How One Ditched Family Is Dealing With Tragedy

This past June, Mike interviewed Jared and Stephanie Pechan for our podcast. The Pechan’s were ditching their suburban lives and preparing to create a new one on a boat with their three children.

The new life that they intended was altered when Hurricane Irma ripped through the Caribbean and their boat was totaled.

Two weeks ago I spoke with Jared and Stephanie about the tragedy, how they have been dealing with it, and what their future plans look like.

Below is the transcript of that conversation. If you want to keep up with their ever-evolving story, check them out at S/V Round About.

Our Conversation

Crissa:    Today I have Stephanie and Jared Pechan back on the line with me. We talked with them back in June when they were getting started on their ditched life. And they’ve had a journey since then. We’re going to talk about that today.

Thanks for talking with us again. Give us a little bit of background for those who may have missed our podcast interview with you.

Stephanie:    We sold our house in Pacific Grove, California in June and we moved into our travel trailer to drive cross country while we waited to close escrow on the boat. So we did that, which was pretty fun. Moved aboard our sailboat August 30th and had 5 days on our boat before Irma hit. So basically all we did was hurricane prep shortly after we moved aboard. Then we had to fly out and evacuate.

So, that’s what happened in a nut shell. Since then, when we flew out, we had our travel trailer and car in storage in Florida. We flew straight through, got in the car, and drove north.

Jared:    It took us a few days and we went up to Maine.

Stephanie:    We hung out with friends in Maine for a while. We’re now in Williamsburg, Virginia. We had some friends who lent their vacation home to us so we could have a home base to re-supply, order our gear that we lost when the boat half-way sunk, and kinda ground ourselves.

Crissa:    Where did you guys launch from? Was the boat in Florida?

Stephanie:    The boat was in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We flew there and moved aboard.

Crissa:    So you never sailed?

Stephanie:    We had one day. We left Road Town marina and sailed to Nanny Cay where we had a slip reserved for two months and did hurricane prep.

We sailed before - most of our life we sailed. This with our kids was a very short-lived trip. It was really hard going through that. You’d ask us how—we’re in a much better place today than we were before.

Jared:    We’re very anxious to get back onto a boat, and start the lifestyle we’ve been working for. We had a few months in the summer where we traveled across country. We enjoyed a lot of it. Then we started rushing to get aboard the boat. It got difficult. So when we got to the boat we were hoping we’d have some time to recoup and enjoy ourselves. That was short lived.

Stephanie:    Hurry up! Hurricane prep! Oh, nope- Now we need to evacuate. And now we have to drive to get out of the path of Irma and Maria that were following us from the islands.

Fortunately we were insured, so we were fine in that respect. Our boat made it through both hurricanes. It was partially on the seawall and in the marina where it landed when the storm surge came through. So we thought at first, “Oh we’ll be able to fix it. No big deal. We’ll move back. We’ll repair it.” And then a floating dock cracked the starboard hull and that’s where our boys’ cabins were located. And so that flooded and that caused our boat to be declared a total loss from the insurance company.

As soon as we knew that, we began shopping for a new boat. We knew we wanted a similar model. We learned there was very low inventory of this type of boat. There were two in the South Pacific and a couple in Europe. We thought “Oh I don’t want to start in the Mediterranean. We’d have to winter there. It’s really cold. But what are we going to do?”

We really wanted to resume our life afloat, especially making this trip happen was important to us not only because we wanted to show our kids -You don’t give up. Life gets hard sometimes and you have to go through the struggle. You have to process it and you move forward. You don’t just sit and say “Nevermind, I’m done” and go home.

So we moved forward with the purchase of the boat, which is in Turkey. We were all set to fly to Turkey- until the travel visa suspension went through three weeks ago. I just got our visas , booked our apartment, got our flights.

Jared:    An hour after we were all right, we’re ready to go for Turkey -

Stephanie:    The travel visa suspension came on the news.  Argh, what are we going to do.

So we worked with the seller - and fortunately it’s the moorings charter company we bought our first boat from. “Is there a way we can go to another country to get the boat.” They said, “We’ll go to Greece. It’s right there.” So now we’re set to go to Greece and move aboard our boat.

So that’s where we’re at at this point. We’re waiting to close escrow. The survey happens today, so we’re waiting for that inspection and then we can finish the purchase process.

Jared:    And hopefully leave in the next week.

Stephanie:    Yeah we’re hoping to be on a plane next Friday. We’ll see.

Crissa:    You sound good today. I was reminded of a family who had an RV. They were driving away from where they purchased it, and it flipped. They just quit. They had put so much effort into ditching and then they just decided that was too much to handle.

Did that kind of idea ever hit you when you were watching - you knew that the dock hit and it was flooding?

Jared:    It certainly was an option on the table when you’re thinking, What we do now? But on the other hand, we’ve been dreaming about this for at least 10 years and put so much work into making it happen. Yes, this was a major set back - not so much a financial set back because we were so well insured. But it’s definitely an emotional hit on everyone. It’s been pretty taxing at times to be in limbo and not able to make things go again as quickly as we’d like. That’s been the most difficult part.

