Boat School

I want to thank all the kids and parents who live and learn aboard sailboats for helping me with this article!

Boat School

by Mira Nencheva

“We are all schoolmasters, and our schoolhouse is the universe.”

-Henry Thoreau

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Our daughter Maya is 11-years-old. She doesn’t go to school.

Maya doesn’t go to school because we live aboard a sailboat and we constantly travel from one country to another. In November 2012 we left our old way of life and the world in which everything was familiar only to find ourselves in a world where we suddenly had to deal with many unexpected situations. One of the biggest unknowns of this new way of life was the kids’ school. To deny your children education is to rob them of a better future, people say. How will they find work or go to college? How will they continue their lives if they don’t have an education? This was the hardest question asked by parents, neighbors, friends and strangers on the road. This was the question I asked myself. Maybe we are making a grave mistake by stopping our kids from school?

We had heard of ‘homeschooling’ even ‘unschooling’ and we knew that we are not the only cruisers with kids who study outside of the school system. The thought that we would find a solution to this problem gave us hope.

Maya Мая

Maya in Virginia

It took me over a year collecting information, talking with other mothers and interviewing homeschooled cruising kids before being able to build our own education model. During this time, our son Viktor 17, who has always been educated in the public school system in Quebec Canada, decided to go back.  He returned to land-life and continued his high school there. It turned out that for children like Viktor, who have already started their education in the school system is difficult to transit to homeschooling on a boat, especially when they are at high school level and especially if they didn’t have any problems in the public school. For Maya- 6 years younger and at primary school level, the transition was much easier.

Maya Мая

Maya, Ile-des-Saintes

“A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.”
– George Santayana

To deprive a child from education is to deprive him/her from a future. We all agree on that. But we don’t all agree with the idea, that education can be obtained only in the system and only at school. And what education are we talking about?

Are we talking about the slow and painful process which temporarily fills the kids’ heads with facts until they pass the exam in order to obtain a document or a diploma that enables them to continue studying in colleges and universities, or enables them to find a well-paying job so that they can buy expensive things, or often simply substitutes toilet paper; or are we talking about a certain amount of knowledge that helps them understand and respect the world and themselves, to acquire positive values, to focus in a direction appealing to them, to develop as unique individuals capable of dealing with changes and obstacles, of calculating and taking risks, of reasoning and having their own opinions?

Maya Мая

Maya in Dominica

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. Without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.”

-Albert Einstein

Education is important and essential but it is not necessary acquired in the classroom. In most countries in the world homeschooling is a legal option. The students are not required to go to school and can study at home. Their parents are not required to provide professional teachers for their homeschooled children. The only thing the parents are required to provide is adequate and efficient education- inside or outside of the school building. In some particular situations the parents have no choice because of certain circumstances like illness, remote location, or because they travel a lot, and cannot send the kids to school. But often the parents consciously choose homeschooling as an alternative to public school. On purpose. In most cases however, the parents are too busy with work and have no choice but to send the kids in the schools. Besides, it’s the normal thing to do…

Maya and Noial Мая и Нойял

Maya and Noial

“To attend chiefly to the desk or schoolhouse while we neglect the scenery in which it is placed is absurd. If we do not look out we shall find our find schoolhouse standing in a cow-yard at last.”

-Henry Thoreau

The school institution, very much like a factory, controls and represses the individual instead of encouraging creativity. In schools, as in factories, the rules and procedures are very strictly defined and have to be observed. Discipline is essential. But discipline stops creativity. The teachers are like factory workers and the students are the product. The standardized tests and exams are the quality control. The bell announces the beginning and the end of the school/work day. In such a scheme the students are meant to become the same and nothing original ever comes out of the factory. In schools individuality and creativity are often being suppressed so that the transition from today’s slaves to tomorrow’s slaves is achieved smoothly.

Maya Мая

Maya
Мая

“The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on — because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions.”

-Noam Chomski

The present system can only continue to exist if people strive to better themselves financially and buy more material things. The system, in order to survive the way it is, needs people who work all day every day most of their lives in order to consume the products which they produce. In the meantime they have no time for their own children. The role of the school and of the media today is to divert the attention of the young ones in the direction of consumerism, to mold them into a mass of ideal citizens and consumers. The want for new better expensive things: clothes, shoes, jewelery, cars, houses, etc. is not genetic but is being implemented (often not even on purpose, but subconsciously) in our children’s value system and worldviews since a very early age. Those who educate them have themselves been thus educated. This is now accepted as normal. But is it normal?

Maya Мая

Maya
Мая

“People arrive at a factory and perform a totally meaningless task from eight to five without question because the structure demands that it be that way. There’s no villain, no ‘mean guy’ who wants them to live meaningless lives, it’s just that the structure, the system demands it and no one is willing to take on the formidable task of changing the structure just because it is meaningless.”

-Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Is it normal that the school curriculum is prepared by a group of “experts” who decide in this given historical, political, economical and technological moment of time what is the best for our children and for the society?  Can they forecast what will happen in say 10-20 years when today’s students will be adults looking for a job? Most of the things we learn at school become irrelevant in a few years. How many of us work in the field of our studies? According to statistics not more than 10%. And how many of us remember most of the stuff we studied in primary and high school? Personally, I remember only fragments. In the classroom of my childhood we were 30 kids, all different individuals with different interests, ideas and capacity. But we were all forced to study the same thing. In this situation the natural reaction of many of us is blockage. We develop hatred towards certain subject; we even start hating the entire school. How many kids, honestly, love to go to school? Instead of being tortured with things that we hate and forget two days after the exam, instead of loosing our time in the classrooms we could have learned something important and interesting for us.

Maya Мая

Maya
Мая

 “Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”                

-Plato

The good news is that in many countries of the world: USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, Mexico, Columbia, Peru, India, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine and England homeschooling is a legal alternative to the compulsory education. In Bulgaria as well as in most African countries, Cuba, China, El Salvador, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece, Germany, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Serbia and Swiss unfortunately children and parents still don’t have this option.

Where it is permitted, homeschooling is not complicated and it doesn’t even mean getting out of the system. Packages with manuals and other school materials are being distributed and the kids periodically take exams. Most homeschooled kids cover the same material as the kids in the public schools.

Мая

Мая

Boat School for Cruising Kids

“What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the soul.”                  

-Joseph Addison

While sailing in the Caribbean we met many cruising families whose kids were homeschoold and were doing great. In Grenada during the months from June to November an impressive community of boaters gathers to “hibernate” for the Hurricane Season. Many of these cruisers are families with kids, who travel and study aboard for years.  They all used different individual methods and systems for education. Before noon, the boat-kids were busy with their books and manuals for about 2-3 hours and in the afternoon they were busy exploring volcanoes, jungles and ancient forts, or surfing, sailing, swimming, snorkeling, and playing games. Do you think these kids are deprived of education?

Деца-пътешествници, които учат задочно на лодки и обиклят света с родителите си.

Деца-пътешествници, които учат задочно на лодки и обиклят света с родителите си.

 

 

 

Kieran Whitworth 15, from South Africa, S/V Avatar

Kieren travels with his parent and studies aboard S/V Avatar since 2012. Before that he used to go to a regular school in Cape Town for 8 years. He said he was doing great in school and liked having friends whom now he misses. ” Homeschool is lonely but on the other hand it made me more independent. It was hard saying good bye to my friends, but now we keep in touch thanks to internet.”

