By Tom Dare
MEET THE BRITISH FAMILY who say they have no real plans to return home after leaving their lives in the UK behind to home-school their kids while sailing around the world in their very own yacht.
Images show married Brighton-based couple Alan, who owned a furniture design business back home, and Irenka Wood, a part-time sailing instructor, sailing the open seas on their 53-foot Amel Super Maramu yacht with children Rowan, 11, Darroch, 8, and Yewan, 6.
The family, who have travelled just over 500 nautical miles so far, can be seen studying maps, paddle boarding in crystal-clear waters and exploring some of the local islands they have come across on their travels, which they finally set out on in September last year.
It’s a plan that has been decades in the making for Alan, 49, and Irenka, 47, who met each other by chance while both captaining flotillas in the Greek Islands over 15 years ago.
And Alan says that, while it was a difficult decision to take their children along with them for the adventure, the couple certainly don’t feel like they’re forcing their dreams on their kids. In fact, Alan believes the experience is teaching them vital life skills that they would never have picked up back in Britain.
“We did have a lot of shtick from an article I wrote before leaving,” he says.
“There were people accusing us of being ‘privileged’ and ‘selfish’ by putting our kids’ life at risk to follow our dream. Some even suggested social services should get involved.
“But safety is objective. Most people die from heart disease and cancer exacerbated by sitting in front of a screen for too long. Our education system – sadly – is failing young boys and making narcissistic victims of young girls. Giving the kids a life of adventure is not selfish, it’s giving them a lifeline.
“We are not teaching them to be safe, we are encouraging them to be resourceful, adaptable and above all, happy. There’s no better activity than sailing to learn team work and compromise and there’s no worse place to harbour prejudice or envy. Division of labour defies traditional gender roles, determination and wisdom win out over sex, age and disability. Boat kids are exposed to this daily – they don’t need social media to tell them how to think or define their world.
“And anyone who thinks a liveaboard lifestyle is ‘privileged’ – well I would challenge them to try it. We threw out our TV over a decade ago, constantly worked late into the night on small business start-ups, sold most of our possessions and lived a frugal life for years.
“We worked hard to achieve our dream – damned hard – renovating houses and learning everything we could so we wouldn’t have to pay other people to do stuff for us. It takes a lot of old fashioned, working class grit to get this ‘privileged’.”
Both Alan and Irenka have a lengthy background in sailing, with Irenka undertaking three Atlantic crossings during her time at sea, one of which she completed with broken ribs.
It took the two the best part of a decade to save up the money for their boat, which they intend to take around the world, stopping off in such exotic spots as Tunisia, Italy, France, Spain, The Caribbean, USA, Panama, the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, India, Madagascar, South Africa and Brazil, just to name a few.
So far, the family have only been able to explore a few of the Greek Islands, having been moored on the island of Lefkas for most of what has been a particularly harsh winter.
But they’re on their way again now, and Alan says if anything the experience so far has brought them closer together, helping them gain a new-found respect for life’s little triumphs.
“It would be easy to talk about anchoring in a bay, swimming in crystal clear water and having a BBQs with friends off the back of the boat,” he says.
“Don’t get me wrong, these are all fantastic experiences that we obviously enjoy, but in actual fact the high points are times when we use our resourcefulness to overcome problems. Like the time we repaired the washing machine with a kid’s party balloon and could wash our clothes for the first time in weeks. Or the time we worked out how to fix an ongoing issue with the toilet using salad dressing!
“Although we bought a great boat it had been neglected by the previous owner. So we knew we were in for some hard work and steep learning curves.
“Renovating and maintaining a sailboat while travelling and living aboard is a challenge. If the boiler brakes down we can’t just pick up the phone to the local plumber; when the generator packs up, no electrical company will send out a van to sort us out. A wrong navigational decision or mechanical failure can cost us thousands, or we could even lose everything. There’s no RNLI out here to pull us out of a scrape like in the UK, so everything is down to us and us alone.
“Our background knowledge sees us through most problems and the liveaboard community is immensely supportive and helpful. Sometimes however, we need to find professional technicians or mechanics, which can sometimes involve sailing hundreds of miles or organising couriers to deliver spare parts across continents. So we’ve adopted the old austerity war moto, ‘Make do and Mend’.
“But the best part about the whole thing so far has been spending time with the kids and watching how this boating life is transforming them into rounded, independent and resourceful individuals. Like the time they learned to play their first song together in a ‘band’ and took their instruments out onto the next quayside we moored at to busk, and came back with €40 ice-cream money!”
So how difficult has it been to home-school three children under the age of 12 while simultaneously attempting to keep a boat running?
“The challenge of home-schooling is a whole subject in itself,” says Alan.
“Between us parents, we have taught students in colleges, boats and prisons, but nothing prepared us for that weird parent/teacher duplexity when teaching our own young kids.
“Keeping them motivated, engaged and interested is a constant challenge and there’s no headmaster or classroom assistant to turn to when the guano hits the mast. But every new encounter and place is a potential learning experience; everyone we meet has some story, skill or pearl of wisdom to share. And it’s humbling to discover how many retired teachers out here are willing give up their time to become part of our impromptu, crowdsourced, educational programme!”
To find out more about the Wood family, follow them on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/mothershipadrift/