By: Kathryn Morrin
My school is not bricks and mortar but is instead a 42ft catamaran, sailing the Caribbean seas. I wake up to the sound of water lapping the side of my cabin, to the rocking of the waves, and to my mom calling me to get out of bed because it’s already 8:29 am and school starts at 8:30 am. Professor Ingrid (A.K.A. my Mom) is already up and starting class when I sit down with a bowl of cereal and orange juice while Professor Robin (A.K.A. my Dad) is groggily making his way slowly towards the coffee pot.
As far as classmates go, I think I lucked out. Besides the fact that my sister, Alexandra, is always bouncing around the room when I get up (she’s definitely a morning person) and her goofy antics distract me from class, she’s not half bad. I certainly could do a lot worse.
The school dress code is another bonus; our uniform is either a bathing suits or pyjamas. We usually are in school for 3.5 hours a day, five days a week, and field trips occur whenever a good opportunity presents itself. Can’t speak for everyone but I think it’s a pretty sweet deal.
I’m currently in Grade Seven and my subjects this year are Math, Geography, Science, Music, Reading, History and English. My math is a combination of a formal curriculum and daily living (like figuring out the 50:1 ratio of gas to oil when I fill up the dinghy). Geography is all around us as we change countries every week, and music consists of guitar lessons on the back of the boat. Alex and I really enjoy reading and for school we read the classics like A Tale of Two Cities, Frankenstein and Huckleberry Finn, however when we have an internet signal and our parents let us, we download books onto our e-readers and escape to our cabins to read.
For the most part Alex and I are lucky to have one on one time with our teachers. One thing is sure, it’s definitely harder to sleep during class when you are the only student.
Phys Ed. is one of my favourite classes because it involves swimming, paddle boarding, tubing, wake boarding, frisbee and football on the beach. When we spent the hurricane season in Grenada, we played volleyball three times a week with other cruisers. We regularly get dragged on hikes that Dad insists won’t be long, but invariably end up taking the whole day, because we usually end up bushwhacking.
We have had many substitute teachers along the way, and they have always shared something special with Alex and me. An RCAF officer taught us navigation and how to sew, a business professor taught me how to spear-fish (after a few failed attempts of his own), and an executive in finance taught us basket weaving while at the dock in Florida. A wonderful dock master showed us how to make a tree out of copper wire and beads, and my grandmother spent a month teaching me how to paint with acrylics. These wonderful people shared their knowledge and passions with us, and I have learned things that I would not have had the opportunity to, in a normal classroom.
My teachers have made it a priority for Alex and me to explore the islands that we visit, and we often take the day off to hike or rent a car and tour the island. Other activities that are considered field trips are riding horses on a beach, experiencing Carnival (not always child appropriate) and watching leatherback turtles lay their eggs on the beach in Grenada.
Life on the boat is not all glam, paradise and parties. Things tend to break often and there are days when my Dad could probably pass for a mechanic. My schooling also includes pulling apart a toilet (not my favourite job), diesel engine maintenance, taking watches when underway, monitoring power and water consumption, and being the designated dinghy driver. Unlike ashore, my telephone is a VHF radio, Internet is spotty at best, and requires me to “borrow” a signal from shore with our Wifi booster.
I’m occasionally asked how I feel about returning to Ottawa in 2016. I think it will be a challenge adjusting to a new school where I won’t know anyone, making new friends and getting used to eight hours of school a day. I am however, excited about meeting new friends, playing team sports, having access to horseback riding and generally doing what normal kids do.
Although I’m excited to return home in a year’s time, I know that I am going to miss this adventure. I have been so lucky to have the opportunity to learn about these Islands and cultures as part of my schooling, to spend the days with my family and to have met other cruising kids along the way. I realize that when this is all over and we are living ashore, I will look back on this trip as an education of a lifetime