Circumnavigating the World

A Family Bound by Bonds

By Kelly Louiseize

Christopher Cross’ song “Sailing” faintly plays in the recesses of the mind - the raw, simple, adventure of opening one’s senses to nature. A breeze caresses the main sail of Gromit, fluttering it with a whisper as the sun perches on top its mast. It’s a moment frozen in time. Each person in the Buratynsk family has such a moment etched in their memory. They resort to it when their days back on land become impossible.
All they have to do is sit in the family room and reminisce about their seven-year circumnavigation aboard their 47-foot Olympic Adventure Bluewater Ketch/Cutter. It began in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and finished in South Africa following the trade winds home.

Living the Dream

Wife and mother, Cornelia, dreamt of living a different life. As a child, her parents often talked about spending their retirement years exploring the world by sailboat. Little did they know their daughter wasn’t going to wait that long.
When husband Michael pitched the idea of sailing away with the kids, it took minimal convincing to rent the house, pull the three children from school, quit their jobs, and pack their life in a sailboat. It was only supposed to be for a year, maybe two. After that, the intent was to return home, find jobs, and act like normal grownups, right? Nope.
There is something absolutely alluring about life when days are reduced to performing necessary tasks and pride takes the form of self-sufficiency on the mass surface of the deep ocean, Cornelia says.
Their children Zoë, Maïa and Liam are close in age. All are chips off the old blocks in the best way possible. Various stories circulate the family room, overlapping the other. Zoë adds to a memory, Maia corrects the location. It was as if they’ve been given permission to be there again, to reopen the most precious part of their lives – sailing Gromit.
They found the vessel in Oriental, North Carolina in 2005, ill equipped for ocean voyage. Michael rebuilt and replaced everything except the mast, boom, and winches, all while working full time as an engineer in the aerospace sector. Every bit of savings went toward readying the vessel for launch date. And that date came.
In October 2008, while the rest of the world was reeling from the world markets, the Manske/Buratynsky family started their engine and left the safety of Lake Ontario’s Hamilton Harbour.

False Starts

Motoring along the calm waters, Michael realized something was wrong. He opened the engine room door to find oil covering the floor. He yelled for Cornnelia to turn off the engine and limped into the Oswego Canal in New York State where they sat for over a week trying to resolve the problem. It was a lose screw.

As Michael hitch-hiked down the freeway to get oil, he thought to himself, “What have I done? I’ve given up my job, we rented the family home, sold the two cars, stored the furniture and any other belongings we had.

We’ve given up all these things and now I am walking down the highway with my thumb out to buy oil at Wal-Mart. The children are pulled from a structured school system to join Cornelia (a teacher by profession) and me on this, what is turning out to be, an absurd journey. I really felt low.”

A Beautiful Side of People

It was without fail that each time they questioned their trajectory, life steered them back on course through the kindness of others. A couple saw the family in need and offered to drive Michael to various repair shops while Cornelia used their kitchen for food preparation and Internet service.

“You see this beautiful side of people come out,” Cornelia remembered. “No matter where you are around the world, it really is the people who made the difference. A place might be memorable, but the people made it unforgettable.”

The First Six-Day Passage

Additional repairs postponed passage for another four months, but alas, on March of 2009, they launched from Jekyll Island, Georgia to the Caribbean pushing due east on a six-day passage to Santiago de Cuba. It was the first on their list of 35 countries to explore. Next stop - San Antonio and Jamaica, where Zoë, Maïa and Liam had their first taste of Jamaican patois and Ron’s white bean soup.

Try as she may, Maïa’s version doesn’t quite measure up to this day.

A five-day journey from Jamaica to Panama landed them beside their friends from Toronto aboard s/v Artemo. The Gromits, with three children and the Artemians with two children, met at Canadian Power and Sail Squadron classes. They planned to sail the world starting from a different location and ultimately meet the Gromits in Panama. Such excitement! Once anchored, the parents did their usual boat checks and provisioning while the children met others anchored in the harbour.

Their first equator crossing, from Panama to the Galápagos, was where Gromit experienced some of the worst unsettled weather.
“We had the shit kicked out of us,” Michael recalled. “Artemo had to turn around during the crossing due to boat problems.”