Кирън 15г.

Кирън 15г.

Kieran uses the American homeschooling system CALVERT which has instructional videos on its website. After the student subscribes for one year he receives books and other materials in the mail. Until the ninth school year the mother is responsible for grading the student; after that (after the second year of high school) there are exams to be done on line. The advantages of this popular American homeschool system are that it is accepted in most colleges in the USA and other countries, and is available for children throughout the world. The main disadvantage of is the price- between 1 000 and 2 000 dollars per year.

Кирън

Kieren

Kieren is planing to continue his studies in college after he graduates from homeschool- programming or electrical engineer.

Zoe 11 and Nina 7, from South Africa, S/V Iza

Like Kieren, Zoe and Nina also used CALVERT for two year while cruising. Zoe said, she liked homeschool because it was easy, except for math. She also loves sailing. Her favorite place of all is Brazil where she and her family sailed up the great Amazon river, saw pink dolphins beautiful beaches and met many friendly people. At the moment, the two sisters still liveaboard with their parents but have settled in Grenada where the parents now work. The girls go to the local public school. “My favorite subject is science, because I love to do experiments, said Zoe. I don’t like math. I also like history, I have always been fascinated with past events.”

Нина и Зое

Нина и Зое

Raphael 13 and Xavier 11 from Quebec, Canada, S/V Rêve d’Océan

Raphael and his brother Xavier study using the French homeschool program CNED (Centre national d’enseignement à distance) which is a public program of the Ministry of Education in France. But it is also an expensive program, unless it is subsidized by the government, for which there are certain conditions.

Рафаел и Ксавие

Рафаел и Ксавие

The boys prefer this way of studying better than going to school because, they say, it takes less time to do their school work. Raphael’s favorite subject is math and French is his least favorite subject. The brothers usually start school at 9 a.m. and are done by 11:30 a.m. every day from Monday to Friday.

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In their blog you can read (in French) more about how the kids (and their mother) adapted to homeschooling on the boat and how they successfully finished their first year of homeschool. To read click here.

Megan 12 and Mathew 14 from Canada, S/V Amelie 4

Меган

Меган

Megan is learning with the help of her mother ( a teacher) 3 hours a day, 5 days a week using a private Canadian homeschooling program The Phoenix Foundation Calgary which also follows the official Canadian curriculum. And she is doing fantastic. Before moving on the boat, Megan used to go to a regular school in Canada for 6 years. “I prefer homeschool because it allows me to concentrate better. I love the most science. I like to do experiments and to understand how everything works. It’s fascinating. I don’t like history.”, she says. But on the boat something unexpected always happens and sometimes it is hard to keep a strict timetable. Mathew who is autistic also does school work aboard- speech therapy and other. For him life at sea is true happiness, as he adores water.

Меган и Матю

Меган и Матю

In their blog you can find more information on homeschool aboard as well s the travel journal written by 12-years-old Megan. To read click here.

Mika 9, Gor 6 1/2 and Arbel 4 from Israel, S/V Del Max

The three kids traveling aboard S/V Del Max since one year and a half follow the school system and use the manuals sent to them by their aunt from Israel. Before the boat Mika and Gor went to school in Boston, USA where the family used to live for 5 years. The kids now can read and write both in English and Hebrew, and as soon as they return to Israel in a few months they will continue their studies in a public school.

Мика, Гор и Арбел учат с помощта на майка си на борда на катамарана Дел Макс

Мика, Гор и Арбел учат с помощта на майка си на борда на катамарана Дел Макс

One of their favorite educational resources is the website XtraMath.org. Mika loves to read, especially the Bible, which is written in a more difficult to read and understand archaic language, so it took her some time to get used to it. Gor likes to do math on his i-pad. The little Arbel also has his educational books and games, where he learns to read and do math. At age 4 he already knows by heart most of the flags of the world, especially the ones of the countries he has been to.

4-годишният Арбел знае на изуст флаговете на повечето държави по света.

4-годишният Арбел знае на изуст флаговете на повечето държави по света.

 

Maya 10 and Tyler 8 from USA, S/V Four Coconuts

Maya and Tyler are homeschoold for over one year now. Before that they were in a public school in America. They are also using CALVERT, and will e using it for two more years before moving back on land. Maya’s favorite subject is literature, she loves to read and write, and Tyler likes geography and his Gods of Greece books. Both hate math.

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“We’re going on our 3rd week now and I’m happy to say we’re between 2-3 hours/day of formal work. The neat part is incorporating our current location into the curriculum.  Example: For art this morning, I gave Tyler the option of 1) studying the postcard provided by our homeschooling program or 2) going to art galleries to study the work in person.  I was blown away when we went to the gallery and he sat down to study a sculpture book for 20 minutes without me suggesting it.” ,wrote their father.

Тайлър

Тайлър

You can read more on how the parents and the kids got used to this new way of schooling aboard the boat in their blog. To read click here.

 

We also met cruising families who didn’t use any particular system of education, but had their own methods.

Момичетата от катамарани Discovery и Day Dreamer

Момичетата от катамарани Discovery и Day Dreamer

 

Kate 14, Jack 6, JC 11, Jenna 8 from Canada, M/V Discovery

The four Alonso kids travel with their parents since one year and a half now aboard Discovery. They don’t use any particular program. Instead, they organize their own school materials according to each kid’s interests. “I like homeschooling a lot more. I have many homeschooled friends and we motivate each other. I like the fact that I can organize my time better.” said Kate. He favorite subject is music. She can play the piano, ukelele, clarinet and oboe, and she can also compose her own music. She has many music theory books and her cabin looks like an orchestra. She also like math. She doesn’t like to write.

Кейт учи с майка си  Автор на снимката- Джон Алонсо

Кейт учи с майка си
Автор на снимката- Джон Алонсо

“The kids were all in the public school system until we moved on the boat. The plan had been 1 year out, but we decided pretty quickly that we wanted to stay out multiple years. Not sure what that means. We are on our second year and depending on which family member you ask, we have 2-6 years left.

When we go back, my expectation is that they will go back to school, particularly the older ones for high school. However, depending on if I am working or not, I may keep the younger ones home schooling until high school

I don’t follow a set curriculum. I use a variety of methods and curriculum for each of them. Some subjects, particularly geography, history and science, we try to study together where it works. They are at unique levels for math and literature/ writing.

If we stay out 2 more years, Kate would do 11th and 12th grade back in the U.S. If we stay out longer, she graduates from boat school. I am actually planning her classes and studies for that possibility.

For the record, boat schooling all 4 kids, levels ranging from kindergarten to high school, is the hardest thing I’ve done. But wouldn’t trade it.”-shared Cate, Jack, JC and Jenna’s mother.

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Ted 12 and Robert 9 from Ireland, S/V Millport II

The boys follow loosely the United Kingdom curriculum, because it is easy to find information about it online. They try to cover mostly the requirements for math and English for each year. “If they show an interest in something outside of that we will focus on that instead for a week or two. An example would be when we had to dismantle and service our wind generator, then we spent a lot of time on how it works and followed it with other sources of power- good and bad. “, their mother explained.

