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12 Questions to 12 Sailing Families

M/V Chrysalis Custom 65 ft power catamaran - Canada

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Photo by Kim Petersen
Photo by Kim Petersen
Photo by Kim Petersen
Photo by Kim Petersen

Kim and Mike PETERSEN + Lauren & Stefan - This couple and their 2 young teens swapped a fear of risk for a bucket-list dream of "living on a boat and crossing an ocean". Completing their 65' power cat from an empty hull and crossing the Atlantic to the Med and Egypt, they shared an adventure and a meeting of the minds. More about the CHRYSALIS family

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1. The biggest challenge you faced in getting out there?   7. How did you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?
2. Is there a best age to take children cruising?   8. How did you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?
3. Any modifications to the boat for your children?   9. How did you handle: TASKS and CHORES?
4. Any advice for would-be sailing families?   10. What did you like BEST / LEAST about cruising?
5. A typical day on board? Your kids' responsibilities?   11. Has cruising changed your family?
6. A great moment?   12. A recipe for cruising families?

1. What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting out there?

I think I could get used to facing my fears


Way back in university, my husband Mike and I made a bucket list of dreams we wanted to accomplish and number six on that list was “live on a boat and cross an ocean.”

Unfortunately, two years later we lost a daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and that created in me a fear of the unknown, of risk. Fifteen years later, I found that old bucket list and realized I had been living with fear all those years and needed to confront it. Living on a boat, although radical, was a way to do this. For me personally, fear was my biggest challenge.

Also, because we had a teenager and a preteen, creating a positive boating experience was important to our family. We spent considerable time with the kids discussing ways to incorporate the things that were important to them: friends and community, while still cruising. We agreed to take it one year at a time, reassessing annually, and that seemed more do-able. Surprisingly, at our meeting each year we unanimously decided to keep living aboard.

We found our 65 foot power catamaran shell in a farmer's field in New Zealand. It was new construction but completely empty inside, no electrical, woodworking or plumbing. We shipped it to Florida, sold the house, cars and stuff before facing another challenge: how to build the inside of a boat with no boat building experience! A lot of reading and trial and error resulted in one giant homeschool project. Eventually we named the boat Chrysalis, the term given to a caterpillar when it is changing inside a cocoon.

Farmers field, New Zealand   Naming a dream

2. How old were your children when you left? Is there a best age to take children cruising?

Our kids were 11 and 14.

There is no “perfect age.” Each family is different and needs to assess its own strengths and limitations before committing to cruising as a lifestyle. We have met cruising families with children of all ages and it appears that each age group benefits in different ways from the experience.

A lot of people have told us that they could never cruise with their teenagers, but it worked for us and we had a blast.

Meeting of the minds: Nintendo warriors

Because our kids were older, there was a wonderful meeting in the middle of the minds between the four of us. While our kids matured, taking on big responsibilities like overnight watch-keeping and their homeschooling, we as parents “immatured,” learning to play Nintendo, teepee staterooms and throw water balloons. This leveled the playing field and helped to build a sense of community between us.

Being older, our teens could comprehend and appreciate the history and culture that traveling the US, Canada, and the Mediterranean afforded us.

At a time when most teenage siblings retreat (to the mall, etc.) our son and daughter learned to become friends with their family members and that community involves much more than meeting friends at the movie theater.

3 things to consider
when cruising with teenagers:

1. Be flexible,

2. As much as possible, include them in the decision making process

3. Cultivate humor

All questions

3. Did you make modifications to the boat for your children?

Needing some space off Cape Hatteras

Especially for cruising teenagers, having their own space on board is important. We are fortunate that the space aboard our catamaran, Chrysalis, allows the kids to have their own staterooms. We encouraged them to make that space their own.

Right after we moved aboard, our daughter asked us if we would hold off putting the wall fabric in her stateroom because she wanted to write in magic marker on her fiberglass walls. While less than esthetically pleasing to us, we figured “why not?”

After a few months she had hand-drawn pictures, quotes and poetry all over her walls. Her friends came to visit and they wrote on her walls. After two years, almost every inch of fiberglass was covered. One day, she told us it was okay to put fabric up. To this day, the writing exists under that fabric.