Working as a Team

On the archipelago of volcanic islands, life was starting to relax. Each anchorage allowed Michael to assess Gromit’s need while the children ventured off to meet new friends - that is, after the homework was complete. From the Las Perlas Islands south of Panama to the Galápagos, the kids found amazing friends. Sleepovers were common, meals were shared, and camaraderie amongst adults was rich.
Everyday brought with it its own routine, which was dictated by the weather, signing in an out of countries, provisioning, laundry, boat repair and maintenance. These daily activities, while living on land are relatively easy, however, water made it a challenge.

Each took turns with certain chores. Liam was Gromit’s fisherperson and Zoë and Maïa were the chefs. The whole family scrubbed the hull and decks, polished the stainless steel, helped raise the dinghy and performed pre-passage preparations. Anytime someone needed assistance, the kids were there. What once was a family pulled in various directions, was now a team who had each other’s backs.

Leaving the Galápagos, Gromit and crew sailed to the French Polynesia. After 21 days at sea, they arrived in the Marquesas anchoring in 60-feet of water with mountains on either side.

Williwaw Barrels Down

Several times an hour, a williwaw (sudden, violent wind) barreled down the gulley with an extreme snap that sounded like a high-pitched crack of lightening. Michael had the engines at the ready and the crew on high alert. They had been looking forward to full night’s sleep only to find they were now on round-the-clock anchor watch.
All surrounding boasts did the same. Eventually, sailors became accustomed to the blast, but still maintained a guarded watch.
After a few weeks, the family sailed to Tahiti and then to the Island of Huahine where the children spent 10 months in school learning French. It was a strict system, Cornelia said. The children felt intimidated by the blatant display of classroom discipline

The Amenities of Home!

But not academics believed in an authoritarian approach. In fact, before one of the teachers left on vacation, he offered his home to the Gromits.

“It was the first time in a while to be living in a house. We were so excited about flushed toilets!” Cornelia smiled.
“With hot and cold water, a shower, a washing machine to launder every possible item aboard Gromit, and a place to stretch the sails for repair, we thought we found heaven!”  
At night, the children would go to the bow of Gromit to take in the night sky. It would be filled with so many stars, you couldn’t see blackness, Maïa explained.
Despite the lures of land, two weeks were more than enough to feel the itch of the ocean.
From there, the crew sailed to Suwarrow Atoll, approximately 500 nautical miles from Bora Bora and only reachable by boat. At least 25 boats anchored for what is akin to ‘summer camp’ for sailors. Shark watching, hiking, potlucks, games and kayaking were done as a community.

Pacific Ocean’s Fresh Water Paradise

“It was the best social island bar none,” Liam attested. Next was American Samoa where the volcanic mountains provided incredible hiking. The northern most island in Tonga, Tin Can Island, allowed the Gromits to kayak in the volcano. Michael in his usual humour commented, “Yep just another day in a Tongan volcano lake. I mean where do you get to paddle in a freshwater lake in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?”

Fiji was next and then on to New Zealand where they settled in for seven months. Michael picked up a job painting a house while the crew waited out hurricane season at the equator. New Zealand was like Canada. It felt like home, Michael said. It was there he took a breather from the constant worries of boat maintenance.

Gromit had two captains: Michael and Cornelia. In fact, it was Cornelia who would take him in and out of tight spots.
“For me, this was a very important part of my role aboard Gromit – a point of pride,” she says.
As far as the crew was concerned, Gromit was male - not female, as with most boats.

Taking a Vote

From there they ventured to New Caledonia, where Gromit experienced his most significant breakdown and had to be escorted to port. Dad and crew spent a month repairing him. A meeting was to determine if all were in favour of continuing was in order. The children were given more voting rights as the years passed.

With a green light, the family set sail for Papua, New Guinea, then made their way over the top of Australia. Sailing along the Arafura Sea was sublime, Cornelia said. For days on end, with both the spinnaker and jib out, Gromit moved fluidly through the slight ripples on the ocean’s surface - no rough seas, no ocean swell – bliss!
“At night, the reflection of the moon on the sea’s inky blackness made the moonbeams look like undulating silver splinters. It was mesmerizing. I miss those kinds of moments so much.”

