For seven years, a 47-foot sailing vessel has been home, school, nursery and vehicle for the Shaw family.
The SV Fluenta has taken the family of five around the world to 14 different countries, covering enough mileage to have circled the globe twice. Now the family is setting course for Sidney, to put down the anchor, but not before reflecting on how the journey all started with a crazy idea in 2010.
Max and Elizabeth Shaw were both working successful jobs in the military as engineers, but found themselves so busy that they barely had time to see their two children.
“We wanted something different, not to be so much in the rat race,” said Elizabeth. “One thing led to another and we came up with ‘we should just go away.’ Once that idea came out, there was no putting it back in the bottle.”
Two-and-a-half years later Elizabeth and Max sold their home, fixed up the vessel and set sail with their children Johnathan (then six) and Victoria (then eight).
They proceeded to head south, making many stops along the way through North America, before heading east to the Polynesian Islands.
Two years into the trip Elizabeth gave birth to their third child, Benjamin, in Mexico, before continuing onward.
Often when the kids were younger, the Shaw family would pick up a relative or fellow sailor to help them as a hand on the vessel when they were making longer trips, something that worked out very well but which is no longer required.
“Now that the kids are older it works really well, because they can pitch in and help,” Elizabeth said. “They sail, stand watch, sand and repair the boat. It’s much easier than when we left.”
The kids have continued a B.C. education throughout the trip, using both SIDES and Self Design as a homeschooling option, though a lot of education came from first-hand experience.
“I don’t have a huge comparison to what land life is like, since the life of an eight year old is rather different than that of a 16 year old,” said Victoria Shaw. “But, it’s pretty freeing. It makes you make friends really fast; it’s not like at home where you can say ‘oh I don’t like that person,’ and form your own group. You don’t really have a choice.”
The sailing community is small but close, watching out for one another, the Shaws add. In addition, the places they visit also offer hospitality and a chance to look at new cultures.
“It’s certainly very interesting, but it can also be kind of overwhelming sometimes,” Victoria recalled.
One of her favourite spots they’ve visited is an extremely remote island called Tikopia, in the southwest Pacific Ocean. The residents of the small island live a traditional lifestyle in huts made of palms and wood. Victoria said residents were really excited, because they would soon be getting Internet.
“We kept trying to tell them that it’s not always that great, that they’d lose some self-reliance, but it was hard to get them to understand,” she said.
Elizabeth echoed her daughter’s thoughts on the freedoms of being away from the internet, adding that it did come with challenges.
“It’s like two different spaces– being connected and not,” Elizabeth said. “If you’re trying to order parts or look up how to fix things that’s when it gets tricky.”
Max Shaw agreed that living on SV Fluenta made you have to be more independent, something he hopes his kids will carry forward.
“If our boat breaks we have to fix it. If we’re sick, we have to figure it out,” Max said. “It’s not necessarily relaxing when you’re trying to keep a 38-year-old boat operating, constantly watching the weather and thinking of the logistics of fuel and food.”
Now the family is winding down its journey as it aims to settle into the marina in Sidney, still living on the ship but getting back into the workforce and attending regular schools.
As engineers with a high amount of maritime experience, both Max and Elizabeth hope to find some kind of regular job, though they don’t have concrete plans.
For Victoria, attending a regular high school could be interesting, though she’s seen it often portrayed pretty negatively on TV. She’s more excited, however, to see her extended family and explore more of Canada.
“I couldn’t tell you much about camping in B.C., so I really look forward to being able to explore the province.”
The Shaws arrived in Canada on Oct. 21, and will slowly make its way to Sidney by the end of November. While the Shaws are now dropping the anchor, Max said they’ll probably go on another adventure after the kids finish school.
“It’s early now, but never say never,” he said.