board, we know that the more intense schooling years are ahead of us, but that doesn’t mean these years of schooling little ones are unimportant. On the contrary, we are setting the tone and foundation of all the educational years to come! And we are having fun doing it!

Learning in secret

After some reading, I fell in love with the concepts and practices taught by Charlotte Mason, so we try to incorporate her theories into how we school the girls, but in reality we do a mixture of things in our daily living and schooling. We do not sit down and do “school” every day, but I know that they are constantly learning whether I observe that learning or not. The things I love most about Charlotte Mason’s methods  and what I strive for in our education style includes:

  • A love for learning, and the parent’s responsibility not to squash it
  • Educating the child as a whole person, not just as “a mind to fill”
  • Self education, through a rich environment
  • “Living books” as opposed to textbooks
  • Short lessons, the focus being the child’s full attention
  • Exposure to the natural world with lots of outdoor play
  • Incorporating good daily habits and Bible into a child’s education

While there are many, many subjects to choose from, and many good subjects Charlotte Mason recommended, right now we are simply focusing on recognition of letters, numbers, colors and shapes, reading and narration, occasional copy work, a little foreign language (Spanish), journaling, arts and crafts, and nature study. And of course we travel! Travel lends itself to all kinds of educational opportunities. Through traveling the girls are learning about different aspects of history, science, nature, weather, geography, and social sciences. We also try to keep many good books available to them on a variety of different subjects, so they can dive into material that piques their interest that we are not doing formally.

A variety of resources and their nature journal

Here is a more specific summary of what our boatschooling looks like weekly, but keep in mind, no two weeks look the same!

Recognition of letters, numbers, shapes and colors:

This is the closest thing to a curriculum we have on board. It is a series of books sold individually at the dollar store. I just love the dollar store for homeschooling! Especially at these young ages, I balk at the idea of spending hundreds of dollars on something that cost me less than $10.00, and is just as adequate. Our goal is for them to recognize letters, numbers, colors and shapes, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot (or anything!) for them to reach that goal.

The girls love working in their workbooks, and we keep it child-motivated by letting them pick the one they want to work on for that week. We reiterate these recognition skills in our everyday life with them. We might see something while we are out and ask them if they know what letter/number/shape/color that is. They love pointing them out to us when they recognize it for themselves.

Copy work is also included here for my five year old, since she is learning how to copy words that she sees written in these workbooks. When she gets older, copy work will include copying a poem or short paragraph from a book. The focus is on handwriting and attention to detail, not memorizing or even understanding all the words.

Play-based learning also comprises a huge chunk of our learning in this area. For recognition of letters, numbers, shapes and colors we love using:


Although we want them to recognize letters and their sounds, we do not focus on memorizing the alphabet. My oldest is almost six years old, and she still gets a few letters mixed up when singing the alphabet song, but she can read. I saved a collection of early readers my sisters and I used when we were little and have been using them to teach my oldest to read. She took to it quickly and has easily read 10 of the 20 books by herself! Fueled by her own desire to read, it has been fun for all involved.

For other books that I read to them, we don’t emphasize comprehension (right versus wrong), but rather narration, meaning my girls retell the story to me after hearing it, and I can see how well they were paying attention or how well they understood what I was reading. Narration happens, more often than not, without any prompting from me, since they love to tell the stories to themselves and to each other.

Recently, I also began a different night time routine while they are tucked in for bed. I use this quiet time with lights out, far from any distractions, to read to them harder, longer books that they may not pick up themselves. I don’t define the many words I know they’ve never heard, instead the story captivates them and they eagerly soak in many new things, not the least of which is the love of reading. While we don’t do this every night, I have been thrilled at their ability to pay attention to books without pictures and to really enjoy these longer chapter books. While traveling down the east coast, we’ve been loving this region specific book called, Stories From Where We Live: The South Atlantic Coast and Piedmont A Literary Field Guide

Other good read aloud, Charlotte Mason “living books” for their ages include:

Arts and Crafts:

This could hardly be considered a school subject for my girls, since they love it so much, and want to do it almost everyday! Marlee loves drawing and coloring, and has shown an interest in it since she was very young. Besides the coloring books, markers, crayons, colored pencils, and paper we keep on board, I also have a variety of craft supplies like: paintbrushes, glue sticks, craft glue, stamps, ink pad, construction paper, tissue paper, scissors, stickers, and colored pens.

