“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – H. Jackson Brown’s mother

This quote seemingly inspires the Hegewald family as they are in pursuit of adventure on the sea. Max and Stephanie Hegewald and their daughters, 11-year-old Michelle and 9-year-old Autumn, reside on their sailboat, Xpression, at the Swantown Marina in Olympia. Although their lifestyle is already unique, it’s all in preparation to do something even more fascinating. In August, the family will cast off from Olympia, setting sail for Mexico and beyond.

Whole Hegewald Family
The family will most likely be away from Olympia for several years. First they will travel down to California, and then Mexico. Photo Credit: Susan Stout

Max’s family first bought a power boat when he was 4-years-old and he has loved boats ever since. Stephanie, a nurse, has wanted to sail around the world since she was 12, but really started learning about sailboats when she was in high school and college, where she and Max first met. “About seven months after we met, we took off to Oceanside, California, and bought a boat,” Max says. The couple brought two very different skill sets to their first ocean boating experience. Max knew how to dock, maintain and repair a boat, as well as sea safety. Stephanie knew about sailboats in particular, but not many of the logistics of owning a boat. The fusion of these skills brought them closer together and home safely. Actual open sea experience was something that both Max and Stephanie were lacking, however, and they gained that knowledge together.

Michelle and Autumn have grown up around boats, but this is the first time the Hegewalds have exclusively resided on one. The family recently sold their home and smaller boat (The Valkyrie) in order to buy Xpression. “While we have a ton of experience, we still practice,” Max says. The whole family has been training for this undertaking, but Michelle and Autumn especially have been taking classes to further their knowledge.

The girls have both learned a lot about sailing from being in Junior Sailing Camp at Olympia Yacht Club (OYC). Students in the course learn to tie knots, rig their boats, and how to sail solo and in pairs. Attendees have the chance to be out on a small boat by themselves. “It’s better to learn on a small boat because if you make a mistake, you usually tip over. But on a big boat, if you make a mistake, sometimes nothing happens and you don’t even know you made a mistake,” Michelle says. Her sister Autumn adds, “We also do capsizing drills,” which is where a boat tips over onto its side in the water.

Stephanie, Michelle and Autumn Hegewald currently live on their boat (Xpression) in the Swantown Marina. They will cast off from Olympia in August. Photo Credit: Max Hegewald

While they are excited, the Hegewalds understand the risks associated with being out on the open ocean and frequently practice safety drills. “We throw an old cushion overboard, and there’s [three roles] a pointer, a steerer and a caller. The pointer points at the person [overboard] no matter what happens. Then the steerer steers toward the person [overboard]. The caller calls the Coast Guard and tells them the boat name and what happened. Then the ‘picker-upper’ picks up the person out of the water,” Autumn explains.

Max stresses the importance of practicing drills like this one. “There’s a course we’re going to go to in early June that’s a clinic at the Olympia Yacht Club about the Lifesling.” The Lifesling is a flotation device attached to a long rope that helps to rescue people who have fallen overboard.

Michelle and Autumn are homeschooled and attend the Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA), but obviously schooling on Xpression will look a little different. They already have math and English curriculums that Max, a stay-at-home dad who graduated from The Evergreen State College, teaches them. They also use various science and history resources. From speaking to other families who have gone sailing, Max learned that math and communication skills are relevant. Max emphasizes that his family and daughters are “heading off in search of real life,” and not just traditional school subjects.

For Max, Stephanie, Michelle and Autumn, this trip will be a new way to connect and experience life. Max and Stephanie say they found out a lot about each other on their first voyage out. “We hadn’t known each other long, so we learned a lot about how to get along or not get along. How to trust the other person. In your daily routines here [on land], you’re not really together a lot. You go a different direction in the morning and don’t really see each other a lot. But once we’re on the water, it’s a pretty quick reminder that we work really well together,” Max says. Because the couple has overcome many challenges on the water already, they feel well prepared for this big undertaking.

Hegewald Family Hugs
Michelle (front) and Autumn eagerly greet their parents as they returned from buying their new boat, Xpression. Photo Credit: Susan Stout

The Hegewalds will first travel to California to wait out the hurricane season. Then, in November they plan to sail to Mexico and stay there for about a year. Max says the family really wants the chance to explore the coasts of Mexico and eventually South America. The family is considering sailing down to Australia and then deciding if they want to circumnavigate (meaning to go around the whole world), head back to Olympia or find a new place to settle. As of now, their current plans (which they say are loosely made) may take up to five years. However, the family plans to keep in touch with loved ones as well as other people interested in their adventures along the way. Their community will miss them, but wishes the family the nautical blessing of “fair winds and following seas” on their journey.

If you are interested in following the Hegewalds’ journey, they have Facebook and Instagram accounts under the name “Waxing Lotus” and will be collecting email addresses from anyone interested in receiving updates from both parents’ and kids’ perspectives. The family is in the process of creating a blog that they will update throughout their travels.

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