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Ted, Robert and their dad doing some school work

Maxim-Émanuelle 14 and Tristan 12 from Canada, S/V La Jeannoise

Maxim-Émanuelle also prefer homeschool because it saves her time and it allows her to learn at her pace. She does school 7 days a week 3 hours a day. Her favorite subject is science. She loves chemistry- theory and practice. She also loves to write and translate. Maxim-Émanuelle is fluent in both English and French. Her hardest subject is math. ” I don’t follow any program. We bought manuals and books in Canada and I read them. I learn more on the boat than in school, especially in science. The boat is my main school instrument for learning.”, she said.

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The books I am using are the ones referred by teachers I met before leaving and/or books I found interesting when visiting libraries. I use as well the curriculum of my province which is Ontario, Canada to guide me and to ensure my kids are getting the same kind of knowledge they would get in a regular school as they must fit in the school system next September. I downloaded the documents available on the Ministry of Education’s website, at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca.I focus on math, French, English, science and history plus we do various projects on subject of interest to the kids. We are using encyclopedias we have aboard and internet is an illimited access of information. The kids also play music seriously. Tristan plays guitar and Maxim-Émanuelle plays piano.

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You can read more about this family’s sailing adventures in their blog (in french) which also has excellent photos. To read click here.

In Canada homeschooling requires that the student takes exams every two years in primary school and every year in secondary school in order to get a diploma. Also every province has different rules. But if a child it traveling outside of the country’s territory and skips a few years of school without doing any exams or even without following any particular program like in the case of Maxim-Émanuelle and Tristan, as well as all the other Canadian kids, Maya including, this child can return to school as soon as it is back in Canada and will be placed in the class level corresponding to his/her age without exams. (This also happens with the immigrant children from other countries even if they don’t speak English or French. They are placed in the class of their age group and quickly catch up.) The teachers then carefully observe the child and after the first semester, if the returning student is lacking any knowledge, he/she might be obligated to take an extra class, math for example.

Emma 15, Anna 13 and Sarah 11 from Alaska, S/V Day Dreamer

The girls from S/V Day Dreamer have never been in a public school, even though they used to live on land. Their parents’ convictions against the school system and the system in general are quite radical. They share the opinion that going to school and spending a large part of each day with only their peer group doesn’t represent the real world and, for many, may not be the best environment for learning. They don’t follow any particular program. The girls’ mother searches for school materials, much of which she finds online, that cover basic subjects but also hold an interest for her children.  Starting in the 9th year, she keeps track of high school grades in a document that is considered an official transcript in many American colleges. This way the girls will have the option of taking the GED and continuing their studies in college without a traditional diploma.  Most American colleges accept such students (98%), even give them priorities, as they are the ones who can think outside of the box and can bring cultural diversity to the campus.

According to the American Council on Education, the organization that represents and coordinates all types of higher education institutions in the U.S., a whopping 98% of all colleges and universities recognize and accept the GED in regards to their prospective students’ credentials.’ Source – www.examtoolkits.com/GED/college_ged.html

Unlike some countries (like France), the USA doesn’t actually have an ‘official curriculum’.

In Alaska, homeschoolers as young as 15 can begin supplementing their homeschool education with college classes so that by the time they graduate, they’ll be well on their way toward a college degree. ‘According to the American Council on Education, the organization that represents and coordinates all types of higher education institutions in the U.S., a whopping 98% of all colleges and universities recognize and accept the GED in regards to their prospective students’ credentials.‘ Source – www.examtoolkits.com/GED/college_ged.html

Ема, Анна и Сара

Emma, Anna, Sarah

“We have a certain amount of school work per day. As soon as we are done with school we can play. It can take us 2 hours or 5 hours.”, said Anna. She loves art and literature. Her favorite book is Lord of the Ring. “After 4 years on the boat I miss the snow and the ice…I’d like to go to college and to study either art or law. I love to argue and dad says I am good at it.” she adds.

Her sister, Sara, loves foreign languages and music. She is learning German and some boat kids taught her to play the ukelele.  She’s saxophone-sitting for a friend so started to play it too. She doesn’t like math or science, but has fun doing experiments.

Emma likes homeschooling on a boat because she can do lessons in the morning and go hang out with her friends nearly every afternoon.  She’s taught herself piano, ukelele and flute.  If they move back to land, she would like to take the opportunity to try high school.  She thrives around people and, because of her wide-range of training and experiences so far, her family thinks she’ll likely flourish in that environment.

Julia 13 and Carlos 11 from Germany and New Zealand, S/V Cool Change

Julia and Carlos do math, writing, reading and everything else following very loosely the American system CALVERT, using some of the books as well as other materials which their mother finds on line. She is convinced that the kids have to study only the things they are interested in, without pressure and at their own pace, no matter what level they are supposed to be in.

Юлия и Карлос

Julia and Carlos

“Whatever it is that draws you to homeschooling, I believe you have to keep one thing in mind, you as a teaching parent have to be conscious, disciplined and committed until your child is ready to take on this role and see it as their own responsibility. I want to teach my children that they learn every day, all day and see life itself as the school. Everyone is a teacher to us and if we can embrace each situation with our heart, challenges will turn into opportunities. There will be no mistakes only stepping stones on this journey to our own deeper understanding and living of life. The changes we want to see in this world we have to start in our own heart and home.”, says there mother

For more details on homeschooling aboard Cool Change you can read the following article on their blog. To read click here.

Maya’s Boat School Method

After over a year outside of the school system and after I spoke with these and many more kids and their parents, after our long conversations aboard S/V Day Dreamer and S/V Cool Change, and after I found the blog of Yacht Mollymawk where I read the most inspiring articles on boat-schooling and education in general, I finally understood which type of education would be best for Maya and for our convictions, worldviews and way of life.

Like many other kids, we decided that Maya will be learning the things she is interested in and things related to the geographic region we are at the time, as well as related to our way of life and the world around us, plus math. I organized a personal school program using free web sites and materials. The subjects are divided in: math, literature (reading and writing), Spanish language, and encyclopedia. After some time Maya can take exams in order to obtain a diploma  for the level she has reached in order for her to continue her studies in college if this is what she wants to do. But we still don’t know in which country she will do the exams; this also can be her choice.

Мая

Мая

Math

Math is not Maya’s favorite subject but this doesn’t mean that she is not doing great in math. Just sometimes it is hard to convince her to open the manual. The manual is a thick book for fifth grade we found in a book store in Trinidad. It is divided in sections and covers a lot of material which Maya will probably cover in two years. The sections include explanations, exercises and tests.

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Sometimes we do “fun math” organizing games and crafts or other fun activities. For example, when she was learning how to find the surface of rectangles I made up an activity where she had to first to find the surfaces of a few different rectangles using the formula and then to draw and cut the rectangles out of color papers. Then she made envelops and they all fit inside one another. She loved this activity and kept calculating and making envelops for days.

Sometimes when the material is more difficult she refuses to do math for a few days and then we slowly resume it 10-15 minutes per day, until the difficult becomes easy. The most important thing is not to hate the subject.

Мая учи на брега близо до котвеното в Чагарамас, Тринидад

Мая учи на брега близо до котвеното в Чагарамас, Тринидад

Literature

Maya writes and reads in English. For her writing theory we use another manual we found in the same book store in Trinidad, which I like because it teaches how to make sentences, paragraphs and various types of texts with examples and exercises.

