Mollymawk: The School of Life

This article was written by our Brazilian friend, Gean Monteiro. Gean has spent many months sailing aboard Mollymawk over the course of the past five years. In fact, it’s high time we got round to giving him a place on our Crew page. I’ve often suggested that he might like to put together some words which describe our adventures together. What I wasn’t expecting was something which would make us blush to the tips of our toes…!

Este artigo também está disponível em Português.


I’ve been trying to write this article for almost three years, and even now I’m not sure what to write. The reason is that since I met this amazing family aboard Mollymawk they’ve taught me a lot.  We’ve spent a lot of time together, and during this time they’ve motivated me to do so many things in many different subjects. They have influenced me in the way I think; in the way I see the world. Since I met this family, a lot of things have changed in my life.
It is very difficult to express what I feel and think about each member of this family, because each one has a special feature; each of them has helped me and provided me with new experiences – and I’ll never ever forget it.

Before telling what it was like to sail and spend time learning aboard Mollymawk, I would like to give a quick introduction to myself and explain how I started sailing.
Eight years ago (in 2008) I was living in Campinas. This is a big town about 90km from the state capital São Paulo and about 200km from the sea. I was 18, and I had no idea what a sailing boat looks like or what sailing is like. I had never even thought about it. Unfortunately, in Brazil sailing is not such a common thing. We are not familiar with it; it’s still a sport which is only for rich people. I was working as a guide in a Tourism and Adventure Park, helping people on the trails, teaching camping skills, and also teaching abseiling. In this place I met a crazy man called Elias – and if it wasn’t for him and his initiative I probably would not be here today, aboard this sailing boat in Chile. I would not ever have met Mollymawk.

Elias also taught me a lot of things during the time I lived with him. In fact, it was he who taught me to abseil and how to light a really good campfire; and he also taught me how to throw a knife and how to make and use a bow and arrow. (He used to be a commando in the Brazilian army…) He also taught me some woodworking skills, and he taught me electrical engineering and basic mechanics.

When I first met Elias he had a map of Brazil on his wall, with some routes drawn on it on the sea, and he said that one day he would buy a boat and would sail following those routes. This sounded very interesting to me and it opened my mind to start thinking about a new world. We started talking a lot about this subject, and as I showed a great interest in it, Elias eventually invited me to sail with him as well.
About a year after our first meeting, Elias was really determined to go sailing, and in the end he sold everything he owned to make enough money to buy a boat. I didn’t have too many things, but I got rid of the few things I had – I sold my motorbike – and also I got a little bit of money by digging a swimming pool and by working for Telefonica. And finally we were able to leave São Paulo and proceed with our mission. We went to Salvador, Bahia. There we found a small 30 foot yacht and we moved on to it.

Neither I nor Elias had any experience of sailing. It all seemed like a crazy thing to do. All the people who met us said that we were nuts, and this idea would not to work. There are not many Brazilians living aboard boats – we had only ever heard of one family doing it, and they were very rich –  so that is why people were so pessimistic about us. But we didn’t give up, and we continued with the idea, and day by day we learned about sailing, all by ourselves.
We spent a long time in this area. Salvador has the largest navigable bay in the world, and for me it was an excellent place to learn about sailing. But even though we were living aboard, we didn’t go sailing as much as we had expected. Whenever we went sailing there were adventures and surprises, because we had many problems with the boat in the beginning. First it was the engine, then the propeller, then the sails, etc, etc… There was always something breaking, and then we had to mend it.

The captain also had some problems. He was actually a little bit scared about sailing… and another thing was that whenever we sailed he always felt very seasick. So in the end we spent a long time in a very quiet place, where many cruising boats are accustomed to stop. This place is called Itaparica, and it is about 20 nautical miles from Salvador. It was in this place that, one day, a yellow boat arrived and anchored near us. So far, this was nothing new; it was just another boat arriving. I never could have imagined how long I would one day spend aboard that yellow boat.

A little while later I was sitting outside the marina, using my computer, when, in the distance, I saw four people approaching. I hadn’t seen them before, but Itaparica receives a lot of foreign boats, so it was normal to see strangers walking around. I continued using my computer. There was another group of sailors standing close to me, and those four people came to where we were and they began talking to the others. Suddenly a woman from the group of four came up to me. We exchanged greetings and then we started to talk. I told her that I was living on a boat with my friend, Elias; and she said she also was living on a boat with her family. She pointed to the yellow boat and she said that night there would be a party aboard, and she invited me to go.