Learning about trees and practicing cutting

Recently, Marlee thought of an idea to glue tissue paper over the shells we had found at the beach, so that was our craft for the day. I loved her creativity in thinking of this craft all by herself and they loved using the paint brushes to paint the glue onto the shells. Craft time is so much more than just exercising their creativity, it is developing fine motor skills and learning how to use different materials. It also requires their full attention, a skill which Charlotte Mason emphasized. We also practice cutting, which is a skill that definitely takes time to learn!

Tissue paper, shells and glue

At six years old, Charlotte Mason encouraged children to begin studying famous artist’s artwork. Very simply she instructs parents to show the child six reproductions of one artist’s work. They observe them over a period of weeks with the goal to simply observe an artist’s work and become acquainted with them. Since Marlee turns six in February, I am excited to soon begin introducing this aspect of art to the girls. These are the cards we’re going to be using this year:

Six Van Gogh cards (Dover postcards)

Nature Study:

Nature study is really our science subject. We learn from what’s around us, so right now we’re learning about wildlife specific to the Southeast Atlantic coast. Before we left I purchased laminated field guides for South Atlantic shells and birds plus child sized binoculars. We’ve been learning so much just from that! From Virginia to Florida we’ve seen over a dozen different species of birds, plus an octopus, dolphins and many shells! Mike and I are having just as much fun as the girls.

We plan on adapting what we learn depending on what area we are in and the interest of the girls, and buying, in advance, a few resources specific to the area we will be in.

Our favorite find!

Here’s the resources we’ve been using so far:

With our nature study we also have a blank art journal that we use for the girls to draw pictures of what they did that day, as well as nature drawings of birds and shells they recently discovered.

Foreign Language:

We want to learn Spanish as a family and are using various online resources to do that. The girls favorite is:


This is where we truly appreciate our ability to travel and the opportunities to expose the girls to many new places and people! In Virginia we visited the aquarium; in South Carolina the U.S.S. Yorktown; and in Florida, the Timucuan Ecological Preserve and historic downtown St. Augustine, plus libraries, beaches and more!

Sometimes the thought of the many years ahead of us left to educate our girls seems overwhelming, but being able to homeschool according to our values and interests has made a huge difference in the way we approach school. We’re able to have fun, and Mike and I get to participate in the molding of these wonderful little people in the way we believe is best for them and us!

The U.S.S. Yorktown in Charleston, SC
Hannah at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, FL
A library in Norfolk, VA
The inside of the library

And finally, here are my favorite books to inspire me as a homeschooling mama!

I’d love to hear how you homeschool or boatschool! What are your favorite resources? Leave a comment below!







Boat Friends, An Octopus Fiasco and Alligators in the Oldest City in America

Boat Friends, An Octopus Fiasco and Alligators in the Oldest City in America

This spot on the water marks the place we’ve been the longest anywhere since we started our journey south. It’s a funny feeling. I was getting into the groove of daily travel. Waking in the early morning, pulling up anchor and setting out to a new place, the accomplished feeling of once again dropping that anchor in a place your eyes have never wandered, wondering what each new day will hold. Here, where our boat has bobbed and swayed for two weeks, we’re getting to know the waters, the times of the tides. We know when the current will be rushing past and when it will rest beside us. There is a comfort in this familiarity, in knowing where you’ll be that night when your head hits your pillow.

And oh, those sunsets.

sunset in St. Augustine

We decided to break from traveling with our friends on Totem when they turned to dock in Jacksonville, as we had our sights set on St. Augustine. I met a family who lived in St. Augustine, through Instagram, who also lived on a boat and had two boys, the same ages as our girls! They were kind and generous, the kind of people we’ve encountered over and over again so far, the kind of generosity you feel you could never repay. They invited us to hang out with them and allowed us to send our packages (items we ordered for our boat) to their marina. Since meeting them, we’ve been able to share several days together, letting our kids romp and run, and even sightseeing the city of St. Augustine together.