Bottom line for teens aboard: give them space and learn to be flexible.

4. Anything you wish you had known before you got started? Any advice for families?

Anything I wish I had known

Loving the lifestyle: time together and travel (Nice, France)

We wish we had known how much we would come to love the boating lifestyle. Knowing this would have made those long, hot days of boat construction and thoughts of storms more bearable.

With the empty nest fast approaching, not long ago we discussed selling Chrysalis.

The kids got wind of it, sat us down in the pilothouse, and told us we absolutely couldn't sell the boat. Why? Because Chrysalis had become their home, the place they wanted to return to. We reconsidered selling.

Advice for would be families

  • If you are uncertain as to whether your family will enjoy cruising, charter a boat for a week or longer. If possible, go to a remote location and get a feel for how your family reacts to the experience.

  • Even with younger kids, but especially with older ones, speak openly and often about the risks and rewards of cruising. Make every effort to address their concerns and be willing to give up cruising if necessary. Building positive relationships (between each other and the world) was always the point of cruising for us, not cruising itself—as great as it is.

  • Boating and living in tight quarters can be stressful. Make a pledge to always treat each other with kindness and respect. We came upon a few couples whose angry shouts at each other while docking could be heard across the marina. We determined early on that there would be none of that. For us, cruising was about FUN first. Relax, go slow, learn from the mistakes and enjoy the journey.

All questions

5. A typical day on board? Your kids' responsibilities aboard?

Hard at work
School in the morning: dissecting a mussel
Reaping the rewards (Abacos, Bahamas)
Helping with provisioning

What was a typical day aboard?

Because our cruising lifestyle was not meant to be an extended holiday or retirement, we all had jobs to perform. Whether at anchor or underway, Lauren and Stefan had homeschooling to accomplish, I was freelance writing for magazines and attempting to put a book together and Mike continued his work as a Money Manager.

Our simple daily schedule looked somewhat like this:

- 8am-1pm: school, writing, business work
- 1pm-5pm: tour, explore, walk/hike, museums
- 5pm-7pm: break and dinner
- 7pm-10pm: Free time: card/board games, videos, internet, reading

Very early on in our live aboard experience we fell into the routine of working hard from around 8am until 1pm, having lunch, and then touring or exploring until suppertime.

In the Bahamas this usually meant spear - fishing or snorkeling. In the Mediterranean or along the Eastern Seaboard of the US and Canada, this meant time spent visiting museums, historic places or hiking. Often these events enhanced what they were learning in school.

Evenings were spent working on the boat, reading, on the internet, watching videos, or playing board or video games.

Since there were no meetings, clubs, teams or music lessons, our lifestyle slowed down considerably. While slow might sound romantic, I have to say it took us a long time to acclimate to the slower pace.

Eventually we all took off our watches and slow became the norm. Although we are now living more conventionally, we still have naked wrists, something we neither planned nor spoke of. A reminder, I suppose, that our existence is valuable apart from our many to-dos.

What were your kids' responsibilities aboard?

Since they were teenagers, in terms of responsibility we treated our kids very much like adults. Intentionally, we let them know that this was a team endeavor, not “Dad and Mom taking us cruising.” We told them we absolutely couldn't survive without them and needed their input.

Because we did a fair bit of offshore cruising, including crossing the Atlantic Ocean, it was imperative that we were all familiar with emergency procedures. We each knew the basics of VHF, liferaft, and EPIRB operation as well has how to handle Chrysalis.

We divided up the remaining jobs between the four of us. Lauren took over the large, offshore medical kit and made sure it was easily accessible. Stefan looked after the parachute anchor and helped with provisioning.

We assigned nighttime watches. They knew that during those times, they held our lives in their hands. This helped authenticate their importance onboard.

6. A great moment?

Skipper and Lauren keeping watch in the Red Sea

After arriving in Gibraltar, I kept finding pictures printed off the internet of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies in strange places. I'd find the pictures in the silverware drawer, the refrigerator and the microwave. The kids put them there to entice us, they longed for puppy.

