Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Hej Sverige

Ok, so many people are asking us what's next for our family?

Plans have been brewing for a couple of months and now that things are confirmed, we can officially say we are moving to Sweden!!

Yup. Land of the Nobel Peace Prize, Northern Lights, Greta Thunberg and IKEA!

Let me back up.

Some people have asked us why we seem to be finishing our cruising earlier than originally planned.

Our intention was to cruise and live afloat as long as we had enough money and that all four of us were enjoying it.

Although we are by no means in the red, we felt that that we have done what we set out to do, and that was to cruise and explore by sailboat as a family. We did initially think we would be out for 12-18 months, but the reality is we spent far more money (hello unexpected repairs!) than we anticipated and we don't feel comfortable running our funds to a bare minimum.

Why not stop somewhere and find work locally?

We don't love living on the boat so much that we would just stop somewhere to work and put the kids in a local school.  We did think about it but this scenario did not appeal to us. There will still be boat maintenance and repairs to do. Cruising to us was our magic carpet to discover and travel. If we weren't using the boat for this purpose, we would prefer to live on land.

Why not sail south out of hurricane belt and hunker down for hurricane season?

Many cruisers (kid boats especially) spend hurricane season in Grenada, playing and exploring together. Besides the fact that sailing from the Bahamas to Grenada is going down the 'thorny path' (typically bashing against the winds) which would take at least a couple of months, we weren't excited about spending a few months in a hot, humid Caribbean summer. As much as we love sunshine, we prefer more temperate climates. That much we know. 

Also, by the time we got to Grenada, we would have even less funds to see us through the summer. And then what? Selling a boat in Grenada, although not impossible, would be tricky and we wanted to avoid going down that route if possible.

Why not go back to Ottawa to live?

We really liked our life in Ottawa. We both enjoyed our jobs a lot, the kids loved their school and we had a good circle of friends. The best thing was my parents were in the same city, allowing all of us to be involved in each others' lives on a weekly basis.

But after a lot of thinking and discussing, we felt that going back to live in Ottawa would be too familiar for us and likely a bit of a letdown. If you look at our track record, we have lived in one city or country for about 1-4 years, so it was time to try a new place again. 

This was a very difficult decision. We were on the fence for a long time and the ease of slotting back into our old home (which we are renting) and even my old job (which I had taken a one year leave from) was quite tempting.

In the end, our sense of wanderlust won and we started to look further afield.

Leaving Dad is the hardest part, but I know we will visit as much as possible and he will come see us too. 

Why Sweden?

Our big takeaway from this cruising journey has confirmed what we value in our lives and want to ensure we continue to live out, wherever in the world that is: Healthy lifestyle. Time together. Growth. Purpose.

Healthy lifestyle. We wanted to live somewhere with clean air and if possible, where we can cycle safely to school and work. On the boat, we essentially live an outdoors lifestyle and I have enjoyed this more than I could have imagined. We have become more in tune with the weather, landscape and natural world. Not one of us have gotten sick, unless you count the poisonwood rash I'm currently suffering from at the moment, but that is just bad luck on my part!

Time together is what we have gained and treasured the most. Having the freedom to schedule our day as we want to. We know our next chapter won't allow us as much time together so we focused on looking for jobs and countries that not just allows but encourages a good work-life balance. 

Being together all the time in a small space has been so intense, all consuming, absolutely heaven and hell on so many levels, but at the end of the day, Team Thornington is so much stronger and our bond with one another is like dyneema rope, very strong but susceptible to chafe! We want more quality time together to continue to explore, play and learn. 

Purpose. Self-explanatory really, but Matt and I agree how embarking on this cruising journey has given us more confidence to go after what we want, the way we want. We know we are very lucky and privileged to have the choice to do this. Although we love the freedom and time together the cruising life provides, I feel like I want more in my every day. More diversity, more variety, more purpose. 

This is a hard one to explain, but basically I would rather spend my energy and resources on contributing to a greater cause than sourcing a marine mechanic or rare boat part for a repair that is costing us in terms of money and stress.