Later that night I went to that party, and I discovered that the yellow boat was called Mollymawk and the woman who invited me to the party was Jill. The party was for the captain’s birthday. I found out that he was Jill’s husband, Nick. The two other people that I had seen were their children, Roxanne and Caesar, and on that day I also met Poppy Dog. There were so many people on board Mollymawk that night that I didn’t have any opportunity to talk properly with them. I usually do not talk a lot anyway, and for me it is even harder when I am in a place which is full of people. I usually do more listening than talking.
But the little bit I heard that night about this family – about their stories, their experiences, and their lifestyle; about how they had been living aboard the boat for several years, and how their children grew up on board – all these stories made me amazed, excited, motivated, and curious to know more about them and their experiences. It was a great evening, with lots of singing and lots of laughter, and it was marked by another fact – which was that Jill tried to kill me with a huge meal containing fresh coriander. For me there is no more horrible thing in the world than fresh coriander, and one of my biggest problems when I was in Bahia was that, the local people love this stuff and almost all of their recipes use a lot of coriander.

But even after they tried to poison me with coriander, I still wanted to visit this family again. I got to know them better day by day, and I was more and more amazed about the things I heard, and more and more interested in their lifestyle. Until I met them I had only known a few rich Brazilian sailors, who basically go sailing only at the weekend, and some foreigners who were cruising but who were usually doing something planned, and normally with a date for the end the adventure, – nothing like what I saw on board Mollymawk. So for me it was really something inspiring. My thoughts travelled far far away after talking to them.

Over time we became good friends. More and more I wanted to spend time with them. Every time when I was on board I was learning something interesting – some more technical stuff with Nick about mechanics, or how to fix things, or about navigation, weather, tides, sailing, how to trim the sails, boats in general, etc, etc…  Sometimes he talked about music. He introduced me to a lot of good music – groups from the 70s and 80s – and he also had some interesting stories to tell about some concerts of great bands that he had the opportunity to see – for example Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Madness, and many others.

I also spent a lot of time with Jill. We took a lot of walks together on the sand bar in the middle of the harbour, and with her I learned things about history, about culture, and about the cultures and religions of other countries, together with stories about old mariners, and stories about their own experiences on board Mollymawk. She also influenced me to learn about local things wherever we were travelling. I remember the time when we were on the Paraguaçu river; Jill loved to see the Saveiros sailing up and down the river and she always took millions of pictures every time when one passed by.

Once, after Jill persuaded Elias to do a lot of asking, we had the opportunity to sail on one of them. We also visited the place where the last Saveiros of Bahia are moored, all six of us travelling there in Mollymawk‘s little sailing dinghy. It was a very cramped day… but a very good one.

It was a very special  moment for me the first time I sailed on board Mollymawk. It was also on the Paraguaçu river, and I sailed with them for 30 days, visiting the different villages. Although by now I had spent almost a year living on board a sailing boat, this was the first time I had the opportunity to understand what sailing is all about and to see whether I was doing it right. In the beginning Jill gave me a lot of inspiration and motivation to keep going. At the start this was very important for me – and she is still doing it, and she’s a good friend, always helping me in times when things are not going as we expected or hoped. She is very good with the words. I always feel happier when she is around. The atmosphere is more cheerful and she always makes me smile.

The day to day life on board Mollymawk charmed me and delighted me, – and it still does, even to this present day. The simple way of life is a school and it encourages knowledge. Someone always raises some topic – sometimes about how something works, sometimes about something political, or about science, geography, biology, etc etc – there is always something interesting being discussed, and each person is expressing their opinions. For me, living in the midst of it was a great experience. I learned so many things. Every day I learned something new; I heard something new.

All of this also was something very different for me. When I lived with my parents or when I was with my friends, we never had these kinds of conversations. For me it is funny when someone asks Nick or Jill how they educated their children. I have the impression that people sometimes do not believe, or do not understand, how children can be educated without sending them to school or following a teaching method as in a school – but as I said before, all the days of their lives they are surrounded by knowledge. Aboard Mollymawk you learn something every day – even if you don’t want to!

Caesar and Roxanne were never forced to study following the normal pattern. I would like to know half of the things which Caesar or Roxanne know. I envy them their knowledge of different subjects. I have never heard any subject that was being discussed on which Caesar did not have an opinion. I have great admiration for him. He has great experience of life; he has a great curiosity; he is always looking, and learning about new things. During the time we sailed together I learned from him a lot of nice things, such as how to make beer, and how to make wines with different fruits, how to make cheeses, and of course I learned from him things about navigation, sailing, and boat maintenance.

