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Zatara

Zatara

WORLD FAMOUS SAILING FAMILY DOCKS ON THE GOLD COAST

Renee Whitaker interview by Andy Kancachian

In 2016, a regular-everyday family living a conventional life with four kids, realised they were totally fatigued with working life in America. They also recognised the effects it was having on the parents’ marriage and their kids. So, they saved some money, sold their suburban Texas home  , told their extended families and friends that they were leaving, then bought a sailing boat to sail around the world, regardless of having no prior sailing experience.

Since the beginning of this wild and unrehearsed adventure, they have now sailed over 30,000 nautical miles: the first year in a monohull (Beneteau 55’), and the rest in a catamaran (Privilege 585), named The Zatara, which is a Spanish word that means “raft” or “driftwood”. It was also the nickname Edmund Dantes was given in the 2002 movie, The Count of Monte Cristo.

The family are now famous and share their adventures on a hugely popular YouTube channel.

Their ambition is to continue the circumnavigation, hopefully completing it before all the kids leave the boat, and they are stuck to figure out how to manage as empty-nesters!

Keith is the family leader and the captain of the ship, and Renee is the mom, the homeschooling teacher, and the recorder of all memories. Here, Renee shares her intimate answers to our nosey questions.

WHY HAVE YOU DECIDED TO HEAD TO AUSTRALIA?

With COVID locking down most of the world, we did our best to navigate to some new places in 2020. The only countries open after the mass outbreak of the virus was Fiji; they opened up just for yachties, so we went there in July. After enjoying several months of Fiji, we only had two nearby choices to escape cyclone season: New Zealand or Australia. New Zealand was still closed due to COVID. However, Australia opened up for yachties for safe haven; so here we are!

IS THIS YOUR FIRST TIME TO VISIT AUSTRALIA?

No. We sailed to Australia in 2017 in our monohull, where we sold the boat. We then flew to Europe to buy our catamaran (boat #2). When we were here last, we took a two-week road trip around Australia and saw Sydney, Ayers Rock, and Brisbane. It was fantastic!

DO YOU PLAN TO WEIGH-IN ON THE DEBATE STARTED BY LA VAGABOND ABOUT COMFORT VS. PERFORMANCE OF A CATAMARAN, WHILE SAILING OFFSHORE?

Funny you should mention this, because we just uploaded a video on this very topic. In that video, Keith compares the performance of an Outremer 51 – the boat our friends are on making the crossing from Fiji to Australia with us – and the comfort of our Privilege 585. Not to give spoilers, but the performance of our expedition catamaran is almost as good as the Outremer, and we have more room for toys and kids!

DO YOU HAVE A LIST OF IMPORTANT FEATURES A SAILING BOAT MUST HAVE, IF THE BUYER INTENDS TO SAIL ON A LONG VOYAGE WITH FAMILY?

One of the most important things we need as cruisers is a fast and durable dinghy; one that can fit our large family plus tons of dive gear or kiting gear. Other important items are a reliable water maker, dual generators for redundancy, and a satellite phone and other trustworthy communication equipment.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE BOAT WORKS, AND WHAT WORK DO YOU INTEND TO CARRY OUT?

Before we arrived in Australia, Keith contacted several boatyards to find the best deal and the best facilities. The Boat Works had it all! We plan to get lithium ion batteries installed and hopefully new engines.

FOR YOUR KIDS, WHAT ARE THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECTS OF SAILING AROUND THE WORLD?

They would say the most challenging aspects are maintaining privacy and leaving friends (land friends or boat friends). They discussed it in Episode 117 of our YouTube channel, SAIL-A-BRATION! Birthdays on the Boat!

WHAT ARE THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECTS OF SAILING AROUND THE WORLD WITH YOUR KIDS?

I’d definitely say schooling. We’ve always homeschooled our kids, even before sailing, but they would also be involved in many other co-op groups and extracurricular. But on the boat, it’s just an hour or two of bookwork (or computer work) and then the rest of their education comes from diving, snorkelling, hiking, interaction with other boat kids or folks on shore, etc. I am very passionate about education and I often worry that I am doing an injustice to my kids by not allowing them the lifestyle a “normal” kid would get. Our oldest, Anna, now 19, spent her four years of high school on the boat, and was pretty much self-directed when it comes to her schooling, and is now a successful college student and enjoying a life on land. She has no regrets or resentments to us for the way we raised her. So that helps to ease my mind when I fear I am not doing right by my kids!

FINAL MESSAGES?

Regardless of the many friends and family members that will tell you all the reasons why you SHOULDN’T set sail, I’m here to tell you that the rewards of a cruising lifestyle far outweigh the risks you’ll face. Our family is much closer since we moved onto a boat. My kids are unbelievably competent when it comes to managing the boat on long passages: they each have a three-hour night shift that they are responsible for; and they all get equally excited to pull into a new island and learn the layout, find good kiting spots, and check out the hiking and diving spots.

It’s not our goal in the videos to be politically correct or make every viewer happy; nor is it to flaunt our obviously gorgeous and toned figures (not!).

We want to share honestly what we are experiencing on this adventure and how we are evolving as a family. We simply hope you laugh, learn, ponder, and get inspired. We are a family-friendly channel, and all our videos will be basically rated PG, so you can feel confident sharing them with your friends and your grandma!

For more info, go check out our weekly vlogs here:

www.youtube.com/SailingZatara