30 liveaboard lessons from my first 6 months at sea.

Hello friends!

My husband is crazy. He is also the Captain of SV Theros. Being stuck on a boat with a crazy person, miles offshore sounds insane. And it is. Totally.

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My husband Brett

But the thing is we are alike in many ways. We clicked straight away when we met at a bus stop in London. Brett made me feel ‘normal’. Our mutual thirst for travel and adventure, our innate, never-ending curiosity about the incredible world we live in and a desire to co-create dreams clinched it really. Plus he is a great guy. Brett’s prenuptial invitation to sail around the world with him for as long as we were able was beyond my wildest dreams. So what could a girl do other than accept?

On 3rd July 2016, we married in the cockpit of Theros in Ganges Harbour, on Salt Spring Island and then embarked on a sailing adventure along the Inside Passage of British Columbia for our honeymoon. By the way, Theros is our GibSea 42 ft solent-rigged ketch.

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Brett and I getting married in the cockpit of Theros

Now, I have sailed before. I learned dinghy sailing at a university sailing club and some years later became a crew member on the Lord Nelson for the Jubilee Sailing Trust on the first leg of the European Tall Ships race.

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Aft Starboard watch, Lord Nelson, Jubilee Sailing Trust

Learning to sail Theros though was an all-together different kettle of fish. Theros and I had to get to know each other. A year of hard work to prepare for our big trip followed and by 1st August 2017, we were as ready as we could ever be and set sail from Ganges Harbour to Victoria and beyond.

In the last six months, we have sailed approximately 5,000 nautical miles along the Pacific Coast of Canada, the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama and crossed through the Panama Canal.

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Panama Canal Crossing, the most recent leg of our round-the-world voyage

Today, I’m writing this missive from our cockpit in hot and humid Panama. I thought it about time I shared with you my 30 liveaboard lessons from my first six months at sea in case they are of interest or useful to you.

Here they are in no particular order of importance:

1. Sea-sickness really sucks but you can get over it

I’ve been seasick before while sailing on the Lord Nelson but I knocked it on the head in three days. In contrast, I was seasick for two months on this trip (probably exacerbated by an inner-ear infection). There were days when I felt all wrung out like a wet rag and I had lost a lot of weight.

I tried all sorts of things – Queazy bands on my wrists, upgraded to the watch that emits electrical impulses to my pressure points, I took natural ginger sea sickness pills and made copious amounts of ginger tea, tried visualisation and just willed it away, while hanging over the rails. I can’t therefore directly attribute any one thing to sending my sea-sickness overboard but it went. Finally. What a relief! I am living proof that sea-sickness eventually disappears. You just have to ride it out.

2. Defining roles is important

Defining roles each of you intends to fulfil onboard goes without saying but I don’t mean those kinds of roles here e.g. Captain, First Mate, Galley Slave and Chief Bottlewasher etc. No, I mean you may need to re-define your own personal role that distinguishes you at sea from the one or several roles you performed before you went to sea.

Before I met my husband, I was a humanitarian aid worker and worked full time for a range of organisations over the years in different countries and at home in the UK. Since I went to sea, I have transitioned away from frontline humanitarian aid work to serving others in a different way – as an intuitive healer, freelance writer and partner in all sorts of co-creative shenanigans! For me, it has been very important to find my own position on this compass called life.

3. There’s no such word as can’t!

My husband taught me this. I can’t deny that I found the prospect of an indefinite round the world voyage incredibly daunting and I often announced to the Captain “I can’t do that…” if there was a task that I didn’t feel ready to tackle. In addition, there were people in my circle of friends or who we met en route who would say “You can’t do that, you can’t go all the way there by Christmas” or “I’m afraid for you”.

With Brett’s patience and encouragement along with that of other fellow seasoned boaters, I found that I could indeed carry out the tasks set before me. The important things I learned through this were perseverance – giving it a go nonetheless, asking questions if I didn’t understand something or reading up on it and of course, watching the Captain and other boaters too.

