Some may call it chance, while others call it destiny: the unseen hand that dictates all events and weaves seemingly casual occurrences into the unscripted pageant of our lives. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when my parents, Mark and Ruth Hogan, sat me and six younger siblings down one day after school and told us we were the proud new owners of a 41ft Morgan sailboat, Invincible. As a family of 9 we began philosophizing, what next? Since none of us, except my mom, had even stepped aboard a sailboat for any extended period of time, we had no notion of what was important to keep and what was superfluous. These realizations quickly progressed into actions; cleaning out closets, getting rid of the excess and unnecessary clutter, and having multiple garage sales just to get rid of everything and make some extra, much appreciated, money for our adventure. After much deliberation the decision was made that we would not be leaving shore without our “whole family”—this pertaining to the family pets—so on November 11th my mom, dad, two brothers, four sisters, dog and cat joined me in Kemah, TX to complete outfitting our vessel for the coming sail.
The plans I had personally prepared for myself after graduating from Blanco High School became a bit murky. No longer did I know if going to Uruguay, South America, and attending a language school in Montevideo was a top priority. The offer was laid on the table for me to join my crazy, awesome family into the unidentified future, and I half way figured, why not? The blank canvas of my young life became a drawing board to the opportunities of adventure that flowed from my imagination. As the school year ended, all my friends were making final plans for the college they would be attending come the fall semester, and I came to the conclusion that going with my family would not only be an exciting endeavor that I personally would not want to miss, but the experience of sailing would also give even more opportunities to explore as an adult. So a week after I turned 18, in August, I became a live-aboard on the sailboat, and started to help figure out the little kinks that accompanied our floating house.
Living by myself and tasting the independence that came with it made me a bit reckless with my freedom when my family ultimately moved aboard in November. A few too many times I got scolded by my parents, who worried about my absences and lateness, due to my lack of communication. But my desire and ability to help was not swayed. The most needed assistance was clearing the boat of all the little bodies, which was also the easiest thing to do. So every day I took the minions up to the pool to release their enormous, pent-up energy that they didn’t have the discipline to quell. Anything to keep the kids off the boat and from killing one another was greatly appreciated by the parents. Bribing the children was a cheap way to keep them unobtrusive, giving a dollar, or soda, to whoever could be quietest the longest was a favorite. Which lasted till a tongue was stuck out at someone else, or a teasing smile, or a flailing arm, or… (Sometimes I wonder if they even need an excuse!) Then one was bound to become insulted and another war would rage on. Transition to an emotionally peaceful life together was not instantaneous or effortless, though the kids ultimately improved and excessive petulance subsided.
Zachary, the leader of the mischief at 14, appeared to feel the obligation to micro manage the younger kids. Unthankfully from the “helping” aspect he lead a more tyrannical reign, which was not widely accepted, or appreciated, amongst the youngsters. Our 13 year old, Sara, had adjusted to the new life style relatively well though her emotions sometimes ran hot and she’s either on our temporary phone talking for hours to friends she has left behind on the main land, or being a social butterfly via Facebook on our limited internet access. Sara was second only to Kathryn, 12, for control of the phone. Kathryn came already assuming that she despised our new lifestyle and, as such, relished in any failings of equipment or relations we may have faced, continually making her abhorrence known. The oldest of the younger bunch, coming in at 9, is Hannah. She had some problems with school work in the beginning, but has done a really good job of not upsetting the flow of things, while loving the local pet and snail population (she and Connor currently have a “family” of 4 snails), which is a nice change from the busy bodies all around. It took my parents till number 6 to accomplish another boy, and I must say they did succeed. At 7 years of age Connor is all male! He is continually hungry and wrestling with anything or anyone that moves. He is easily diverted with Legos and the local wildlife (including, but not limited to, snails) which means he has thankfully left bickering behind as his favorite past time. He wears himself out daily and sleeps very well. Last but certainly not least is little Isabella. Bella just turned 6 November 16th; the first birthday celebration on the boat, but her attitude resembles that of a 36-year-old. Although to most of us she’s little miss bossy and plays the whiny baby aspect way too well. In spite of this, my mother appreciates her uncanny ability to remember and locate anything on the boat in a moment.
Our diverse and somewhat unruly clan is sailing forth. Watch out, Caribbean! Here we come. If my parents were rich and money was not a limitation we would surely have a bigger boat, but alas, we are most definitely not. Also, we would have hired professionals aboard to school the kids, cook, and swab the decks. As this is not the case, what is a family to do? Every child had been “homeschooled” at some point in their life but not right now! Taking them all out of school shows my mom to be a true saint—if we all survive. We are using a program called “Switched On Schoolhouse”, or SOS for short (how apropos for boating), which is entirely computer-based. It is what the older children will be using for their studies. Zachary, 9th grade, had completed the first 2 quarters of his first semester in public high school before the move onto the boat stated, “growing back into the routine of schooling and having the responsibility to ensure it gets done is the hardest part about being home schooled.” While Sara, 7th grade, blatantly despised the new routine for the first week, she did give us a chance and slipped into the habit a bit better as time passed. Hannah is adjusting well, and Connor and Bella can’t wait to start school, though their curriculum is implemented personally by mom and is starting as soon as we’re underway and her head can leave the lockers below.
Experience in the art of sailing has been gained by my mother, Ruth Hogan, the Captain of our craft. She is a woman of many talents, as well as a plethora of patience. Sailing was her lifestyle until she became pregnant with me at the age of 23. Nineteen years later, she is sailing once more, this time with a family, and a bit more baggage to carry than before. None of our plans would ever have been made possible if it weren’t for my dad, Mark Hogan, the bread winner of the family. It was his acceptance of the reality that if we were ever going to go sailing, we would not be doing so in a million dollar world cruiser. My father had only been sailing on small boats during his tenure in the Marines and one week when my parents had their honey moon in the BVI, where they chartered a 38ft Beneteau. The rest of us crew will be a work in progress. Sailing will be learned as we live the experience.
Our “current” plan is to go from Kemah, TX, where we are docked at the moment, and take a coastal cruise to Florida, skip around the Florida Keys, visiting islands that were recommended, and launch across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. In the Bahamas we want to visit a few key places while staying away from tourist traps that will just tempt us to spend money. Belize is our ultimate destination, but the journey there will be the adventure itself. Remember, with cruising, it is all about the journey, not the destination. We don’t want to rush; our time line is flexible depending on what is comfortable. What the future has in store is a mystery, for either the good or gruesome. As a family we have chosen to persevere.
I’m still under the impression that my family is crazy, and this is not the first time we’ve gone off the beaten path together, but still I love them and I’m with them all the way! Every person we meet either admires our courage for taking this voyage, or thinks we’re nuts (every so often it’s the combination of the two.) My parents are no star-crossed dreamers, I assure you, under a magical haze to think that taking 7 children on a 41ft sail boat will be easy. The option is nearby, if the verdict is made that the family, as a whole, is not ready for this lifestyle. The future is too jumbled with variables and options for me to discern presently what the unseen hand of life has in store. If bad goes to worse the alternative is always obtainable to sell our boat and fall back into our old routine as land lubbers- at least we could say we tried. The important thing is that we will always be a family, and although we may not constantly have affections for one another, we shall always love each other, even if at times we fail to show it. We hope you will join us on this wild and crazy voyage!!! Until we meet again in next month’s update, Bon Voyage!