Our new friends, Erica and Scott, raved about their home city, so we couldn’t wait to discover what this historic town had to offer. I had no idea that St. Augustine is America’s oldest city, established in 1565!

what are you looking at??
a gorgeous view on our walk

On one occasion, Mike and the girls joined our new friends on a visit to an Alligator Farm! The kids raced down the walkways, taking in the unusual animals and watching the huge alligators feed.

a playground! And look who’s caught in the web!
slightly terrifying!

The alligators were all too eager for feeding time. A little creepy if you ask me!

the view from Crave

This sweet family even watched Marlee and Hannah one day so Mike and I could enjoy St. Augustine on our own. We ate at a hip little food truck, called Crave, with superfood wraps and a view!

This city is thick with history. Walking along its streets, old impressive buildings tower over roads of modern cars whizzing past. Bronze plaques are posted often in front of houses, street corners, and buildings signifying a place of historic importance. Tour trolleys roll by, leaving bits and pieces of the tour guides voice as it trails off. On nice days, people are walking and biking throughout the city streets, and with a bike rental shop nearby, why not?

the Lightner Museum

On our family outing to historic downtown, we visited the town square, America’s oldest parish, and wandered through rows of unique shops.

the historic town square

The girls, of course wanted to visit a beach, so one day we loaded everyone in the dinghy and motored to a nearby shoreline. We quickly realized it was more shell than shore, but the girls didn’t mind, and we had a fun time soaking in the sun and letting the girls explore the natural world.

beach day!

And then we saw an octopus…

Mike first spotted it. It was lurking around the edge of shore where the marsh grass met the water. It was reddish and sleek looking, just how you might imagine one to be. Mike ran back to the dinghy to grab the camera. Knowing how shy wild animals can be, I assumed it would be gone before Mike came back with the camera, but not only was it still there, it seemed to turn in our direction and soon began swimming straight toward where we were standing!

An octopus!

It slithered its way up toward the sand, just a couple feet from where we stood, as we excitedly watched its every move. It’s arms curled and uncurled as it moved toward us. Mike stepped into the water to get a closer picture, and immediately sank in thick, dark black mud. You couldn’t tell it was so sludgy underneath the beautiful water. Then the octopus turned again – for Mike! It was swimming toward him! Now, we didn’t believe the octopus could seriously injure any one of us, but we certainty wanted to give it room, so Mike quickly tried to walk back on shore, which he found he couldn’t! His shoes were stuck in the soft black sandy mud under the water, and as he pulled his feet out, he cut his foot on the many, many shells that littered the area. This silly octopus! We got to see it up close and in full detail, but we’ve never met a wild animal who was so curious and got us into so much trouble!

Mike got his shoes, with difficulty, and he limped back to the dinghy, calling it a day. Later, we realized that the video camera was turned to ‘on’ and recorded the whole fiasco!

After some research at home, we learned that octopi are the smartest invertebrates on the planet. Looking back at our adventure with this little creature, I am totally convinced. Next time we see an octopus, I think we’ll just let it swim on by, knowing now how curious and intelligent they are!


Gromit Gets an Electronics Upgrade

Gromit Gets an Electronics Upgrade

When we bought our boat, we knew something needed to be done about the electronics.  It’s a pretty good lineup and completely functional, but dated.  This is what we have:

  • Nexus Start Pack 3 wind/depth/speed (2014)
  • Furuno VX2 chartplotter with radar (2008)
  • Comnav Autopilot (2008)
  • ACR Nauticast AIS (2009)
  • ACR EPIRB (2009)

Here are some of the issues we’ve had with the current setup:

