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Family gives up house, jobs to go bluewater sailing with kids

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In the early-2000s, Behan and her husband Jamie were living the typical American dream. Both worked full-time, they owned a nice home on Bainbridge Island, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, and were raising their two young children. The two had always shared a love of sailing, and thought “someday”, they’d go bluewater sailing around the world.

“It was something we were going to do eventually,” Behan said. “Then we had one of those years that put a fine point on what are you doing with your life? Our second child was born, Jamie’s mother passed away, and it made us think about our priorities and what we were doing, and that dream about a boat ‘someday’ was something we needed to do sooner, and why not go bluewater sailing with our kids?”

Three kids are perched on the side of a bluewater sailboat
Photo: www.sailingtotem.com. The family when they just started cruising

So, the couple put in a 5-year plan to leave life as they know it and go bluewater sailing with their kids. They sold most of their belongings, bought a 47′ boat they named Totem and had a third child. In 2008, they sailed away, when their kids were 4, 6 and 9.

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How they adjusted to their new life bluewater sailing

Behan said adjusting to life on a bluewater sailboat was different for everyone. The kids seemed to adjust overnight.

“At their age, they just wanted to be hanging out with mom and dad, and the more time you had with family the better,” she said. “We went from having a dual-career, shuttling kids to school and daycare to 24/7 togetherness. It was great as far as the kids were concerned.”

Photo of the family's bluewater sailboat Sailing Totem at sunset
Photo: www.sailingtotem.com
The family works and cooks inside their bluewater yacht Totem
Photo: www.sailingtotem.com

Behan said for her and her husband, it was a little tricker. She was used to her busy job where she commuted three hours per day, so it took her longer to step into a slower-paced life. Her husband Jamie had an easier time of it. He owned his own business with had more control over his day-to-day life.

[You might also like: 13 items I can’t do without on the sailboat ]

The family spent their first year sailing near in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, then along the West Coast to Mexico. Eventually, they really got out into bluewater yachting and did a 3,000-mile ocean crossing to the South Pacific.

How they make money to stay afloat while bluewater sailing

When Behan and Jamie first got the idea to go bluewater yachting full-time, they imagined being out on the water for 2 to 5 years.  They started out living off their savings, but when they decided to stay out longer than five years, they had to really figure out a way to bring home more bacon.

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“When we got to Tahiti in 2010, we had six months worth of funds left,” Behan said. “So we sat down with a chart and figured out where we could go to get the opportunity to work as a U.S. citizen. I did some interviews in Australia and it seemed a good fit and they made a tentative offer, so we sailed to Australia on a tentative offer with $100 in our bank account.”

Kids sit out and look over a beautiful turquoise bay while buewater yachting
Photo: www.sailingtotem.com

Luckily, the job came through, and the family spent 1.5 years funding their bluewater yachting trip. The kids went to a normal school, and the entire experience reinforced how much they loved cruising. So, they took off once again to sail the ocean blue.

One of the kids stands on the bow of their bluewater sailboat Totem
Photo: www.sailingtotem.com

Now, the two fund their journey with Jamie’s sail-making business, and coaching people on their website Sailing Totem on how to pursue a cruising lifestyle.

How they educate their kids while living on a bluewater sailboat

Behan and Jamie have been home-schooling their kids for most of their journey, which started its 10th year in May, 2017. Behan said she thinks her kids have learned the most just by experiencing the world.

“They’ve gotten a perspective on how fragile the earth is and the damage they’ve seen from over-fished reefs. They’ve seen social justice and disenfranchised people forgotten by a corrupt government. They’ve learned about the natural world and marine biology. When our son was 9,10 years old and we were in the South Pacific he learned the Latin names of the marine species we’d encounter,” Behan said.

Kids hang from a dinghy and play in the ocean, part of their journey sailing around the world
Photo: www.sailingtotem.com
One of the children of Sailing Totem works on the deck of their bluewater sailboat
Photo: www.sailingtotem.com
The kids dance with island natives during their adventures bluewater sailing around the world
Photo: www.sailingtotem.com

The takeaway from bluewater yachting with kids

Behan and her family don’t one bit regret their choice to sail full-time around the world. They’ve been as far away as Africa and Thailand, and have enjoyed spending so much time together as a family.

“When I look back at the amount of time we didn’t spend together [on Bainbridge Island] and what we traded that for is so rewarding,” she said. “We gave up a great deal of financial security and we gave up what we considered the American dream a We had great income, a beautiful house. Life should have been perfect, and yet it was too busy. Trading that to be together and be broke is one fine trade-off to me.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Trading the American Dream to be together and be broke is one fine trade-off to me’ #sailing ” quote=”‘Trading the American Dream to be together and be broke is one fine trade-off to me.'”]

The family of Sailing Totem stands on the bow of their bluewater sailboat
Photo: www.sailingtotem.com

She wants people to know that anyone can do it. That most things people are afraid of are irrational. They’ve been blasted with ideas about how dangerous the outside world is, and she doesn’t think it’s that way at all.

“I think the cruising lifestyle is within reach of anyone who wants to go for it,” she said. “Life out here is so rewarding.”

You can follow Behan’s journey through her blog, SailingTotem.com.

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15 thoughts on “Family gives up house, jobs to go bluewater sailing with kids”

  1. This is so great to see my wife and two girls of nine and eleven and I just bought a 53 foot offshore choey Lee and plan to leave to Cruze the world,

    Reply
  2. Wow, what an incredible story. I’m finding a trend with people who pursue the more “nomadic” lifestyle are business owners, and I feel like it’s a “chicken/egg” situation–does owning a business allow them to be nomadic, or are entrepreneurs naturally inclined toward it?

    Either way, this is incredibly inspirational! “Most things people are afraid of are irrational”–how true! Thanks for putting their story out there.

    Reply
    • Yeah I wonder! I think owning a business gives you the option of freedom, and then maybe you start thinking outside the box. When I had a full-time job as a news reporter, being nomadic didn’t even cross my mind because I didn’t know how to accomplish it. Someday, I hope to figure out how!

      Reply
    • Hi Andrea- speaking as nomadic mama of the family in question – we are freelancers, vs business owners (you could call it the business of Us, I suppose?!). When I look around at the people who make it Out Here, I think it’s fair to say they are more likely than the general population to be entrepreneurial. Not that they necessarily are entrepreneurs, but that they are motivated self-starters who just go out there and get sh*t done. A very few are more passive, follow the rules type. And for whatever it’s worth – I’M one of those more passive types! My husband is our entrepreneur. 🙂

      Reply
  3. I was lucky enough to meet Behan and her daughters when we docked near them in Beaufort, NC last year. They make an excellent case for boatschooling around the world. The girls were outgoing and charming and a real treat for my golden retriever who always enjoys making new friends.

    Reply
  4. Very inspiring family and article. I think it’s such a key point that what most people are afraid of is irrational, especially when it comes to living outside the conventional boundaries of a ‘normal life’. Usually, people who decide not to travel and live are getting advice from people who aren’t as well, versus admirable couples like Behen and Jamie. I’ve always been a traveler but each of these posts is making me more and more curious about doing so on the water. Great post.

    Reply
    • Yeah you have to click the link and look at their website…they have all the details on the boat over there at Sailing Totem.

      Reply

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