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Nova Scotia family spends year bonding at sea

Rhiannon Davies and her family, Emma,12, Macsen, 10, and husband, Sebastiaan Ambtman, are seen on their sailboat, Dutch, in Halifax on Wednesday. The family spent the last year sailing 15,000 nautical miles and visiting 17 countries in Europe, West Africa, South and North America before settling in Halifax for the school year. TIM KROCHAK
Rhiannon Davies and her family, Emma,12, Macsen, 10, and husband, Sebastiaan Ambtman, are seen on their sailboat, Dutch, in Halifax on Wednesday. The family spent the last year sailing 15,000 nautical miles and visiting 17 countries in Europe, West Africa, South and North America before settling in Halifax for the school year. TIM KROCHAK - The Chronicle Herald

Rhiannon Davies wondered if pulling her two kids out of school to go sailing was the right thing to do, but she did it anyway.

Davies quit her corporate job and set sail for Halifax from Amsterdam on July 31, 2017, with Sebastiaan Ambtman and their two children, Emma and Macsen.

“It was a plan on the horizon before Emma was a teenager and wouldn’t enjoy spending time with her parents anymore,” said Davies from her new home on the Northwest Arm on Wednesday. “But you always question if you’re doing the right thing as a parent.”

The family of four wrapped up their 15,000 nautical mile journey, their second long sailing trip, as they docked their 44-foot boat in Halifax Tuesday night.

But it wasn’t an extended summer vacation for the 10 and 12 year olds as Davies and Ambtman continued the kids’ Dutch curriculum.

While the two children are to start at Halifax Grammar School in September, Davies and her husband currently have no work plans. But after their experiences at sea, they’re not worried.

“The thing that sat with me the most is that your happiness isn’t defined necessarily by what you have,” said the Fredericton native, who is happy to return to the Maritimes. “We’ve seen people in countries who have so little and are still able to keep a sense of community and happiness.”

There were no shortage of welcomes at the 17 countries the family stopped at, including Grenada, Tobago and Portugal.

“Every place we stopped, people would spend the day with us, drive us around and show us their homes,” said Davies. “But Newfoundland and Labrador are the most amazing because people are like here are my car keys, ‘do you want to come to my house?’ and everyone gave us fish and crab.”

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Their boat, Dutch, lost autopilot in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“The steering just went,” said Ambtman. “And we cannot hand steer the boat 24 hours straight.”

After emailing back and forth with the boat’s company, Boreal, the problem was shortly solved. Other than rough seas making the family nauseous and uncomfortable, everything went according to plan.

Sailing up to a volcanic island, north of the Canary Islands, surrounded by whales and dolphins as the sun rose and the moon set is just one of the highlights of the family’s trip.

“The places with no road access are the most interesting,” said Ambtman. “In Gambia, there’s little settlements along the river that don’t have road access so you can only go there by boat and they’re so welcoming . . . but it’s the same on the south coast of Newfoundland.”

But for the mom of two, the scenery wasn’t her favourite part.

“It hits you a lot, just the idea of being together as a family,” Davies said. “That cosiness and sense of being a little unit that can take on anything in the world is the biggest thing.”

And relying on each other was needed, said Ambtman, as the couple rotated on three-hour sleeping shifts at sea.

“You’re constantly thinking about everybody’s safety when you’re travelling so you feel that that kind of weight is gone,” said Davies of settling down in the city. “This is like a new adventure to us.”

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