  1. The charplotter runs on 2GB chart cards, which are difficult to find and quite a bit more expensive than the newer chart cards.  They cover smaller regions so you have to buy more of them vs the newer chart plotters.  The boat did not come with any cards, so if we wind up doing a circumnavigation, we’d end up spending many thousands of dollars on chart cards.  The plotter still functions as is for displaying AIS data, and radar, but it is overlaid on a very crude chart with no details of buoys or landmarks.
  2. The EPIRB is functioning but expired, and the registration details are for the previous owners.  EPIRB stands for Emergency Positioning Radio Beacon.  In a nutshell, if something goes wrong and we need help, we press a button and it notifies the authorities via satellite and radio transmission, sending them our GPS coordinates.  An essential piece of equipment to have on board!
  3. The AIS is transmitting the wrong MMSI number.  An MMSI number is a unique number that represents our boat.  The AIS transponder transmits data about our boat, including the MMSI number, GPS position and heading data to other boats in the area.  It also receives data about other boats and displays it on a map.  Since the boat was Canadian registered, the MMSI number was Canadian and could not be transferred to us; we had to apply for a new MMSI number from the FCC.  It can be reprogrammed by the manufacturer, but they did not respond to our emails (thanks ACR!)
Without a chart card, the plotter thinks we are on dry land!

So, replacing the EPIRB is a no brainer. The new EPIRB’s have longer service lives (10 years vs 5 years) and are user serviceable (the one we have on the boat requires you send it to a service center to get the battery replaced… uh… no!)


On the chart plotter, I felt we had three options to move forward:

  1. Keep the chart plotter and buy the cards, the cost on this is north of $2800 for a circumnavigation, plus the cards are difficult to source.
  2. Buy a new chart plotter and radar.  This route would also require buying chart cards in addition to the equipment, but at least we’d have new state of the art equipment that can run the newer chart cards.  Cost $3k+ for the gear, another $2k for the cards.
  3. Scrap the chart plotter idea altogether, and navigate using iPad and a laptop.  Equipment is free (we already own), charts are $50-100 each and cover relatively large regions.  This is the lowest cost option and the one we chose.  With the money we saved on the the cards/equipment, we decided to install an NMEA2000 cabling system that would allow the laptop and iPad to see instrument data from our GPS, depth, wind and compass.

NMEA2000 is a network protocol where all instruments get their power from, and send their data through a single communications “trunk line”.  This means you can plug a device in anywhere in the network and it can see and use data from other instruments.  It’s simple and efficient.  Here’s what we bought:

  • Garmin GND10 ($171)  – This translates between the language our Nexus Start Pack speaks and NMEA2000, and was cheaper than buying NMEA2000 instruments.
  • B&G ZG100 External GPS w/built in compass ($199) – This will feed GPS and compass data to the iPad and OpenCPN (PC).  Technically the Comnav autopilot will also feed compass data to the network, but having this keeps us from having to run the autopilot for compass data, especially useful at anchor or when using our wind vane for steering.
  • Vesper XB-8000 AIS Transponder ($686) – Ouch!  This was the big one, but it will take in all of our NMEA2000 and NMEA0183 data and broadcast the output via USB and WiFi.

The large items and all of the related cabling: $1280.

At the same time we also bought:

  • ACR GlobalFix v4 EPIRB ($399) – has a 10 year service life, and user replaceable battery!  We’re going to keep the old one, as a backup.
  • Balmar External Voltage Regulator ($432) – Not navigation related.  We were having issues with our alternator either putting out too much or too little voltage. This will hook up to the alternator on the engine and regulate it a lot better than the internal regulator does, hopefully extending the life of our battery bank (which is very expensive to replace!)

“Hey you must be rich!”  Not really.  This is a pretty modest budget for an electronics upgrade, some folks spend $10’s of thousands of dollars!  In fact, this upgrade allows us to reliably use our existing iPad and laptop for navigation, and was cheaper than buying new cards for, or replacing, the existing chartplotter!  This was also part of the “start up” budget which had already been planned.

The girls helped with the unboxing.