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Maya likes to write compositions. Depending on the lesson she will write a paragraph or a text on a subject she chooses or from a choice of subjects I give her. Sometimes she will write about a place we have visited or an event. Sometimes she will transform an existing text or summarize the book she has just finished reading. Her favorite author is Road Dahl, who wrote Charlie and Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and others. She also likes her Geronimo Stilton collection of books (French and English).

When we get to a new anchorage we always visit the marina and check the book exchange. This is an awesome tradition- cruisers leave the books they have read and take books they haven’t. Thus we find some very nice reads and we don’t need to buy books.

Maya even wrote an article which got published in Caribbean Compass titled My School is Not a Building.

Мая се гордее с нейната статия във вестник Карибски Компас

Мая се гордее с нейната статия във вестник Карибски Компас

Spanish Language

The other subject we chose is Spanish Language, because we are sailing in a region with many Spanish-speaking peoples. Maya already speaks English, French and Bulgarian. So Spanish is the next logical one. We have so far visited Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and we are heading to Central and South America. In Guatemala Maya went to a local school for to months and in a very short time she got the bases for the language. Now we are continuing by reading short stories which I find on line as well as articles from news papers and magazines, or books. We recently found a manual history for fifth grade in the Salvation Army store in Puerto Rico for 50 cents- just in time when we were working on a project about the Mayan Civilization.

Учебник по история за пети клас в Пуерто Рико (на испански)

Учебник по история за пети клас в Пуерто Рико (на испански)

I can help Maya with Spanish because I am pretty fluent, after doing a minor in Spanish in Concordia University in Montreal. I don’t make her study grammar for now. We just read short texts in Spanish and slowly translate them and take out some of the new words. And the lessons are necessarily done on the boat. Once we were in a store and while Ivo was looking at boat parts we read an article in the local paper (this was in Puerto Rico) and took out the new words. But the best part is, that she has the opportunity to learn the language in a country where it is spoken. She can here it on the street, on the radio in the bus, she can read the signs in the stores and on the food packaging.

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Encyclopedia

And the last subject is Encyclopedia. We called it like this, because we are mainly using a big illustrated children’s encyclopedia we found discarded in Vancouver years ago. We divided this subject in History, Geography and Science. History is Maya’s favorite subject.

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She chooses the topic which interests her provided it is connected to the region we are in or to something that relates to our life. We started with Canadian history and Geography and continued with the Caribbean region, where we are right now. We have visited the Yucatan peninsula, the Mayan ruins of Tulum and Guatemala- the country with the largest percentage of Mayan descendants, so Maya started a project on the Mayan Civilization. She chose it mostly, because of the name, of course. We read and make plans of the lessons from an internet site which I find an invaluable free resource for primary school ducksters.com.

Плановете на уроци за цивилизацията на Маите

Плановете на уроци за цивилизацията на Маите

In science we have covered  oceans and seas, climate and meteorology, wind, clouds and air pressure- all things related to sailing. As a project she did an experiment- taking the readings for air pressure and temperature as well as the atmospheric conditions and observations in a table during one week, and then write the conclusions from her observations.

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In Barbados we visited two caves. Back on the boat we read the lesson on caves and were able to relate the information with the observations. In the Grenadines we swam with turtles. Back on the boat Julia brought a small book about ea turtles and the two girls read it and made a plan and a list of all the facts. In Montserrat, Martinique and Guadeloue we visited volcanoes; in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, St Kitts and Cuba we visited colonial sites, forts and museums. Everywhere we go we go hiking in the forests and up the mountains, we visit galleries and museums, we snorkel in the reefs. These are the best lessons the kids can get. Maya is learning about different cultures, about their customs, music, food by visiting those cultures and experiencing them and she complements this new knowledge with reading about their history. The fat that we are meeting lots of people also plays a positive role for Maya’s education and for ours too. Every new person shares with us new information and new knowledge. Yes, the world is one big school and everyone in it is a teacher. The more we travel, the more people we meet, the more we learn. Even though Maya doesn’t learn the same things as the kids in schools, she learns things that she is interested in and she will not forget them.

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The traveling kids not only learn a lot about the world first hand, they also learn to care about this world. Children growing up on boats whose everyday life depends on the weather forecast, whose home (the boat) is moving thanks to the wind and is producing its own solar power, where freshwater is a precious commodity to be preserved and the garbage disposal is a complicated process, where space is limited and therefor consumerism is limited, these kids are a lot more informed and conscious about the environment and conservation.

Мая и Юлия

Мая и Юлия

Finally, the cruising boat-schooled kids acquire the values and worldviews of their parents, not of some random people in schools. Unfortunately, the parents of today are forced to abandon their kids in the schools in order to go to work and the time they spend with them is minimal. Being able to teach your own child should be every parent’s priority and it should be a pleasure.

Мира в ролята на учителка и Мая в ролята на ученичка

Мира в ролята на учителка и Мая в ролята на ученичка

Viktor has always been with us, no matter the hardships, and even though the time came for him to choose his own path, he left with a baggage of knowledge and ideas inherited by us, knowledge, ideas and convictions we keep teaching to Maya: to respect people and treat everyone equally, regardless of their race, religion or nationality; to preserve the environment; to respect all living creatures; to conserve the natural resources no matter the circumstances; to be content with little; to recycle as much as possible, including clothes and furniture; not to become slaves working for others in the system; to be independent and not to expect help from anyone- to follow their dreams and to realize them with their own efforts and capacity. 

Безплатна йога за деца живеещи на лодки в Гренада- вместо физическо

Безплатна йога за деца живеещи на лодки в Гренада- вместо физическо

Мая и Зои си организираха самички урок по изобразително изкуство

Мая и Зои си организираха самички урок по изобразително изкуство

Мая с приятелки в Антигуа

Мая с приятелки в Антигуа

Клуб на младият читател организиран от майките на децата в Гренада

Клуб на младият читател организиран от майките на децата в Гренада

Нойял, София и Мая в народни носии по време на националният празник на Гватемала

Нойял, София и Мая в народни носии по време на националният празник на Гватемала

Урок на тема "Изкуството и околната среда"

Урок на тема “Изкуството и околната среда”

Мая учи на кея в Тринидад

Мая учи на кея в Тринидад

List of Cruising Families Blogs

Not all cruising families write blogs.

Here are published the blogs of the cruising families we have met and interviewed, as well as blogs of families with boat-schooled children who we haven’t met yet. Links will be added continuously. If you are a cruising family with boat-schooled children, please contact me if you want your blog to be added to the list.

Yacht Mollymawk (most favorite ever)

Sailing Amélie

Sailing adventures on Cool Change 47

Marsden Family’s Great Adventure

La Jeannoise-Fr

Rêve d’Océan- Fr

Sailing Totem

Homeschool Ahoy

Нина, яхта Иза

Нина, яхта Иза

Free On Line Resources for Homeschooling

Here we will be adding free on line resources for homeschooling. If you want to share your experience with homeschooling and add a ling to the list, please contact me in the comments here or on our Facebook page The Life Nomadik.

studdyladder.com

ducksters.com

math-drills.com

homeschoolmath.net

commoncoresheets.com

superteacherworksheets.com

sciencekids.co.nz

famouspeoplelesson.com

discovery-education.com

mathisfun.com

xtramath.org

ontario education

 

 Thank you, to all kids and parents who helped me with this article!

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The Monkey Island

The Monkey Island

by Mira Nencheva

We humans, despite history, despite nature, despite consciousness, keep doing strange things in the name of science and in the name of humanity.

