When Stephen and Sarah Auret, decided in 2011 to take their three young children, Gabriella, Adam and Raphaella, sailing around the world on board their Oyster 66 Valentine, they didn’t realise just how transformational the experience would be for the whole family.
Becoming a circumnavigator was always a dream for Stephen, but like many people, his career got in the way. There were naturally held concerns about sailing alone with the family to remote destinations, and about interrupting formal schooling for several years. “Then I heard about the Oyster World Rally and it offered a fantastic opportunity to take the family in a technically supported safe, and also incredibly time-efficient way. We bought Valentine in mid 2011 and registered for the first Oyster World Rally. Oyster’s organisation took care of the routing aspects, and facilitated all the personal and boat preparation. We could focus our time on family training and a few mini-cruises over school holidays to build confidence, and then it was the Antigua start cannon in January 2013 - what a pleasure!”
“Gabriella was twelve, Adam nine and Raphaella just seven,” recalls Sarah. “One of my worries before we left was potential boredom, and how to manage their energy levels.” She soon realised her fears were unfounded. “The sea is very calming, and even on the long passages, there’s always something going on.”
Adam embraced all aspects of life on board. “He was known as our little “Capitaine”; he was so keen to learn to drive the tender, and he was put in charge of fishing,” says Sarah. “They’d often scale, gut and filet the fish for us to eat,” says Stephen. “You don’t get that sort of education in school.”
Being on board offered many ways to learn – from navigation to sea life, the stars and weather, as well as the geography, geology and history of the locations they visited - Stephen and Sarah were also aware of the need to continue with the children’s formal education.
Online learning and home schooling has been essential during the Coronavirus pandemic, and there are many educational organisations available to help parents manage remote learning. Sarah had organised the year’s curriculums for each child and packed suitcases full of books and learning aids. “The school had given us all the workbooks and they just worked through them.” Her main advice to other parents is to focus on the essentials, reading, writing and arithmetic. “The children read a lot, and kept their journals, writing and drawing about what they’d seen and where we’d been.”
Gabriella, who is now studying History of Art at Bristol University remembers sitting in a beach café drawing native birds in her journal. Raphaella regrets not keeping up her journal now. “I was only seven so I stopped doing it,” she says. Her advice to other youngsters taking part in the World Rally is to keep a diary going. “Also listen to your parents and go to all the museums on the different islands.”
Stephen and Sarah chose to have extra crew on board to assist with sailing the 66-foot yacht. They found that within sensible considerations, it was useful to vary the crew composition for some segments of the route including crew member exchanges between rally boats. A variety of youthful crew members who were also adventurous and like-minded were the most rewarding and beneficial for the whole family. “We called them the ‘hitchhikers’,” says Adam. “It brought a fresh perspective and energy on board, and we all learnt different things from the hitchhikers,” agrees Sarah. Gabriella remembers being taught sailing knots by the crew, and then with Adam knotting bracelets, keyrings and monkey fists from thin mouse line rope to sell to other boat crews when in port.
The long-lasting family friendships formed on the Oyster World Rally are echoed by the van den Enden family, who set off around the world on the 2017-19 rally. Robert Jan van den Enden and wife Marie, son Robbie and daughter Sarah are still in contact with many of the other crews they met en-route. “It was like being part of one big family.”
Unlike the Aurets, the van den Enden family chose to sail alone on their Oyster 54 Talaba. “Having been living in Asia, we’re were used to having lots of people around us all the time,” explained Robert. “We chose our boat especially so we could manage it ourselves. We all had to work a little harder, and everyone had to help with the watches, cooking and cleaning, but we wanted to enjoy the time together as a family.”
“To prepare for the trip, we had to decide on what we had to do for school,” recalls Robbie, who was 17 at the time. “We home-schooled for the whole of the summer before the trip,” says Sarah, who is two years younger. “We did a year of schooling in the span of four months, so that way we didn’t have to study during the duration of our trip.”
For some families, circumstance chooses the best time to set sail. For Dominic and Susan White, son Luke (16) and daughter Charlie-May (13), will be setting sail on the Oyster World Rally 2022-23, and it was the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic that brought the long-held dream of a circumnavigation to life. “The pandemic changed everything, it was the final push we needed to make our dream a reality” explains Susan.
With their schools closed, GCSE’s cancelled and both youngsters now already doing online lessons from home, the family’s previous concerns about taking Luke and Charlie-May out of mainstream education was in effect already made for them.
“We’ve been lucky enough to find several online tutors, who will be with us for the duration. They understand the unique opportunity, but also the potential challenges, and will be creating additional materials relevant to our journey and the islands and countries we’ll be visiting.” The key, she says, is to be clear about what you want to achieve but also be flexible and open minded. “It’s a bit of a dance. You need to play to your strengths but also take on people who can do the job better than you.”
With their departure date for the Oyster World Rally 2022-23 looming, the White family are now focussing on what they will be taking with them. Luke has brought a professional quality drone, and having completed a drone flying course, he intends to do as much filming as possible en-route. Charlie-May has her Go-Pro and will be capturing their journey as part of her course work. “Computers, phones, external hard drives, a big box of home-schooling resources, lots of books, playing cards, camping kit, surf boards, fishing gear, skateboards, mini scooters, stand up paddleboards, scuba gear, oh and a ukulele,” recounts Susan, “I think we may need another boat to carry it all!”
Both the Aurets and van den Enden family said that taking time to get the whole family involved and engaged in the idea of sailing around the world is key to its success. Robert Jan van den Enden explains: “It was a long held wish to spend more quality time together. We considered doing it earlier, but we wanted the kids to be big enough to join the decision.”
Son Robbie agrees. “One thing my parents did wonderfully was that they asked us if we wanted to be a part of it. Giving your children the opportunity to voice their opinions is key.” He did initially miss his friends, but says “Everyone should try it at least once in their lifetime. The trip is really worth it and you won’t have missed much when you come back to the real world. Your friends will still be your friends and the place you grew up in will still be there.”
Both families have a wealth of anecdotes and memories of the whole journey, at sea and on land. Meeting people from so many different cultures and visiting some of the world’s most remote locations has had a lasting impact. Sarah van den Enden, now aged 20, says “I learned so many new things that I would never learn at school. You learn about different cultures and different ways to communicate with people. It also makes you more open-minded and less judgemental since you are seeing different kinds of lifestyles. It definitely made me more humble as a person.” Would they do it again? “100%” says Robbie “No doubt in my mind. It was the best experience in my life and I would do anything to go back.”
“The rally is a great adventure,” says Stephen Auret, “but actually it’s an endless stream of mini adventures within one great adventure.”
Sarah says the whole trip really defined them as a family. “You almost wish you had more time all the way around, but you could never have enough time for it all,” she says.
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