Having the opportunity and privilege to bring supplies to the hurricane affected area of the Abacos, and then volunteer on various projects locally, provided a big wake-up call for me. Those few weeks were fulfilling a part of what I need in my life: volunteerism and community connections.

Not an essential element, but we were also hoping to live somewhere where it was a different culture and language than what the kids have previously known. We want to expose them to different ways that people live throughout their childhood, so they know that there is no right way to live a successful and purposeful life, and that we are all more alike than different.

So where in the world could we live that ticked all those boxes?

It was a fun exercise brainstorming to see what we wanted as a family and what things mattered to each of us individually. At the end of the day, we needed to refill the kitty so at least Matt or I needed to have a job lined up.

In a nutshell, Matt reached out to his previous employer and asked to see if there were any positions available. Being an international organization, their headquarters is in Lund, southern Sweden.

Sweden seemed like a good country with a strong social healthcare and education system. Matt told the company that he actually didn't want a position in Ottawa, but would rather take up a job in Lund. Things moved fairly quickly and after a few interviews and emails, a contract was signed, a start date agreed upon (August 17th) and suddenly we were looking at moving to Sweden!

What about the kids' schooling?

The minute we started considering a move to Lund, we registered the kids into one (of two) of the international schools there. It was an easy process and the kids have now been accepted into Lund International School! Start date: August 18th.

Education and access to education is top notch in Scandinavia and not only is their schooling completely free, the curriculum taught at LIS is the well-regarded International Baccalaureate

Plus, Swedish schools provide a free hot lunch to students every day. Incredible!

What am I going to do?

Lund is famous for its university, Lund Unviersity. Post-secondary education is free for residents so I wanted to apply for a Masters degree. Unfortunately the application deadline has passed for the fall semester, so I will likely focus on learning Swedish intensively and network like mad! Perhaps grad school next year.

I will remain open to opportunities that come my way and see where that takes me. Blind faith? Perhaps, but I'm kinda used to that.

What about our dream of crossing the Atlantic Ocean?

We had big dreams of crossing the Atlantic Ocean at one point. Matt wanted to sail back home to Jersey in the Channel Islands on Anjulia Sue, just like we had driven to Jersey up the African continent on our Landrover FOXY many years ago.

Although that will no longer be the case, we will be sailing across the Atlantic still - just not on our own boat. 

Instead, we have booked ourselves onto a cargo ship in June that will take us from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Hamburg, Germany. 

10 days of pure ocean, night stars and no WIFI! 

Check out Cargo Voyages that take paying passengers on their deliveries around the world. After seeing so many cargo ships on our journey this year, it will be fun to actually be on one!

Bonus: showers, laundry machines, all meals cooked for us, plus we get to eat with the crew! Lastly, each of us gets 100 kg of luggage to bring on-board. Besides wanting to cross an ocean, moving our life to Sweden with a decent luggage allowance is definitely a plus.

We have several weeks left here in the Bahamas. It feels like it really is finite now.

I have such mixed feelings. Some days I feel like we are leaving our cruising life prematurely, just when we are getting into a groove as a cruising family with each of us knowing and being competent in our roles and responsibilities. Other days I feel like this is the right decision made at the right time. 

This last year has felt more like ten years packed into just a few months. Our memory bank has been well topped up, we've added new skills and knowledge to our repertoire and we've made some incredible friendships for life.

Gramps and Gail are currently visiting us and after they leave, we'll make our way back to Fort Pierce, Florida, where we will leave the boat with our broker.

We'll be back in Ottawa from about mid-April to early June, so get in touch if you want to catch up! We'll be planning a trip to Toronto as well, probably early May.

Those of you in Europe, we may have several weeks in July where we'll be visiting family and friends. Reach out or expect an email!

Tills nästa gång!

This never gets old.

Moving off the boat for a couple of weeks while Gramps and Gail are here.

Reading Roald Dahl beachside.

Playing rugby with Gramps and Gail at the Tropic of Cancer beach on Little Exuma.

