Thirteen years ago, my sister died under brutal and tragic circumstance whilst travelling abroad - this was the catalyst for doing something different with my life.
Twelve years ago, I married my husband, William. We sold a house, bought a boat and travelled under sail across the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and South Pacific Ocean for nearly two years. When William and I travelled under sail 12 years ago I desperately needed some time out from life. Losing my only sibling had shocked me to the core - it was like part of me had died with her; she'd always been there and I just didn't know how to be or who I was, without her.
Thirteen years on there is still a part of me missing. Life doesn't go on as before - it just adapts to new circumstances. The gaping hole in my chest that is my sister's death has not gone away - I have just learnt to live around the periphery of it, hoping desperately that I won't fall in and let it swallow me up...
The first ten years after my sisters' death went in a bit of a blur - I have very little memory of the day I was told she'd died or the following months. I also, due to shock, only have sporadic memory of the time William and I spent travelling.
Three years ago, near the ten year anniversary of my sister's death I suddenly started struggling emotionally, feeling like I was spiralling down into the deep, dark cavity in my chest (most inconvenient when there are three small children at home who need you to be the Mummy they know and love). So, after struggling on for a while, earlier this year I accepted some help from Murdered Abroad - a charity that I'm involved with - in the form of a referral for counselling from Assist Trauma Care. Assist deal specifically with traumatic and complicated death and although I don't feel 'fixed' like I naively thought I might be after counselling, it has taught me to accept what I'm feeling rather than always trying to bury it, to go with it (to a certain extent), and that this too shall pass - meaning tomorrow is another day.
The legacy of my sister's death is that I am left with is an inherent distrust of strangers and new people that I meet. Without necessarily realising, people have to work really quite hard to make it onto my list of the trusted few - especially if my children are in the equation. I always feel like I'm on high alert, unable to switch off and calculating the risks of actions and future actions, subconsciously.
All this is happening whilst on the surface trying to appear perfectly normal. I don't want my children to know that anything is awry, I want them to believe that they are the same as their friends. On the whole I think I succeed with this - I am perhaps a little stricter with their freedoms to do things independently without adult supervision; more cautious than my friends are with their children. But I counteract this with choosing to live in a small, friendly Cornish village, where everyone knows everyone - there are eyes and ears everywhere looking out for the best interest of the village children (not just mine) whether they know it or not.
Given my major anxieties (I had palpitations for a month before we set sail!) about meeting new people, you might think that going travelling is a pretty silly thing to do. But I'm hoping this might reset my trust button. As a by-product, sailing is another way I can control our small world. We are not ashore with loads of other travellers, we are at anchor and we get to invite aboard only those we want to.
I do not want my sister's legacy for her small nieces to be that they are afraid to travel. I do want to teach them to become safe and savvy in their travel and I want them to experience different countries and cultures. Right now, they are small, and we can give them this wonderful experience that will stay with them for a lifetime. Later, when they are old enough to travel without us I will find it hard to let them go. But I will. And I won't let them know that it scares me to let them go. Because I will not let this thing that happened to my sister, be their legacy.
For the past ten years we have been raising our 'crew' - three girls aged 10,7 and 4. Now we want to do something different as a family. We always said that we would love to do some blue water cruising with our own children, having met so many cruising families last time around who were having a great time.
Giving our children time out of the classroom and having the world as their teacher is also very appealing - so much of their young lives are cooped up in four walls at school. This is not a judgement on our tiny village school which is great and everything I want from a village school - it is an expression of my desire for my own children to learn about the world through experience and adventure, for a small part of their education at least. We have been trying to get to this point again ever since we returned from our last trip.
It has taken 12 years to be in the right place at the right time with the right boat. There has been a lot sweat and tears on a very tight budget to make this expedition happen. Normal life has been going on, on the surface - work for William and I, school and pre-school for the kids along with numerous kiddie club commitments - swimming lessons, dinghy sailing club, rowing club, etc., etc. And a lot of frantic kicking under the water to keep our heads afloat from all the jobs - refit the boat (an old Crossbow 40 sailing yacht), declutter the house, find tenants (yes, this means cleaning and tidying it for every viewing), empty the house and finally sign it over to the tenants and lastly both leave work.
William was lucky and has been granted a year's unpaid leave with his job as a professional skipper to come home to. I was not so lucky - working as a physiotherapy technician for the NHS I was not granted unpaid leave, so I resigned; hoping I will find work on the NHS bank staff on my return or maybe something else.
Travel broadens minds, horizons and breaks down social barriers. It is good for my soul and I want to show my children some of the world. The fact that we choose to do this under sail is a bonus - we love sailing as family (William and I met sailing and the kids have been sailing since they were in nappies).
We get to travel the globe under our own steam (or wind!) and that is pretty cool.
By Alyssa Davies