Stephanie:    Yeah, it was the emotional stress of first not knowing what happened to our boat. Then we saw pictures. Then “Oh no, another Category 5 hurricane is coming”. And there was the stress of “Please someone on the island secure our boat - it’s our home, not just a luxury item. We live on our boat.” And all we heard was “We’ll do our best.” And nothing happened. Our boat was at the mercy of Mother Nature.

And then after we received news that the bilge pumps were activated, it’s flooding, I just felt crushed. There were times it was so hard to breathe, that I had to tell myself Breathe. Right now make dinner. Now we’re going to get the kids ready for bed. It was talking myself through the next step because I couldn’t - I was so overwhelmed with sadness and grief and stress that I just had to do one function at a time.

I wrote about that on our blog. I had to share this, because if anyone else is going through this - and we know others who were not insured who truly lost everything. There was a story of a family who was off island. They had a friend who was on island take stuff off the boat, and then the house blew away. So that family truly lost everything. And we had friends take stuff off our boat as well, and thankfully our stuff was okay.

When Jared says it was emotional, it was very much - there’s a point in time when you wonder, What are we going to do. I had that guilt of as a parent - we’re homeless. We don’t have a home. We have a travel trailer, but it’s not the same as having your things. 

And our kids losing a lot of their things. They never asked for it back. They accepted that it was gone. They’re so resilient - I learned a lot from my kids. “Its okay. We’ll get another boat. It’s really sad that Round About is damaged and flooding.” But they were so strong and I took that strength from them to help me get through it because I tell my kids, “Being a grown-up is really hard sometimes”, especially when you have to be strong for the kids.”

I had to figure out how to maintain homeschooling because all of our books were on board. And thankfully the principal at the school I still work for, she organized another set of books for the kids. So we were able to resume school curriculum. But, there were times when I couldn’t bring myself to. “Guys we’re not going to have school today. Mom just can’t do it.”  I’d say the first couple of weeks were hard.

And then it kicked in. Okay, we have to continue. We have to find another boat. And move forward. We can’t just sit here in limbo. But, I don’t think we ever thought about giving up. It was just “Okay, what do we do? We need to figure this out.”

Jared:    What are the options.

Stephanie:    And move forward.

Crissa:    Jared you flew down to assess the damage.

Jared:    I actually flew down twice. The first time I went back - it was just an overnight trip. The boat was still partially on the seawall and half sunk. So I did get stuff out of the hull that was dry. I also rescued the dog.

Stephanie:    We had friends on the island. We couldn’t fly out with Sunshine, our Golden Retriever, so she stayed with them through both hurricanes.

Jared:    Poor dog.

Stephanie:    I think she was a comfort to them as well.

Jared:    And the last time, which I guess was about 2 weeks ago now, I stayed there a few nights and was able to get more stuff off the boat. And I helped someone else get stuff off their boat that had sunk. We were actually able to rescue a few things under water. We put them in a big barrel of disinfectant and then washed them a couple of times. So we were able to save a Yellowstone blanket that we had gotten and a few items of the boys.

Stephanie:    Zachary’s stuffed fox from when he was little.

Jared:    So we were able to rescue some things, which was good. We were also able at that time to deal with selling the wreck. The insurance company said, “Oh, here’s the clause in the policy: We don’t want the vessel. It’s yours to deal with.”

That was a little bit of panic for me because it can be really expensive to get rid of a wrecked boat. We were lucky enough there were people down there looking to buy wrecked boats. Our’s was in decent enough shape that we could sell it. We found a buyer last week - our broker found a buyer.

Stephanie:    We had some blog followers ask politely, “Hey, sorry about your loss.” They were broaching the subject gingerly because we were still in that mode of recovery. They wanted to buy the boat. And Jared said there are people on island looking at the boat. I thought, “Wow, we should create advertisement.” So Jared sent me photos. I put them up on our blog. And Clive, our broker, said he received so many emails it shut down the server. That was amazing - there were a lot of people out there wanting to buy a wrecked vessel.

It ended up being a local islander who purchased the boat and he worked for a boatyard there. I think it helped our family a little bit with healing because we know that she’ll be out sailing again someday. Someone bought her with the intention of storing her and not just for scrapping for parts. So that was another positive.

Crissa:    So, your mindset is “We’re not done with this. It’s just another chapter.”

Jared:    Yeah!

Stephanie:    A long chapter. Yes. I’m ready to be done with this one.

Jared:    We do. We’re actually sitting at our table, looking at our plastic-wrapped boxes, ready to get loaded on an airplane to leave next week.

Stephanie:    Yes, ready to start the new chapter of life afloat, for sure.

Crissa:    Did I read in your last blog post that you’re going to name the new boat Round About as well?