Gradually I overcame self-imposed limitations and avoided taking on naysayers’ fears as well. Let’s face it there are plenty out there, so it is best to disconnect from any negative soundtracks that may be stuck in a loop inside your head.

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At the helm on the way to San Francisco

4. Share space well

An extrovert and an introvert spending 24/7 together in a confined space have revealed to us that how we share space is vitally important. I’m the introvert! We’ll come on to sharing shifts in a moment, but suffice to say, if I found myself with some downtime then I pottered over to a spot on the boat where I could just be, whether I wanted to grab a quick nap in our cabin or to sit on the bow (conditions permitting) to watch the dolphins play. We have realised that giving each other some personal space now and again can be enriching for Captain and crew alike.

5. Find a natural rhythm of sharing shifts

Some sailors prefer to stick to a regimented routine of shifts, such as three hours on, three hours off. Brett and I have not stuck to a rigid timetable. Sometimes we have both been in the cockpit for a night sail in rough conditions and ‘cat-napped’ in turns, in between helming or being on anchor watch.

On other days, we’ve each been on watch for a few hours at a time, one on the helm and another grabbing some sleep, or doing odd jobs about the boat or taking some time to be creative. We have found an intuitive and natural way to share shifts. It has all depended on the sailing conditions, the tasks at hand and how we have felt at the time.

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Here’s the Captain learning Spanish in the cockpit

6. Be practical with storage

As I have, no doubt you will go through endless rounds of packing and unpacking of sail and cockpit lockers and shelves, cabinets and trunks to find what you want, when you want it. This is how life aboard is.

Thankfully the Captain of SV Theros is also a great carpenter! Brett has built in plenty of cupboards, shelves, under seat/bed units for storage and there is even an ‘almost-walk-in wardrobe’ in our master cabin.

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Our almost-walk-in wardrobe in teak and ash

My task has been to help organise what goes where so we have a system and can find or stow things easily and quickly. For example, the water maker was a perfect fit underneath our long side bench in the main cabin and adjacent under seat units contain the spare parts and filters for the water maker and odd bits and bobs for plumbing.

Two underseat trunks, also in the main cabin, contain our dry goods (e.g. tinned and packet food). There’s a cupboard for duct and marine tape and sealant, a second for Sailright sewing kit and materials, another for courtesy flags, one for our printer and paper, another for electrical gadgets and computer stuff and so on.

We like using plastic clip-top boxes to store all sorts of things from dry foods and frozen foods to nuts and bolts, and screw-top plastic tubs for an assortment of screws and nails, which stow away in a shelf in the ‘tool room’ (read ‘man cave’) in the little cubby behind the head and shower room.

7. Time and distance seem to expand on the ocean

When we set off on 1st August 2017, Brett and I had sketched out an outline route and schedule. We aimed to reach Halifax, Nova Scotia by mid-July 2018 to attend Brett’s son’s wedding and then cross the Atlantic after that. An intermediate goal was to reach Panama City by 15th January 2018 so that we could go through the canal with friends, who arranged to fly down from the USA. This marked the half-way point.

However, sailing 5000 nautical miles is a bloody long way! I have learned the importance of not underestimating the distance and time it can take to get from A to B. Always allow yourselves enough time to reach somewhere taking into account likely changeable weather conditions and our maximum hull speed (not the 8 knots you do in a race!).

Thankfully, despite hitting a few rough weather and sea patches between Mexico and Panama, we made it to Panama City a day ahead of schedule! But we know we still have a hell of a long way to go to reach Halifax!

8. Anchorage vs dockage – there’s choice but sometimes no choice

When we first started out, I was a bit nervous about being on the hook and preferred the apparent safety and security of being at a slip in a marina. However, as time has gone on I prefer quiet anchorages to being at a dock.

