Like her elder brother, Xoë was born on the island of Antigua, in the Caribbean. She started cruising at 12 weeks of age and made her first Atlantic crossing at six months. By the age of three she had visited 24 countries and overseas territories and had travelled more than 16,000 miles under sail.
Perhaps it was this precocious beginning which has inspired the Ship’s Scholar to leap at life, and to soar over obstacles intended for her elders. She never bothered learning to crawl; at ten months of age she just got up and ran. She started talking at one year, shed her nappies at 18 months, and began reading at this same age.
By two and a half years of age Xoë could pick up The Times or the Bible and amaze and amuse onlookers – on one occasion an outraged listener swore that we had obviously trained her, parrot fashion, to recite these things – and by five she could actually understand most of what she was reading. By seven years of age she had already devoured every children’s classic that we could think of, and so she now started work on the adult stuff: The Lord of the Rings, The Ancient Mariner, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights… and so on.
Shakespeare the young scholar disdained until, at the age of 12, she read A Midsummer Night’s Dream and became a passionate fan. Now, she even adores Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Dickens! So – you see what is possible given unlimited opportunity and assistance, no pressure whatsoever, and – above all – no television or DVD player; and no school.
At the age of 14, when her big brother was due to take some GCSE qualifications (which are the first level qualifications for kids attending school in England and Wales), Xoë decided to get in on the act. Within five months she had covered her five chosen courses and won herself five A-grade GCSEs.
After that, Xoë decided to give up her plan of being a famous Shakespearean actress and go to university. The next two years were spent studying for two more GCSEs and no fewer than five A Levels… which is more than anyone should ever think of tackling at a single sitting. (A Levels are the advanced qualifications for English and Welsh school children and are usually undertaken at the age of 18. Very few people take more than three.)
At the age of 16, our stubborn Ship’s Scholar took the exams and scooped the whole lot, scoring an A in her favourite, Latin. Not bad for someone who had never studied a word of that language before she dived in!
That little lot having been achieved, and two years before time, Xoë decided to take some time out. She spent the following year painting, writing poetry, and teaching herself to play the guitar.
Xoë is an excellent cook, is never seasick, and is happy aloft in the rigging – but, despite all of this, she has become increasingly dissatisfied with the life on the ocean wave. I think it is only fair to say that this is not an unusual scenario: in our experience, boys brought up on a boat tend to want to continue with the lifestyle – whether aboard the family’s cruising home or as a professional skipper – but girls raised in the same way seem drawn to the shore life.
Xoë has now jumped ship and started university in London. We see her only while we are at home in England, and the good ship Mollymawk is short of one valuable crew member.