Mother and baby Rhesus macaques Майка и бебе резуз макак

Mother and baby Rhesus macaques
Майка и бебе резуз макак

There is an island we found 12 miles southwest of Fajardo- a small island barely 600 by 400 meters in territory, flat on the north side with a steep rocky hill to the southwest rising form the sea, reaching 35 m. The island is forested and uninhabited, except for the population of a few hundred iguanas (an invasive species from South America) and over 1000 Rhesus macaque monkeys (also non-native species) found nowhere else in Puerto Rico or the rest of the Caribbean islands.

Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico Кайо Сантиаго, Пуерто Рико

Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico
Кайо Сантиаго, Пуерто Рико

Monkeys! How cool, we thought. But this is not a tourist attraction, and even thought the place is not exactly a secret, it is off limits to visitors. “Violator will be prosecuted” – signs warn. This probably explains why we were the only boat and the only people around.

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We heard the monkeys’ chatter from the forest as soon as we pulled in the anchorage behind the island, and decided to pay them a short visit with our kayak, getting near to the shores and paddling along the shallows on the lee side without entering the island. We got near a small sandy beach and cautiously looked for the monkeys in the shadows of the thin forest. We waited. Soon a couple of monkeys appeared and sat on the ground in the distance glancing at us expressionless every now and then. A few minutes later, macaques of all ages and sizes started to appear from every direction, walking on all fours on the ground, jumping from tree to tree, and emitting shrill calls without any apparent reason. We found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of monkeys, sitting on the grown and in the branches of the trees.

Rhesus Macaques резус макаци

Rhesus Macaques
резус макаци

Rhesus macaques are medium in size greyish, brownish r yellowish in color with short tails and red faces, native to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and southern China. They are the primates occupying the widest geographic ranges and the greatest diversity of climates and altitudes throughout Central, South, and Southeast Asia beside humans, surviving in arid open areas, thriving in grasslands, woodlands, and even in high mountains up to 2 500 m in elevation. They are also easy to keep in captivity. Frequently reproducing and multiplying in numbers, they are the opposite of an ‘endangered species’, considered pests, like rats, in urban areas in Asia where they go to look for handouts and leftovers from people, often steeling not only food but everything they find interesting.

A young male macaque млад мъжки макак

A young male macaque
млад мъжки макак

Their abundance, resilience, easy upkeep in captivity, as well as the fact that macaques and humans are very close anatomically and physiologically sharing about 93% of their DNA sequence and common ancestor (25 million years ago), made them very popular to science.

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“Rhesus macaques have been used extensively in medical and biological research on human and animal health-related topics. It has given its name to the rhesus factor, one of the elements of a person’s blood group, by the discoverers of the factor, Karl Landsteiner and Alexander Wiener. The rhesus macaque was also used in the well-known experiments on maternal deprivation carried out in the 1950s by controversial comparative psychologist Harry Harlow. Other medical breakthroughs facilitated by the use of the rhesus macaque include: development of the rabies, smallpox, and polio vaccines; creation of drugs to manage HIV/AIDS; understanding of the female reproductive cycle and development of the embryo and the propagation of embryonic stem cells.” (from Wikipedia)

Monkeys with numbers and letters Маймунки с цифри и букви на гърдите

Monkeys with numbers and letters
Маймунки с цифри и букви на гърдите

Macaques have been launched in space both by NASA in 1950s and 1960s, and by the Russian space program in 1997, and became the first cloned primate in 1994. In 2001 the first transgenic primate carrying foreign genes from a jellyfish making him to glow in the dark was also created- the baby macaque ANDi (for ‘inserted DNA’ spelled backwards).

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For the scientific studies and experiments conducted on U.S. territory many monkeys imported from India have been “used”, as well as monkeys from the colony conveniently located on the small island of Cayo Santiago, off Puerto Rico (an unincorporated state of the Unites States of America), where a group of 409 monkeys were imported and released in 1938 (the dawn of World War II, when many small islands around Puerto Rico’s main island were used for military training and other military activities). Today the colony is over 1000 free-ranging individuals, all born on the island. In charge of the colony is the University of Puerto Rico Caribbean Primate Research Center studying the animals’ natural behavior. These monkeys also supply the scientific need for experiments of the National Institutes of Health, Yale University, The University of Chicago, and Harvard University.

Mother and baby майка с бебе

Mother and baby
майка с бебе

The question whether or not animals should be used for scientific research has been a controversial one in recent years. Some argue that for the purposes of medical advancement it is the right thing to do. Animals can be sacrificed for the good of humanity. Let thousands of monkeys get infected with diseases, studied and sacrificed if only one human life can be saved. This human life could be your child.

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If everyone agrees that we can dissect frogs in schools in order to learn, and use lab rats for experiments, than what’s the difference? Macaques are just like rats, just another animal species in plentiful supply. But they are not rats, you might argue, nor farm animals “produced” for the meat industry. They are wild animals who remind us of us.

Rhesus Macaque резус макак

Rhesus Macaque
резус макак

Those who defend animal rights would tell you that it is inhumane, even ungodly to use and kill another living creature for whatever purposes. Most of the scientific research done on animals is pointless anyway (they say), because of the physiological difference between human and animal. No matter how similar we might be to the primates, it’s a fact that different species have different reactions to viruses and disease. For example rhesus macaques carry the Herpes B virus which does not typically harm the monkey but is very dangerous and deadly to humans. So what is the point then to try and work out a vaccine for example, that will be effective for the monkeys, but ineffective for the humans?

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The macaques we observed from a distance on Cayo Santiago were cautious but friendly with us, obviously accustomed to humans who come by boat on daily basis to feed them. They just sat around and waited, but we never got in contact with them or fed them. Some ate leaves and bark from the branches they were sitting on, some got nervous and quarreled briefly, which made everyone exited and agitated, running, jumping around and screaming, but a few moments later, they were calm again, going about their usual monkey business. Mothers were hugging babies, couples were having brief romantic moments, elders were scolding the young.

Awimboe-awimboe Ауимбое-ауимбое

Awimbawe-awimbawe
Ауимбое-ауимбое

Their yellow-green eyes and solemn red faces appeared sad to us, but this was an illusion. We humans like to humanize animals and describe them in human terms. For example dolphins in captivity, who in reality may suffer, appear smiling to us, so we smile back and swim with them and kiss them. These monkeys, on the other hand, who appear sad to us (because we know their faith), are surely happy in reality. Unaware of their purpose, they are thriving: roaming free on their small island, which is their familiar home of many generations, a home devoid of predators, where food is not a problem, and the climate and the habitat are just perfection. They are unaware of the rest of the world beyond this island, of their roots, of true freedom and independence, of true wilderness, of India. For them there is no other option (as for most of us, who, even if aware, accept the present system, the imposed social structure and hierarchy, conditions and laws, and live “free” all our lives on our small islands of fake comforts and false purposes, owned and ruled like slaves by others, while the experiment goes on).

 

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Neptune, Thank You For The Fish !

After three weeks in Fajardo the time came to sail west. We set sail for Ponce, only about 60 miles away. The east winds behind us at about 20 knots, Fata Morgana was doing 7-8 knots, sometimes even 9, surfing down the waves.

