Mothership Adrift – One female sailor’s experience of raising a family at sea

06th Mar 2020

Irenka is skipper of SV Haddock alongside husband Woody. Since 2017, they have lived on board with their three children, sailing over 6,000 nautical miles, visiting eight countries and 32 islands, whilst juggling parenthood with life at sea and video blogging their adventures.

Here, Irenka tells us a little bit about herself, her family and her sailing adventures.

Irenka - mothership adrift

Q) Tell us a bit about your background and how you first started sailing.

A) I trained in Psychology and Philosophy and used to work in London as a Therapist so after setting up many projects in various hospitals, prisons and centres for people with many different needs. I always loved the sea and wanted to experience the freedom of sailing so I handed over all the projects and flew out to the Balearics to do a few sailing courses and find a job.

My first passage was crew on a yacht delivery of a 50ft Beneteau from Spain to the BVI’s. Then after I got a job as a mentor for young people doing a sailing expedition in the Caribbean. I did my second Atlantic crossing bringing this boat back to Palma and my third Atlantic crossing delivering another boat from Boston to England in the North Atlantic Even though I fractured my ribs doing this passage, it did not put me off sailing. 

I went on to become a Flotilla Skipper In Greece and Croatia and eventually a principal of our own sailing centre in Brighton doing yacht racing tasters and keelboat courses while becoming a mother of 3 children.  When I missed being out on the water, I did a couple of years as volunteer crew with the RNLI and became the first female coxswain to support the Brighton Beach Lifeguards.

Q) What drove you to give up your life ashore and take to the water full time?

A) I realised I loved being out on the water, at sea and the whole experience of slow travel , exploring new places and making those big exciting journeys to get around the world. I love the way the boat is powered by the wind and how you have to adapt to the unpredictability of weather. It makes me feel connected to the environment in a way that I think I miss in modern life.

I decided my biggest dream would be to make a circumnavigation of the world by boat but I didn’t know I would be doing it with a family.

Q) What were your biggest concerns before setting out on your adventure?

A) My biggest concerns were feeling sea sick on the boat and unable to care for the children properly because sailing with them has me feeling more anxious than when I sailed without them. I was also terrified that one of them would fall overboard.

Q) Has your approach to parenting changed since moving to live on board SV Haddock?

A) It can be hard work being with your children all day and everyday but because of this, I think I am more connected to their world and maybe I can see how much more they are capable of.

This has allowed me to give them more independence and responsibility and in fact find the patience to teach them new things and let them get more involved. It all takes longer but is better in the long run.

Q) What are the biggest challenges to bringing up children on board a yacht?

A) Being a mother, teacher, cook, shopper, navigator, cleaner, comforter, friend and entertainer. We are altogether all of the time so you rarely get time on your own or time to relax.

Because we are away from the support and network you get on land or from being in one place, you can feel the burden of responsibility for their health, safety, education and socialisation.  Even though the freedom is awesome, you are constantly managing everything.

Q) Where is your favourite place you’ve visited since starting your journey and why?

A) My favourite place has been the Aeolian Islands North of Sicily because we got to sail past an active volcano, hike up to a crater and soak in the hot natural sulphur baths. Before I sailed, I never even realised such an incredible place existed in the heart of the Mediterranean.

Mothershift adrift - Irenka


Q) What has been your most memorable experience?

My most memorable experience has probably been the most scary one when we were in the middle of the Cyclades islands in Greece and we were trying to approach a bay in the remote island of Folegrandos but the katabatic wind was too strong to enter. We were a few days from any other islands and knew the weather was deteriorating. Our only option was to try and enter the small port on the other side .

We managed to enter and find a tiny dock to cling onto for a few days but I remember how it felt to have the whole boat heeling over with no sail up , winds of over 50 knots screaming down the mountainside and unable to motor over 2.5 knots against the wind.

Q) What are your plans for 2020?

We have decided to start slowly this time and hop along the coast of Spain and France as well as hang out in the Balearics and hopefully Corsica for the summer. Then we shall head to the Canaries, Cape Verde Islands and make our 3rd attempt at crossing the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the year.

Find out more

Irenka is just one of many women who are taking to the ocean and becoming successful skippers. If you are inspired by her story and would like to follow her adventures, visit her website or follow her on YouTube

For more information about our #Morewomenatsea initiative, follow our blog.