March 09, 2011 04:30 pm | Updated October 26, 2016 03:50 pm IST

Donald McGrath from Australia and Gene Stuart from New Zealand sailing Out Of The Box. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

Donald McGrath from Australia and Gene Stuart from New Zealand sailing Out Of The Box. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

Last week three yachts sailed in Chennai. Guided by the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association, which facilitated their entry into Chennai port, they're now settled here for a few weeks to explore Tamil Nadu, and India.

Meet the sailors.

Donald McGrath from Australia and Gene Stuart from NZ sailing Out Of The Box

How did it all begin? “Well, it's a cheeky little story,” laughs Gene, as we clamber aboard their gently rocking 44 foot long catamaran. “Don was working extended hours in the hotel business. One day he was up till 5 am. He SMSed me, exhausted, and said ‘I want to go sailing around the world, do you want to come.' I said, ‘Count me in!'

She was a little nervous about breaking the news to her children. “I have eight grandchildren!” she says. “But when I told them, look I'm going to sail around the world, all they said was “Oh mom. How cool!'

So she quit her job as a school teacher. Donald, who ran a resort on Magnetic Islands, Australia, found himself a replacement. “I want to keep doing this for as long as I can,” says Don. “We are keen to see the world. And this is our house so we can travel with all the comforts of home… In Borneo – we sailed all the rivers. Saw wild elephants and Orangutans. We stayed Sabah and Sarawak for 6 months. So much wild life and crocodiles in the rivers.

Their current voyage began on 1st Jan 2010. “You're needs are simpler, your life becomes simpler,” says Gene, adding “Our energy comes from solar panels. We read a lot. Swim. In the Andamans, we caught fish for dinner. I love cooking on board. I bake bread, experiment with the local spices. And look at the view I have from my kitchen!”

Don says, “It's a great life. Sometimes, when we're on land for a few months we get itchy feet to get going again.”

Jon and Sue Hacking family on board the Ocelot.

This voyage began almost a decade years ago. It's covered the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, touching some of the most remote, beautiful islands on the planet.

“We began in 2001, when our kids were 12 and 15,” says Jon. They lived in Seattle, and wanted to give their children more than just a conventional education. “The U.S. doesn't pay a lot of attention to the rest of the world. We wanted our kids, Chris and Amanda, to know about different cultures. To experience them. And we wanted to do it while they were still with us, before they turned 18.”

Jon and Sue's travels, however, started much earlier – soon after they were married in fact when they signed on as crew for a yacht going from Cape town to the Caribbean. “Eight hours out we ran into a huge storm that lasted 3 days!” says Jon, rolling his eyes. “Then in Belam, pirates climed on to our boat at midnight with guns and robbed us… Yet, it was on that trip that we decided that it was really nice to be able to see the world this way.”

“Lots of boats do correspondence. We wanted to do homeschooling for our kids so they could learn about the countries we were passing through. So in Panama they wrote about the history of the canal. They did a trip with a biologist,” says Jon. They were encouraged to record all adventures on a website, which is still updated regularly ( >http://hackingfamily.com/ ).

“It's fabulous. I love this life. The ability to be in a different culture every week,” says Jon, adding, Their routes change depending on various factors. “We move from East to West. Stay in the warm water, follow trade winds.” They also keep an eye on the politics of each country, and reports of pirates.

The money comes from investments. Occasionally Jon goes back to Seattle and works for 6 months. “We're spending a little more than we earn, But it's not an expensive lifestyle. We make our own water. Use solar panels. We're self sufficient. Very ecological.” Says Sue.

Kim and Carmel Mather and Rachel on The Vamp

This Australian family has already circled the world once between 1999 and 2003. Now they're on a boat built by Kim, a retired police officer on a Journey that began in June 2010.

“I began sailing 40 years ago with my wife's brother in Brisbane,” says Kim, adding that he built this boat, ‘The Vamp' himself. “I'd rather build a boat than buy one. You can control the quality, you know exactly what your requirements are and can tailor the boat accordingly.”

It's extremely organized inside, with a lounge area lined with books, mostly Lonely Planet Guides to the places they've visited. Charming 22 year old Rachael opens the door to her tidy cabin, saying “You have to be neat. I'm a neat freak!” The galley (kitchen) features a spice rack, fruit basket and carefully stowed tray of freshly rinsed glasses. Carmel opens the fridge and served lemonade in pretty blue cups. Living a more pared down life clearly doesn't translate to giving up all the luxuries of home.

“I'm the one who convinced my father to go sailing again,” says Rachael. “I miss my friends – but they can visit. And we meet kids on the other boats.” She and her brother studied via correspondence “It's not difficult if you're self motivated,” after which she lived in Brisbane for a few years acquiring a Masters degree.

Carmel says living like this enables the family to really understand the world, because they don't look at new cities as tourists. They need to go into repair shops and grocery stores, and hence tend to really meet with the locals.

List of countries visited? There's a long silence as each member of the family screws up their face in concentration. “Well, 45 in all,” says Rachel. “Every continent except for Antarctica.”

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