Stephanie:    Yes. Our first one - with sailor lore you’re supposed to do this whole official naming ceremony so that the sea gods are appeased. We never had time to do that. So we can reuse that name. And that’s our blog name and we love that name. And I think it’s so fitting because we are going about this in a very round about way. So, even though the vessel paperwork was changed to Round About, it was deleted from the US Coast Guard registry. So, the name is not in use anymore. We’re going to name our vessel Round About as we intended. And do the ceremony right away.

Crissa:    You’ll pick it up in Greece. Then once aboard, what are your plans?

Jared:    Winters in Greece -  actually the whole Med - are cold. We’re trying to avoid cold and winter weather. But we do have some work to do on the boat to get it ready to cross to the Caribbean. We’re going to add radar, AIS, a new chart plotter, couple of new sails, and a drog. Re-service the life raft and safety items. So we’re going to have a little work to do in the Med before we are going to be ready to cross.

And we’re going to be crossing back to the Caribbean and hopefully spend our winter there.

Stephanie:    Probably late December arriving in January sometime.

Jared:    We say this is the plan. Just keep in mind that our plan has never come through.

Stephanie:    We have this saying: Plans are written in the sand at low tide. They are what we anticipate we’re going to do.

We still have the goal of helping out in the Caribbean. We’d like to go back there. I’ve been coordinating efforts for supplies for schools on island from where we are in the states. And I have several schools adopting island schools as well as families adopting families on island. We figure we’d like to assist as we can.

From there, we hang out in the Caribbean for a while. Do we go back to the Med in the spring where it’s nicer weather- and explore Europe? I’d love to do that. But again, we’re not using the word Plan. We’re just thinking.

Crissa:    I like your description of “plan”. We call them Jello plans. Sometimes they stick to the wall and sometimes they slide down the wall.

Jared:    And sometimes they bounce.

Crissa:    How are the kids? Are they pretty excited to be hopping on the plane?

Jared:    They are.

Stephanie:    They are finally ready to have their own home. Their own rooms. The place we’re in is great. We just sold our travel trailer. We moved into our friend’s vacation home. The kids are sharing a room. They do not enjoy that. But, hey, we’re in survival mode here. So they are very much looking forward to having their own room, their own cabin, their stuff, and start exploring.

And our oldest has read the Percy Jackson series so he’s excited about all the Greek gods, historical sites. We’re excited to explore and see somewhere new and get started on this adventure. Finally.

They do miss their friends, though. We’ve been calling about once a week so they can talk with their friends. Our daughter broke down last night - she really misses the friends back home. She said, “Ya know. Can’t we just go back home and visit them before we leave?” Well it’s not that easy.

Jared:    And it’s certainly more difficult when the kids are bored and are not being entertained with activities. And it’s not so hard when were out seeing things, taking in sites and just being active. They have a much better time when we can do that. We just can’t always do that at the moment, unfortunately.

Stephanie:    Yeah, they made a comment “You’re on the computer” or “You’re on the phone.” We were trying to organize flights and shipping all of our stuff. “That’s what Mom and Dad have to do right now.” I’ll be happy when we’re back aboard and we can give them more attention that they deserve.

Crissa:    I can relate. When we first launched in the RV, I remember thinking “who are these kids”, because I’d hardly seen them all summer long. Or, if they were around, I couldn’t interact with them. And I wasn’t even in survival mode. We had been working and figuring things out all summer long.

I know this is a short catch-up. It sounds like you’re keeping your mindset on the direction you were heading. Not letting this totally derail you.

Jared:    I can tell you, when we were taking it slow - we were on the western half of the US, we were camping in the travel trailer. We spent a week in Yellowstone, and some time in WY. It was really wonderful. The kids had a great time. We could have done that so much longer.

And when things started to speed up and get a little hectic - long days in the car - it wasn’t so much fun. I think as long as we keep that in mind - that’s what this life is supposed to be like. We’re going to really enjoy it and we have that to look forward to. And it keeps us going for now.

Stephanie:    If we had just moved back home and not continued on, I think that would have haunted us. “What if we had continued?” Also, to show our kids. “Yeah, you’re faced with a challenge. Face it head on. Figure it out. Work through it.”

I think those are good life lessons. And they’ve seen us reaching out to help others on island. Jarod brought supplies each time he flew down there. And the kids saw us working through that and they wanted to help, too. They are pitching in as well. And I think those are really important life lessons.

Yeah, there’s a lot of chaos having them watch us handle it. Hopefully when they are faced with an issue when they are grown up, they’ll be able to handle it and not give up. They will persevere.

Crissa:    Thank you for catching us up and filling us in on your future plans. I’m definitely going to keep following your blog. I’m very excited for your next adventure.

Jared & Stephanie:    Us, Too.

Stephanie:    We can’t wait to post pictures - “Here we are, finally in Greece.”

Crissa:    We’ll keep tabs on you. Maybe we can catch back up when you’re on Round About, version 2.

Stephanie:    Definitely! We’d love to check back in.

An Update

The Pechan’s had hoped to fly to Greece last Friday, November 10th. According to a blog post written on that day, it looks like they are still in limbo.

Comments are no longer accepted on this article.