Slowly, a black cloud appeared behind us and started catching up on us. The wind died briefly before the squall hit- rain and wind over 30 knots. The sails were wing-on-wing and Ivo decided that we wouldn’t reef in advance. And just when the wind started whizzing, a fish took the lure. Ivo started bringing in the fish, so Maya an me had to reef the sails and to keep the boat close to the wind at about 2 knots speed. A bit of panic aboard, and screaming at each other, the normal stuff…

Ivo bringing in a fish. Иво вади риба.

Ivo bringing in a fish.
Иво вади риба.

The fish took out half the line and it took Ivo an eternity to bring it in. Heavy. This is a good sign. And even before it was close we could tell what kind of fish it was by the red fins and tail- Mahogany Snapper- our favorite- white juicy flesh.

Ivo the fisherman Иво е голям рибач...

Ivo the fisherman
Иво е голям рибач…

The squall passed, the rain stopped, only the sea continued to be nervous for a few more minutes, after the weather was calm again, yet Ivo was still busy with the fishing rod. Finally, he brought in the fish-exhausted, bloody, almost dead from the long battle (the fish, not Ivo). Maya brought the hook and the medical alcohol we use as anesthetic for the fish. The anesthetic we put in their gills, they calm down, fall asleep and never wake up…

Mira also wanted a picture with the fish Мира също искаше да се снима с рибата...

Mira also wanted a picture with the fish
Мира също искаше да се снима с рибата…

All this happened about 200 meters from Cayo Santiago, also known as Isla de los Monos (The MOnkey Island), where we decided to stop for a day or two. We cleared the reef, furled the sails and dropped the hook.

Ivo fileting the fish Иво филира рибока

Ivo fileting the fish
Иво филира рибока

It was almost noon. Time for lunch. We had a big fish to fry. Ivo took care of it. A lonely dolphin who greeted us in the anchorage and a flock of about 6 frigatebirds shared the skin, guts, head and bones. We only kept the juicy filets.

 A frigatebird Фрегата


A frigatebird
Фрегата

During the course of the past one year and a half we caught about 10-12 of these snappers around Cuba, Mexico, The Bahamas and Puerto Rico and we tried different recipes: we barbequed them, we baked them in the oven with tomatoes and onions, we fried them. But we found that the tastiest is when I bread it with eggs and flower, served with white rice or mashed potatoes and cold beer. Even Maya who is very pretentious for food and usually doesn’t eat fish likes it this way and eats quite a bit (without beer). It became a tradition- every time we catch snapper I bread it. The other types of fish I prepare differently.

Snapper filets Филе от снапър

Snapper filets
Филе от снапър

Thus, we never know what will be the menu aboard Fata Morgana. Maybe breaded snapper, or sashimi, or mahi-mahi on the BBQ..? Whatever the Crazy One would spare. And we are always grateful to Him, provided it is NOT an ugly barracuda.

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Ivo enjoying the gifts of the sea

Neptune, thank you for the fish!

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Pig Roast and Bachata in Guavate

Another epic St Valentine’s weekend.

Beautiful Perto Rican girl dancing Bachata

Beautiful Puertorican girl dancing Bachata

There is a unique place in Puerto Rico and probably in the entire world named Guavate, a small mountain village where every Sunday a great crowd gathers. As early as 11 a.m. people from all corners of the island start to arrive blocking the road. Traffic, cars, people, musing booming, even in rainy weather. If you by any chance find yourself there, you might wonder what is this madness about? The answer is: it’s about the pigs.

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But we didn’t get there by chance. Our cruising friends whom we met for the first time in Ponce 6 months ago brought us here. “Would you like to experience some local culture: authentic music and food?”, wrote to us Greg and Michele, who have spent lots of time in Puerto Rico and know very well where, when, and what is happening. Of course we would like it! Sunday around noon they picked us up with a rental car at the ferry pier in Fajardo and after an hour and half long drive we got to Guavate, not far from Carite Forest Reserve.

Traffic, people, madness in Guavate

Traffic, people, madness in Guavate

Since forever the locals come to Guavate to feast on traditional pig roast. On both sides of the street there are dozens of small restaurants Lechoneras, where piglets are being roasted slowly on Sundays. In the two biggest restaurants El Rancho Nuevo  (The New Ranch) and El Rancho Original (The Original Ranch) there is a large dancing space where people dance under the sounds of merengue, salsa and bachata. The live music is deafening, there is no breaks. This is the spot where Anthony Bourdain, of No Reservations and Andrew Zimmern from Bizzare Foods on the TravelChannel came to sample the best of Puerto Rico.

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The Puertorican people like to organize family activities in the weekends. Everywhere on the island on beaches, parks and in restaurants they celebrate the end of the week without any other special occasion. The parties always include lots of food, drinks, loud music and dancing all day and all night. But in Guavate the situation is out of control.

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Bachata

We arrived around 2 p.m. It was raining, but no one seemed to notice. The roadside restaurants were already packed with people, 99% locals. We took our spots on a long line for food. While we were waiting, we watched a pig slowly getting roasted. Maya was appalled. “I saw a pig, half pig (the butt half) and I felt vegetarian. So I pretty much just ate a little portion of rice.”

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Besides pork, we had choice of many traditional Puertorican side dishes: juicy boiled yucca with a hint of garlic, yellow sweep potatoes, creamy and not too sweet, two types of fried plantains, yellow rice with black beans, blood sausages, and more. Everything was delicious and the price per portion was 8-9 US$, which included 3-4 side dishes and a beer. For 27 US$ we stuffed ourselves and we had one portion left for dinner (Maya’s portion).

We got a few Styrofoam boxes loaded with food and we made our own portions at the table.

We got a few Styrofoam boxes loaded with food and we made our own portions at the table.

After we lifted our satisfied faces from the dishes we gave up trying to have a conversation with our friends in the pauses between songs, and the only thing left to do was dancing.

Mira dancing with the local talent. This woman had some heartbreaking rear parts and she was not afraid to use them...

Mira dancing with the local talent. This woman had some heartbreaking rear parts and she was not afraid to use them…

Only Maya didn’t enjoy it. In her composition the next day she wrote:

I myself personally hate crowds and loud music. I felt lost and confused. Everything became a blur. The music was blasting as if I was standing under a rocket launching to space. As Greg said, my teeth started vibrating. A lot of people were dancing and so would I if the music was my type. I felt like shooting myself. But I liked the fact that normal people could have fun once in a while. I also liked the nice long car ride with a purple Gatorade in the middle, and the conversations we had with Greg and Michele. Amazing people.

Greg, Michele, Ivo and Maya at the table in Guavate

Greg, Michele, Ivo and Maya at the table in Guavate

But if you ask me, I would stay in Guavate and dance until the last song… For me this was the most authentic, the most fun, awesome experience in Puerto Rico. If you prefer to mix with the locals and not to see any other tourists, if the Latin American rhythms make your blood boil, if you like pork roast and are curious to try traditional local delicacies at very low prices, and if you have only one day to visit the island, you must choose Sunday (even if it’s raining) and go to Guavate.

Live music and dances in Guavate

Live music and dances in Guavate

 Michele and Mira dancing

Michele and Mira dancing

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How We Got Our New Kayak

Some time ago I wrote about the advantages of the simple kayak, explaining that the kayak for us is not just for fun or for sport, but it is also a clean, silent, shallow-drought alternative to the dinghy, capable even of pulling the catamaran, when needed.

