We told each other a million times: once, when I have the time and money, I would like to leave for a while, with a boat. Then the “I” became a “we”. Then the kids came, and we realized that the longer we would wait, the more difficult it would get. Our jobs; the school and activities of the kids; a house; and so on. Therefore we decided to go before the kids got the school age. We started preparing by reading up on the literature, visiting boat shows and looking for long distance equipment. Living in Panama made it closer, seeing all the boats on their way through the canal. These people did it! We would follow, one day.
The period between getting a suitable period from Wouter’s company and the actual start of the sabbatical year was very short, little less then one year. Being abroad didn’t make it easier to decide where or what boat to buy or which route to follow. European laws made the first decision easier: buying a second hand, non-EU flagged boat would cost a lot of time in paperwork. We therefore decided to go for a boat already flying EU flag. We put the deadline for buying one on April 2007, when we were three weeks in Belgium. After searching the internet for days, we finally decided to buy a steel 40 footer, a Van de Stadt Caribbean, Dutch designed and built. We realized from the start that we would have to adapt to lower speeds and to the maintenance of the hull, being used to light racing yachts made of polyester. But she surprised us, being extremely well maintained by her previous two owners and, because of her high mast and deep keel, reaching high speeds, even with light tailwinds under the condition that we hoist the kite.
Step 1 was taken, the boat was there, and she looked good. Paperwork went well, a quick exam for use of EPIRB was done last minute. We spent May and June arranging the complete insurance over the internet, and also compared the various pieces of equipment to be bought. Realizing that the children are a reason to be very careful, we wanted to keep the risks down in every possible way, being prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.
We arrived in Belgium at the start of July. Aspro was awaiting us, but the first weeks were spent preparing and racing Tontín. While Leen was in the play area of the KYCN, she met a Dutch lady with a daughter of Kwinten’s age, who just left the Netherlands for a tour of the Atlantic. Stress set in, as they would have a two months advance start to do the same we wanted to do.
After Cowes week we focused on Aspro, checked her mast, opened her bilges to get to know her systems and replaced everything we doubted. We gave her underwater ship a fresh layer of anti-fouling, changed her navigation lights. We decided not to change her oversized stays, but added lower backstays and an extra safety forestay. We bought a new, 4 person’s life raft, and a series drogue to tow in very bad weather. We invested in an ample stock of medicines and bought a wind-water generator, the first set up to be used while anchoring while the second set up can generate while sailing in tail winds with low apparent winds. We further got an emergency tiller, new sails and a dinghy with outboard engine. We also installed a hand pump in the fresh water system to reduce electricity consumption, replaced the batteries and alternator regulator. Much of our investment was in equipment we hope never to use. During our October pit stop in Belgium we further bought a spare autopilot.
The first months of traveling will still be hard work, getting Aspro organized as brilliant ideas ashore sometimes don´t work at all on a moving boat. Further, if you want to keep live peaceful with five people on such a small area, we will have to keep everything clean and ordered, which requires a discipline but is paid back in what it is all about: enjoying the kids and sailing to nice places.