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After one year

As a parent, there is nothing greater than being able to spend 24 hours of your everyday life with your children. At least I would think that’s the wish of every parent (working or stay at home). Otherwise, it really defeats the purpose of bringing a child to this world. Who would like to be labeled an irresponsible parent? I have seen too many during our travels. Who suffers? The child and not the parent.
 
For some parents they shudder at the idea of spending so much time together. Yes! We often tell ourselves “its quality time not quantity” or “less is more”. But are we practicing this theory. In the end, before you know it, our kids are 21, and we are still wrapped up in our everyday never-ending stressful lives just so we can have a huge retirement account, buy another new phone, another new computer, a new car, a new house, another short & rushed 1-2 weeks vacation in a tourist packed beach not forgetting long-queues at the airport and missing luggage. We work so much, we have no time for them, and we come home tired and stressed out, not forgetting the weekend headaches and colds from stress at work and future health problems because of the lack of rest. Then my favorite, we start to assign our children’s education to our maids, tuition teachers, and even relatives. When all our children want is US! (The presence and physical contact of the mother and the father.) 
 
Are we bold enough to tell ourselves to take a few months off from work (I am not even thinking of years) to just be with our kids?  Ever since I started this trip on the sailboat with my family, I realized that all that time spent together is priceless. And if you don’t have a boat, there are other ways to move around this world. For example, camping vans, cars, I even heard a family doing North-South America cross-country on bicycles. The children see the pictures in their books come to “live”. They breathe, they smell, they see, they hear and they taste freedom and fresh air. They are out in the wilderness not confined in their bedroom computer daily with piles of homework pages waiting for them to be filled, in which most of them hardly make any sense to them.
 
When Franck and I embark on this 3 years journey from Singapore to France via our very own sailboat, this was what we have in mind – raising 2 children on board and spending every minute with them; both as parents and teachers.  Of course like all parents, we are very happy when they go to sleep and are totally exhausted when they are awake. It is without a doubt very tiring, handling 2 very active toddlers, plus “boat keeping” and the maintenance of the boat, but indeed a very rewarding kind of stress when we hear them coming to us to tell us : “I love you”; “I love Constante”; and that the only person they trust is you and no one else. We have indeed become one unit and this is a living proof when I decided to bring the girls to visit my parents in Singapore for Chinese New Year on 8th-31st Jan 2009 while the boat is out of the water for anti-fouling in Simon’s Town, South Africa. In our short 3 weeks stay in Singapore, Carmen and Julie were whinny, manipulative (especially Julie) and very difficult to control when Franck was not around. I know it was all an act for attention from them but I could also see that they were distraught, lost, the father figure was missing, boat (their home) was missing. They displayed behaviors that were completely surprising to me, and never present before when we are together as a family on the boat. 
 
I was glad when we touched down on 31st Jan at Cape Town. The girls ran to their father’s arms with so much joy and Julie hug him endlessly.  Carmen was dancing around him, both with a big smile on their faces. When we arrive in Simon’s Town, they spotted “Constante” immediately without us telling them where she was. Incredible! They have developed the “there is no place like home” feeling for the boat.  The girls were back to their normal self – controlled, tranquil and normal. I couldn’t believe it! 
 
But for me, the return to Singapore was very important. I needed to reconnect with my family, savor Singapore food and be with my old friends again. Seeing the familiar faces of the RM staff, “uncles and aunties”, “the buggy boys” in Raffles Marina who all once took care of my family when we were living there (2002-2007) brings back wonderful memories. Franck and I have our siblings to thank for being near to our parents so that we can embark on this family journey.  We were both also lucky to be raised by responsible and loving parents. This is the sacrifice that we have to accept, the time away from home is less time with my friends and family. However, when we look closely, everyone is in their daily routine on land; whereas my life has taken a wild turn. Everyday is different on the boat life. There is not one day where it’s the same as the other. Every port we meet different people, and we experience different food, culture, animals, and weather.
 
I am not telling everyone to go out right now and get a boat immediately. Of course, I have seen great and successful parents living in houses, and some sailing on even smaller boats with smaller budgets. The lesson to learn is not how much we can give to our kids but how we present life to them. We all have to measure our cloth and cut them to what fits us. Don’t be afraid to try new adventures and new ways of living once in a lifetime. Before you know it, the decision you take may end up being healthier and wealthier for your family. The richness of life is what we dare to plant in our mind and soul, and not in what we possess. 
Dear Nautique readers,
 
As Meng Ngee’s husband, father of Carmen and Julie, and Constante Singapore’s skipper, I thought my views on our trip so far would be somewhat different. So here it is in a nut shell without having read what Meng Ngee wrote.
 
A year and three months ago, we left Singapore on our 27 years old, 41 feet long sailboat. Singapore is the powerful trampoline from which we jumped into the unknown with our two daughters. Why did we do this at a time when everything looked so good for everyone? My company (Simpson Marine) was selling bigger and bigger boats, the country was booming economically, and the world activities seemed so promising, that leaving then, did not make sense. Yet, it is in the deepest foundation of irrationality (and I am not even a woman!), that question finds its answer. In short, I have always dreamed of traveling the world wonders in a small sailboat, in harmony with nature and a loving family.
 
Freedom is the unachievable utopia, I dreamed to offer to our combined lives across the oceans of the world. At age 44, no debts, a prepared boat, a VERY PATIENT wife, two young daughters and a bit of savings, we felt it was now! But reality hit us hard from day one. I was so stressed by the energy, responsibility, unknown, worries and the very last preparatory actions to still tick off the never ending list, that we could only make it to the fuel dock of Raffles Marina. I was too exhausted to continue further, one hundred meters in one day! Not bad for a first log entry. The next day, we almost got ran over by a German ship heading for Tanjong Pelapas, only 45 minutes after exiting the marina. Meng Ngee was seasick, the children were watching a movie below and I was on the phone with my friend from Oceantalk trying to figure out why my newly installed autopilot was not functioning properly. We escaped disaster by a mere 5 meters. It was time to focus on what was coming ahead and finally cut off our umbilical cord from mother Singapore.
 
Eventually, we slowly adjusted our rhythm to our new way of life. A moving boat is so different from a stationary one, comfortably tucked in a luxurious marina. We enjoyed Malaysia and Thailand, where life is very affordable and people are welcoming. Then, we experienced our first crossing to reach the Maldives in 14 days. So much for welcoming countries; Meng Ngee and I got the dengue virus there. Send an e-mail to the mandatory agent one has to hire upon entering the atoll, you will get a quote for 850 Euros for one month stay. Fortunately, we always found wonderful friends among the different cultures we encountered. The Chagos archipelago constitutes by far the peak of our voyage so far. No humans, no commerce, no pollution, no officials, just us and a few sailboats. We lived there simply; fishing, burning our garbage, hand washing our clothes and ourselves from a well (along with quantities of mosquito larvas). Every other area we visited after the Chagos showed various levels of crime and danger which intensity is directly proportional to the proximity of Africa. Despite the beauty of the Seychelles, Mayotte or Madagascar, It remains difficult to sail safely in their waters. We got our dinghy and outboard engine stolen on our boat while sleeping below in Mayotte. Our time at sea together provided us however with an unparalleled closeness. I feel the bond we have formed living 24/24 with each other is wonderful and confirms that this is not a waste of time. After 18 days crossing the Mozambique Channel, we arrived in South Africa. The travel down the coast to reach Cape Town area was extremely difficult and nerve racking but here we are, ready for the next cross to South America - Brazil and perhaps Argentina. On the boat, everything is possible.    



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