Saturday, June 12, 2010

Interview for the Courier: Home at last - Jun. 11, 2010


(click on image above to view original online article)

ST. ANDREWS – Just more than a year ago Rhiannon Davies and her husband Sebastiaan Ambtman set sail from the Netherlands for Canada with their two young children – and they finally arrived in St. Andrews Friday.

Rhiannon is the daughter of Huw and Jessie Davies, who live in St. Andrews, and she said they had an amazing reception when they arrived in the harbour as wharfinger BB Chamberlain took her mother out to greet them. Dutch friends who have shared part of their journey have also been impressed with how well they have been treated since arriving in St. Andrews and have already made many friends. The couple, who live in Amsterdam, left Den Helder May 19, 2009 with son Macsen, now two and then only nine months old, and daughter Emma, now four, in their 37-foot Breehorn Pjotter and have visited 20 countries along the way. “We have both always loved sailing and the kids are at an age where it is fantastic to spend time with them. We agreed to take a sabbatical and combine spending a lot of time with the kids and living an adventure we had always dreamed of,” said Davies.

While they both grew up doing a lot of sailing they had never tackled long distances before – it was mostly day trips – although they spent their honeymoon five years ago sailing from St. Andrews to Rhode Island and have sailed in Croatia and Norway. They purchased their boat with the intention of eventually doing a longer trip. They were actually at sea about 20 per cent of the time, said Davies, with the rest of the time anchored in a harbour or on a mooring. Among the countries they visited were England, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, the Canary Islands, Cape Verda Island, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago. 

The couple said the children have been great and although everyone was a little queasy during the first 24 hours at sea they soon found their sea legs. The longest time they were ever at sea was the two weeks it took them to cross the Atlantic. There is no freezer on the boat for storing meat, so while at sea they would try to catch some fresh fish and landed some tuna, barracuda and wahoo for their meals. As Ambtman pointed out, you couldn’t find anything fresher. Her greatest fear, said Davies, was the weather and safety and her second was how they were going to keep the children entertained on the long Atlantic crossing — but everything worked out fine. “We were very careful about how we structured the day. We kept it quite full of activities and they had a wonderful time. Fortunately the weather was beautiful.” Thanks to modern technology they were able to keep in touch with her parents – which was a great relief to them – via e-mail and they updated their blog every day (

Everything didn’t always go smoothly, said Davies, and they had a tough trip between Portugal and Morocco because of the winds but they coped with this as well as other setbacks such as problems with the pump which left them with a flooded living room and an oil leak on the first day of their Atlantic crossing. Before they left, Ambtman said they took a weather course and additional navigational training, obtained a radio licence and learned some sea survival training. He stopped work three months before they left in order to get the boat ready for the trip.

Both quit their jobs in order to make the trip. Davies is an engineer but was responsible for global logistics for Danone while Ambtman, whose background is in finance, had been working in the internet industry for eBay. They plan to start looking for new jobs a few months before they return to Holland and feel confidant there will be opportunities. They will spend most of June in St. Andrews then plan to travel to Nova Scotia, PEI and possibly Newfoundland. They are still working on their plans after that but their goal is to cross the Atlantic again next summer so they are home by August 2011 as Emma is due to start school in the fall. “Our initial plan was to go for a year but we have had such an amazing time and we are already on our way now. We may as well make the most of it now,” said Davies. She said they expected others making such long trips would be mostly retired but they have met five other families with young children who have become firm friends and their children have had other youngsters to play with.

For her the most interesting part of the trip was the Gambia. Going up the river, she said, they came across little villages that don’t have road access and the people were incredibly friendly so they felt really safe. Ambtman said he particularly enjoyed the Atlantic crossing when there was just the four of them on the boat together in the middle of the ocean and they were so far away from land.

Looking back on the trip Davies said it was really different from what they had expected – and better. Their preference was to sail at night when the children were asleep and they would take it in turns to keep watch. “I thought it would be a real time to think and discover ourselves but we were incredibly busy. I couldn’t believe how much there is to do on the boat and raising the kids is a full time job.

“We have seen some amazing things and the kids have been flexible and they are aware of different things. We have learned an incredible amount about the boat, sailing, weather and navigating.”

Barb Rayner/Courier
Sebastiaan Ambtman and his wife Rhiannon Davies, with their two children Emma,4, and Macsen, 2, arrived in St. Andrews Friday after spending more than a year at sea.

Link to the article on the Saint Croix Courier website.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - now I want an autograph when I see you four next ;)