There are special people that redefine the concept of normality. Sometimes a lone individual defies conventions through a unique journey. In this case, it’s an entire family.
The Coconuts are a sailing family of six, Jay, Natasha, Sol, Luna, Caribe e Artico, who sailed for six years in the South America, Caribbean, USA, Northern Europe and now they are enjoying some time in France, working with the professional racing sailors of the Vendee Globe.
During their journey they outgrew their boat with two younger kids so when I talked to them they were renting a house while getting the boat ready for sale and looking for a bigger boat.
The Coconuts are also currently working on a new project called “Racing for Freedom” where they are building a new mini 6.50 prototype to participate in races throughout Europe, UK, the Caribbean and the USA. To look for help funding this campaign they set up a Gofundme page.
Here is what we talked about:
FB Who are the Coconuts? Where does the name come from?
Natasha: the Coconuts are a sailing family of six, Jay, Natasha and 4 children, Sol, Luna, Caribe and Artico. We love the sea, living on a boat, traveling and experiencing other cultures and we love the simplicity of life at sea, to be less of a carbon footprint on Earth. We were sailing through the Caribbean and we had an actual coconut husk placed in the tiller and a coconut tree started to grow. People will ask “what’s that?” and we answered “it’s the compass, wherever the coconut points, we go!”.
The coconut is also a good representation of our racially mixed family. Because Sol y Luna are racially mixed, they are brown and the coconut has a white inside and brown exterior, so the name stuck among our friends.
FB: How did you imagine your sailing life? Is it different from reality?
Jay: I did not really imagined this life growing up. I was sailing before meeting Natasha. Then when I met her she had a lot of thoughts on how her life had changed, and she felt she was ready for something different, when I happened to pass by with my sailboat.
Natasha: For me it was one of those dream that I have always had in my life. One of those top 7 things that I wanted to accomplished in my life was to sail around the world, but because of the turn that my life had taken it was one of those dreams that I had already scratched from that list. Then unexpectedly I met Jay, fell in love and this dream came back into the book of these dreams.
FB: How did you find and purchased your boat?
I had a boat before on which I left California in 2006/2007 and I was pretty young at the time, and my first objective was to sail to Mexico from California, that was the plan. I was always involved in sailing since high school, and my life evolved around sailing.
Now we sail a German Frers prototype from 1982, raced and sailed on the East Coast of USA. When we found Messenger she was completely abandoned, and we fixed it little by little, because our objective was always to keep sailing.
Natasha: Jay had an old Formosa that he sailed down to Costa Rica from California, but we couldn’t live on her during the rainy season because the boat was leaking like crazy and we had to sleep in our foul weather gear. When this boat was about to die and rotted away, we had the opportunity to go and rescue Messenger, that was left abandoned at anchor for 5 years. We picker her up and basically lived for six years full time on the boat. The only inhabitable space was the saloon and we slowly start fixing everything around it, building and painting, and the boat started to be bigger and bigger and then caribe and Artico arrived and it got smaller and smaller.
Jay: It was basically camping-style onboard, we had very little money but we kept sailing and live onboard because we didn’t want to stay put for too long to repair the boat, we wanted to use it.
FB: We What gave you the motivation to keep sailing despite all the difficulties?
Natasha: we didn’t want to be in one place, we wanted to go to the Caribbean, there were many places we wanted to see, we knew we wanted to start a family and it was the beginning of the relationship, alle we wanted was to be together all the time under palm trees, and make love 24/7, exciting times!
FB: How are the job distributed on board?
Natasha: Jay takes care of the boat I take care of the Children. Basically these are the main responsibility and then we help each other around that of course.
Jay: We move a lot, and sometimes it gets crazy, dinghy up dinghy down, anchor up anchor down. Taking care of the boat is a full time job and take care of 4 kids as well. It’s all hands on deck all the time! Messenger is set up for single handing so I can sail it myself, and when I need some sleep all the family come and help me, doing whatever they can so I can get some rest.
Natasha: For examples, when we lift up anchor, Jay is at the bow pulling it by hand and the mainsail is up because we have no engine and I am at the tiller. Then we fall to the wind and everybody in the anchorage is up watching us, two adults and their kids running around on deck.