Everyone loves the kayak

Everyone loves the kayak

When our 15-years-old kayak Agent Orange cracked because of the UV damage and old age, it became clear that we needed a new kayak. Just then the guys from KayakShop.BG decided to give us a kayak! We started selling this new kayak which was in Bulgaria, in order to be able to buy one here in Puerto Rico with the money from the sale (because to send a kayak by mail is a bit complicated).

Only a few days later, someone bought the kayak! So now we got a new one- Agent Orange Junior.

Ivo and Junior

Ivo and Junior

A random guy we met on the street helped us to bring the new kayak from the shop 10km away on top of his old car for $20

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But the not-so-random guy who bought the kayak back in Bulgaria turned out to be a legend, holding a world record for moto-paraplannerism.

photo: DeltaClub.bg

photo: DeltaClub.bg

There are many articles and TV shows featuring Venelin Staikov and his sky adventures.

Copyright: Ognyan Stefanov

Copyright: Ognyan Stefanov

But this is not all. Venelin Staikov is also an engineer and the owner of a company Solar Home distributing solar installations for hoes and businesses in Bulgaria. His own house is off the grid using entirely solar energy.

Here is what you may read on Solar Home website:

We are a young company, established in 2012, that specializes in design, construction, and maintenance of photovoltaic systems. We partner with leading international suppliers of equipment, that make no compromise with the quality of modules, inverters, and components. Our photovoltaic systems ensure a reliable electricity production for over 25 years with minimal maintenance.
Photovoltaic energy is already a cost-effective alternative to traditional energy sources, leaving a negligible environmental footprint. Staking on it, you effectively minimize your electricity expenses, besides helping protect the environment.
In Solar Home Engineering, our goal is to provide innovative energy solutions for households and entrepreneurs. We work to ensure the profitability of your investments and therefore our priority is to be flexible in pricing to both corporate and end customers. Considering the needs, budget and requirements of each client, we prepare and execute the optimal project, providing the desired results.
Due to the depletion of fossil fuels globally, the price of electricity from conventional sources is trending upward. On the other hand, photovoltaic energy is getting increasingly used, finding its wider application in households and industry, while its price steadily decreases.
Our team is available to answer all your questions and provide additional information. Contact us to get the most efficient and effective option prepared according to your specific needs.
We are a young company, established in 2012, that specializes in design, construction, and maintenance of photovoltaic systems. We partner with leading international suppliers of equipment, that make no compromise with the quality of modules, inverters, and components. Our photovoltaic systems ensure a reliable electricity production for over 25 years with minimal maintenance.
Photovoltaic energy is already a cost-effective alternative to traditional energy sources, leaving a negligible environmental footprint. Staking on it, you effectively minimize your electricity expenses, besides helping protect the environment.
In Solar Home Engineering, our goal is to provide innovative energy solutions for households and entrepreneurs. We work to ensure the profitability of your investments and therefore our priority is to be flexible in pricing to both corporate and end customers. Considering the needs, budget and requirements of each client, we prepare and execute the optimal project, providing the desired results.
Due to the depletion of fossil fuels globally, the price of electricity from conventional sources is trending upward. On the other hand, photovoltaic energy is getting increasingly used, finding its wider application in households and industry, while its price steadily decreases.
Our team is available to answer all your questions and provide additional information. Contact us to get the most efficient and effective option prepared according to your specific needs.
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Thus, we got our new kayak, we met a legendary person who also shares our passion for solar energy and we made  friends with the guys at KayakShop.BG, without whom none of this would happen.

KayakShop.BG

KayakShop.BG

Thank you once again Velin Kerimov, Ivan Ivanov and Peter “The Vision” at KayakShop.BG!

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Kayak Expedition to Rio Fajardo

The anchorage in Fajardo on the east side of Puerto Rico is situated inside a river delta. Today for the first time we went on a short river expedition with our NEW kayak- stronger, bigger, lighter.

F01

After only about 10 minutes of paddling we entered the river Rio Fajardo, which flows slowly on the edge of a small fishermen village.

F02

Sudden cries of herons and panicking waterhens disturbed the stillness of this place. A fisherman was fishing.

F03

Huge green iguanas lurked in the branches of trees hanging over the river.

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A heron who thought himself very beautiful was admiring his own reflection in the brown river waters.

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But what we liked the most was the cleanness of this place- not a single piece of garbage floating on the surface of the river or stuck in the grass near the shores, even thought the river passes through a residential area.

F06

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Father Jerome’s Via Dolorosa

Giving Back

As travelers we are fortunate enough to be able to learn about foreign cultures, geographies, and histories, to visit the most beautiful natural sites and tourist attractions, to enjoy local arts, foods and entertainments, to meet many interesting people, and generally to have lots of fun and good time everywhere we go. But I started asking myself how can we give back to a place we are visiting, a place we are taking so much from? Is spending money (for food, transportation, accommodation, and other necessities) enough to support local economies and to make us, travelers, feel we are not exploiting a place and its people? And what if we don’t spend much money for anything when we travel, as in our case? We live on a boat always anchored out for free, don’t use fuel as we sail using the wind, we have solar panels to produce electricity and a watermaker to produce freshwater. We do our washing by hand, we fish a lot and make our own food with products we bought back form the US or the cheapest local ones, and we don’t need any new cloths, cell phones, furniture, cars. Well, there are many different ways to get involve and give back to places and peoples. Each one of us can figure such ways according to what is needed and what we are able to do. We figured, helping local people and cleaning polluted places is the best way to give back. Thus, everywhere we go we offer our help.

Father Jerome’s Via Dolorosa

DSC_9890

We are travelers. The World is our address; the Sea our permanent residency. ‘Our Home is where the Boat is’, a sign hangs in the galley of our catamaran. We don’t spend much time in one place: we sail farther. We are driven by a need like an unquenchable thirst, like a curse, to find out what lies beyond the horizon. Yet, sometimes we pause. Sometimes we climb a ridge and look from the top of a mountain to see where we have come from and where we are going.

The distance between Little San Salvador and Cat Island is 34 nautical miles. We sail all day. It’s already dark when we drop anchor in the vast anchorage on the west lee side of the island.

The next day we grab a bottle of water and take to the hills. As we climb the 206-foot tall Mount Alvernia on Cat Island, the highest land elevation in all of the 700 Bahamian islands, I tell this story to my children:

Once upon a time there was an old hermit, a most unusual man, who lived alone in a stone home he built atop a hill. You might imagine that he was a very small man, maybe a midget, about four feet tall, for his house, which still crowns the hill, is so tiny. Everything in it: his sleeping quarters furnished with nothing but a simple plank bed taking up most of the space, the cloister with only three miniature columns leading to a guestroom where no more than one or two guests could fit, the little bell tower, and the chapel with its single pew where one must bend in order to fit through the door, resemble a child-size castle on top of a tiny mountain where a tiny person dwelled. But you know what? The resident of this place was in fact a very tall person, slender, with white beard and sad eyes, wearing a grey robe with a hood. Why do you suppose he built for himself such a small dwelling?

We keep going. It is a short but steep trek to the peak of Mount Alvernia. Visitors from all over the world come here not only to climb the Everest of the Bahamas, but also as a pilgrimage to Father Jerome’s final masterpiece: the Hermitage which he designed and built singlehandedly and where he spent the last 17 years of his life in solitude, as a poor person dedicated to seeking God through prayer, charity, and seclusion from society.