Ignorance is Bliss

Onto Kupang, Indonesia and then to Komodo Island, where the family snapped numerous pictures with the dragons not more the 15 feet away. Never again, Cornelia said. They didn’t realize these reptiles could run faster than they could, climb a tree quicker than a monkey and bite with a venom that would have you infected and left for dead.

Backpacking through the Borneo jungle to see the orangutans was a treat. In Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand they celebrated Christmas with turkey drumsticks and cranberry sauce – an absolute delight in the middle of an Asian culture.
Once the festive season was over the family travelled to Bangkok by train and on to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, an enormous Buddhist temple complex.

Continuing through Asia, the Gromits stopped in China to eat Peking duck and walk the Great Wall. Traversing to India, the family hopped on camels to explore the Thar Dessert in Rajasthan and rafted the white water of the Ganges River before sliding down the continent to Sri Lanka, which proved to be one of the best passages.
Another equator crossing on the Indian Ocean to the Maldives became a boisterous and bossy experience. Onwards to the Atolls of Chagos – south of the Maldives - in the heart of the Indian Ocean. There they made friends with the crew of Simanderal whose boat sank on route to Madagascar a week before Gromit set out on the same route.

“Simanderal sank due to rudder failure, which caused water ingress that they could not contain. They fought for 18 hours before being rescued by a freighter and taken to South Africa.


It was shocking and very upsetting, knowing we would be following their route very soon,” said Michael.
Cutting through the waves they were concerned about their rudder, hoping it would remain strong. After 17 days on choppy, unfriendly waters and eating their share of mahi-mahi caught off the stern, everyone wanted to touch land. But the ocean wasn’t finished with them.
Michael saw a squall heading their way. The jib was out when the full brunt of the wind hit. Gromit heeled to such a degree that down below the kids saw the vast ocean before their eyes as it came up over the toe-rail and washed upwards on the starboard porthole.
“It nearly came level with the cabin top as if, preparing to swallow Gromit whole,” Liam attests.
Like the trusty vessel he is, Gromit righted himself and carried on.

Creating Bonds

As the family continued regaling stories, it was obvious they had infused a bond that could only be found through best and the worst days at sea.
Zoë summed it up. “When we were on the boat, we were all in sync, all five of us, aligned to the same goals. We were a team. We experienced every day to the fullest.”
Each child was dependent on the team and independent of each other. They were free spirits, and the world was their oyster.

Adoration Abounds.

“With my children and husband, I feel tremendous adoration and gratitude,” she explained a tear welling up in her eye. “I mean look Michael – how beautiful our children are,” her arms out toward them.

Zoë, Maïa and Liam look at each other and smile. If anything came from the seven years at sea, it is gratitude. Gratitude for making it around the world safely. Of all the sailing families they met, they were the only ones rounding the Cape of Good Hope that year.

Gratitude for the experiences of a richer life, for good health throughout the journey, for gaining independence at sea and mostly gratitude for the absolute solid connection this family shares today. Asked if they would do it again, the Gromits piped up.

“In a heartbeat. I feel like a fish out of water,” Cornelia says. “There is no more incredible scenery or sounds of lapping water on the hull, moments of deep serenity and being present. I miss the gentle rocking of Gromit at anchor, knowing that he kept us safe and connected to nature and the world - in a way that just can’t happen on land.”

Zoë gets it. She made friends easily on Gromit because everyone shared the same vagabond lifestyle.

Life on Land

“Now that I am back on land I can’t seem to relate as easily. You see, I want to be friends with everyone, but they fork off into their own cliques.”
Maïa pipes in. She misses the genuine deep, rich conversation she had with sailors as they watched the huge orange fiery sunset fade beyond the ocean’s edge.
“I am so used to adventures and just living in the moment,” she said. “Friends my age are consumed with their devices and documenting a priceless moment that they miss out on the moment altogether. It’s hard to relate.”


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