The life of the Cook family can be called many things – but ‘uneventful’ is not one of them.
Since setting sail for the United States and more southerly seas and locales at the start of the autumn, Karen and Brad, and their sons Ben and Charlie, have seen many sights and found all sorts of adventures, while the leaves and snow fell back here in the Maritimes, where they spent the summer.
This year is the first they plan to spend an entire winter living full-time aboard their 47-foot catamaran called the Hangtime.
After the Cooks left Antigonish County, the first place their travels took them was Halifax, just at the end of September.
“We took the boat to Halifax – it was just Brad and I in Halifax – and we picked up our kids, my mom and my aunt Lynn, and carried on from there,” Karen said.
Hugging the coast of Nova Scotia, the Hangtime made its way down to Maine through the occasionally challenging tides of the Bay of Fundy.
“Sometimes, as we went through the bay, we were at the mercy of the tides,” Karen said. “It was an interesting crossing.”
Passing through customs with no problem in Bar Harbour, they reached Desert Island in Maine, where they spent a week.
“It’s a quaint little New England area, with Acadia National Park,” Karen said, describing the island. “It’s a rich and famous person’s summertime playground – for families like the Rockefellers. To cruise around the area and see that was pretty cool.”
Next on their journey was, “a quirky little tourist town,” Provincetown, in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Not long later the Cooks reached Nantucket on an auspicious day – Karen’s birthday on Oct. 7.
Karen noted Nantucket, “a beautiful, historic little whaling town” was a gorgeous enough spot to stick around, but it wasn’t just its charm that kept them there a little longer than planned.
By early October, Hurricane Michael was on its way, and they knew it would be better to wait it out than risk sailing in the violent weather patterns the hurricane brought with it.
Hurricane Michael didn’t keep them grounded for long, though. They weathered the storm, moored in the Nantucket Boat Basin – a safe haven that kept the Hangtime protected from the intense winds and waves Hurricane Michael brought to the area.
“We had enough time to prepare for it, and knew we were in a safe place,” Karen said. “We never felt we were in danger and knew the boat would face no damage. We were right in town, so if there was any problem we could hop off the boat and stay in a motel or something.”
That, however, was not a a necessity. Soon, the Hangtime took once again to the sea, with stops going south that included Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Mystic, Connecticut.
The Cooks ended up reconnecting with a friend in Connecticut; Laura Murphy, a former Antigonish native.
“[Laura] was on the boat in Antigonish, and it was cool to meet up with her again in Mystic,” Karen said.
Time to sail south
By the time they were in Connecticut, it was clear the season had shifted. Having left the Maritimes just as fall was beginning, the cold was beginning to catch up with them, and they could feel it in the air.
“By then, it was getting really cold on the boat. There was no heat, so waking up in the morning and seeing our breath – and being cold when trying to sail – it wasn’t miserable, but it was getting close,” Karen said.
The Hangtime’s next stop was New York City, where they sailed down Long Island Sound, and down the East River, alongside east Manhattan, passing the Statue of Liberty.
“We saw some great views of the New York skyline – it was an incredible day,” Karen said. “We had perfect blue skies as we saw the sights; it was amazing.”
Karen said they found a marina only a few blocks away from the Freedom Tower (One World Trade Center).
After covering 830 miles with the Cooks, Karen said her mother and aunt parted ways with them, during their week’s stay in New York.
By the time they finished up in New York, Karen said “we were kind of sick of the cold and going slowly.”
To speed things up, Brad gathered a number of friends and sailed the Hangtime to the Bahamas, while Karen flew with Charlie and Ben.
They met again in the Bahamas, they were world away from the short days, falling leaves and chilling air of the northeastern United States.
Once they were reunited in the Bahamas six weeks ago, the Cooks immediately sailed to the Exuma Islands, an area south of Nassau, where they enjoyed the pleasant waters, abundant wildlife and general atmosphere of the tropical region.
Karen noted their time in the Bahamas was a highlight of their winter, so far.
“We counted the other day – we have visited 54 countries, and out of all of them the Bahamas is one of my top destinations,” Karen said. “Nassau was so beautiful, and so pristine.
“The water is so warm and clean, and there is was much marine life around us, when we were there. Sharks, turtles, dolphin, amazing coral – it was all sensational. There are a lot of remote anchorages and places to swim,” Karen said. “There are some great beaches and sunsets – it’s a lot like how you picture when you think of it.”
An Exuma extreme
Although Exuma was a magnificent picture of Caribbean beauty, there was some trouble in paradise for the Cooks as they were making an important crossing.
“Whenever you go from the inside island chain to outside, there can be very strong currents between those islands,” Karen said.
Karen and Brad, seeing how pleasant the weather was, the day they sailed into the outer islands, progressed into these strong currents thinking they wouldn’t have as much of a dramatic effect as they did.
“We knew about this, but we thought since our boat was big, and the weather was stable, we’d be fine,” Karen said.
As they approached an area near the outer islands that Karen and Brad described as “only a bit choppy,” the Hangtime was caught between contradictory water and wind currents.
“It was a bit scary, since the boat was moving around a lot. There was some uncomfortable motion, with the dishes falling all over the kitchen area,” Karen said.
But the real kicker, she noted, was that one of the windows in the living area was left open.
As they battled the unstable motions of the water and wind around them, a wave came in over the bow (front) of the boat, through that open window.
“The wave filled the whole kitchen, went downstairs, and went into all the storage compartments under the floor,” Karen said.
“Everything had water in it and needed to be cleared out. Eventually, the current took us out, and smoothed out. When the current is going one way, and the wind is going another, even if it’s a light wind pattern, it’s not smooth sailing.”
A solid journey by sail
After the incident near the outer islands, the Cooks didn’t let that get them down, and soon left the Bahamas.
The trip that followed on that was a long-haul. Their next trip was a 50-hour contiguous sail on the open sea, southeast to the Turks and Caicos Islands.
“It was the first time Brad and I did that passage with the kids,” Karen said. “It was two overnights and a half-day.”
Karen explained the weather window to get from the Bahamas to the Turks and Caicos was good, so they decided to push through while the wind and water were co-operating with them, rather than stopping along the way.
“It was a smooth trip. The kids did great, and there was nice weather. It really was the perfect passage,” Karen said.
As the year winds down, Karen said it has been a good season so far. She, Brad and the boys have had nothing but good things to say about the places they’ve visited – and are looking forward to what’s to come.
“It’s been great. The guys have caught a lot of fish in the Bahamas, we’ve been eating well, and there haven’t been any real problems,” Karen said.
Although it has been mostly smooth sailing, she noted the isolation of being out on the water can sometimes be hard to handle.
“It can sometimes be very quiet, with four of us out in remote places. It’s great for a while, but sometimes it feels quiet.”
That being said, she noted they plan on inviting many friends onboard for numerous stints of travel in the coming year.
“It’s great to have the company and share that life with other people,” Karen said.
And the lifestyle itself, she noted, is something they have all comfortably adjusted to.
“We’re kind of set up now we’re going to be in it for a while. We can work remotely, and we’ve got the homeschooling situation under control for Ben and Charlie,” Karen explained.
Going forward, the Cooks are still making plans.
“We will, in two to three months, have to make a decision as to what we’re going to do for the next hurricane season,” Karen said. “Either we go up to Canada and get far enough north or go far enough south that we’re below areas affected by hurricane season.”
Karen noted that is a difficult decision because the many fond memories and good times they’ve had, going north and south.
After the Christmas season is finished, the Cooks already have plans for the immediate future.
“We’re going to carry on to the Dominican Republic, and the next island we visit will probably be Puerto Rico,” Karen said.