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B.C. family completes epic 13-month Atlantic Ocean sailing odyssey

For the Comox Valley’s Holmes family, journey was the realization of long-time dream
The Holmes family from the Comox Valley spent 13 months at sea, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, navigating more than 21,000 kilometres. Photo supplied

In August 2023, the Holmes family came back to the Comox Valley after a long trip.

Stu, Lana, and their daughters, Aria and Micah spent the previous 13 months at sea, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, navigating more than 21,000 kilometres.

As a young couple, Stu and Lana left B.C.’s mainland 20 years ago and relocated to the Island. A few years later, the duo fell in love with sailing and took their first sailing lesson when Lana was six months pregnant with their first daughter Aria. Then came Micah.

As the girls grew up, the family explored the province’s coast from Desolation Sound to the southern Gulf Islands and eventually expanded their adventures by chartering the waters of Mexico and New Zealand.

Gaining an increasing amount of experience over time, the four finally developed the confidence to attempt their biggest endeavour yet: circumnavigating Vancouver Island.

In the summer of 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the four left the Comox Marina and came back six weeks later, successfully achieving their goal.

This experience was a catalyst for the couple’s long-held aspiration of crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

“We always had this (idea) in the back of our mind and (told ourselves that we) would like to do it maybe once retired,” said Stu. “But then COVID (happened) and with it came the realization that life is short.

“We had friends who had passed away from certain things that were so unexpected. (That made us) realize that things can change pretty quickly so that really pushed us into thinking that we needed to do what we wanted to do sooner than later.”

It only took one conversation for the couple to translate a dream into a concrete plan.

“One day we just looked at each other and we’re like, ‘we can do this, let’s just make it happen,’ and (everything) just kind of came together,” added Lana. “It was a big leap of faith and it was a lot of work and planning, but it was so worth it.”

Once Stu received approval for a sabbatical year from his role as an anesthesiologist at the North Island Hospital, things were set in motion.

It took the family seven months to prepare. In April 2022, Stu flew to Martinique and purchased the perfect vessel needed for their trip: a 2002 Amel Super Maramu 2000.

“It’s just a very well-known and reliable boat,” said Stu. “They were purpose-built for crossing oceans and have a very good reputation as being safe, predictable, as well as being a very good family boat.”

Once in possession of this 16-metre-long sailboat, later re-baptized OYAI by the family, the father of two hired a skipper and sailed all the way to Gibraltar.

It’s at this British Overseas Territory where the family would start their adventure on July 4, 2022.

For the next three months, the family sailed the idyllic Mediterranean Sea, hopping from port to port - travelling from Sardegna to the western Italian coast, cruising along the French Riviera, and exploring the Spanish Costa del Sol.

Back in Gibraltar, the family eventually headed south to the coast of Morocco and then east to the Canary Islands.

On Nov. 20, 2022, the Holmes bid farewell to the safety of Las Palmas’ port and embarked on their cross-Atlantic journey.

For the first few days, sustained winds of 55 km/h rendered the family seasick. However, the weather tempered as they were heading south toward Brazil in search of the trade winds,and the family was able to swap their rain jackets for their swimsuits.

Along with the help of two other sailors from the Comox Valley, the Holmes reached the Lesser Antilles island of Santa Lucia 19 days later, successfully completing their cross-Atlantic trek.

For the next few months, the four would sail from one island to the other, experiencing the best of what the Caribbean had to offer.

The two home-schooled girls would study in the mornings, and explore their surroundings in the afternoon.

Though Stu and Lana repeatedly acknowledged how fortunate their family was to experience this unique way of life, they found joy in simplicity.

Days on the water would often consist of everyday tasks and routines. In their downtime, the family would often end up reading, engaging in long conversations, laughing together, fishing for their next meal, breathing the saline air, playing improvised games, watching the dolphin race their boat and gazing at the night sky.

In August 2023, 13 months following their departure, the Holmes finished their journey unscathed in the small fishing village of Oxford, Maryland. After they parted ways with their trusty sailboat, selling it to a family from New York, the Holmes flew back to the Comox Valley.

Though the return to normal was appreciated it required a moment of adaptation for each family member after this one-of-a-kind journey.

“We can’t complain about it because it would feel very disingenuous, but it’s very different,” admitted Stu. “When you’re out there… your schedule is based on the weather, which is week by week. In regular Western life, our schedule is minute-by-minute; you are scheduled for appointments, the kids have activities, you have to go to work… Your life is essentially a rat race.

“It’s not better or worse, it’s just very different. We’re looking forward to getting back there, but we also missed a lot of things about home. We missed our friends, we missed our family, we missed the Comox Valley.”

When asked about a potential future adventure, the couple sighed and laughed. Still digesting their last journey, they mentioned that they have no definitive plans in the works.

Circumnavigation of the world might be a burgeoning desire… but that’s a tale for another time.

READ ALSO: B.C. to Hawaii: UBC students launching fully-autonomous sailboat on epic maiden voyage

Olivier Laurin

About the Author: Olivier Laurin

I’m a bilingual multimedia journalist from Montréal who began my journalistic journey on Vancouver Island with The Comox Valley Record in 2023.
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