This reminds me of my first passage on the open sea. The plan was to make a passage of about five or six days, from Camamu, which is about 50 miles south of Salvador, to Guarapari in the province of Espirito Santo. As soon as we left Camamu my friend Elias, the captain of the boat on which I lived, began to feel seasick. After three days he was still very ill; and in those three days I had to sail the boat almost single handed, doing watches of 18 hours with only an hour or two of sleep while poor Elias tried to sail the boat from a lying down position.

Sometimes I would wake up, when Elias called me, and find that we were going in completely the wrong direction. We had no auto pilot or self steering, so we needed someone helming the boat all the time.

After three days of this I was exhausted  – but fortunately Mollymawk was a just a mile or two ahead of us, keeping watch over us. I spoke to them on the radio about what was happening, and when they understood the situation Caesar came on board and helped me take the boat to our destination. After he came on board, finally I could get some rest; and then I could enjoy the rest of our trip. It was very nice.

Now lets talk about Roxanne. This will be very difficult for me, but let’s try. She is so young and yet she has a huge knowledge. She is an artist – she draws well. She is a good cook. She appreciates good books; she is a very good student, she has a vast knowledge of natural history and biology. She is so amazing and motivating when I think about it – and it’s even more amazing when you the realise that she learned almost everything by herself.

I have very great admiration for Roxanne. We have spent a lot of time together. The first time I met her she was just a little  girl – she was only 13. Now I see her almost as a woman; but I miss the times when she used to spend lots and lots of time tying knots in my dreads or painting my face, my feet, and my toenails, or putting coffee and green food colouring in my coca-cola… At one time she had a pet duck and she used to take it with her in the inflatable kayak. And we used to go exploring in the dinghy, Tidely-Idely. Those days were great fun.

During that time Roxanne also helped me to learn things, and she awoke in me interests in things like plants and animals, insects, and all other kind of wild life. It is so beautiful and fascinating to see how she loves animals, regardless of the type. It doesn’t matter if they are ugly or cute, she loves all of them (but especially if they are black with white paws). She showed me how to respect animals, and why to respect them. She is quiet and discreet, and I do admire her for her compassion, her generosity, her sensitivity to living beings in general,  and also for her simplicity of life and for her dedication. She has a pure heart. I see her as a very special person, and she is very important to me.

Above all, she gives me the strength to keep moving forward. I hope always to be able to meet up with her again. And if she allows me, I will follow her to the end of the world. I think it is not difficult to see and understand why I fell in love with her…

I also have a huge respect for Jill. It is almost six years since I first met her, and now I see her as my mother. She always gives me support when I have doubts about a decision to take in my life, and she always she gives me a direction. At times when I have felt sad, she has supported me. She always tries to show me the good side of things, even when things are not going right. She has taught me to analyse my thought, to try to understand them so that I am not led astray by what she calls my ‘programming’, and to have to control of my behaviour so that, even in difficult days, those thoughts do not make me suffer. I have no words to describe how she is important to me.

Overall we have all spent a lot of time together. We sailed in Brazil side by side when I was living in that other boat with my friend Elias, travelling from Salvador to Angra dos Reis (Ilha Grande). We all had a great fun on New Years day in Rio de Janeiro.

Adding up all the time that I have lived aboard Mollymawk I think I have spent almost a year and a half living with this family. I have had the opportunity to do several passages with them. I spent three months with them in the Rio de la Plata, crossing often between Argentina and Uruguay. Then, another time, I was aboard for five months, during which time we made a passage from the Rio de la Plata to Brazil, and I had my birthday party during this passage. They gave me a sextant, which I haven’t had the chance to use yet – but I’m going to one day.

And now I’ve been aboard for almost seven months, exploring the canals and glaciers in the Chilean half of Tierra del Fuego. During this time I also had the great experience of sailing around Cape Horn. Roxanne pierced my ear with a needle and put a gold earring on me, like the old sailors used to do.

After all this time living with this family my life has changed. They changed my way of thinking; my way of seeing the world. They taught me to pay attention to the way we live, because the way we live affects the world in a certain way. They taught me that we should give more care to the world we live in and value it more. And they taught me to take better care of my own health; to eat better. Most of the people I lived with in Brazil do not seem to care about some of these facts. Perhaps they are unaware of such things. Before I met this family I never had anyone who could explain and show those things to me.

