Tracy and Christa Prows decided to make their dream a reality around 1996.
The couple's big plan: sell their 10-acre home and farm in Bear River City, Box Elder County; move to Florida; and buy a boat big enough to house their family of seven children for years to come.
Christa Prows admitted it was unconventional.
"No one was determined to talk us out of it. It was more like, 'Why in the world are you doing that?'" Prows said. "People couldn't understand. They thought we were being irresponsible, but it was something we were driven to do."
And so they did. That year, the Mormon family bought a catamaran and named it the Liahona. A few years later, when they had liquidated all their property and assets, they loaded up the children and set sail in the Caribbean.
As they embarked on their new lives, the parents displayed a picture of their new boat on calm blue water under the setting sun. Next to the photo is a quote attributed to Mark Twain, adopted as the family mission statement. It reads: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
The saying has served the Prows family well, Christa Prows said.
"I can truly say I have no regrets about our decision to sell all and sail," she said.
Dreams and decisions
Tracy Prows spent most of his youth in New Zealand, where he grew to love sailing and dreamed of one day moving his family onto a boat.
Christa Prows grew up near Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains. Her dream involved the building of a secluded cabin getaway surrounded by tall pines and complemented by a clear stream or nearby pond.
They met on a blind date and married in 1981. They both graduated from Brigham Young University, Tracy in accounting and Christa with a master's degree in recreation administration. Tracy accepted a job at a CPA firm in Brigham City. The couple restored an old Victorian home and operated a small farm, Christa Prows said.
With time, the family expanded to include eight children, the oldest born in 1982 and the youngest in 1996. One son died of congenital heart disease, Christa Prows said.
Then, around the mid-1990s, the idea of a boat on the open ocean became appealing to Christa Prows, who knew the kids would begin leaving home within a few years.
"We felt like we had a small window of time left when we would have the entire family still together where we could do such an adventure," she said. "The goal was to liquidate all of our assets, buy a boat, go off sailing until the money ran out, then move back to land and start all over again."
Tracy Prows had some sailing experience, but the couple read books on sailing and vacationed in Florida and California, where they chartered sailboats to practice their seamanship, Christa Prows said.
They searched carefully until they found the right sailboat in 1996. They committed to the Caribbean adventure when they purchased the catamaran, she said.
"The hardest decision was doing what it took to get on the boat in the first place," Christa Prows said. "In the year 2000, we threw off the bowlines in Florida and didn’t return to United States coastal waters for almost five years."
Life at sea
Over the next decade, there was a lot of swimming, fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving with sun-bleached hair, sun-tanned skin and faded clothing.
There were also long, hot days of dealing with frustrations, an endless list of jobs and people to feed. When traveling, they mostly ate soup, crackers and ginger snaps to avoid seasickness. When docked, they ate bread, fruit and other foods, Christa Prows said.
Their lives basically revolved around the weather report and safe waters. During their years in Florida, they survived several of the state’s worst hurricanes, Prows said.
At the end of each day, the unobstructed view of a stunning sunset allowed everyone to relax and breathe normally again, she said.
"That setting sun may only last a relatively few moments, but it's a reminder that simple things in life often bring us our greatest joys," Prows said.
They traveled around the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and they lived in Jamaica for more than three years. Along the way, they saw plenty of sharks and other sea creatures.
In addition to being "boat-schooled," the children learned to work because there was no place to hide and shirk duties.
"All of our children are good hard workers," she said. "Best of all, during all these years on the boat, there was never a mutiny."
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Prows named their boat the SS Liahona after the curious ball mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Liahona means "compass" (Alma 37:38). The name has sparked some missionary opportunities, Christa Prows said.
"Naming your boat is serious business. It becomes your identity. You use it to identify yourself to other mariners and to the authorities. It's where you live," Christa Prows said. "We were not the Prows family but the crew of the SS Liahona. Your boat name is almost always a topic of conversation among cruisers."
While docked in Jamaica for more than three years, they became part of an LDS branch in Port Antonio. Tracy Prows served in the branch presidency and played the piano in meetings, a new phenomenon in the branch, his wife said.
Christa Prows served in all the auxiliaries. Their children made up the majority of the Primary. On one occasion, Prows peeked in and found her 9-year-old daughter leading the group of 10 children in a Primary song with no adults present.
"We were able to serve in ways that stretched us and helped us learn that you accept people (including yourself) exactly where they are in life and go from there," Christa Prows said.
As the family served and lived together in close quarters, the parents’ marriage as well as family unity were strengthened, Prows said.
"You are all stuck in the same boat," Christa Prows said. "Our family members were forced to become each other's best friend."
At one point, Tracy Prows managed a marina in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He was later asked by the Jamaican Port Authority to supervise a new five-star mega-yacht marina it was building. Perks included security, a pool, air conditioning, restaurants, and opportunities to meet rich and famous people, Christa Prows said.
"Our family of kids living on a boat intrigued many visitors, and we often received interesting invitations, such as a helicopter ride and dining on the private decks," Christa Prows said. "Guests often mentioned how impressed they were with how our children could converse with adults so well."
One of the more memorable experiences the family had involved an unexpected landing in Cuba. While sailing in strong winds and high waves between Cuba and Hispaniola, the Liahona was damaged and began taking on water. While Tracy Prows was dealing with a series of system failures, his 7-year-old son fell and cut his head open. The wound was bleeding profusely and needed medical attention. The Prowses radioed Cuban authorities and explained the emergency, and they were allowed to dock. Father and son were picked up by a Cuban ambulance and taken to the hospital while the rest of the family remained to repair the boat. Everything worked out, Christa Prows said.
Into the sunset
The last child graduated from high school last year and is now in college. Some of the children served LDS missions, and all went to the college of their choice. Most are now married, and the Prowses delight in visiting their grandchildren. Christa Prows is grateful for the lessons the family learned while living on the boat, she said.22 comments on this story
"The circumstances of boat life naturally put them in positions to succeed at hard tasks," she said. "A boat is the best teacher I know. I’m very pleased with each one of our children’s love for learning."
In the coming years, the Prowses plan to build up their savings and possibly visit the Polynesian islands. They have also discussed serving an LDS mission. Their faith and spiritual "Liahona" will lead the way, Christa Prows said.
"It is impossible to calm the seas of life without (the Lord's) help, literally and figuratively," she said.
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