At first glance, it might not be all that unusual to learn that a couple, both of whom are Farmington natives, have been placed under quarantine with their daughter due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After all, hasn’t everybody and their dog been bored to death while stuck in their homes for weeks trying to “flatten the coronavirus curve?”
What makes this story unique, however, is that Ryan and Jennifer Roberts, along with their 14-year-old daughter Addison, are spending their time in lockdown on board the family sailboat “Dragonfly” while anchored at Megan’s Bay in the beautiful U.S. Virgin Islands.
Things could be a whole lot worse, right? That’s certainly true, and once readers learn the rest of their story, it’s understandable why most will likely feel a bit jealous of this family’s unusual lifestyle.
But first things first…
Ryan and Jennifer were born and raised in Farmington. They graduated from Farmington High School in 1991 and 1992, respectively. Jennifer’s parents, Dr. Doug and Pam Ross, and her sister Julie Powers, still live in town. The young couple ended up taking a different path.
“Jen and I both left Farmington after high school,” Ryan Roberts said. “Jen spent several years in sales and marketing while I spent a career in the Air Force flying F-16s. Together we have a small sales and marketing consulting business and I'm also partners in a small defense contracting company that I manage remotely.”
The couple, who will be celebrating their 19th anniversary in June, “hatched” a plan around 13 years ago that would eventually change their entire lives.
“I had spent some time on somebody else’s sailboat taking it from Florida to Jamaica and came back from that trip and decided that was something I wanted us to do someday while our daughter was still young enough to travel with us,” Roberts said. “So, yeah, we’ve been kind of planning this for a while.”
The family bought the boat two years ago while living in Tampa, Florida. They immediately sold everything they had, moved onto the boat full-time and, according to Roberts, they’ve been living happily on the 46-foot catamaran ever since.
“By sailboat standards there’s plenty of room, by house standards it’s a very small apartment,” he said. “There are three staterooms with three independent heads [toilets]. We have a room, our daughter has a room, and then we have a guest stateroom.”
Roberts explained how the family ended up quarantined in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“This season we were heading down through the Caribbean, which means generally that we were going to try to be in Grenada by sometime in July. The storm season starts getting active in July, so most folks like us try to find someplace a little bit out of the storm belt. We were in the British Virgin Islands in March when this whole thing happened.
“Basically, they wouldn’t extend our visas and so we had to leave. There was no place to go because countries were closing borders everywhere. So, we ended up just moving over to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and we’ve been here ever since. We actually cleared into the U.S. Virgin Islands sometime around five or six weeks ago.
Asked how the family was handling quarantine, Roberts said, “Well, we’re probably doing better than you guys. Life on a boat is semi-quarantined anyway, so it makes all this potentially a little easier for us. We’ve been really lucky here compared to a lot of countries. A lot of places have been very strict with folks on boats, making sure that they are staying on the boat for long periods of time. But we were fortunate.
“We spent the first several weeks quarantined in St. John and most of St. John is a national park. So, we weren’t subject to a lot of the same rules that everybody else was. We were really potentially in one of the best spots we could have possibly been because during the whole quarantine we only had a two-week period where we weren’t allowed on beaches. So, we had two weeks where we could be in the water or on our boat, but we couldn’t go onshore. Other than that, it’s been restrictive like it has been with other folks, but we haven’t been confined just to our boat.
“But then again, we also don’t leave our boat too often. We go to shore when we need to, but there’s not a lot of services open, of course. There are no restaurants that are open. So, we are really fortunate to be on a boat because really at any given time we have months’ worth of storage. We make our own water and we’ve got lots of food storage, so at any given time we’re good for a while anyway. Since we’re already kind of self-sufficient, we don’t have the stress others are experiencing because we don’t have to worry about a lot of where our day-to-day things are coming from.”
Roberts described the area where the family is quarantined as “gorgeous” and added that the lack of tourists makes the whole experience even nicer.
“This is usually by far the busiest time of the year,” he said. “Spring down here is stunning! Water temps are in the 80s, daily temperatures are in the 80s. Right now would be the time when all of these places would be filled with tourists and there’s just nobody. It’s just been us. It’s just been mostly cruisers — people who live on their boat and travel — and that’s what we’ve mostly seen.”