Despite the small-ish budget, a project like this takes careful planning.  All of the wiring needs to be special ordered to length, so I had to pre-plan where all of the components would sit and take careful measurements on the boat.  That being said, things never go to plan and adjustments had to be made as I was installing.  For example, I had planned to have the GND10 in the bow of the boat, but instead mounted it in the Nav station.  I found a cable on board (from the previous owner) that allowed me to do this, saving us a few bucks as we were able to return the cable we bought.

The existing equipment (black) and new equipment (blue).
I added a couple of wires to power the network… see the red one?
The Nexus black box and power junction for the new network under the nav station.

While the new wiring spans the entire length of the boat, most of the work took place on the stern, where I had to remove the existing AIS and AIS antenna, then add the new AIS, AIS antenna, GPS/Compass antenna and fabricate a bracket.  All of the antennas sit on the davits with the wiring run through the lazarette, which meant emptying all of the contents onto the deck.  I hate having messes on the boat, and this one persisted for almost a week!

That’s me in there, good times!
Cozy in the aft lazarette, it wasn’t worth it to take the spare anchor out.
At least it was big enough to comfortably run the wiring!
Marlee supervising to make sure I’m doing it right.
Try to keep the wires tidy and out of the way – to prevent snags when pulling items out of the lazarette.
GPS and AIS antennas on a bracket I made (the picture is strategically angled to hide my inability to cut a straight line).
AIS in the aft cabin, this keeps the length of the VHF antenna cable short, which reduces RF interference.

And the result is, somewhat anticlimactically, shown below!

iNavx on the iPad showing AIS targets and heading information, all via WiFi!
OpenCPN showing AIS and instrument data!

I contemplated our options for a really long time (like 5 months) before we pulled the trigger on this, debating whether to buy cards, a new chart plotter, or go with the system we implemented above.  This system gives us the most bang for the buck, and gives us flexibility in the future should we choose to add more components, I suppose you could say it was the “wise” path.

But also this gives us another layer of redundancy.  These days we are so dependent on GPS to navigate – we now have more GPS devices on board in case one fails.

The new EPIRB sits in its cradle next to the old one.  In an emergency we’d grab the new one first, both of them if we have time.  The older one still works, for now.

EPIRB under the companionway steps.  And the the shoe basket, very important.


An Ecological Preserve and a Clean Up at Sister’s Creek

An Ecological Preserve and a Clean Up at Sister’s Creek

It seemed like just another day, but docking in Sister’s Creek near Jacksonville Florida was a huge day for us. We had just finished our first ocean run from Charleston, South Carolina. We couldn’t believe we were in Florida! We hoped only warm weather awaited us.

We stayed at a free dock in Sister’s Creek off of the St. John’s River. It was a beautiful spot, with not much around. We pulled up to the dock, with difficulty because of the strong currents, but were greeted by two men, strangers who had come to help us tie our dock lines. After the second try of pulling up to the dock we were able to secure our lines and relax. We were only one of three boats tied to the dock and by far the biggest. How grateful we were for the stranger’s help! We soon met them then settled back into our boat for dinner.

We were anxious to explore the area. The dock and attached piers attracted many fisherman. At the end of one of the docks was a small parking lot attached to a playground and bathrooms. A couple of short trails and that was it! But we were right next to a fun playground which also had trash cans, so at the very least we could throw our trash away during our stay here and the girls could run out their built up energy. It was quiet and beautiful and in my book, besides not being near any stores, it was perfect.


We soon learned the free dock was actually in the site of an ecological preserve called Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. All around us were different birds snapping up fish in the marsh grasses, gracefully flying over the surface of the water or walking along the shorelines over mountains of shells. Egrets, Herons, Brown Pelicans, Sea Gulls, and even Osprey were regular sights.



One thing that quickly came to our attention was the amount of trash littering this otherwise beautiful place. Not just a wrapper here or there, but dozens and dozens of bottles, lightbulbs, cans, Styrofoam and other trash gathered around the fishing piers, the effects of the Hurricane Matthew. Mike hates seeing land degraded and destroyed, so he soon decided that while we were there, we would clean it up!