For me, marinas can feel claustrophobic in contrast to a natural cove or sheltered bay. Sometimes there will be no choice though, you might have to come into a dock to clear into a country or to re-fuel or re-provision or deal with a problem. Or you might have to quickly come in closer to shore and find a bay to drop the hook to get out of strong winds.

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Theros at anchor in Catalina Harbour, Santa Catalina Island

9. Going back to the ‘old ways’ can be very satisfying

Since the captain blew up the microwave, ding meals have been a thing of the past. Cooking from scratch, even catching our own food and helping Brett to make things for the boat such as our wooden cabinets, doors and wardrobe and sewing curtains has been incredibly satisfying.

I have discovered much joy in seeing something tangible take shape by my own hands and co-creating things of utility and beauty with my husband.

10. Sailing strips back life to simple pleasures

Stepping off the hamster wheel of the rat race back home (sorry for confusing rodents), means no longer ‘working for the man’ and co-creating our own way in the world instead. There is a rhythm to daily life aboard that harks back to a bygone era, when humans were naturally more nomadic and carried everything with them from one place to another. There were simple routines for collecting food and water, preparing meals, being focussed on some form of daily work and periods of rest.

Life as a liveaboard is uncomplicated most of the time (unless facing a storm). Gone is the need to accumulate lots of material wealth and stuff or to strive to be ‘successful’, for we have everything we need onboard and we now take pleasure in the simple things in life. The sunrise that greets us in the morning, the breathtaking scenery that we can explore from the sea, being outdoors close to nature, making music and so on.

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Just another Tequila sunrise…

11. Detaching and detoxing are beneficial side effects

Being at sea for days and nights on end has several beneficial side effects, not least detaching and detoxing from electronic devices, toxic mainstream news and the demands of social media. This is bliss! It is quite a shock to step back on land to notice how so many people are glued to their smartphones and tablets.

Don’t get me wrong, both Brett and I do enjoy making time to connect with our good friends and family, whenever we have access to wifi or a mobile phone connection. However, one thing I have noticed about my own behaviour is that I don’t tend to spend so much time hooked on social media or reading the news headlines as I did when I was at home in the UK and I feel happier because of this change in habit.

12. Sailing improves health and fitness

I can honestly tell you that I am fitter, healthier and all-together happier as a liveaboard. Brett and I consciously changed our diet from a predominantly meat based one in the UK to fish, fruit and veggies, less cow-milk based dairy products (we prefer nut milk) and I’ve nearly kicked the ‘white death’ for good (white sugar).

I move more on a boat. The movement of Theros means to stay balanced on board, I am exercising different muscle groups all the time. Winching and hauling lines has increased my upper body strength. I have noticed changes in my physical body – I have lost lots of weight, toned up and have more energy. Also being out in the sunshine and on the ocean brings a much-needed boost to my overall mental health and wellbeing.

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Sailing past El Salvador, thanks to Justyna Sobesto for the photo

13. Being at sea unlocks creative flow

There is something about the energy that emanates from the sea and the myriad of changing colours and moods of the natural marine environment that has unlocked my creative flow. When I’m sailing ideas and words come to me and I must jot them down.

For our first year wedding anniversary, I bought Brett an Adlard and Cole log book for our voyage and Brett gave me a gorgeous journal. I use this often to record my observations of our journey and to note down poems. Sea Goddess is a poem that revealed itself to me, while we sailed down the Pacific Coast of the USA and Mexico.

14. Increased respect for nature and the elements

Ever since I can remember I have been a nature lover, and so is Brett. Being immersed in the marine environment and seeing at first hand a vast array of species is both a privilege and a daily wonder. The ocean and elements are all-powerful.

 

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Brett & I picking up our conservation passes in Ensenada, Mexico

 

All this reminds me of our interconnectedness with our natural world and how vulnerable we are in the grand scheme of creation. Therefore, I have an ever-increasing respect for biodiversity and forces of nature.