For the most part Jay sails the boat, and for the first four years we didn’t have an autopilot, so we used sheet-to-tiller when we go upwind but sailing downwind everybody have to get involved. I do the cooking for the most part, but if I don’t feel well then Jay have to sail, cook, clean up. The kids are always helping, pulling lines, when the spinnaker goes up they love it, they help how they can and they are learning a lot.
Jay: We have different motivations as well for going sailing, the girls and Natasha really enjoy constantly moving and they like to see new places, observe the environment and the wildlife. I am kind of the opposite in that way, I don’t care so much where we are going, I enjoy the sailing part, everything from working on the boat to be out fighting with the elements, or making the boat go. We have seen that kids that grow up on the boat on average they grow much more responsible because they have to be involved helping out.
FB: How did you end up sailing to Iceland?
Natasha: We always have a friend that we meet somewhere that influences our decision and our route. We didn’t want to be in the Caribbean anymore and we wanted to come to Europe, the Mecca of professional sailboat racing, but first we had to go up the East Coast of the US to do a refit of our boat and even if we don’t like to live in the US it is a great place to fix a boat up. Eventually we got stuck there for three years. Our plan, like everybody else was to cross the Atlantic, but we were not expecting to go the Iceland route. It happened that we met an Icelander in Panama and he planted the seed in our head saying that if we were to cross the Atlantic, we had to stop in Iceland. After that moment he gave us the “northern sickness” and our compass, our minds and our hearts started to point way North.
Jay: Most of the times our destination is always place that somebody talked us about. We meet people and they start to plant that little seed in our head talking about their homeland or places that they enjoyed. So we end up going to this places.
Natasha: That’s how we picked places all over Northern Europe for example, why we picked Belgium or skipped Denmark. We never met anybody from Denmark.
Jay: There is not too much of a long term plan, it is always a general idea and then we let the adventure steer the boat.
FB: How do you cope with fear and worries when sailing? Is it even a thing for you?
Jay: Yeah, of course.
Natasha: Really? I always see that you are just so confident!
Jay: Well, of course (laughing) but the thing is that the ocean is the ocean and you are on a boat and there are those thoughts on the back of your head that everybody has. Every single sailor, no matter how many miles sailed, they have to think about preparation and worry about particular situations.
At the same time the important thing is that you know 100% what could happen. You understand it in your mind and you are confident in your way to fix or repair or face any type of adversity that comes your way. I think if you have that confidence in your mind you can handle whatever and you will have a safe trip. Of course you try to make sure that your boat is prepared 100% but also you have to know the limits and the weaknesses of your boat. For example, our mast was originally from 1982 and it was lightly built, and it had a little crack and we knew that and we would go through scenarios of what would happen if. Because it could very likely happen.
It is important to look at things realistically as well, the reality of taking a boat across the sea is that most likely the boat is going to survive in one form or the other, it’s almost never that the boat is the one that gives up. Most likely the crew give up because they cannot overcome the situation if you look at Coast Guard reports you could see that many boat are abandoned at sea and they wash up somewhere or keep drifting for years.
When I go across the sea I am aware that some accident may happen, but also I am pretty confident that we can resolve the problem we encounter.
Then when you leave you take a big breath and you go but you know that the things are organized to have a good crossing.
We always knew that if we are in one piece and healthy we would never make a call to be rescued, this is something that we have ingrained in our brains.
FB: And what are the joys of sailing?
Jay: For me the joy of sailing is leaving from point A and arriving at point B and knowing that you have done that at 100% under sail. It is a gratifying experience. You are always talking about the destination and trying to get there and the moment when you are arriving and know that you made it. Unless you are a sailor you can’t understand how happy you can become when you overcome such long distances under sail.
Natasha: I think for Jay a very joyful moment was arriving in NY Harbor. He is from California and has never been to New York City before and arriving under sail and anchoring close to the Statue of Liberty was a really great experience. The same when we arrived in Europe, another place he had never been before.
FB: What was the most surprising place you visited?
Natasha: Sometimes we think we are going to oner place for one week and then go somewhere else for six months. And then we end up staying six month in the first places, and leave the second one because we don’t really like it.
