Dawn Treader – Take 2!
Note: This article was originally written as a guest post for the Totem Raft Up, a resource for clients of family cruising experts, Behan and Jaime Gifford. To learn more about their marvelous mentoring programs visit them at SailingTotem.com
Sitting in a quiet anchorage near Mystic, Connecticut at the helm deck of the s/v Dawn Treader, I have to pinch myself. How, in the middle of a global pandemic nightmare, did I manage to find myself sitting here, living my dreams? The sun on my face, gentle breeze in my hair and sounds of my laughing children nearby are all especially sweet now; like rekindling a lost love which I came a hair’s breadth from letting slip through my fingers. I’m calling this “Dawn Treader, Take 2!” because we lived on this very boat for two years, two years ago, and I am determined to savor the experience this time around.
Not that I didn’t enjoy the first time we lived on this boat, just that I am more present now. Part of that can be attributed to the world we find ourselves in with fewer things pulling on us now, thanks to the Covid-19 lockdown. But mostly it is because of my ever-growing awareness that our oldest daughter, Ahava, is just a few short years away from heading off to college – with her sister, Ziva, not far behind – so I wake up with gratitude for every bonus day we get to live on a boat and explore this world with her and her siblings.
Our family of 5 first moved from our home in New Mexico onto this Lagoon 450 sailing catamaran in June of 2016. She was called, “What’s Next?” when we bought her but we quickly changed the name (with proper ceremony, of course!) to the more kid-friendly, “Dawn Treader,” based on “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by C. S. Lewis. Little did we know, “What’s Next?” would prove to be an appropriate moniker for what lay ahead during our time on this boat as we faced an attempted robbery, 3 hurricane evacuations and damage from a neighboring boat fire that burned to the waterline.
As a family, we sometimes still look at each other, shrug our shoulders and say, “What’s Next?!?” whenever things go haywire in our lives. Gratefully, the stressful moments are not what we all remember most from our liveaboard adventures. Our glass-half-full, selective memories may explain why we keep coming back to this lifestyle again and again.
The s/v Dawn Treader was not our first floating home. In 2009, with just 2 kids and a German Shepherd in tow, we spent a year living on a Manta 42’ catamaran called, “Hakuna Matata.”
Our daughters were 4 and 2, and Samuel was not even a blip on the radar yet.
s/v Hakuna Matata was a much smaller boat but she was big enough for us to have a liveaboard nanny (the fabulous, “Miss Melissa!”) for part of the time.
The decision to hire another loving grown-up to help corral the kids – especially since they were so little – made all the difference for us as we learned the boat systems and got our sea legs.
In 2010 we moved off of and sold s/v Hakuna Matata because we had something more pressing to focus on – a high-risk pregnancy and the arrival of our son, Samuel. For the first 6 years of Samuel’s life we lived in landlocked New Mexico and I dreamed of returning to the sea. I finally got my chance again with the Dawn Treader in 2016.
For the 2 years we lived on the Dawn Treader the first time around, my husband, Nathan and I took our 3 kids – then ages 11, 9 and 6 – and our German Shepherd puppy, Nala, to explore amazing places in Florida and the Bahamas. If it were up to me, we would’ve headed down the chain of Caribbean islands and continued that trip indefinitely but that journey proved to be yet another reminder of a cruising lesson I have learned over the years – you can pick your destination or you can pick your date, but you can’t pick both. When you live on a boat, timing is everything and in early 2018, with Nathan’s career ramping up and Ahava’s gymnastics aspirations growing, the timing just wasn’t right to stay on a boat. We sold the Dawn Treader to a lovely couple out of North Carolina and moved to Austin, Texas. I used the year there to write a memoir about our liveaboard experiences, which only made me miss the boat even more. Curious about where her new adventures had taken her, I searched for “Dawn Treader” and found a blog post with a photo that hurt my heart. There, sitting on land, nestled in the branches of a tree was our former floating home. I knew that shortly after the new owners moved her from Ft. Lauderdale to New Bern, North Carolina she had been hit by Hurricane Florence, but we didn’t realize how bad it was until we saw that photo. We called the owners to see if there was anything we could do to help. Gratefully, they said, “Yes.”
So it was that in June 2019, our family returned to this beloved boat to crew for the new owners and get her sailing again. It was a ton of work but we loved being back aboard the Dawn Treader — temporarily renamed “s/v Colibri,” but always “Dawn Treader” to us. I wrote the following journal entry on that trip:
“It should be said that we are on this boat right now with the blessing and in the company of her new owners. The simple explanation for this is that they have had some really lousy luck and have never had a good day aboard this beautiful boat. Before we go any further, I should point out that I tend toward the more superstitious, no-shoes-on-the-table-and-never-walk-under-a-ladder side of the spectrum. My family thinks I’m crazy, and they are probably right, but it will help you to understand my belief—at the risk of adding insult to their not-at-all-deserved-injuries—that this bad luck may have something to do with improper boat name-changing ceremonies and insufficient appeasement of King Triton (or is it King Neptune?). Like I said, crazy talk. Whatever the cause of their woes, suffice it to say that since they have owned her, the s/v Colibri has not been very nice to this very nice couple.
Meanwhile, as I’ve been sitting here, I have been treated to a lovely rain shower. Everything around me is now quite wet, but—like the Dawn Treader through boat fires and hurricanes—I find myself in the one spot that is completely dry and untouched.
I can’t help but think that it is like the wand-buying process in Harry Potter. According to the story the wizard doesn’t pick the wand, the wand chooses the wizard. Perhaps that is how boats work too. The family doesn’t pick the boat, the boat chooses the family. There is no question in my mind that the Dawn Treader chose us, which is why I am sitting here right now, even as she is no longer ours.
I know my superstitions are silly but I like to tell myself that this boat likes me because I believe in her good fortune. I bring good people to her decks; for kid boat gatherings, epic Shabbats (with Shabbat Shots!) and family vacations. For me—to quote Marie Kondo and her KonMari method—she sparks joy. She shows her appreciation for this reverence by welcoming us aboard and continuing to offer safe, marvelous adventures to my family and people I love. I am grateful that we have now been able to add this lovely couple to that growing list of joyful Adventurers we adore. And, so far at least, the Dawn Treader has been good to them on our watch and Kings Neptune and Triton have granted us breathtaking, delightful, safe passage.
Shortly after I wrote that, the owners told us they planned to sell her. It took 5 months, and many detours but in April 2020, as the world turned upside down due to Coronavirus, we bought back this beloved vessel and moved back onboard. Needless to say, she has been re-blessed, is once again called s/v Dawn Treader and she is happy to have her crew back onboard.