Roberts admitted there has been one area of concern for the family over the past few weeks — finding a place where they can go to wait out the upcoming storm season.
“Typically, you don’t want to be hanging out in the middle of the Caribbean,” he said. “You’d rather be somewhere south where the storms don’t go — in Grenada, Trinidad. Places like that are typical, but they have been closed. There’s only a couple of countries in the entire Caribbean that are just now opening up. Just as of yesterday, Grenada is still not open. Its borders are not open, but they have implemented a plan to allow people who live on boats to clear in. We actually had to register. We had to buy a ticket for a very specific window of time — late June — to try and arrive then. Some of these countries south that I guess expect an influx of boats are trying to accommodate us, so it’s nice that we have a plan. A lot of folks like us gave up early a few weeks ago and went back to the states, of all places. But we’ve held out and I think it’s going to work out for us.”
Meanwhile, Jennifer Roberts admits that, despite having to deal with the fallout of a worldwide pandemic, living full-time on a boat is better than she had imagined.
“This is our second season and our first year was really learning boat life and making that transition from land to our catamaran,” she said. “It was a huge adjustment last year, but we learned so much. For me, I learned a ton — how to cook and different things we needed to do so we could feel comfortable and know exactly what to do.
“We have so many different energy sources, as well, on this boat. Just knowing how to manage that to make sure that we can cook with everything based on the energy that we have, and so forth. Never would we have dreamed of a pandemic. I think we went through it beautifully because we knew what to do. We were ready. We are self-sufficient in every possible way.”
The couple said they couldn’t be any prouder of their daughter, Addison, who immediately adapted to living life on a boat. The Roberts regularly keep in touch with other cruising families — and there have been a number of other families like theirs who have ended up quarantined in the U.S. Virgin Islands as well.
“It’s been really nice that she’s been able to have those friends to play and socialize with,” Jennifer said. “It’s been fantastic, actually. It’s just such a beautiful setting. I think it’s been great for what we’ve experienced, and you look at people on land who are just not used to being with their families so much and learning how to home school. We already do that. It was just an easy situation. We just kept on going on with our day-to-day lives.”
Ryan Roberts interjected, “We’ve been really lucky. Addison just turned 14 a couple of weeks ago and she’s been home schooling for two years. We actually use Virtual School out of Florida. We know how tough it must be for folks on land to try to adjust, but for us — the fact that Addison is already home schooled — our lives have just not been interrupted. I don’t think Addison hasn’t even noticed except that we aren’t moving around as much or exploring.”
Jennifer added, “I think also that we have become very creative with the families — things that the kids can do together. When we were still social distancing, the kids would go snorkeling together, which is completely safe because you can keep your distance in the water. We did go hiking, and paddleboarding was always something that we did daily with other cruising families.”
In addition to providing their daughter opportunities for social interaction with her peers, as well as offering her an unlimited number of activities in which to participate, the Roberts have definitely proven that it’s possible to raise a well-rounded child while living on a sailboat and traveling around the world.
“She just completed eighth grade about a month ago and she didn’t want to take a break for summer,” Jennifer Roberts said. “She wanted to just jump into ninth grade, but Addison gave herself two weeks to hang out with her friends and celebrate her birthday. She just loves school and is ahead for her age. She’s starting ninth grade and is in precalculus. She also has some other honors classes. She’s thriving. We’re really, really proud of her.”
All-in-all, Ryan Roberts said that the family couldn’t be happier having made the decision to make the kind of radical change in lifestyle that most people only dream of.
“We certainly aren't wealthy, and with modern technology working remotely is becoming easier every year,” he said. “While this pandemic has scared a lot of people, will cause stress due to economic hardships, and generally has folks nervous, I think now is a good time for people to consider where their happiness comes from and that life doesn't have to be lived within the confines of ‘normal.’ We certainly didn't move to a sailboat as some form of doomsday prepping, but it has highlighted that we have what is needed to live independently. For us, that lack of stress helps us enjoy a happy life.”
Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or firstname.lastname@example.org
"A lot of folks like us gave up early a few weeks ago and went back to the states, of all places. But we’ve held out and I think it’s going to work out for us.” – Ryan Roberts
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