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Footloose and fancy sea

Wren Wertin

Recently returned from a three-year adventure on the high seas, the family of five now lives in Avon. Parents Dave and Jaja lived aboard their 33-foot steel sloop “Driver” with kids Chris, Holly and Teiga. They chronicled their journey in their first book, “Into the Light, a Family’s Epic Journey,” which is now in local bookstores. The book is three parts adventure story and one part practical advice; it all adds up to a dense, exciting read.

“We’re remarkably normal people,” said Dave. “We’re just not afraid of taking a chance. We have a built-in feeling that everything will work out.”

Though in many ways they seem to sail by the seat of their pants and roll with the ocean’s currents, part of what the book does is detail the hefty amounts of planning that enables a parentally responsible adventuring lifestyle for their close-knit family.

All of the Martins are at home on the sea. This was not their first voyage, simply their latest. After remodeling the interior of the 20-year-old “Driver” to fit their needs, they sailed from North Carolina to Bermuda. From there, they headed for the high northern latitudes, and lived aboard the harbors of Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Scotland, Norway and the arctic island of Spitsbergen.

They are advocates for not putting dreams on hold. Whether it’s living on a boat, buying a cattle ranch or becoming a gypsy, they encourage people to have the courage to try.

“Usually the most difficult decision to make is the right one,” stated Jaja.

“If we can go off and live a life full of hardship, anybody can do what they want to do, whatever it is,” said Dave. “There’s so little time to do the things we want to do. Going out on a boat is always portrayed as big boats that require lots of money. Everyone has different values. If the only way to get out and do your adventure is to go low budget and eat rice, you’ll discover a lot of different ways to prepare rice.”

They’re not touring trust funders. In fact, they’re very careful with their money. When visiting foreign lands, they are able to supplement their income by writing for magazines and Web sites. While in the States, they’ll simply get a job. The Martins have tiled bathrooms, photographed architecture sites, painted houses and cleaned toilets. Currently, Jaja lifeguards at the Avon Recreation Center, and, after a short stint with Sharpshooters on the mountain, Dave is re-modeling their home.

“It was the closest I could come to water,” said Jaja. “Actually, I just applied to the two places that were closest to where Holly and Tiega go to school.”

They jokingly refer to their time in the States as their American adventure. They strive to carry their “boat values” into their land lives. In part, that means staying focused on one another, remaining a close-knit family.

The kids like their boating lifestyle. And as Jaja pointed out, it’s an easy way to travel with kids because they always have everything they need.

“They each have little, simple things that they take with us,” she said. “And they’re always at home. It’s a lot more stable than it sounds.”

Dave and Jaja met while he was sailing on his previous boat “Direction,” and Jaja moved right in. To date, they’ve lived more years on a boat together than off.

“I started sailing at 19,” said Dave. “For me, it was a feeling of running away and living at sea. Everything was exciting – the bigger the storm, the bigger the waves, the better it was.”

Jaja is drawn by the open horizon, the feeling of freedom, not being boxed in. And there is no denying the definitive thrill of battling the elements and surviving.

“At sea, your highs are all tens, but your lows are zeroes,” she explained. “Here, you don’t get a lot of tens, but you don’t get the zeroes, either.”

One of the biggest draws of life at sea is their self sufficiency. If something breaks, they’re responsible for fixing it. They can’t run down to the hardware store and get the exact part. Instead, they have to use all their cunning and imagination to jimmy something that will work. They illustrate this concept often in their book.

“Living on a boat affords a lot of spontaneity,” said Dave. “Once you’re on it, you can go – anywhere. Absolutely anywhere. Maybe people in the deserts have that same freedom, traveling around on camels. It’s an exciting way to live.”

They love immersing themselves in different cultures – meeting people, discovering new foods, learning local customs. Their children have been exposed to more cultures than most adults.

“Growing up in the States, or any country, you have certain perspectives on life,” said Jaja. “You have certain ideas of who people are; but once you get there, they can be completely different. There are roads that you can go down that you never even knew existed.”

“We have to make sure never to make exact plans, or they just won’t happen,” added Dave. “You don’t know what you’ll find until you’re there. Something new will happen, and you’ll go off on tangents.”

They came to settle in Norway for more than a year. The kids were so well assimilated into the culture that they were losing their “Americaness.” Dave and Jaja knew they needed to return to the States if they wanted their children to be Americans in the same sense they were. Leaving Norway was difficult for the entire family, though they keep in touch with friends.

“A lot of the places we’ve lived are socialist and homogeneous. We wanted them not to be a minority for a while, and have a sense of belonging. And we wanted to re-patriate them. They were speaking English with a Norwegian accent.”

All three kids are enrolled in public school. Jaja home-schooled Holly and Chris for two years, but opted for public school for several reasons. In Iceland, it enabled the kids to learn the language and truly have an “other” experience. In Norway, it was also a way for them to easily make a group of friends who eventually became extremely important in their daily lives.

“Home school gives a good quality education, but it lacks social interaction,” said Jaja. “Now they have a group of friends, and there are lots of activities in school that you can’t emulate at home.”

And so, despite the inherent solitary nature of a family traveling in such close quarters from place to place, they are not completely apart from the world. In fact, when they are with others, they revel in those experiences. The health of their children, and their own excitement about life, speaks volumes about the success of their system.

“Into the Light” is written for the whole family, from grade schoolers to grandparents. Though it initially began as a how-to manual about sailing at a publisher’s request, the book evolved into the adventure story it is.

“We realized we had more to say about the lifestyle of it than anything,” said Jaja.

“We also had more to say than we thought,” she added, laughing.

“Into the Light” is available locally at Verbatim Booksellers in Lionshead and The Bookworm in Edwards. It is also available at http://www.setsail.com. The hardback volume, which includes some maps and photos, retails for $29.95.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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