Anchors Aweigh

A remarkable Hermosa Beach family packs their bags, sells their wares and sets sail on a three-year adventure around the world.

  • Category
    Travel
  • Written by
    Zoe Alexander

When Scott and Mandi Leonard got married, like most couples they shared a vision of their future that included having a family, a business and—unlike most couples—sailing around the world.

Settling in Hermosa Beach, the Leonards had their first son, and Scott started his business, Trovena, LLC. With a family and the business underway, they decided to make the trip a reality, and a 10-year plan evolved. With an anticipated sail date of August 2011, the Leonard family is days away from an adventure already capturing attention.

And Scott and Mandi are ready. The house—including all the furniture down to the silverware—is for sale. The items that won’t make it on the boat have been donated to charity, and the boys, Griffin (11), Jake (9) and Luke (4), are eager for maritime life. 
The three-year voyage starts in Florida, where they will set sail to the Caribbean, then through the Panama Canal and on to the Galapagos Islands. After this, they sail for 20 straight days to Tahiti and then make their way to New Zealand and Australia. Finally they will go from the Great Barrier Reef to the South Pacific, on to Indonesia, completing the trip in Micronesia in the summer of 2014. 

When I met the Leonards, naturally I was impressed by their courage. What inspired me most is that their preparation for the trip reveals a non-traditional family philosophy that drives all of their decisions-from how they have raised the boys to Scott’s business to the many nuances of planning such a trip.

The planning process has been a journey in itself, requiring them to dramatically downsize their life. Scott says, “This isn’t a story about being on a boat; this is a story about simplifying our lives … if we never took this trip, the experience–the process–of just getting ready for it as a family has been phenomenal.” 

Scott Leonard’s drive to provide this unique adventure for his family has motivated him to buck tradition as a visionary entrepreneur and truly be a hands-on father. Scott lost his own father early in life, which deeply impacted his sense of purpose. “You never know when that proverbial bus is going to hit you,” he says, “so why wait to retire to do these things?”

Even during the genesis of the business, his desire to be an active part of Griffin’s life led him to set up the business so he didn’t work on Fridays and attended “Mommy and Me” classes. As his client list grew, many of them were pre-baby boomers who shared with him, “I’d give up this wealth to have a better relationship with my kids.”

Ultimately, it is the freedom to have three years on a boat with his family that inspired Scott to lay the foundation for his business. He knew that in order to take the trip, mapping out growth, following task lists, and meeting specific milestones was crucial. Scott also knew he needed a strong employee in place who could lead in his absence, so he hired an individual years before the trip to give that person time to settle into the job.

With the trip motivating him, Scott was able to take the risks necessary to launch the business and watch it grow. “Having this trip really forced me to do what I know I should have done anyways. The benefit it’s been to my business-and I’ve only seen this in the last year-has been phenomenal.”

Scott will be sharing his insights in a book titled Intentionally Irrelevant, exploring the notion that necessary policies and procedures can be set up in order for a business to operate in the absence of its owner. From the beginning, Scott made his employees aware of the trip. He laughs when I ask how they feel about the trip: “I think they’re ready to see me go.”

Mandi and Scott often refer to their decisions as unconventional, including their choice of which boat to call home. After an exhaustive search, it was the family-friendly advantages of a catamaran that sealed the deal. Although catamarans aren’t popular with most ocean sailors because the platform is more stable and doesn’t allow for much feedback from the ocean, this was a benefit for them. With three children aboard, it will be safer and more stable for homework and cooking.

The layout of their boat also provides much-needed privacy. Although the three boys shared a room in their home, they will each get their own bedroom and bathroom on the boat. Mandi and Scott know that the family will experience cabin fever, so providing each boy with his own space was a big consideration. Aptly enough, the Leonards named the boat after the boys (and a Bob Marley song), calling it the “Three Little Birds.”

Although Mandi knows they will miss friends and the life they built in Hermosa, relocating to a boat is liberating for her. “You can’t be afraid of letting go of what you think is a home in the traditional sense,” she says, “because the rewards will outweigh what you’re giving up.”
The boat will also allow the family to act as researchers. In a partnership with the SeaKeepers Society, an oceanographic organization, the family will collect data and provide it to SeaKeepers, which will share it with universities and hurricane centers. The Leonards wanted the trip to have meaning, as Scott explained, “We want there to be some consistency, a message that will carry through everywhere we go so they tie the trip together as we go.” This is a family who wants to learn from and appreciate the ocean, and what better way to do this than to care for it first-hand?

While showing their children the world from the eyes of a 50-foot catamaran is unconventional, Scott and Mandi have structured a formal lifestyle for the boat. The first step was to determine timing. They didn’t want Griffin to miss high school, and they didn’t want Luke to be too young. With this window in place, they were able to envision the trip not as a vacation, but creating a home-at-sea.

Scott will have a regular Monday-Friday workday (as well as quarterly trips home to check in with clients), while Mandi will homeschool the boys. They are using the Calvert homeschool curriculum, specifically because it is highly structured. Mandi is also pleased that each boy has a counselor he can call if they encounter a challenging subject. “They can take their education into their own hands and seek help that’s not just me.” Mandi and Scott will also augment school work with assignments relating to their travel. Each boy will have a lesson for the areas they visit and will be responsible for a family presentation. 

Because Scott wants the boys to experience a work-life balance, it is not surprising that the boys will serve as crew. The boys will scrub the boat, assist with docking and mooring, and Jake (known as “Monkey”) already knows how to lower himself into the engine room to check the oil. Their participation is vital to the day-to-day operations of the boat and is integral to Scott’s and Mandi’s belief in having responsibilities, working as a team, and taking care of each other. “It’s truly giving them responsibility that’s important and critical. They take it seriously without being scared of what’s happening,” notes Scott. There is a profound level of trust that exists in this framework, and the Leonards recognize this in their design.

A family who has always been active in the water, the Leonards made sure to enforce the boys’ water activities with discipline and fun. All three had mandatory swim lessons, enjoy water polo (Scott coaches their team) and snorkel with Mandi. Scott knows that because the boys are comfortable and strong in the water, this will help them stay calm should they encounter a precarious situation.  The promise of the trip encouraged the independence and skills they will all need to make this journey. 

When I asked if they had advice for families who want to plan a trip or have more time together, Scott replied, “There’s a good part of the population that would never want to do this or be able to, but our hope is that our story is motivational enough to people to just break out from the day-to-day.” 
They also stressed that organization is key, as is simplifying life to meet the goal. Mandi said, “We’re breaking all the traditional molds. You’re on the boat, it becomes so clear, you don’t have the clutter, you don’t have to run your kids back and forth to 50 different things, and you really have time to focus on what’s important.” Needless to say, if the trip is nearly as inspiring as planning it has been, it will indeed be the adventure of a lifetime.

Follow the Leonard family’s adventure at their website, themobileceosetssail.com.

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