“Seven at Sea”

by Erick Orton and Emily Orton

(Shadow Mountain, 307 pages, $27.99)

Ever chase a dream? I did once, a small one in my early 20’s, and caught it. Pretty much my life since then has been exchanging what-ifs and if-I-coulds with other Walter Mittys. There are all sorts of excuses for not doing something, but very few reasons for doing are ever entertained.

Me and the other Walter Mittys I know often sounded like some little birds chattering “We can’t because of the kids,” “We can’t because of the kids,” “We can’t because of the kids.” If someone used the kids as a reason to follow a dream, by definition I wouldn’t know them because they weren’t among the Walters chirping “We can’t because of the kids.”

“Let your kids be the reason and not the excuse,” Erik Orton told a magazine. Ah, now there’s an idea.

Erik Orton fell in love immediately with sailing even though it made him sicker than a dog. He introduced his wife Emily, and while not as quick to love it, sailing grew on her, and then on their kids. Eventually, as they became more practiced sailers an errant thought stuck, took seed, became a dream, and then a plan: Erik proposed the whole family go sailing for a year.

There is a sub-culture of sorts calling themselves “cruisers,” people who live on their sailboats year ‘round. Erik became enamored of the idea and proposed this to his family. Emily and the kids first thought he might be a little nuts. More time on boats, more time learning, and just more family time on boats coaxed them all to this dream.

It took six years of work and saving and learning about sailing and different boats, but they finally did it. They settled on a catamaran found in the British Virgin Islands, and left their New York apartment for a year at sea in the Caribbean.

Over the year they met other cruiser families like theirs, some who had been at it for much longer, and the seven Ortons sailed and island hopped to adventure. They are a family of faith, and this did help them, too, along the way, providing them with local contacts from churches on various islands and helped with local customs. And everyone had duties onboard and helped sail the boat.

The story is an inspiration to chase and not fallow, but the story does bog some from the style in which it’s told. Erik and Emily take turns telling the same story from their different perspectives, and this is quite disruptive to the flow of the narrative. It is interesting early on to read their individual perceptions of the events and inspiration and drive to pursue their dream, but all through the book Erick speaks about X, then Emily speaks about X, or Emily about W, and then Erick about W. For instance, early on, around 60 days on the boat, we hear two perspectives about the kids and friends and a floating VHF. To me, it’s an abrupt halt to my visualizing what’s going on; it’s like one spouse continuously butting in because the other isn’t giving what’s considered a flawless rendition of the story.

But as I said it is an inspiring story and my criticism a niggle. A family of seven wants to live life and not watch it. It really is an act of courage what they did, in this day of forced convention, to take a chance on the unknown. More power to the Ortons, and to those like them who dare to catch their dreams.

J. Reed Anderson is the General Manager of the Devils Lake Journal, Devils Lake, ND. You can reach him at randerson@devilslakejournal.com.