 

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Born John Cyril Hawes in 1876 in England, he studied architecture and theology. At age 21 he was already a practicing building designer. At age 27 he became an Anglican priest. In 1909 John Hawes joined a mission in the Bahamas to restore local churches damaged by a great hurricane. After repairing various churches and building a few new ones, the architect-priest left the Bahamas and didn’t return until 1939, almost thirty years later. During that time he traveled to the United States where he converted to Roman Catholicism, then spent a few years as a homeless person and a wanderer traveling across North America by foot and even working as a laborer on the Canadian Pacific Railways, and then he sailed to Rome and was ordained a priest after two years of studies at The Beda College. He was then commissioned to go to Australia both as an outback missionary and a cathedral architect. He spent many years in Western Australia designing and building various churches, cathedrals, and chapels. In 1937, as recognition for his important work as a missionary priest and church builder, he received the papal title, monsignor. When he came back to Cat Island in the Bahamas he was an old man of 63. Everyone called him Father Jerome.

We reach the summit. The view from the top is spectacular. We see the entire Cat Island below: an evergreen scrubby mass of low tropical vegetation with small colorful houses strewn along the west coast bathed in crystal sunlight. The placid emerald-green waters of the sea to the west are calm and warm, home of coral gardens and fish. The roaring Atlantic to the east stretching all the way to Africa is deep, purple, mysterious. Up here the wind which never rests carries the songs of insects and birds, and the muffled prayers of an old hermit. Up here, inside the one-man monastery with its massive medieval-looking stone walls, we, atheists, feel the presence of the old hermit: a sudden nostalgic sensation of profound spirituality and awe.

Hermitage on Mount Alvernia

Hermitage on Mount Alvernia

The grey stones of the walls constructed over the limestone dome of the hill following its curves in perfect harmony with the natural surroundings, and the white cupolas bright in the sun against the blue sky are perfect as a renaissance painting. Except for the cone-shaped dome of the belltower which is broken and crooked, a huge gash like a wound gaping on one side.

 

Kirk Burrows

Kirk Burrows

“What happened?” I ask a man mixing cement on the grass in front of the hermitage, rocks, sand, buckets, and instruments scattered about. Another man is working up on the tower.

“A lightning strike it. There is a metal bell inside, so the lightning come and BAM, strike it! About a month ago. Worst damage ever since the hermitage was built”, he explains.

Cedric Wilson, a building contractor with over 45 years of experience specializing in church restoration, and Kirk Burrows, both Cat Islanders, are commissioned by the local Catholic Church to repair the damaged belltower.

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We offer to help and they gladly accept.

“You see, we have to bring everything up here by hand, there is no other way”, Cedric explains.

Cedric Wilson

Cedric Wilson

We begin working the next day. A fellow sailor, Ben Rusi, also joins our little brigade.

Every morning for about a week, we walk from the anchorage to the foot of Mount Alvernia where we find construction materials waiting for us to be hauled up. As we walk the narrow steep rocky path carrying buckets of sand and water, wooden planks and iron rods, I can’t help thinking of Father Jerome building the hermitage all by himself, stone by stone.

Kirk and Ivo mixing cement.

Kirk and Ivo mixing cement.

There, all along the path from the foot to the top of the hill, set among shadowy trees, he has placed large concrete bas-reliefs representing various Stations of the Cross, imaging Jesus carrying his cross on the way to his crucifixion along the Via Dolorosa: the Way of Suffering. The analogy is inevitable: Jesus struggling with the cross, Father Jerome building the hermitage, Cedric and Kirk fixing it, and now us too being part of it.

Ivo along "the Path of Suffering"

Ivo along “the Path of Suffering”

After a few days, the belltower is fixed, and we celebrate with a small picnic on the terrace of a closed-down restaurant on the beach. Cedric brings tomatoes from his garden, homemade citrus juice, and a big pot of thick chicken and potato soup his wife cooked for us. The bread I made in the morning is on us. The chicken soup is hot and rich and so tasty, it enters our list of Best Foods we Ever Had. We enjoy the food and the stories Cedric and Kirk share with us in the orange-and-blue afternoon on the beach.

At the end, the reward we receive for our hard labors, for our time spent helping those in need, is the ultimate one: it is the feeling of moral uplifting and spiritual inspiration achievable only through acts of selflessness and charity. It is the lesson that Father Jerome and his humble yet charming last dwelling taught our children: to enjoy life one doesn’t need a big house but a big heart.

Through our efforts to help repair the belltower we became forever connected to Father Jerome and his Hermitage, to the past and the present of Mount Alvernia, to the people of Cat Island, and to the history of the Bahamas.

Cat Islanders who told us stories and facts about Father Jerome

Deacon Andrew Burrows

One Saturday night last December there was a big storm. When the lightning hit, everything went black. The lights went down. The next day we found out that the belltower got struck. It is an act of Nature. It is also a wake-up call. Everyone uses the Hermitage, we have pictures of the Hermitage printed on Cat Island brochures to attract tourists. The Hermitage as a cultural and historical heritage is a resource we are using, but nobody maintains it. Yes, the lightning can be interpreted as a wake up call, to bring attention.

He had a bell placed at the bottom of the hill. When people needed him they rang the bell and he would come down. He gave clothes, food, helped everyone as much as possible. People came to him from Monday to Friday when they needed him. He preached the gospel but would help everyone regardless of their religion.

Father Jerome died on a June 26th. I was born June 26th.

Deaco Burrows in front of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church designed and built by Father Jerome.

Deaco Burrows in front of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church designed and built by Father Jerome.

Poompey

We have more churches than people in this town. Everyone wants to build their own church. Father Jerome built 5 churches on Cat Island and Long Island alone. But the Hermitage is where he lived for 17 years and he is buried up there too.

Poompey

Poompey

Paula Thurston

My mother, Katleen Thurston, used to take care of Father Jerome. She used to clean and cook and wash clothes for him. She was about thirty then, married, but she couldn’t have children. One day father Jerome put his hand on her shoulder and talked to her in Latin and blessed her. And told her, you will have a daughter. And that was me. I was blessed by Father Jerome. My mother didn’t have anymore children.

One morning, after it rained all night, my mother found him lying on the ground there. He fell down and hurt himself. It’s very steep and the rocks get slippery after rain. She found him and called people from the village and they called the C-plane. and they took him to Nassau, to the hospital. He returned after that but was not the same man. He died shortly after this incident.

Gladys McKenzie

I don’t know how old I am, I don’t remember. But I remember Father Jerome. Sure, I remember him. He was a nice man. He is buried under a rock in the ground, right there up on the hill. When he died I was a young woman. We all went to the funeral. Now everyone comes here and takes my picture, because I remember him. (She loughs.)

Gladys McKenzie, around 90-years-old

Gladys McKenzie, around 90-years-old

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We ♥ Sushi

On the way to Puerto Rico…

Ivo caught a fish Иво хванал риба

Ivo caught a fish

Mira prepared it with curry

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A few hours later….

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Ivo caught a fish Иво хванал риба

Ivo caught another fish, same as the first one

And Mira made some Japanese improvisations…

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Do you know any good recipes for this kind of dark-red-meat fish (Little Tuni)? Please, share them with us!

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 Fish aftermath

Fish aftermath

 

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