People that noticed were very thankful and we felt like we earned our stay at the free dock. But as we were getting ready to leave for St. Augustine, Florida, our engine decided to quit. It wouldn’t start at all! I know we live on a sail boat, but sailing requires the right amount and angle of wind, plus space. The ICW doesn’t fare well for either. The ICW is often narrow and shallow, and not conducive for safe sailing. So we needed a working engine, and for that we needed a part from a store. With no car and no store in walking distance, how were we going to leave?

Then we met Nancy and Browne. They are an amazing sweet couple, former cruisers, who go to the free dock everyday to hand out newspapers and ask if anyone needs a ride to the store. We were so grateful for a few free rides they gave us! The kindness and abundant generosity of strangers on this journey has continued to humble us and amaze us.

We were able to get the part made that we needed and the engine started with success! We stocked up on groceries and we were ready to head to St. Augustine to meet another boat family we had met online. But we will never forget the sunsets over Sister’s Creek and the beauty we witnessed there.


29 Hours on the Ocean: Our First Overnight Passage!

29 Hours on the Ocean: Our First Overnight Passage!

The trip didn’t begin as planned. We got the word from our friends on s/v Totem, whom we were traveling with, that we got our window of good weather to leave at dawn for our passage from Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. We were expecting to stay in Charleston for a few more days, but when planning ocean passages, good weather is everything. As our friends on Totem like to say, “misery is optional.” So on our last day docked in Charleston Harbor, we provisioned and got our boat ready to leave.

We were up just before the sun the next morning, but what we saw we didn’t like: fog. Not just a little fog, but thick dense fog, the kind that forces you to stop in your tracks. And stop we did. We decided to wait until noon to give the fog time to burn off. Since the passage was only about 29 hours, we could leave that afternoon and still make it to Jacksonville before sunset the next day. It could still work, but deep down I was hoping someone would call the whole thing off and tell us to wait a few more days for more pleasant weather. No one did.

I was nervous about our first time on the ocean. While our boat had plenty of experience out on the open sea, carrying the previous owners on a circumnavigation, I had no experience. Would it be exhausting taking watches day and night, while watching three small children? Would the children like it? What would the waves be like? Would the darkness fall around me, with nothing but water surrounding me, and would I wish I was on land? All these thoughts and more swirled in my head.

Charleston Harbor as we left

Noon came and it seemed we would be able to leave after all. The fog was slowly beginning to dissipate. It still clung to the tops of bridges and buildings, but it was lifting off the water and our visibility was increasing. We untied the dock lines and motored out of the marina. Our trip began.

s/v Totem

It wasn’t long before we realized the fog had no intention of leaving. It grew heavier and sank down again in front of us, limiting our vision and creating a gloom around us. I was already nervous, but the fog seemed to echo my fears and I couldn’t get them to lift. Getting to the ocean required us to go through an inlet, one producing choppy waves that we were not expecting. We heard the ocean would be calm and fairly flat, so we didn’t worry too much about sea sicknesses, that is, until we went through this inlet. It soon became clear that we would need to worry about it, and so I gave myself and the girls a dose of medicine. With my stomach already upset, I would pass the next few hours praying for that medicine to kick in.

We have, literally, no pictures of the rest of that day because of my battle with sea sickness which the fog only worsened (how am I supposed to look out at the horizon if I can’t see it?) and because Mike was doing everything else. At this point, I truly could not see how this trip was going to be a success. I was not able to help him with anything, the girls or the boat, and we still had more than 24 hours left to go. I really wanted to turn around, find an anchorage and wait for sunshine, but knew that might not be a possibility. Weather was forecasted to only become worse throughout the week, not better. It was then I asked him, “Can you do this by yourself?” And when he answered “yes” I knew that we were in this. Together we were committed, and whether I felt great or terrible, I was going to embrace this time and knew that whatever happened, in the end I would be ok. And so I clung to the deck of the boat, tried to imagine a horizon and prayed.

We were following behind Totem and so our job was relatively easy: stay behind them, but the fog complicated the matter. We wanted to be close enough to maintain visibility of their boat, but not too close as to pose a problem. Luckily, our girls, drowsy from the medication, slept most of the afternoon and we had little other responsibility.