Tai and Gail swimming.

Journal writing buddies.

Rented a Hobie Catamaran, fun and sporty sail!

Tai is smiling in a photo! This is miraculous :)

Georgetown beach littered with conch shells and some rubbish.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Our Southern Most Point

Today we completed a 9 hour passage from Staniel Cay to The Marina at Emerald Bay, just north of Georgetown.
It was a glorious passage.
It was a tricky one to plan with various moving elements to it: wind that was not the same strength nor from the same direction. And tide and current, which affects which cut to go through and at what time.
A cut is a break between two land masses, usually islands, that a boat can pass through as long as the tide is high enough and the current isn't against the wind (or else get the bucket ready!)
Going between these cuts allow you to go back and forth between the Bank side of the islands (west) or the deeper Sound side (east).
The Exumas Banks have much shallower waters so you have to be very careful when going through coral heads and sand banks, especially at low tide. However, they are often more protected from the big Atlantic waves. Normally you can find good anchorages on the Banks side, although hiding from westerlies can be tricky.
On the other hand, you can choose to sail down the Exumas Sound where you are in the deep blue Atlantic ocean. Choosing this side allows you to sail with little worry about running aground or hitting coral heads because it is hundreds of feet deep. However it has very little protection and if there is big swell or a long fetch, you are in for a real ride. Again, get the bucket ready.
This morning we left at first light and entered Galliot cut right at high tide, 10am, crossing over to the Atlantic side. It was easy-peasy, thanks to all our planning and research.
Besides one squall which descended upon us and had us scrambling to reef the jib and mainsail VERY quickly, we had a really gentle sail all day with 9-15 knots on the beam and very little swell.
After having done so many passages together now, each of us have our own roles which we do better and better every time.
We are like a well-oiled machine and we all know what we are responsible for, depending on the situation (ie docking, anchoring, leaving a dock/mooring/anchor etc).
It feels good to work together and when it goes off without a hitch, it feels REALLY good.
Also, I've finally discovered what my trigger is for sea sickness: caffeine and sweet baked goods.
Every long passage we do now, as long as I don't drink coffee and eat a cinnamon bun or something equally sweet before we leave, I'm all good. Amazing it only took ten months for me to figure this out!!
Anyway, today's passage is monumental because it is the furthest south we will be going on our cruising journey.
After a few weeks here, we will point north and start the trek back to Florida where a new chapter awaits.

Proud of the kids who really couldn't swim independently when we started this journey and now snorkelling through underwater sumps and not panicking when a shark cruised by as we explored the cave featured in the James Bond movie, "Thunderball".
Hello from Thunderball Grotto in Staniel Cay.

Looking up inside at Thunderball Grotto.

Inside the cave - amazing light!

Just outside Thunderball Grotto .

Diving underwater in Wardericks Bay.

Coral at Wardericks Bay.

Underwater Tai.

Tai's journal. Gotta work on those capital letters!

Tai's Journal continued

This is basically what we saw for 9 hours on passage today.
Tai will whip through at least one book per passage.
Thank goodness for book exchanges at marinas and with other kid boats!

Engrossed in another book on passage.

Thank you Sheree Ng Nikkanen and Matthew Nikkanen
and kids for the marine wildlife treasure hunt! We've been tracking what we see!

After doing some laundry and having a SHOWER, we treated ourselves to dinner out.

Aila is actually thrilled to be eating her Mac and Cheese but
yes she hates her picture being taken.

Homemade pizza, a beer and Shaun the Sheep!

Roald Dahl books are the latest addiction.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Delightful Warderick Wells

Warderick Wells continues to delight us.
We hiked up to the hill to see, feel and HEAR the impressive blowholes, left our driftwood signature on top of Boo Boo Hill and snorkelled numerous times on the coral reefs.
Tomorrow the weather is in our favour as we make our way south to Staniel Cay.
There is the famous Thunderball Cave that was featured in a James Bond film. Apparently it's absolutely magical if you snorkel it at low tide. Gotta see what all the fuss is about, now don't we?
From Staniel Cay, we will point towards Georgetown where Gramps and Gail will be flying in to join us for a couple of weeks!
Excitement is mounting...