As parents we were a little leery, knowing that traveling with a pet can be complicated especially on a boat overseas. In the end, we gave in after they drew up a contract (signed in blood) whereby they promised to do EVERYTHING pertaining to the dog FOREVER. Conveniently enough, this contract has been misplaced. (Please excuse me, I have to go walk the dog!).

We found a litter of King Charles pups from a reputable breeder in Prague, picked one out from a picture and they flew Skipper (as we called him) to Barcelona where we picked him up. I can tell you there was great joy aboard Chrysalis that day.

Right from the start we trained Skipper to relieve himself in the cockpit on a 2 X 4 foot pan we designed that had astro turf on it and drained into the ocean. It took awhile, but soon he got the hang of it and was able to handle the common overnight passages.

Besides being a wonderful companion for our children, Skipper often bridged the cultural gap as locals fawned over him and then spoke with us. Connections were made that I doubt would have ever happened only because we walked him around the marina or to town to buy groceries. We have friends all over the Mediterranean, due in large part, to Skipper.

Fortunately, traveling with a pet turned out to be easy. Although we carried all the necessary paperwork, the custom authorities in each of the countries we visited never asked to see it.

7. How did you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?

Taking care of a minor emergency—head laceration—
in the Florida Keys

Before we moved aboard, the four of us took the Red Cross First Aid Course together. It was nice knowing that if something happened, we were each familiar with life saving procedures. I went to our family doctor and explained what we were doing and he wrote me prescriptions for antibiotics and antihistamines. We even received an emergency filling kit from our dentist (that we used while in Egypt).

Regarding health: many people have asked us how we stayed physically fit while on board. Because we were traveling, we didn't have a car, so we got used to walking everywhere. We thought nothing of walking a mile or two, sometimes much more, to get where we needed to go. In addition, Lauren and I both did yoga on board using videos.

Safety both on board and off was important. You learn to watch out for each other. We researched each place we would anchor or tie up and picked safe harbours known to other boaters. If anchored in a remote place, like in the Bahamas, we would hail a neighboring sailboat and ask them to keep their VHF tuned to the same channel in case of an emergency. We never had anything stolen, nor were we ever threatened by pirates of any kind. However, after over two-and-a-half years in the Med with no problems, the week we returned to Florida our bikes were stolen!

8. How did you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?

High school homeschooling: Lauren hard at work in the Bahamas


Both our kids were enrolled at Keystone National High School, an online correspondence high school. While we traveled from port to port, our kids did their work online and sent it in via the internet. They had easy access to each of their teachers and could ask questions when Mike or I proved useless. They were involved in online clubs like yearbook and the school newspaper and these held weekly online chat meetings, giving the kids a chance to interact with peers. Keystone kept track of their grades and sent feedback.

At the end of four years, our daughter had a full transcript that she used to apply to several universities at which she was accepted.


Hanging out with fellow boating pals

Fulfillment on board has meant different things to each of us.

For our kids, maintaining a connection with friends was important. Throughout our journey, they made use of the various online social networks, posting pictures and interacting. As parents, we did too. The great thing about travel these days is that internet access is widely available in most places.

In order to see their friends, they saved up money and offered to pay half a plane ticket for friends to visit. Their friends were thrilled to visit us on Chrysalis. Our daughter went for two or more weeks each year to different summer experiences with kids her own age.

Make sure there is plenty to do on board.
  • Pack every available square inch with good books.

  • Invest in “toys.” Because we had teenagers that meant things like spear-fishing equipment, snuba gear, a kayak, fishing rods, bikes, crab traps, art supplies, even a microscope.

Kids both on and off the water are bound to get bored and if there are things sitting around that spark their interest, they just might get creative!


If you asked our kids how it was cruising during high school, I know they would say that like any choice in life, they missed out on some things, but gained in others. As parents, we hope that the life lessons learned: how to get along with family, think outside the box, savor the world in which we live, will make up for the things missed.

9. How did you handle: TASKS and CHORES

Who said there would be less work on a boat? Someone once told me this and as a result I had visions of live aboards sipping mojitos and lounging in the water on plastic rafts all day!

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news—this only happens a third of the time!

Putting together a new table and chairs   Keeping up with maintenance


Funny story

After one particularly hard day of boat work, Stefan said, “You know when you and dad said this was going to be an adventure? Somehow this isn't the adventure I imagined!” I had to smile.