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A whale off Point Sur, California

15. Be mindful of the resources you use

I mentioned that sailing strips back life to simple pleasures. Living aboard also shines a light on how much resources we use every day e.g. water, energy and food. Even though Brett and I have a desalinator onboard (our Schenker water maker) and can make our own water, we endeavour to use this sparingly. Likewise, we try not to waste any food and have even caught our own dinner!

When we are ashore for grocery shopping we make an effort to buy fruit and veggies without lots of packaging. However, many supermarkets and grocery stores use too much packaging and it is a constant challenge to minimise the amount of rubbish we bag up to dispose of onshore.

Regarding energy, sadly we are still dependent on diesel when we need to use motor power, but we have installed three solar panels, which serve to recharge our battery bank. One day, Brett and I would like Theros to be totally powered by renewable energy.

16. Clean up where you can

On a related point, it is impossible to avoid the horrific volume of plastic waste, helium balloons and other junk that is dumped in our oceans. It is truly shocking. This makes us so angry! We endeavour to collect what we can on our way to dispose of when we are at a port, but I wonder, even then, whether rubbish is disposed of or destroyed properly, or whether some authorities just load it all up on a ship to dump it at sea!

We have to change how we live and the choices we make. After I read Dame Ellen MacArthur’s autobiography “Taking on the World”, in the first few weeks of this trip, I discovered that her own foundation promotes circular economies, and a circular economy is defined on her site as:

“Looking beyond the current “take, make and dispose” extractive industrial model, the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimising negative impacts. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural and social capital.” 

To learn more about this go to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website.

17. Be true to your own voyage

Observers at a distance, including other cruisers we have met en route, often say “I’ll live vicariously through your adventures” and then proceed to make endless suggestions about where we ‘should’ go and what we ‘should’ do or make ambiguous comments “Are you taking in the scene?” (whatever that means).

Some suggestions might be useful and others not so. Except for taking advice that relates directly to ensuring our safety and security at sea (or on land), I’m less interested in following a whole load of other armchair inputs just to make other people happy. Our voyage and our plans are exactly that – our own and we will remain true to our own voyage. (She said, stepping down from her soapbox).

18. Helping guests to fulfil their dreams is fun

Brett and I have had some opportunities recently to enable guests to realise some of their dreams when they happen to have coincided with our own. For example, we met a lovely young couple – Justyna and Jakob at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, who wanted to go to Nicaragua but didn’t want to go overland, owing to the deteriorating security situation in Honduras. We offered to give them a ride and they came aboard for a three-day sail from Puerto Quetzal to Puesto del Sol. It was a joy to have them aboard and they rolled up their sleeves as crew members. They have a cool website called Slovak a Polka.

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Me, Brett, Jakob and Justyna setting off from Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

More recently our friends Laurie, Richard and Erinn joined us as crew members in Balboa for our crossing through the Panama Canal to Shelter Bay, near Colón. This trip was on their bucket list for a while, so it was fun to make it happen and they were good company as well as great crew members.

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Me, Brett and Laurie. The gals are on stern lines.
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Richard, left and Alain, right are on bow lines
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Erinn helped with lines also and video

With many thanks to Erinn Magee for these Panama Canal photos.

If you have a lifelong dream to sail somewhere, which coincides with a leg on our route around the world, then why not drop us a line and we’ll see if we can make this happen for you.

For updates on where we are, where we are heading and to connect with us you can drop by our website www.therossailingadventure.com or Facebook page www.facebook.com/brettandsarah.

19. There’s always more work to do

Like painting the Forth Bridge, there is always more work to do on the boat and I’ve discovered that it helps to be a jack of all trades. I’m lucky that Brett is a diesel engineer, an electrician, master carpenter and can fibreglass. These are not my fortés. However, I can help bleach and clean a hull, put bottom paint on, sand and finish woodwork, put kiwi grip down, polish stainless steel, sew soft furnishings and generally keep the boat clean and tidy inside and out!