Warderick Wells anchorage. This is definitely one of my favourite
anchorages in the Bahamas so far.

This sperm whale washed up on the beach.
He died due to the amount of plastic he had ingested. Awful.

Onwards to Boo Boo Hill. Not very high up, but pretty high for Bahamas standards.

On top of Boo Boo Hill, Exumas Cays on the left and Exumas Bank (Atlantic Ocean) on the right.

To get to Boo Boo Hill, you cross a mini desert landscape.

At Boo Boo Hill, you take only pictures.

Adding our driftwood name to the pile. Neat to recognize some
of the other boats we have met throughout the year.

SV (sailing vessel) Anjulia Sue amongst all the other cruising boat names.

Feeling for the next big blow at the blowhole. The power and roar is tremendous!

Pancake chef!

Making Rice Krispies.

Up until very recently, Tai hated the feeling of sand on his feet at the beach and would never even consider the thought of putting his head under water in the shower, much less the salty ocean. All the other cruising families we met swore that their kids became little fishes and mermaids while cruising, even those who could barely float before they left. I was doubtful our kids would be comfortable swimming like that without intensive swimming lessons.
Fast forward to today and I am pleased to say they are definitely much more competent in the water. But more than that, they have a deeper understanding and respect for the Big Blue. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

A Perfect Day

Rare as it is, when the stars align, there are perfect days.
Today is A Perfect Day.
For once, what you see in these pictures is precisely what you get.
Gentle warm breeze, no no-see-ums (this in itself is a God send!), sun-kissed, salty and happy children.
We arrived here yesterday after a 5 hour sail from Cape Eleuthera Marina after dropping Gong Gong off at the airport.
We are at Warderick Wells Cay in the Exumas Cays Land and Sea Park. It is a 176 square mile area national park that protects all land and marine life here in the Bahamas. It is heaven on earth.
There are no services for electricity, water, diesel, gas or removal of garbage.
There are no cafes, restaurants, bars or grocery stores.
We have to hoist our little BTC My Island Wifi egg up to the top of the mast to get two bars of scatty signal.
Everyone must use the mooring balls provided ($35 USD/night). Anchoring is only available in one outlying area.
I swear when we were coming into the mooring field yesterday I couldn't believe how gorgeous it was.
To be honest, I'm getting a bit blase about beaches and turquoise waters (I know, shame on me!) so take my word for it. If I say it's gorgeous here, it really truly is.
This morning we went snorkeling with nurse sharks, barracudas, eagle rays, colourful coral and a variety of fish.
We forgot to insert an SD card into our GoPro so no pictures unfortunately. Oh well, I told the kids to take lots of 'mental pictures' instead, that way we'll all dream in technicolour tonight.
We watched the documentary 'Mission Blue' on Netflix last night. So appropriate and timely for the life we're currently living and how relevant it is to our blue world.
Today is A Perfect Day.
Whatever tomorrow brings, at least we had today.

Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park Mooring field.
Tai eating his homemade chocolate muffin after our snorkel.

Aila and Matt running on the nearby sandbar at low tide.

Scrubbing the hull!

Chore for the day, scraping barnacles off the hull and rudder. Could be worse. I was just concerned someone would forget I'm down there and flush the toilet. Thankfully that didn't happen.

Aila supervising

Siblings who love to Minecraft together.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Bifurcated Hemi-Penis

Guest Post: Matt

Some people worry about what kids miss when homeschooling.
Today Aila helped a PhD researcher invert, inflate, and remove the left bifurcated hemi-penis of a Bahamian Racer Snake. As far as I know that's not usually on the Grade 2 curriculum.
Just part of the amazing work going on at the Cape Eleuthera Institute.
In the last photo she got a cut on her ankle and proceeded to drip her blood into the water to see if it would attract the bull sharks. Future scientist!

A Nephila spider... Golden orb-weavers. Beautiful!