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Setting Sail from Stow
By Nancy Arsenault
Sail Boat

   For many people, planning a vacation involves some advanced notice and maybe someone to watch the house.  Stow’s Hopman family, on the other hand, had a plan that was years in the making and involved selling their Harvard Acres home and putting everything in storage. For dad Pablo Hopman, it also meant taking a leave of absence from his job at MIT’s Lincoln Labs in the Advanced Space Systems and Concepts Group.
   By mid July, this family of four, including Pablo, mom Tatja and daughters Mia, 10 and Remi, 7, will set sail on a year long journey. They will live aboard a 37ft, two-cabin sailboat, the Borealis, which they recently purchased and sailed up from Maryland.  
   While both Tatja and Pablo are experienced sailors, having crewed off the coast of California and on extended trips throughout the Pacific, conquering the Atlantic and the route they have mapped out for their family will be a new challenge.  Add to that the unpredictability of sailing across the ocean with two young children, and this family adventure is bound to be something to write home about.
   The Hopman’s voyage will begin with a leisurely summer sail up the coast of New England, extending into the fall when they visit the ports of Nova Scotia. “There are plenty of places to stop and see things all along the coast,” said Tatja, who will be homeschooling her children throughout the trip. The family’s stay along the eastern seaboard is part of a well thought out plan to cross the Atlantic, heading to the Caribbean islands, after the November hurricane season has passed. 
  Once in the Caribbean, the family will anchor there for the winter, island hopping in the warm waters off the Virgin Islands. With five snow days behind her this past school year, Mia said she is especially looking forward to the warmer climes.  “They’ll do a lot of swimming off the boat, snorkeling and exploring,” said Pablo, explaining that the main objective of the trip is family fun and memories, creating unique experiences for the kids rather than setting a goal to sail so many miles or reach a certain number of ports.
   While anchoring in temperate, deep blue waters for the winter seems ideal, Pablo knows the trip may have some moments of adversity. After the Caribbean, his route takes them to South America, sailing to Venezuela, Guatemala and Panama.  The crossing from the Caribbean to South America could take up to two weeks of continued sailing. He and Tatja will have to take turns at the helm to keep the boat sailing 24 hours a day with no ports of call for provisions, “We may get down to eating out of tin cans by the very end,” he joked.
    That crossing and all the other experiences of the voyage will be brought into Tatja’s teaching curriculum. From currency conversion, to various exercises involved with plotting a course, to science projects on weather and ocean life and the study of new and different cultures, she is sure that her children will not be left behind academically.  To that end, she has also been working with Pompositticut teacher Lisa Wallet on the second grade workload that Remy would have received next year and with Mr. Tapalian of Center School on Mia’s 5th grade work assignments. Tatja is travelling with the same workbooks and homework assignment sheets that both girls would receive at school, assuring that they will be at or above grade level at the conclusion of the trip. 
    In addition to teaching her two children and serving as crew on the boat, Tatja will also be chief cook and housekeeper. Fully satisfied with her two burner galley stove and refrigerator, Tatja is confident that her meals will more than serve their needs. Not having a grocery store nearby to pick up a few forgotten items may be a little harder to get used to than a significantly smaller kitchen. “We will be stocking up for several months at a time,” she said of the groceries they will bring on board, including dozens of eggs from local Stow chickens.  As for doing the laundry, Tatja said the family has pared themselves down to very few pieces of clothing. “We really are bringing very little, and I like that very much.”
   While lacking in some creature comforts, the family will not be lacking in the latest technology and safety support items.  There are life rafts and emergency beacons alongside a wind turbine that will provide power for batteries, generators and hot water. A fuel tank holds enough gas to power the boat for 700 miles in the event of poor weather conditions or damage to the sails.
   Satellite phones provide direct communication when far away from any land signals and Ship to Shore radios back that up. Mia’s Ipad allows her to blog daily about the trip, a project she is looking forward to, sending regular updates to The Stow Independent. Tatja also said that her mother, based in New Mexico, will be their direct link, told specifically of their daily whereabouts and sailing plans so that someone, somewhere in the world, knows where they are going and when they expect to arrive.
    So what happens when the trip is finally over? “We’re coming back to Stow for sure, without question,” said Tatja, adding that the girls have said they will miss their friends more than anything while on this trip. “I will miss the Randall Library most of all,” said Tatja emphatically. “We did all of our research there and the people there knew what we were planning well before anyone else. This is a wonderful community and we will absolutely be back.”