Book Review: Seven at Sea

Seven at seaEver feel like taking a chance in life and leaving your comfort zone for the great unknown?  Erik and Emily Orton decided to do just that.  They left their lives in New York City behind to spend a year on a sailboat with their five children and they tell their story in “Seven at Sea.”

Erik wasn’t even an experienced sailor six years before their trip.  Watching sailboats pass by as he looked out his corporate office, he decided he wanted to learn how to sail.  He signed up for classes at a nearby marina and began to learn.  Soon after, he realized it would be cheaper and easier if he enlisted his family to take the classes with him to become certified to sail.

Now, don’t think Erik and Emily are multi-millionaires and can do whatever they please whenever they please.  They are not rich.  They are just a normal middle class family with a dream to be free from the doldrums of the corporate world, and free to set their days as they please.

Even as a family of seven, they were able to find a way to make it work…this dream.  They got in as much training as they could, finding economical ways to rent boats, earning money while shuttling their friends around on excursions.  But the big step they wanted to take was to buy a boat of their own to take some time away from the city with their family to sail to parts unknown (to them).

It took six years to make that dream a realization, but they stuck to their goal together as a family.  Then one day, they bought a boat and their adventure began.


What “Seven at Sea” teaches us is that we should all work towards our goals and dreams.  For the Ortons, it took a lot of planning, preparing and learning before their dream could even begin.  Even at the start, when they first arrived on their boat, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.  There was still more to learn and mistakes that needed to be made, because no matter how much you prepare, when you are in the thick of it, it is not necessarily what you envisioned.

With Erik micromanaging their schedule, he quickly learned that you can’t plan life or dreams.  You have to sort of go with the flow.  They spent the first few months in their first port of call, Sint Maarten (the Netherlands side – the French side of the island is Saint Martin).  Between fixing the boat and equipping it with the things they would need to make their journey, they were stuck on Sint Maarten/Saint Martin.

But it was a good thing this happened.  It allowed them to get their sea legs taking short jaunts to nearby islands, preparing them for the longer stretches.  They made friends with other families doing the same thing as them (always good to know you’re not alone).  Thanks to fellow sailors, he was able to learn how to fix his boat – a vital source of knowledge when you’re alone on the seas and no one nearby who can help.  These are all things he could only learn with hands on training.  Books and the internet can only get you so far.

I will admit, reading this book turned me off from that fantasy of learning how to sail.  It’s something I always thought about doing, not necessarily around the world, but maybe off the coast of New England or in the Mediterranean.  I’ll explain why I was turned off – learning how to fix your own boat, the problems that could arise, being stuck on a boat with other people – really, it was all of the technical details that turned me off from learning how to sail.  Then again, I would probably be the worst sailor of the group like Emily, so maybe someone else can sail and I can just be the matron.

At any rate, being on a boat allows you to have some soul searching moments.  Erik shared a lot of his thoughts in this book and they really rang true with how we should look at life, especially the dreamers.

“A lot of times people feel like, ‘Oh we have kids so we can’t do that until the kids are out of the house.’  The time to go is when you have your kids with you because you only have them for a short period.  There will be plenty of time to make more money.  There’ll be plenty of time to take it easy in retirement when you’re older, but the reason we’re going now is because we want to go while our kids are with us.  Let your kids be a reason rather than an excuse.”

I also appreciated Erik’s thoughts on having patience and playing the waiting game.

“For so many weeks, I’d been trying to push and force the situation.  I wanted the engine fixed on my timeline.  I wanted to hustle off to the BVI (British Virgin Islands).  I wanted to know when and where we would arrive in the Bahamas.  The truth is, there was no way of knowing.  I would have to let it emerge.  I could predict, plan, and hope, but in the end, the wind, sea, and a thousand other breezes would shape the unfolding events.  I had to wait, just like everyone else.  No amount of planning or willpower could make it otherwise.  I learned to become fairly zen about it.  “It will emerge” was the yin to the yang of “trial and error works every time.”  Tenacity has its place.  But so does waiting; engaged, curious, and resourceful, but patient.”

On fear and the uneasiness of taking the first jump:

“At the moment, Jane was happier to be at the top of the grotto, barefoot, hot, and scared, than she was to be in the cool, clear water below.  Her anxiety over what she could no longer see, and the fear of what it would take to get there, were more powerful than her will to jump.  We did our best to help her shift the balance, but it was up to her.  Only she could decide when she wanted to move and how she would do it.  She could climb back down or she could jump.  The push of her current situation, the pull of her new situation, her anxiety about her future, and her loyalty to her present were all shifting moment by moment.  We change when we’re more excited about getting the new thing than we are scared about losing the old thing.  I go through this same semiconscious process every time I face my own fears.  I think we all do.  It’s very personal. I internally weigh all these factors in the balance, and something happens or it doesn’t.”

Karina Orton, after being asked how she had changed on Fezywig (their boat):

“I don’t think I’ve changed,” she said.  “I’ve become even more myself.  I’ve gone further down the path that I was already on.”

Emily Orton on the ‘confidence that it will emerge’:

Erik – “Why do you think the last one is more important?”

Emily – “Because it lets us get started.  We don’t have to know everything.  We don’t have to control everything.  It lets us be patient while we’re figuring it out.”


Why you should read “Seven at Sea”:  If you’re a dreamer thinking ‘someday,’ this book will help give you the confidence to take risks and chase after that dream.  It is a raw look into how difficult it is to make your dreams come true.  From making excuses to planning and researching for that big day, it’s all about getting over that fear and taking the leap.  You have to have patience that the journey “will emerge.”  You can’t force it to happen on your timeline.  It will emerge on its own.

There are a lot of life lessons here for those who have dreams that want to make them come true.  This book is not just about a family who bought a sailboat and sailed from the Caribbean to New York City one year.  This is about living your best life and taking the chance to live your life to the fullest and the Ortons are here to inspire you to do so.

[Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.  This post contains affiliate links.]