I told him that's the thing about adventures: they often involve a ton of hard work and change. I mentioned a quote from Thomas Edison: “Adventure is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

He wasn't amused.

It seems like there is always something that needs cleaning or maintenance.

To this day, we all work together to complete general chores like washing the boat and shining stainless. We aren't too regimented about it.

When Lauren lived with us (she's since gone off to university) she enjoyed washing the boat (the three of us were GLAD) and she took over that weekly job.

Since that time, Stefan has taken it over. Mike is in charge of maintenance and I'm the queen of provisioning, food prep, and indoor cleanliness…aka: domestic floating goddess.

10. What did you like BEST / LEAST about cruising?


Best things: Spending time together (Rome, Italy)   Memories: Making our mark on the Wall of Fame, Horta, Faial, Azores.


  • Hands down the very best thing about living aboard has been the close relationships we built as a family. The four of us have all these great shared experiences and funny stories that will likely get told through the generations and my future grandkids will roll their eyes and say, “Geez not this story again!” For this reason alone, we would do it all over again.

  • In addition, learning about history, the world in which we live and experiencing different cultures was an education that was hard to beat.

    Personally, I did it as much for the food as anything else. Before crossing the Atlantic, whenever I'd get worried and think about twenty foot waves, I therapeutically envisioned big plates of pasta, gelato, souvlaki and chicken tagine and my strength would return. In the culinary realm, our travels in this regard didn't disappoint.



Worst thing: Being seasick!
  • The worst thing for me and the kids was getting seasick.

    Charles Darwin once said, “If a person suffers much from sea sickness, let him weigh it heavily in the balance, I speak from experience, it is no trifling evil!” We heartily concur. In the early days we tried everything: herbal motion sickness medicine, pressure point wristbands, Dramamine (which worked but knocked us out).

    Eventually we received a prescription from our doctor for the Transderm Scop, a patch worn behind the ear (now available in pill form) and that did the trick. We were rarely seasick again.

  • Similar to our children, one of the hardest parts for Mike and I was the absence of a permanent community, friends and family, in our lives. Even spending at least a month in each port, as we tended to do, was not enough time to “belong” somewhere or learn the language. Certainly the internet helped maintain ties and we did make new friends, but by the time we returned from the Mediterranean I think we all had a new appreciation for the word “home.”

11. How has cruising changed your family?

Learning about other cultures changed our family in M'hamid, Morocco


In addition to helping foster a closer relationship between the four of us, cruising to places that were unfamiliar to us, especially in the Mediterranean, broadened our perspective of the world and our place in it.

While in Morocco, we took the overnight train to Marrakech and rode camels into the Sahara Desert where we stayed a few days in a remote Bedouin camp. The men and their families who lived there spoke little English and we spoke even less Arabic. Yet around the camp fire we shared food, laughed at simple jokes, and felt great satisfaction over what little we could communicate. While we sat looking up at the stars one evening, a middle-aged Bedouin man who spoke more English than the rest looked at Mike and said with enlightenment, “OH! I understand now! YOU crossed the great ocean in a boat with your family, YOU are a nomad. And I cross the great desert on camels with my family. I am a nomad.” Clasping Mikes arm, this Moroccan man looked into Mike's eyes and said warmly, “You are my brother.

This is the kind of experience we wanted our children to have. Now when we hear the news about places we have been, it is not “someplace over there,” it is countries whose people we have walked, eaten and laughed with.

Perhaps this is the greatest thing about travel: you arrive as a stranger, you leave as a friend. This changed the way we viewed the world.


All questions

12. One of your favorite quick, handy recipes for cruising families?

Rum cake

When we were just beginning our journey, a fellow cruiser sent over a rum cake. We had never had it before and loved it. Not long afterwards, I found this recipe in Living Aboard magazine submitted by Jo Roberts of s/v Narnia. We've used it for many special occasions and given cakes away to other cruisers.

