7 Years Living on a Sailboat


Tell me a bit about yourself, where you from, and where you are currently living/sailing?

I am Marije Den Breems, I'm from Holland. We have been living on our sailing ship since August 2013. Before that we lived in Leiden, I am a teacher and writer. I still write a lot of articles for different magazines, I also wrote a book about SUP in the Netherlands. I've been kitesurfing since 2002. I have participated in Dutch championships, with the results: many times the 2nd and 3rd. When my son Mathies was two years old I participated the last time, it was my biggest victory. First I lost the first heat, I was already packing my kites when my friend Jalou Langeree came and called me. She said: "Come on Marije, your heat is in 10 minutes. I answered, "No, Lou, I don't want anymore, I am too old. She knows me very well land said: 'Are you nuts! I now what you can, come on! Nothing to lose!' I went and came back, I won 7 heats in a row and became 3rd. Girls asked me: "So how old are you? Haha, I proved: age, that doesn't matter! Also, I surf since 2004, but it was not easy to learn, the conditions in the Netherlands for surfing are really bad. We have no good waves, only with Nothswell, we get better waves and than it's mostly bad weather and lots of wind. For SUP in waves, the Northsea is a bit better, because you can make extra speed with the paddle. During our sailing, I learned a lot, and still, I'm learning. I love making progress!

How did the idea of living on a boat come up?

We smoked some weed and drank some wine on a beautiful summer evening in the Netherlands in the whirlpool Marco built in his garden and we fantasized about kite flying and surfing in the best places in the world and sailed there with our own sailing boat. 

How long did it take you to get prepare, organized to make the transition?

The next day we visited the friends of Marco. They sailed two times till the Caribes with a simular Danish Kotter.
I had no idea that Marco wanted to go with such a big ship, that became clear to me when we visited boats. The next spring I was suddenly unexpectedly pregnant. Marco was afraid for a moment that I didn't want to sail anymore, but that wasn't the case. Just not! How cool to sail around the world with a child! I've always been kiting and surfing, why not? After all, it's my passion! It took 3 years before we found a suitable boat. We only had a small budget. After that, it took another 4 years before Marco finished renovating the ship. Mathies was already five when we could finally leave. And still, the boat was far from finished, on the way we set the sails. We motored the first part of France.


Where have you sailed?

We left the Netherlands for France, via Spain to Portugal, filled up with diesel in Algeria, then via Morocco to Cape Verdie. We stayed there for 4 months, then we crossed in 18 days to the Caribe, St Vincent & the Grenadines. We visited all the eastern islands and sailed from Venezuela back to Puerto Rico and then again via the eastern islands via St. Vincent & the Grenadines. We sailed south to Trinidad & Tobago, via the Antilles and Colombia to Panama, stayed in San Blas for half a year, did a lot of kitesurfing charters, then to Ecuador, then to French Polynesia, then via Samoa to Fiji, where we sailed for 4 months, then via Tuvalu, Kiribati to Marshall's and the Solomons, then Papua New Guinea and now in Indonesia.

What's your most memorable moment sailing?

That was during our first ocean crossing after I got over my seasickness, and I realized that we were following the tradewinds. We sailed the route exactly like the old explorers. Our ship also looks so old-fashioned with the re-sailing. That was a very special moment.

Did you ever have any moment that your life was in danger?

We experienced a terrible storm near Western Sahara, we had waves up to 8 meters high and gusts of wind of 50 knots. It took 5 days, we sailed with the system, we could not change course, the waves came halfway up the mast, we would turn if we sailed at right angles to the waves. I was terrified! We also had a friend on board who was bitten twice in both legs by a 2.5-meter lemon rake while surfing. It's a miracle he didn't hit his artery, that saved his life! From that moment on I never went surfing on a new spot on my surfboard, always on my sup first.

Sharks are sometimes territorial and defend their place. I have seen a lot of sharks, if they circle around me, I always leave.

Your favorite destination and why?

French Polynesia. The most beautiful waves, the most spectacular nature, and French Polynesians are extremely sincere, generous, honest, and inviting.

Its been 7 years, did you plan to last it for all these years?

No! We thought we would sail around the world in 4 years, hahaha. That was a mistake, we always stay in one place much longer than we initially thought.

What's a typical day for you look like (family) working, cooking, surfing and living on the boat?

When there are waves, I go surfing first, sometimes with Mathies, but mostly alone, then I come back and I and Mathies do school. I homeschool him. During school, I have breakfast and do the dishes when he works. Then it's around 13h or 14 o’clock, and we eat lunch. Sometimes I go kiting or surfing again after school, or I go tot he market and supermarket to buy groceries. That's always quite a mission. I also have to walk the dog every day. If we don't go kiting or surfing in the afternoon, I usually do something ashore, walk with the dog or go with Mathies to the beach or snorkel or visit a friend or do a hike. I usually work on my articles in the evening after cooking, eating and washing up. Sometimes when there are no good surfing or kiting conditions, I work on articles during the day. But I do go off the boat every day, I can't stand to stay on the boat, that feels so limited. Marco, my husband is on the boat a lot. He takes care of maintenance and is much less active in sports than I am. He loves kitesurfing in the waves and then he always goes along. And of course, he sometimes comes with us to shore. To visit friends or go for a hike.

Did the Covid-19 have an effect on your lifestyles?

Very much! We weren't allowed to land in some islands, the immigration people came by and brought us food and drinks, but we also had to leave as soon as possible. That was very stressful, no sense of security where we would be welcome again. Luckily everything was fine in Bali. We were allowed to be there and also disembarked. I also really wanted to go to the Netherlands to visit my family and friends coming September, but that will not happen. You can't enter Indonesia without all kinds of special papers, now I hope to be able to go to the Netherlands in May. I want to see my mother and I will get another niece or nephew. Besides that our plan was to sail through the Suez Canal in February, I don't think that will succeed....

Any pets on the boat?

We've got a dog on board since 2014, we saved her from death as a little puppy. She was already very far gone when we found her, but fortunately,

she recovered quickly when we adopted her. 

Your son spends more time on the boat, correct me if I am wrong, how he's doing with schooling and friends?

Yeah, he's lived aboard the ship longer than he's lived ashore. He doesn't know any better. The boat is his life, we do homeschool together and he has friends from other boats or on the shore. The reason we want to go on to Europe is partly that he has to go to high school. We hope to settle down in Portugal.

What do you miss the most about living on land?

Just get on your bike and go wherever you want. I also miss the space of the land around me. Sometimes the boat is really limited space. Especially the last few weeks, our dinghy is broken, I have to call a taxi boat to go to land, or I go on the SUP. But when the wind blows hard it's not really possible to paddle against the wind on the big board with the dog. I'll be so happy when we have a working dinghy again!

What you don't miss?

The rat race. In Holland, it's so normal to keep on yawning. And I hate the Dutch winter. And the cold, pretty boring North Sea, I don't miss it either. Give me the tropical blue sea, with beautiful waves, and corals!

What message do you want to give for anyone that wanted to be free?

Follow your dreams! You only live once. Never let fear stop you.

Who inspired you the most?

Surfers and kitesurfers who chose freedom and traveled to surf and kitesurf.

Do you feel you are also an inspiration for others?

I don't feel that, but people do. They often say it to me! I think it's an honor!

Anything else you want to share with us?

Live your life full of devotion, follow your dreams, don't be afraid to make mistakes. Because even if something's hard sometimes, it's always better that you've tried. Because if you don't, you will regret it later. You only live once. Don't put anything off. You never know when life will be over for you.

Follow Marije Den Breems Adventures on Instagram @marijedenbreems