During my time on board Mollymawk I have also improved in some skills, such as cooking. (They very much like my cakes and my bread, and they like the meals that I cook.) Day by day, working alongside them, I have learned how to maintain the boat. I have learned to work with metal, with wood, with paint; and I have built things – such as the bread bin, and a book shelf, and Poppy’s bed, and the floor in the bathroom. And I also rebuilt Roxanne’s electric guitar, which was broken. I am not professional, like Nick or Caesar, but I see that I have progressed a lot while living with them.

Best of all, this family has showed me a simple way of life which, in my point of view, is much better than what most people seek, especially those living in large urban centres. They have showed me a better way of life for me and for the world. I wish there were more “Mollymawkers” around the world. If more people would think and try to do even a small part of what they do, I am absolutely certain that the world would be a much better place.

One of the “bad” things about people who live on boats is that one day they go away (which is bad from the point of view of someone who is staying behind…). But that is how the life is. They like to keep moving. There are lots and lots of places to be seen and lots more adventures waiting. I’ve had to say goodbye to these friends quite a few times – but I always have the thought that I will see them again, sometime – and for the last 6 years I’ve manage to do it!  Until I get my own boat and am able to visit them whenever I want, I just have to accept the fact that moments like these will occur. The big problem is to live with the thought of uncertainty about when, where, and how I’m going to be able to see them again. I’m not very good with goodbyes… Usually the first few days after we  go our different ways are bloody difficult.

In a few days, unfortunately, I will have to pass through it again.  Due to the circumstances of our way of life we have to distance ourselves again; that is how it is. But as I said before, I know I’ll find them again. I will do everything possible to make it happen, no matter where they are.

Looking on the bright side, trying to be positive – sometimes it’s good to go away. It is important, because it shows us how other people are important to us. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for two weeks or for two years, the longing will not feel greater or lesser; it will just go on for longer. I have found that the feeling of missing someone that you love does not change.
For me life is much more fun and interesting when they’re around; I’ll never forget them; I will always be thinking of them, whether they are near me or on the other side of the world.

I will never be able to repay all that this family has given to me, for all they taught me, for all that they provided for me. With them I have visited places which I would never have been able to visit; I saw landscapes – and seascapes – that I would never have seen if I had not met them. I will always do everything possible to pass what I learned from them onto others. I will always tell everyone about these wonderful people that one day, by chance, I had the pleasure of meeting. It is very hard to describe what I feel… This experience is something very personal. No one can see it the way I see it. As I said at the beginning of this article, I have been trying to write this for 3 years. Finally I did it! But it was not easy. I had to get stuck in a tent in the middle of a snowstorm, in order to have time to think and choose what to say.

I would like to thank Jill, Roxanne, Nick, and Caesar for all the many things. Thank you, thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for me. You all are my family, my real family. In my opinion, to be a family one does not need to share the same blood; you only need a deep affection. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you very much! I love all of you!

We love you too, Gean! You’ve become a very good sailor; you’ve always been a good cook; you’ve never shied away from hard work, whether it be hauling in the anchor or helming in a blizzard – but best of all, you are always so happy that you bring sunshine into even the rainiest day. You never argue, or criticise anybody; you never complain about anything. In all the years that we’ve known you’ve never even grumbled – oh, except about the coriander….. Hey, you forgot to mention the fact that we’ve cured you of your addiction to junk food and coca-cola!

Gean is currently heading north from Tierra del Fuego to France – direct! – aboard a flash racing machine. This will be his first visit to Europe. And at the end of the summer, he’ll be looking for a ride back to South America or to the Caribbean. So, if anybody out there is looking for a really good, reliable, hard-working crew… drop us a line.


  1. Bloody hell Jill.
    Made my eyes leak.

  2. Liked it very much!
    Mountain hugs to the Sea people 🙂

  3. Bautista Portela

    Hello! Wow that was wonderfull!! I really liked it very much.
    Having the opportunity to met Gean was great. I’m so happy about him.
    “I’ve had to say goodbye to these friends quite a few times – but I always have the thought that I will see them again, sometime” It’s so true. Can’t wait for the next time to met Mollymawks again!
    I hope you all are having a great time at the South.
    Gean good luck at France!
    Regards, hugs, kisses, more hugs and more kisses to Jill, Roxanne, Nick, Caesar and Gean.

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