A Cool Change

Ten years ago next December, Susan and Clay Pruitt lost their infant daughter, Lily, the youngest of their three children. Then, with the grief from that loss still throbbing in their minds, Susan was diagnosed with genetic BRCA2 breast cancer, a battle from which she emerged victorious six years ago.   

It’s amazing what happens when mortality rests its hand on your shoulder for that long in that short a span of time. For the Pruitts, having ringside seats to the tenuous fragility of life illuminated things they wanted to do and revved their urgency to get them done. 

“We just had a lot of things that happened to us that really showed life was short and that we needed to make the most of the opportunities that we have and the time that we have with our children and families,” Susan says.  

Determined not to let any more time pass them by, the family set about doing the grand adventures that many people talk about but never actually accomplish. One of the more audacious of these must-dos cast off this month, with the family embarking on a six-month sailing voyage in the Virgin Islands. During that time the family will live on a boat, dropping and pulling anchor as they please.  

“We had been talking about this dream of pulling the boys out of school and homeschooling them and showing them the world. We want to show them there’s more beyond Fort Smith, Arkansas,” Susan says. “We were going to sell everything and live on a boat, but we compromised because that wasn’t everybody’s dream in our family. We said let’s try this for six months and see what this looks like.” 

OK, the elephant in the room – that at first blush this sounds a little nuts, even dangerous – is something even the Pruitts readily acknowledge. But talk with them a while and you find yourself coming around to their way of thinking, particularly considering the couple’s two teenage sons – Denver, age sixteen and Hudson, age thirteen – are soon to be mired in high school activities then moving on with their lives, effectively closing the window of opportunity for such a voyage forever. 

“Our day-in and day-out lifestyle is very busy,” Susan says. “We both work and Clay travels a lot and our kids are busy. We’re not really living. We’re just working. Sometimes I feel that way. 

“Our lifestyles are so crazy busy that I feel like we are missing out on precious moments in life. I also realize my kids are at an age where they will be gone very soon and if I don’t make these memories with them now it probably never will happen.” 

The couple also shares a firm belief that while the boys will be homeschooled while at sea, what they will glean from their books and homework is but a fraction of their overall education. 

“I hope that the voyage builds their confidence to realize that they can do more than they even believe they’re capable of doing,” Clay says. “I hope that it gives them a broader mind for the world and people in general. I hope it makes their heart open to all cultures and lets them see that although where we live is amazing, not everybody lives the way we do and the way we live isn’t always the best way.” 

The family members are by no means landlubbers, having taken sailing vacations for ten years with friends Kevin and Elizabeth King. Among the trips they’ve taken either as a couple or along with the boys are sailing Croatia, the British Virgin Islands, Spanish Virgin Islands, Leeward Islands, Exuma Islands off Nassau the Bahamas and Canada via the San Juan and Orca Islands around Puget Sound.  

Each trip improved their confidence and helped them map out the details of the grand adventure that was to come. The trips also underscored the certifications they needed to make such a voyage possible, of which boat handling was just one part.  

“Being on a boat and sailing it on your own, knowing how to sail the boat, is just a small

portion of what you truly have to know,” Clay said. “You have to be a diesel mechanic. You have to be an electrician. You have to be a plumber. You have to be a weatherman.

“We spent time at Annapolis, Maryland, at the U.S. Boat Show’s Cruisers University and we learned diesel engine repair, electrical repair. We wanted to try to create a toolbelt so if something happens, we’ll be able to have the skillset to fix the things that go wrong.” 

Everyone in the family has a role to play. The boys have plenty of set chores to perform onboard in addition to their schoolwork. Susan also intends to get them involved with service work while on the voyage, calling that another integral part of the kids’ maturation. 

“One of the things we want to do while we travel is find ways that we can also serve the communities that we’re in,” she says. “When we were in Puerto Rico, we were doing hurricane damage relief; in the Exumas they spent time at the sea turtle refuge learning how plastic waste impacts the ocean and can cause harm to wildlife.” 

Susan, who works for Ronald McDonald House Charities, and Clay, who owns his own video production company, CP Pruitt Productions, also plan to chronicle their six months’ worth of adventures on social media. 

“We’re hoping people will be able to follow us on Instagram or YouTube,” Susan said. “A lot of people think that it’s just a big vacation, just fun and relaxing. But as a sailor you know that there’s so much more than that. It will be challenging on our whole family. 

“It will not be easy at all times and I know that is where the anxiety and the fear come into play. But at the same time, I know that it will refine us and make us overall better people after this. And, hopefully a closer family, even though we are already a close family.” 

In truth, the Pruitts really don’t know everything to expect, but just have to trust that they have thought far enough ahead to allow for most contingencies. Their route doesn’t lead them into open blue water for extended periods; instead, most of their sailing will be within easy sight of land. Still, no skipper worth the name can ever take the sea lightly. 

But then, that’s why they call it an adventure. 

“I’m very excited but I’m also very nervous,” Clay said. “You have a lot of questions and scenarios that come into your mind that you wonder, ‘How are we going to deal with this?’ or ‘How are we going to deal with that?’   

“I think just knowing that no matter what comes out of it that this is going to be something that our family will always remember for better or for worse is something. I think it’s something that will change us in one way or another when we return. I hope that spirit of adventure stays with us and we continue to explore the world as we go on and maybe in new ways.” 

Follow the Pruitts on their upcoming adventure via social media.
YOUTUBE:  Tales From A Passport
INSTAGRAM, FACEBOOK:  talesfromapassport
WEBSITE/BLOG:  talesfromapassport.com

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