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The Loooooooooong Vacation

Sailing Around the World

Who The Ferguson family Home Base Miami, Florida Long Vacation Circumnavigating the globe in a catamaran, September 2001–present Estimated Return December 2007 Trip Web Site www.svdulcinea.com

"We were working very hard and watching from a distance as our kids were being raised and educated by others," says Steve Ferguson, who, with his wife, Maria, develops residential real estate in Miami. "Also, we were worried about how kids were growing up too fast in the U.S. So, in the mid 1990's, we decided to give our children the biggest gift we could: we would sail around the world." Sailing was something both parents had loved as kids, and they tested their idea with a summerlong motorboat cruise in the Bahamas with their children, Stephanie, Julia, and Max, then 9, 6, and 1. Back in Miami, they spent three years searching before they found the perfect vessel: a 10-year-old 37-by-64-foot racing catamaran named Dulcinea. Then Steve took another year to update every moving part.

Finally, in 2001, the Fergusons rented out their house and set sail. Dulcinea skimmed along at an exceptionally fast 24 knots—a good thing, because their Atlantic crossing was late in the season and entailed outrunning three hurricanes. That was accomplished with help from Com­manders' Weather, a life saving routing service for boats. "The router would call on the satellite phone and matter-of-factly instruct us to move 200 miles south ASAP," says Maria. After nine days, the Fergusons were relieved to reach the Azores.

The itinerary was open-ended, which helps explain why they're still traveling after four years (a circumnavigation of the globe usually takes about two years). They spent the first winter largely on land in a motor home, touring Spain, Morocco, and Egypt. That spring, they cruised the Mediterranean, then continued on to the Gambia River, in West Africa, where they delivered medicine to villagers.

No matter where they are, onboard chores remain the same. "Maria cooks, Julia washes dishes, Stephanie cleans, Max helps with anchoring, and I worry," says Steve, who also runs the computers and organizes the sailing." There's no stopping in the middle of the ocean, so one person is always on watch," he explains. "Eight minutes is all it takes for a cargo ship to travel from the horizon to a collision with us." Julia, once she turned 13, took the 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. watch, Stephanie has the 12 a.m. to 3 a.m. shift, and they both use the time to catch up on schoolwork. All three kids follow homeschooling programs (by Calvert and Keystone) with teacher advisory services, which means instructors grade papers and offer counseling.

For the young Fergusons, there's only one downside to life at sea: no other kids. As soon as Dulcinea is at port, they all head out "to see how many people we can meet," Max says. Being together 24 hours a day does create an unusual closeness. "In Florence, I noticed we were all going through a museum shoulder to shoulder," says Maria. Currently, the Fergusons are moored in Brisbane, Australia, devoting 16 months to boat maintenance and things like doctor visits. Max and Julia have slipped into a Catholic school with no apparent gaps in their education. Stephanie aced the SAT's and will attend the College of William and Mary this fall. The rest will be back on the boat for the last leg of the trip—through Indonesia, India, and the Red Sea. "My family has become like one big turtle," says Julia. "We carry our home on our backs."

Christine Pittel is a writer in New York.

Adventures 'R' Us

At Merzouga, a Moroccan outpost near the Algerian border, we started an eight-day camel trek through the Sahara. We slept in tents alongside nomad Berber families and bathed by rubbing sand all over our bodies, as everyone does in the desert. You actually feel cleaner than after a shower, albeit a bit chapped.

Our scariest moment was when a rogue wave off Mauritania caught our boat from behind at night. It was higher than our first spreader, which is 30 feet tall. We were in the cockpit, and the kids were inside the saloon, wearing life preservers. We came close to capsizing, but, miraculously, we surfed down the wave.

We port-hopped along the Black Sea coast in Turkey, where pleasure boats rarely go, and were treated like conquering heroes. "I must come on board your ship and make coffee!" insisted a friendly stranger, carrying his pot under his arm.

On the island of Tanna, in the South Pacific, we sat on the rim of a live volcano as lava shot up, solidified in the air, and then showered down. The whole mountain vibrated beneath us. —STEVE AND MARIA FERGUSON

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