Jay: A good example is when we wanted to go to Cartagena. I worked previously in Bogotà, and I had been to Cartagena, so we thought it would have been a great place to stay for a while and maybe do some work. We went to Bocas del Toro, Panama before planning to stop for a week or so there. They wanted to charge us 300$ to stay for the one week and we were trying to get out of this payment because we always have very little money to budget on. We found a deal and we ended up staying there for 7 months, and later when we arrived in Cartagena we didn’t enjoy it so much.
FB: Caribe and Artico were born in foreign countries, where probably you didn’t have very many ties or relationship. How was the experience and what helps you to feel at home everywhere you go?
Natasha: We always make friends really easily, and we are always interested in submerge ourselves into the culture of the places we sail to. We are always more drawn to make friend with the locals rather than the cruisers, their everyday life the way of living is more interesting of the cruising part. For this reason we always find a way to be welcome to the places we go.
Jay: When we got pregnant with Caribe we were in Panama, I think, so we thought about going to one of the French Islands, and we ended up liking Martinique better. We went to the government office and talking with the lady we mentioned that we wanted to have the baby there, and this older lady she didn’t event bat an eye and she said no problem.
Natasha: In a way we are very autonomous and independent. I had already Sol y Luna naturally, birth wasn’t a new thing for me so I told Jay I am prepared to have the baby unassisted without a professional and you will assist the birth, and he was totally ok and said “of course”. Babies have been born naturally for thousands of years so we felt confident that we have Caribe on the boat. It was just the four us, Sol and Luna were there and we had a medical kit, with everything sterilized.
Jay: It is funny because we had it on Amazon, Emergency Birth Kit. So we had a non-emergency birth with an emergency birth kit.
Natasha: We are like an island, we don’t really need reassurance or any kind of infrastructure, emotional or physical from an outside world
This why we think we will survive if something happens at sea and we think we will make it to land ourselves. In a way we are like this with everything in our life. We just fight for what we believe in and we just do it. Having the children in a foreign place was never an issue, we never thought about going back home to have the baby. Most cruisers would go home to have the babies, we preferred to just have it wherever we are. None of the pregnancy were ever planned so we were in the US when I got pregnant and we left Newport that I was 3 months and arrived in Iceland that I was 7 months pregnant. So the whole time through Nova Scotia and Newfoundland we really took our time to sail and we just go with the flow. We don’t have an itinerary other than the weather.
Artico wasn’t born on the boat because it was too cold. It was March in Iceland, and we lived on the boat all winter but we were trying to find a little cabin or house to escape for a month to have the baby, and again we just met some wonderful, beautiful people, we made family that totally took us in and let us stay in their grandmother’s house who passed away four years ago and was kept the same way as it was when she lived. We spent a month there and we had Artico in the west fjords of Iceland surrounded by snow a beautiful unattended birth, with Ja and the girls and Caribe.
Just for the records it is not that we are these crazy hippies with all the crazy chants. We always had a relationship with a midwife both in Martinique and in Iceland, we always had a Plan B we had a midwife, we had a hospital 20 minutes max away. Everything was in place and I would know if there was an emergency during labor that we had a plan B.
JAY: I think it’s strange but often times when you put yourself out in a position of risking failure, the things seem to fall into place, no matter where you go, so you don’t have to be afraid. In our experience, we have been always able to find people that step in our life, or doors that opens in an helpful way, even if what we were doing could have potentially been a failure, it resolved by itself. That gives you a sort of faith.
FB: What you imagine in the next part of your journey?
Jay: We have many places that we still want to go, destinations we would like to see, so right now we are in the process of selling our boat and find something bigger. I am not entirely sure what that would be, maybe an old racing catamaran from the 90s, maybe 50 to 60 ft, and then basically I would build a living area on it. I like so much an unique type of boat, a simple boat, we need basically a simple boat with more space.
Natasha: Now Sol y Luna, the older ones are getting almost into the teen age years, we really need more square feet to keep them safe and happy.
Jay: We have to think about many different places, we still want to go North, to Greenland, back to Iceland, I really enjoy the winters in these areas, it’s more how the people live their everyday life.
Natasha: I also want to check out the Mediterranean, Greece, but also French Polynesia.
Jay: The world is really big, and that’s the biggest problem!
Here are some links to know a little bit about them: