A Russian family of four spent 8 YEARS at sea - what was it like? (PHOTOS)

Living on a yacht in the open sea for months on end, encountering bandits in the Caribbean, exploring the Antarctic and beating the world record for sailing with children - the Klochkov family from Novosibirsk has done it all.

It is December 2018 in the Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand. A family comprising father, mother and two daughters are sitting in the cabin of their 12-meter sailing yacht, the ‘Lady Mary’. The elder daughter, Anastasia, is celebrating her 17th birthday. Her mother sings “Happy Birthday” to her, with candles in her hands and then rushes to the small galley to prepare a celebratory dish of Olivier salad for her daughter, while Anastasia herself is playing the guitar. Suddenly, a wave slams into the boat and almost completely tips it on its side and a second later water starts rushing in through an open hatch right on the birthday girl’s head.

“It all happened so quickly, it was so awesome! Nastya [short for Anastasia] was upset at first, but then she took an unscheduled shower and we carried on the celebration. And everyone else had been sitting with their back to the sudden tilt of the boat, so we just ended up reclining on our backs. We were very lucky that no family members were on deck at the time,” says Marina Klochkova, Nastya’s mother.

On November 26, 2021, the Klochkov family - captain and head of family Andrei, 47; wife Marina, 46; and their daughters Anastasia, 20, and Lada, 10 - completed a voyage around the world on their yacht. Finishing the journey doesn’t mean returning home, however - merely that the Klochkovs have navigated all their planned routes and are now gradually heading towards home.

Since 2014, the family has circumnavigated the globe from west to east and back. The seafarers crossed all the meridians and all the oceans, except the Arctic Ocean, as well as five southern capes, including Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, as well as the Strait of Magellan; they visited the Antarctic and twice crossed the equator.

In total, the Klochkovs have spent about eight years at sea and set a world record by making the southernmost round-the-world trip on a yacht accompanied with children. But it seems this is to be far from their last voyage. 

Love in a pizzeria and initial difficulties

In 1999, Marina worked in a fast food restaurant in Novosibirsk and Andrei was a regular customer there.

“He used to come in for a pizza at weekends in the middle of the night, then we started chatting, went swimming in the ‘Ob Sea’ [as people in Novosibirsk call the local reservoir], sang songs together and then it turned into friendship, a relationship and love,” Marina recalls.

They had both dreamed of traveling since childhood and had read adventure books like Jules Verne’s ‘In Search of the Castaways’. In 2000, they went sailing for the first time in their local Novosibirsk reservoir. Within ten years, Andrei had qualified as a skipper after training at sailing school and started to take part in yacht races. The Klochkovs spent winters in Southeast Asia and, in summer, they traveled around Russia, living in a tent.

After one such trip, Andrei and Marina sold their businesses (Andrei owned a financial company and Marina was co-founder of a small advertising agency) and began to rent out office space. In parallel, they started to train and prepare their yacht for an Atlantic crossing and a round-the-world trip in warm prevailing winds.

In 2014, Marina and Andrei went sailing in the Mediterranean with Nastya and 18-month-old Lada in their arms. According to Marina, the first year was the most difficult. Some family members suffered from seasickness, everyone felt isolated, because of the lack of viable communication with the outside world and there were more and more domestic arguments.

“You feel you're in a vacuum because you can’t leave and slam the door, you can’t complain to a female friend, you can’t go to the bathhouse with your friends and forget about your family,” says Marina. “Andrei was very strict that first winter and tried to turn us into a sports team. One day, we announced to him that we were also a family that needed love and not just an autocratic hand. Our captain went quiet for three days, then everyone relaxed and we started to relate to one another in a different way.”

According to Marina, their self-contained group ended up as a “support for one other” - during subsequent arguments, each family member felt the others’ vulnerability and no longer wanted to quarrel. 

Daily routine and New Year at sea

Usually, the Klochkovs’ day at sea starts in the evening, rather than morning, and not with breakfast by any means. At about 8 pm Nastya goes on watch - she keeps an eye on the cockpit instruments and sails and every 20 minutes goes out on deck to check the situation outside. From midnight-1 am to 4-5 am Andrei keeps watch on the yacht and weather and, early in the morning, Marina replaces him.

By 10 am the little “cabin boy”, Lada, wakes up and Marina devotes part of the day to her - together they watch cartoons in English and drink tea. Then Nastya and Andrei wake up and have a late breakfast. The food on board depends a lot on the weather and on how long ago the boat left dry land. When there, the Klochkovs stock up on fruit, yogurt, cheese and other perishable delicacies and eat them before they spoil. The rest of the time, they make do with cereals and grains, dried fruit and other foods with a long shelf life. 

After breakfast, the captain shouts “Morning mail”, which means it’s time to read letters from fans, friends and loved ones “on the mainland”, which arrive by email via satellite. The family can stay at sea for two or three months at a time without direct contact with other people, so this ritual is of special importance.

During the day, Nastya and Lada do their homework - they both study remotely at the Geography School of Saint Andrew the First-Called, using pre-downloaded electronic textbooks and lectures. Marina, meanwhile, edits videos or writes an article or a new chapter for her book about their travels. Andrei helps her with this, as well as keeping an eye on the yacht.

At 5 pm, the whole family do their evening workout, eat supper and wash and, soon afterwards, Andrei goes to bed and the day begins again with Nastya on watch.

“At any moment, we may be diverted into urgently repairing parts of the yacht or resetting the sails - at any change of weather we drop whatever we’re doing and see to the boat,” Marina explains.

On making landfall, they restock with food and water, buy parts for the yacht and make trips to the surrounding area - the family are often helped in this by local people and guides. The family have made friends in Colombia, Malta, Australia and many other countries in this way, but, because they are traveling all the time, it is difficult to stay in regular touch.

“In Colombia, we spent a week living with a couple who are well into their 80s. They showed us their country and, a few months later, they came to visit us in Panama. We developed a filial-parental relationship with them. They are coming to Russia in the spring and we hope to get to Russia by that time and to meet up,” says Marina.

The Klochkovs also spend almost all holidays at sea. For instance, the family saw in the 2019 New Year at Point Nemo, as it is known. That is the name given to a spot in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, which is the most distant point in the world from any coastline.

“This is the place where decommissioned space debris is usually brought down from orbit, for instance stations or spaceships. At New Year, we were having tea and cake wearing amusing headbands with butterflies and figurines, listening to Modern Talking and asking Grandfather Frost to make sure that no-one dumped space junk on our heads. It seems our request was heard as everything worked out fine,” Marina recalls.

Pirates and coronavirus

In summer 2017, the Klochkovs were again crossing the Caribbean, between Mexico and Colombia, along the edges of Hurricane Irma. It was at least 60 miles to the nearest landfall, the whole crew was tired of the incessant waves, so they decided to spend a day resting up on some small islands south of Jamaica marked on the charts as uninhabited. When they sailed up to one of the islands, they saw old concrete huts and a group of fisherman looking like a band of ruffians - in worn T-shirts and with holes in their pants. Some of the men also had no teeth.

“These fishermen surrounded the yacht in six powerful motor boats. They showed us the best place to drop anchor, they pestered us for whisky and cigarettes and they clicked their tongues and catcalled when Nastya came out on deck. There were dozens of men, without wives or children, and we felt scared,” Marina recalls. “They circled us for a long time and it was already dusk when they returned to shore, after which we ate our supper and quietly slipped away to sea.”

The restrictions occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic proved a difficult ordeal. They resulted in the family having to stop over in Western Australia for a year and a half in 2020. In 2021, the Klochkovs decided to continue their journey and return home. They had to endure more than 70 days of independent sailing - they needed to take fresh water and fruit on board, but no country would admit their boat because of safety regulations.

“We had pre-arranged to be allowed entry to Christmas Island, but, on the day of our arrival, we were even refused fresh supplies of water. There was every reason [to be allowed entry], the authorities knew that we’d spent a long time at sea without coming into contact with anyone. You just think to yourself: For heaven’s sake, two years of pandemic and they still can’t devise different rules!” Marina says in exasperation.

In consequence, the family had to collect fresh water from their sails and they are now on their way home.

“Negative” geographical discoveries and plans for the future

The Klochkovs plan to arrive in Vladivostok maritime port in April 2022. They intend to spend the following year and a half at home in Novosibirsk - resting, making repairs, possibly swapping their yacht and planning their next voyages.

Marina wants to finish writing her book, while Lada plans to go to an ordinary school and also dreams of taking up dancing, drawing and horse riding.

“When I finish school, I intend to go to a Russian university and then I’d like to go to Oxford or Cambridge - I haven’t decided yet. I’m drawn to design and acting,” Lada says of her ambitions. 

During their travels, Nastya qualified for an entry level captain’s license in Cape Town and dreams of returning to the Arctic and Antarctic in the near future to take tourists on trips aboard sailing boats.

“I already have job offers from there. I’ll work part of the year there and, the rest of the time, I’ll be at home. I also intend to enter higher education, but I don’t know where yet. I’ll decide after I’ve tried my hand at yachtsmanship,” Nastya explains. 

Over their many years of voyaging, each of the crew made their own personal discoveries. For instance, near Tierra del Fuego, the Klochkovs saw Commerson’s dolphins for the first time - they had black heads and flippers resembling the coloring of pandas. The family did not even know that such creatures existed.

Nastya was struck most of all by the Antarctic - she did not know before that it has more than just glaciers.

“I imagined it would be an ice-bound, snow-covered wasteland. And so it was, but not everywhere. Where we were, there were mountains, glaciers, the intense blue of the ice, the polar researchers. I was greatly struck by it all and I found myself wanting to see it all many times more,” Anastasiya says, describing her impressions.

The Klochkovs also made a “negative” geographical discovery for themselves - they sailed to precisely the spot where the Maria Theresa Reef mentioned in Jules Verne’s ‘In Search of the Castaways’ was supposed to lie. On arrival, they ascertained that the island itself was no more than a nice legend.

“When, after immersing yourself in these stories when you’re young, you then find yourself in exactly the same location… it’s simultaneously a bitter and happy feeling. It was a feeling of painful elation - that’s the only way I can put it,” Marina says.

Finally, the biggest discovery the family made was not to do with science, but with human capabilities.

“Our chief discovery was that human beings are capable of anything. The main thing is to believe and to start taking steps in the necessary direction. Every fresh step makes you realize that your dream is closer than you think, that it is not just some kind of celestial beings, or great names, that achieve their dreams. Dreams come true for those who really want something,” Marina Klochkova says defiantly in conclusion. 

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