Have you ever fantasized about selling your home, the cars, donating all of your belongings that don’t hold sentimental value to you, chucking the “so much to do, so little time” schedule and leading your family to a place where you can all unwind and reconnect with one another?
That’s exactly the way native Texans Renee and Keith Whitaker felt. The Whitaker family, formerly of Flower Mound, shared their story with me in an interview while they are visiting the area (briefly) because now they call the open water and the world their home.
Their adventure begins in the summer of 2016 when they put their (mc)mansion on the market, donated or sold most of their belongings, and pulled their four school-aged children from the bubble of life in the Dallas suburbs with the intent on creating their own unique version of the American Dream!
Plain and simple this couple was tired of consumerism, materialism and they didn’t like what was happening to their kids. Though Keith had never sailed a boat before, it was a three-hour excursion on Lake Grapevine with their tribe that catapulted his growing distaste for chasing money and a non-stop lifestyle from words into action.
Their children, Anna (16), Jack (15), Finn (11) and Kate (10) left their old life behind when they bought a 55-foot Beneteau Oceanis sailboat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and set sail on what they felt would be a three-year world excursion in November of 2016. Sailing Zatara (named after the main character in their favorite movie The Count of Monte Cristo) has, to date, crossed 12,500 nautical miles and visited 16 countries as of our interview. A few of the places they have explored include the Panama Canal, Nassau, the Bahamas, The Dominican Republic, Tonga Islands, Fiji, and Australia.
Fascinated by their story, I first wrote about the Whitaker family on my blog in a post entitled, “What Happens When You Stop Drinking the Kool Aid?” What I have learned since that article was published is there are many families ditching the mainstream path of “success” for a less traditional way of living which includes sailing, moving and traveling extensively abroad, and even those who spend months or years in an RV discovering the United States.
“The kids are thriving and we are closer than we’ve ever been before.” Renee responded when I asked how things have changed for them in the year plus that they have been sailing the world.
Some of the activities they have been able to enjoy include learning about different cultures, experiencing new foods, snorkeling, scuba diving, cliff jumping, and cave exploration.
However, it’s not all beautiful sunsets over pristine blue waters and cocktails on white sandy beaches, there is a great deal of work that goes into preparing for and living life on a sailboat. It starts with the ability to sacrifice space and luxuries (like plenty of hot water) and being willing to work together. Both Keith and Renee agree that the kids are privy to the inevitable ups and downs of their marriage because there’s just no where to go to get away from one another. This ends up being a good thing because it forces them to work things out and not carry grudges. This model has influenced the kids in their sibling relationships as well. When asked, the couple admits the kids have their moments, but overall after working together daily for this length of time they get along well.
Other ways their kids are experiencing life that would not otherwise happen? The older two, Anna and Jack, often have to take turns pulling three-hour lookout shifts in the middle of the night. All four kids are responsible for other chores such as emptying the composting toilet, keeping their tight quarters tidy, and helping restock provisions when they have the opportunity to get groceries in port. They now better understand how hard their dad works, something they did not appreciate while living in the land of suburbia where everything was easily provided for them.
Some other less than stellar aspects of living on a sailboat include having limited food storage and occasional bugs that discover and infiltrate your food source, planning provisions for several days at sea, seasickness while on passage…which hits some of the family members harder than others (fortunately it only lasts a day or two until they get their “sea legs”), sails that rip at inconvenient times, toilets that need unclogging, and (of course) much of their time without Wi-Fi. Keith is very hands-on and has learned a great deal about fixing the sailboat and its attached equipment during their travels.
The Whitakers homeschooled their kids before leaving life in Flo Mo for the open water. They are open-ended about their plans for how long they will continue to explore the world. At the moment their sailboat is in Australia and they are looking to buy something larger for the next phase of their journey which will begin after the holidays. It is likely they will meet their original intent of three years but both Keith and Renee know and understand there will come a time when the kids will want to pursue their own paths. Anna is interested in going to college so she is working on the necessary material to achieve that goal in the next few years. As for the rest of the kids, Renee and Keith both feel their role as parents is to find out what their kids are passionate about and to support them on whatever path they choose.
Renee has put together an amazing video log that is capturing the authenticity of their journey, if you would like to watch it and continue to follow this family on their travels, please go to their YouTube page where you can also subscribe to their YouTube channel.
Keith and Renee are looking to inspire other families to follow their dreams. If you have specific questions about changing course with your family and setting sail on the open water, you can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do you think about shifting gears and gathering your family for an open-ended adventure? Maybe this is the story that prompts you off of the hamster wheel in 2018!