Most parents with two young children under the age of five would perhaps regard ‘an adventure’ as a trip to a holiday camp chalet or searching for tiny sea creatures in rock pools.
But Jason and Amanda Lawrence decided they would like to go in search of slightly bigger sea creatures. And for more than three years their ‘holiday chalet’ was a rugged trimaran, capable of sailing the seven seas. Jason’s dream had always been to sail around the world. The former diver claims: “I don’t think there is any greater challenge than circumnavigating the globe using nature.”
The voyage of a lifetime was eight years in the making, by which time Jason had married Amanda, and sons Jean-Jacques and Louis had been born. Jason warmed up for the expedition by making a solo trans-Atlantic crossing. He said: “I spent a lot of time on my own; it was quite rough and I was in quite a small boat. It took 24 days to get from the Caribbean to the Azores, and then 12 more days to get to England, including four days in a big storm in Biscay, with waves breaking over the deck. But that was when I decided I wanted to sail around the world.”
He travelled to the United States to buy a suitable boat, and found Pegasus, a catamaran that was in ‘pretty bad condition’. He said: “She had no engines and had been in the boatyard in New Hampshire for seven years. I thought it would take two weeks to put it back together, but it took me a month.”
Jason tested the boat down the east coast of America, and knew it was the one, even though Amanda still hadn’t seen it. Jason picked the boat up from Virginia on February 8, 2008, and headed for Charleston, South Carolina. He explained: “It was very important for me that Amanda and the children had a good experience for the first couple of months of the voyage. They all loved it and we just motored very easily, anchoring and going ashore and just getting the hang of the boat.
“We all got on the boat together on March 8, 2008, and on July 4 Louis was two and Jean-Jacques was just four. We travelled down to Florida and then to the Bahamas where we spent two months, before we decided we needed to leave. So did Amanda and the kids want to fly home, or would we pull up the anchor and just go?”
They sailed back across the Atlantic to England to make a repair on the boat, and prove to themselves that as a family they could do an ocean crossing. That challenge overcome, they set off for the Canaries, and then to the Caribbean, spending Christmas 2008 in Grenada. The adventure continued through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific, so by Christmas 2009 they were in Sydney, and then travelled along South Australia. A year later they were in Thailand, and then we went to the Maldives. At that point Amanda and the kids flew home to England for a month while Jason continued alone through some of the most dangerous waters in the world, known as ‘Pirate Alley’.
Jason reflected: “Earlier in the voyage we found the south side of Australia is an incredibly dangerous part of the world with very angry seas. With 10-metre high waves you don’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were trying to do something special, but it was not a place for young children. There was a great sense of relief getting into Perth.” But Pirate Alley was even worse. He said: “The pirates are villains. I had a dream that we had a pirate attack, and they were holding Louis by the ankles, dunking his head in the water, and asking for our money. When we got to the Maldives we hadn’t made up our mind what to do, but it soon became apparent the pirate action in the Gulf of Arabia was huge.
“I decided I would sail single-handed. I was much better off wrestling with the demons alone. A lot of boats were waiting in the Maldives to do various things. One guy who turned round and went back to Thailand had a pump-action shotgun which he gave me. I had 15 slugs, so I was going to win or lose.
“All the reports I read said that if you shoot at them and they know you are not a soft target they leave you alone. I knew if I was off the boat I was dead, so I might as well shoot it out if I had to. I had a plan that if anyone approached the boat I was going to shoot first and ask questions later.
“Four days out I saw some lights, and there were two boats approaching from behind. I thought ‘this is it’. Then in front of me I saw a big boat coming at me, and when it came closer I realised it was a warship. It parked itself between me and the other two boats, and that was it. I never found out who it was, or what was happening, and I didn’t ask!”
There were a few more hairy moments that Jason encountered – including having a gun pulled on him – before Amanda and the boys rejoined him in Egypt, and they gradually wended their way home, before heading to Grenada to live for a year. Jason then sailed back across the Atlantic arriving home last July. Their expedition as the subject of a Channel Four documentary. It was screened in autumn 2010, and was called ‘My Family’s Crazy Gap Year’.
Amanda reflected: “I think you have to be a capable person. There were times when it was scary and hard. Kids are very adaptable and as long as they are with mummy and daddy it doesn’t matter what they are doing or where they are doing it. They felt safe, secure and comfortable. They actually miss it – they want to be back on the boat.
“But as Louis never remembered living in a house, it is now a novelty for him. They thought it was normal to get up every day and swim with fish – that was reality for them. Home schooling was tough; to get up and teach your own children when the sun is shining and the turtles are swimming close by. What made some places special were the people; it was wonderful when you were bartering in a market with local people.”
Jason added: “Was it a gamble? Life’s a gamble. Life is supposed to be made up of three score years and 10, so it’s up to you what you want to do with it. The door was there, all we had to do was push the handle down, open it and step through, and that door wasn’t going to be there forever.”
The family are even thinking of re-tracing their voyage in 10 or 12 years time. But before that Jason has designs of sailing to Russia and back – a mere drop in the ocean by comparison!