On this trip, we’ve experienced many problems on the way, some of which have required immediate attention and others could wait until we were safely anchored or at a dock. While we waited five weeks for our Raymarine Multi-Function Display to be repaired, we stayed on the hook on Catalina Island.

We were not idle though, between us we gutted and completely refurbished our aft cabin, extended our companionway stairs, made curtains, cut some inspection hatches into the bamboo floor and re-surfaced it at the same time.

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Our aft cabin we refurbished sleeps two people

20. “Blue jobs and pink jobs” don’t exist!

A boater passing through Salt Spring Island a while back said “Oh yeah, we have blue jobs and pink jobs on our sailboat. My husband does the blue jobs and I do the pink jobs”. My initial thought was this point of view was a little bit old-fashioned and not a little sexist.

After that my husband commented to me “Why are there so many blue jobs?” (I said ‘blue’… tut, tut).

On our good ship, we’ve got an egalitarian community going on. It’s all hands above and below decks. If you join us one day, you’ll see and be a part of it!

21. Some cruisers can be a real pain in the arse

Humpf. Where do I start with this one, without it turning into a full-on rant? ‘Sea fleas’ such as noisy jet skiers or gormless paddle boarders, lazily crisscrossing in front of the boat, when we are approaching a marina can be a nuisance. Then there are the party catamarans that blare their music on full blast through the night (please…no more country and western I beg you!).

Not to mention the power boaters who need their generators to make a cup of coffee from morning until midnight or the dude who drops his anchor over our anchor chain and guys who wrongly assume that because I am a woman I am unable to step off our boat safely onto the dock to tie a line on a cleat are some of my pet hates.

I’m sure you have yours too. Each to their own, I guess. These experiences certainly teach tolerance, with many a bit lip. My mantra under these circumstances is “Karma is my friend”.

22. Other cruisers can become your good friends

On the other hand, we’ve met some amazing fellow sailors in the last six months, some of whom have become good friends and we keep in touch via Inreach, Facebook or WhatsApp. Printing some ‘boat cards’ (like business cards) come in handy to share contact details.

It is heartwarming to see and be a part of a community, where sailors help each other out. Brett and I both enjoy finding ways to be of service to others. For example, in Balboa Brett helped a fellow boater, Alain, to sort out his engine and gearbox and I was able to give some reiki treatments to a friend of his.

Following this, Alain and his wife Marie-Joëlle returned the favour by being line handlers on our Panama Canal trip.

23. Be flexible and adaptable to cope with any eventuality

The best-laid plans can go a bit awry when key pieces of kit cease to work and need repairs or when predictive weather programmes prove to be a little bit out! We mustn’t forget that we are at the mercy of mother nature in all her glory, amply portrayed in fierce T-Pec and Papagayo winds or electrical storms off the coast of Costa Rica and Panama.

Waiting for weather windows to open up or for parts to appear by courier mail, means us mariners need to be flexible and adaptable with our schedule. Learning to take the path of least resistance, like the waves in an ebb tide, is a good lesson.

24. Learn to recognise sleep deprivation

Welcome to the wonderful world of sleep deprivation! I used to believe I needed a good eight to nine hours of sleep per night in order to function like a normal human being, (I’m sorry, did I say ‘normal’?). Those days disappeared like Meatloaf’s ‘Bat out of hell’. I do not recall a night on this trip when I’ve achieved a full eight or nine hours of unbroken sleep.

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First Mate grabbing a ‘power nap’. Thanks for the flattering photo Brett!

I don’t know how the Captain does it. He can grab a power nap of no more than 20 minutes and then run around like Tigger on amphetamines. I, on the other hand, feel I need more sleep than the Captain in order to perform at a level one step up from a sloth.

Back home in the UK I never took naps in the daytime. Never. At sea, I have discovered that it is vital I recognise signs of sleep deprivation and grab opportunities to sleep to recharge when off watch, regardless of whether this is in the day or night. Being able to keep alert on a boat is crucial to our safety at sea. 

25. Don’t let arguments fester

This point is related. When I am overtired, I can become irritable and sooner or later I argue with the Captain. Sometimes, when stressed about a problem Brett can snap too. This is entirely natural. We are merely humans. One really important lesson we have both learned is to make amends quickly and not let our arguments fester. There is no point. Sometimes conflict is good for clearing the air but when it is done, it is done.

We are a team and we love each other. We are on a life-changing voyage that is full of adventure and incredible experiences and we have so much to be grateful for in each other and in our magnificent world.

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Having fun in La Antigua, Guatemala

26. Celebrate your achievements

Days at sea can be long and uneventful at times and it can become easy to lose track of the days, weeks and months and to lose sight of everything we have done to achieve our dream. Therefore, it is good to celebrate the ‘milestones’, large and small.

From painting Theros’ bottom and installing a new depth sounder, to completing our first 500 nautical miles, catching our first fish, seeing a sea turtle in the wild, finishing our aft Cabin, crossing a border into the next country and so on. There is always something to acknowledge and celebrate with gratitude.

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Celebrating our first catch – a ‘bonito’ off the coast of Mexico

27. Learn to live the boat

At first, I didn’t get what Brett meant by “You’ve got to learn to live the boat”. I think it is because I spent too much time up in my own head, overthinking while watching the weather vane on the mast turn, “Now if the arrow is pointing there…I must turn the wheel this way”. Alternatively, I would wait for the Captain to instruct me when to unfurl the genoa.

Over the last few months, I have found myself spending less time in my head and more moments responding intuitively to how Theros feels in the wind and on the water. To explain it another way, a liveaboard learns to be in tune with the boat.

As the Captain says “The boat has to become part of you and you have to become part of the boat. You need to feel when the boat isn’t feeling good and know what to do, e.g over-powered, underpowered or doesn’t sound right”.

I was dead chuffed when Brett said to me not so long ago “Well done, you are now living the boat!”

28. Enjoy many spin-off extreme sports

Sailing satisfies the thirst for adventure and leads to all sorts of adventure sports. You may be thinking of scuba diving, swimming with sharks, snorkelling, kayaking, surfing etc. But it also opens up the world to new horizons of lesser-known extreme sports, such as cooking in the galley in a rolling sea, which brings a whole new meaning to ‘on a roll’ (post-Panama Canal crossing on the way to Shelter Bay).

Or how about extreme laundry – hiking miles and miles with a backpack full of a few weeks worth of smelly clothes to find the nearest coin-operated laundromat (Ventura Harbour) or extreme shopping – kayaking 2 km to shore and then walking a few miles to find the nearest shop (Port San Luis).

29. Just add water and have fun!

Swimming while surfing the Pacific waves on New Year’s Day, jumping into a crocodile-infested lake, kayaking through colourful caves and sailing at 8 knots with the wind at our back are just a few of the ways adding water to our lives has created lots of fun!

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Brett enjoying the Pacific surf at Puesto del Sol, Nicaragua on New Year’s Day

30. There is nothing like living aboard

There are so many moments when living aboard has eclipsed my land-based life in days gone by. From watching the stars and wolf moon come out at night, where there is no light pollution to hearing the sounds of the waves lapping against the hull, lulling me to sleep.

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Dolphins playing off the bow of Theros, thanks to Justyna & Jakob for this photo

From feeling the ocean spray on my face in the peak heat of the day to racing pods of dolphins; revelling in the warm tropical rain saturating my skin and experiencing unique sunrises and sunsets with the one I love.

The unfettered freedom of life at sea is unbeatable. Try it.

If you have some unfulfilled sailing dreams, we’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line via the contact page of our website www.therossailingadventure.com or connect with us on our Theros Sailing Adventure Facebook page at www.facebook.com/brettandsarah.

We look forward to welcoming you aboard!

 

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Theros at anchor in Las Hadas, Mexico

 

Right, well I’d best be off now shipmates..the Captain calls.

Peace, love and light,

Sarah xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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