Nova Scotia

N.S. family reaches Alaska on their way home after 7 years on sailboat

CBC’s Information Morning Nova Scotia has been following a Halifax family who have been living aboard their sailboat on the Pacific Ocean for seven years. The family has recently landed in Alaska on the final stretch of their journey to resettle in B.C.

The Shaw family has been sailing the Pacific Ocean since 2012, but is heading back to Canada

The SV Fluenta on approach to Alaska. (Submitted by the Shaw family)

After seven years at sea, the Shaw family is in the final stretch of their journey home. 

Parents Max and Elizabeth have been sailing the Pacific Ocean with their children Victoria, 15, Johnathan, 13, since 2012. Their third child, six-year-old Benjamin, was born in Mexico and has only known a life at sea as the family has travelled from port to port.

But that's about to change. The Shaws, originally from Halifax, are now planning to return to Canada and permanently drop anchor in British Columbia. CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia has been following their odyssey and Elizabeth Shaw recently spoke to CBC's Jerry West about the family's arrival in Dutch Harbour, Alaska.

Shaw said the family diverted their route to avoid two gale storms, but were otherwise met with good weather on the trip back to North America. The family spent 25 days at sea on their trip from the Marshall Islands to Alaska.

"We saw sperm whales — two of them came within a couple of boat-lengths, and it was calm enough [that] it was like a swimming pool when we saw them," she said.

"They drifted by looking at us, and we drifted looking at them. That was probably one of the highlights of the trip."

Shaw said she's especially proud of how her kids have grown over the course of the trip. She and her husband had busy military careers before they set sail, but they have had an opportunity to be together as a family around the clock at sea.

"We left with two small children, who were six and eight, and we basically had to put them downstairs when there were manoeuvres to do, and we've come back with two teenagers that are a very strong part of the crew," she said.

The Shaw family (from left to right, Victoria, Johnathan, Elizabeth, Benjamin and Max) in December 2018 before they set sail from the South Pacific for Alaska. (Submitted by the Shaw family)

Shaw said coming into Alaska's vista took the family by surprise.

"It was extraordinary to wake up one morning, and there were mountains beside us," she said.

"We haven't really seen anything with elevation more than, you know, ten feet in the last few years, and then the sun comes out and there are these green mountains all around us. That was pretty amazing."

Shaw said Dutch Harbour is home to many bald eagles, and that "every post, every telephone pole has one, either sitting on it, or has something sharp so it won't sit on it."

Shaw said adjusting to cars and people has been strange, especially after so long in the company of seabirds.

"Hanging out on watch with nothing to do but watch an albatross fish beside you is pretty extraordinary. They were our company throughout the trip, and they're incredibly majestic. You don't get to see those up close when you're on land," she said.

The family plans to head east through Alaska to Prince William Sound, where Shaw said they'll be seeing "glaciers and bears."

Ultimately, Shaw said the family intends to head down the coast to Victoria, where they'll continue living year-round aboard their 14-metre vessel. The children will attend school locally.

"We chose Victoria because it's reasonable to live there," she said. "We did put in a furnace when we were in the Marshall Islands, so we do have the capacity to heat the boat."

With files from CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.