Eventually, I started to feel better. The fog still stuck to the ocean and sky like an ugly blanket, but I was beginning to have hope that things were going to get better. The waves were not difficult, but the motion of the sea still required an adjustment. The girls woke up and occasionally complained of an upset tummy, so we decided to turn on a movie for them, and it worked in distracting their minds from the boat’s rocking. With my newfound energy and our day light slowly fading, we decided to begin shifts so we could get in as many naps as we could through the evening and night.

Before we left, I thought that night on the ocean would be frightening. I assumed I would feel like a little girl being tucked into bed, begging for a night light to be kept on. But when what little sunlight we had began to drift away and night settled in, I was relieved. The darkness concealed most of the fog and we could even see a bit of light emanating from the horizon. It seemed, in a strange way, that the night brought more light than the day.

The night became a comfort to me. The day was done. We had made it through our first daylight hours on the ocean. All that was left was the sunrise, and that brought me hope. And then, suddenly, Mike called out “a star!” And one by one tiny brilliant lights began to appear as the fog parted like a curtain parting before a show. Within moments the heavens displayed glorious hosts of light, stars and planets, each one a miracle. We truly were comforted by their presence, and knowing our Maker’s hand was behind them, our fears were calmed. We entered into that night with hearts full of awe.

As night fell, all we could see was Totem’s two lights ahead of us

Mike was down below, resting and I was alone on deck. I was on watch and that meant scanning the horizon to look for any other boats or structures, and to stay behind Totem. Unfortunately, our starry night was again soon shrouded by thick clouds and fears began to creep back in. I could barely see anything through the clouds. What if there was something just ahead of us that I couldn’t see? I fixed my eyes on Totem’s lights without wavering. We had charts and AIS and radar, but I knew they would also alert us if there was anything up ahead, of that I was sure.

All that was left to do now was to keep watch and stay awake. As I sat under the protection of the dodger, my eyes heavy, all I could think of to do was to sing praise songs to my God. I shuffled through old songs embedded in my memory, songs from childhood, from the churches I attended with my family and from my years in the youth group. I struggled to remember all the words from songs I hadn’t thought of in more than a decade, but the words and melodies came back to me, tumbling off my tongue, and I sang them out with only God as my audience.  Old songs and new songs, under that dark night sky, with nothing but water and fog, those songs meant more than they ever had. You called me out upon the waters… Now here I was, out on the waters, the great unknown, and just like the song goes, it was there I found him in the mystery, in oceans deep. That night became something beautiful and intimate, something words can’t really describe. His grace abounded in those waters, and he met me there, filling my soul and cleansing me from my fears.

Mike and I changed shifts and he spent the darkest hours of the night compelled, as I was, to worship the Creator of all things. I didn’t mean to sleep for five hours, but I did. Whether it was the medicine that made me so drowsy or the comfort of that bed after a challenging day, I don’t know, but Mike tried to wake me up sooner, without success. Finally about 5:30 in the morning I arose and relieved him of his watch. I would get to welcome the dawn.

dawn breaking

On the boat that morning I knew one thing: each sunrise is a miracle. Night is swept away, shadows rolled up like yesterday’s newspaper. The sun rose, an old day vanished, and with it the fog and challenges it held.

A miracle, a gift

Our second day on the water was just the opposite of our first. It was clear, bright and beautiful. The water was unusually flat and glassy. We were relaxed and rested, and we would be in Florida by dinnertime. We were thrilled!

Mike and Marlee on the bow gazing at the serene, flat waters
Our view of Totem on the glassy sea

The rest of the day we talked, read, took naps and I wrote in my journal. It was a perfect day. And soon we spotted land- Florida! Palm trees swayed on the shore and it was finally warm enough to put away our heavy jackets. We couldn’t believe we had made it to Florida!


I’ll never forget our first time on the ocean, the songs in the night, the comfort of the stars, the brilliant breaking of day, the stillness that followed the turmoil. I’ll never forget how God met me there and revealed the beauty of the deep. It was there waiting for me all along.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand