Life at full sail
Ever feel like just selling up and sailing off into
the sunset with the family? Sharyn Coetsee really did it, and we are inspired!
How it all happened
One day three years ago, without ever having thought about sailing (and with a phobia of drowning at sea), I found myself cramming a 50-foot catamaran sailing yacht with a lifetime of possessions, one dazed husband and three excited children. Before this, we had led a stereotypical South African life of rugby, braais and beach weekends. With our two sons Cody (then 11) and Caden (8), and our daughter Cally in her early teens, we were drifting along on the invisible current of life halfway between 40 and 50 years old, two feet in a large family home and 10 years from downsizing to a caravan.
While time was ticking, my husband Brent was questioning the ‘Meaning of Life’ and I was taking photographs of the same sunrise over the sea every morning. Deep reflection on where we were going led us to agree that our lives were predictable and that before we knew it, our children would be bursting out of adolescence and onto their own paths. It was a rare moment in time when we had the chance to do something illogical and wild… and so we sold the house, packed up the kids and bought a beautiful 15x9-metre, five-cabin Royal Cape luxurious catamaran called Micah.
Moored in the Durban Harbour, Micah looks enormous squeezed into her berth in the compact marina. We have our Day Skippers course under our belts, which means that I know my Port from my Starboard but not much else. We climb on board and raise the sails anyway, letting the winds blow us over a landless sea toward an invisible Indonesia and the unknown beyond.
There are no end to our adventures – we catch and release giant sailfish back into their habitat; dance on remote beaches with large saltwater crocs lurking in the shallows; cry in terror in the watery tunnels of the Thai Emerald Cave; relax while anchored off tiny Indonesian islands jammed tightly with tropical palms on white untouched beaches; and celebrate our family unity over cups of hot chocolate. I capture and freeze in time every perfect wave that my family surfs, and every wondrous sight that we witness.
Besides a rigid home-school curriculum, our children are being educated in other ways. Our exploration of the Andaman Islands is an example of this. There, we walk along Port Louis’ ancient cobbled streets in the company of sacred cows and hungry goats; we sip hot tea sold by grumpy men while vegetable markets burst at the seams and the streets steam with overpowering odours; a ball crosses all language barriers and our children blend in with the locals to play soccer.
Etched into my memory, though, is anchoring at the base of petrified lava frozen in mid-flow as it gushes down the slopes of Baron Island’s intimidating, steaming, active volcano. The close proximity to this impressive gigantic swirl of volcanic rock as it sweeps down to the edge of the sea is unnerving but thrilling.
Our daily challenge no matter where we are anchored is the wind, and despite all the wonderful times on our yacht, there are also some terrifying ones. In the whole three years we have lived on board, I have only felt the need to get the life jackets ready once, on a recent sail across the Strait of Malacca. I am at the helm and our crossing is going well; the sea is calm and although there is no land in sight anywhere, we know we are close to Phuket. Suddenly, a 50-knot wind comes out of nowhere. It churns the ocean up into huge mountains and the following seas tower behind Micah. Each crumbling wave makes me shudder as we slide down the swells. This is not what I ever wanted to experience, but we survive to tell our tale and I am sure it will not be the last time we sail in such big seas.
Was it worth it?
I used to detest the wind, but now sailing across the ocean with the wind whipping through my hair makes me feel like I can breathe again. I love seeing the children’s glowing faces as they shower in the warm rain or jump off the roof of the yacht, sipping on fresh hand-plucked coconuts, interacting with other cultures and learning that life is what one makes of it. Watching our daughter and two sons trying to touch cheeky dolphins off the bow of the yacht is priceless.
We spend our boat days living between Phuket in Thailand, Langkawi in Malaysia, and exploring the best surf locations on the west coast of Sumatra. There is no ‘typical day’ in our lives because every day is filled with the unknown, the unpredictable, a different story, excitement and heart-stopping moments. There are no foundations holding us in one place, only an anchor. Every precious moment on this journey with our family is a privilege. I now look back at the most wonderful, magical and sometimes terrifying memories of our adventurous days on the ocean, and I cling to the mast of the yacht in fear that I may wake up in our house on land again.