Rum Cake

  • 1 cup pecans or walnuts chopped (optional)
  • 1 package yellow cake mix
  • 1 package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 4 eggs
  • half - cup cold water
  • half - cup vegetable oil
  • half-cup 80-proof Bacardi dark rum


  • 1 stick butter
  • one-fourth cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • one-half cup 80-proof Barcardi dark rum

For Cake :

- Preheat oven to 325 F.
- Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or 12 cup Bundt pan.
- Sprinkle nuts over bottom of pan. In a large mixing bowl, mix all cake ingredients together.
- Pour batter over nuts.
- Bake one hour.
- Cool. Invert on serving plate. Prick top and sides all over with a toothpick. Brush glaze evenly over top and sides. Allow cake to absorb glaze. Repeat until glaze is used up.

For Glaze :

- Melt butter in saucepan.
- Stir in water and sugar.
- Boil five minutes stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat and stir in rum.

Note : If using yellow cake mix with pudding already in mix, omit instant pudding and use 3 eggs instead of 4 and reduce oil to one-third cup instead of one-half cup.


About the CHRYSALIS family

Who was aboard?

• Mike is the CIO of a Charitable Foundation. Throughout our time cruising, he was a money manager, using the internet to keep up to date and make a living, something he still does.

In addition, he has traveled all over the United States and Canada leading motivation and instructional seminars.

When not engaged in business affairs, he designed and built by hand three customs homes and the 65 ft. powercat, Chrysalis.

Kim has been published in numerous periodicals including  Living Aboard, Multihull Quarterly and  Southern Boating   and has appeared on Lifetime Television's  The Balancing Act, FOX NEWS,   CBS News at Noon, and KCMN Radio.

Her book, Charting the Unknown: Family, Fear and One Long Boat Ride was released through Behler Publications in 2010.

Along with Mike, she has traveled to the US and Canada leading motivational and instructional seminars. She is a Professional Life Coach and enjoys helping others move beyond fear to accomplish their dreams.

Lauren, now 20, currently lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She is taking a year off from university before pursuing a career as a Doctor of Naturopathy. She continues to love cruising and worked for a time on a fishing boat on Lake Ontario.

Stefan, age 17, still lives on board Chrysalis. For his junior year he went to the local high school for the first time since the second grade. Although he enjoyed it, he opted to be homeschooled again for his senior year. He is interested in criminology.

Skipper the boat dog has lived all his life on board Chrysalis. Despite this, he remains afraid of the water. When not chasing gulls off the stern, he enjoys snuggling up with a human sibling or taking walks along the beach. He's been a wonderful dog to travel with and we've all enjoyed his company.

What kind of boat do you have?

A custom 65 ft power catamaran. She was designed by Malcolm Tennant, of New Zealand, well known in catamaran circles for his innovative design. The cored fiberglass hull was built by Pachoud, the inside by the Petersen family.

Where have you been?

Up and down the eastern seaboard of the US and Canada, visiting such wonderful cities as Halifax, New York City, Boston, Norfolk, Washington D.C., Baltimore and Annapolis as well as the Bahamas including the Abacos and Eleuthras.

In 2007, we crossed the Atlantic Ocean on our own. Several cruising authorities have told us we are the first power catamaran on record to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

We went from Jensen Beach, Florida via Bermuda, the Azores, Madeira, making landfall in Ceuta, Spain on the northern tip of Morocco. We then spent over two years traveling to Gibraltar, Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and through the Suez Canal into Egypt.

Where are you now?

We are currently still living aboard in south Florida where we continue to work and attend school.

Kim Petersen's website


Kim Petersen's book

Charting the Unknown: Family, Fear, and One Long Boat Ride
by Kim Petersen, through Behler Publications.

The travel genre is full of solo travelers who have trekked across the globe and done a remarkable job of telling the tale, but few stories are told of families who embark on a six year boating odyssey with teenagers in tow.

This book will appeal to anyone who has sought to rebuild their life after great personal loss or are interested in living intentionally and creatively. There is certainly adventure and humor in the form of four individuals acclimating to a foreign nautical world and crossing the Atlantic Ocean, but even more telling, the age-old human struggle to push through obstacles and achieve the impossible is portrayed in these pages.

If these things are of interest, you’ll find a friend in Charting the Unknown. For more information please see www.thewanderingobserver.com

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