It changed us.
As Dean Massey said those words, he smiled and looked around at his wife and two sons gathered around him at the dining room table.
In 2001, the Masseys walked away from their life in Golden and set out on what would become a four-year, 15,000-mile sailing adventure.
Dean and Karen Massey had been saving money and planning for the trip since their sons were 4 years old.
"We had a five-year plan and on year four, we decided it was time to go," Karen Massey said. "We were commuting 30 minutes into Denver. Dean was traveling internationally for his job. The kids were over-committed at school, and there was no end in sight.
"This was not what we signed up for when we decided to have kids."
To see the Masseys now, it's hard to imagine them as an overextended suburban family. Today, they still have handmade Turkshead bracelets around their ankles -- the consummate sign of a sailor. They are relaxed and their lives as they describe them are full of possibilities.
The four-year sailing trip that ended early this summer began as a small dream, Karen Massey said. Originally, the goal was to take their twin sons, Jack and Ben, on a sailboat U.S. history tour up the East Coast.
But the trip was a creature of its own. As they searched for the perfect boat and were steered by the low Euro exchange rate, the Masseys found themselves on the coast of Spain in July 2001 buying a brand new 43-foot catamaran. They called the boat "Snowcat."
They told everyone they would be gone for a year.
They finally set sail in the fall after a summer of boatyard preparations, but it wasn't long before the adventure hit a wall. From Barcelona, the family had planned to head for Tunisia. Then the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11 sent them reeling and uncertain about heading into North Africa.
"The American Embassy told everyone to take down their American flags," Dean Massey said. "We were unsure what to do next, but the people in Barcelona took us in. They understood our problem, and they embraced us."
They stayed in Barcelona for six months, and the city still sticks out to the family as one of their favorite stops on the journey.
"I really learned my way around. I knew all the streets," said Jack Massey, now 13. "We really lived there."
The next summer, they sailed for Corsica and then to Rome.
The family had sailed small boats in Lake Dillon and chartered boats during short vacations, but they had never crossed an ocean or navigated through open water for days at a time.
"People ask us how we knew how to sail across the Atlantic," Dean Massey said. "We learned to sail by sailing."
As they sailed, the Masseys found themselves in the midst of a larger community of sailors from all over the world.
"They all had something in common," Dean Massey said. "All of them were characters, but they were also talented and intelligent."
They lived on the boat and ate meals on the boat, making day trips into different parts of Europe. That summer, Karen Massey flew home to Colorado and sold the family's house.
"Dean's law firm took his name off the door," Karen Massey said. "They knew we weren't coming home."
At the end of the summer, they sailed slowly down the southern coast of Spain and through the Straits of Gibraltar to the Canary Islands. They spent two months in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, preparing the boat to cross the Atlantic.
The kids spent the mornings doing schoolwork. They used the Calvert School home-schooling curriculum, a 160 lesson a year course that most cruising families use.
The schoolbook curriculum was augmented by family trips to such places as Pompeii, London and Madrid.
Ben and Jack Massey remember visiting the Tate Modern, the Picasso Museum and countless Roman ruins.
"It's so different to have kids with you on a trip like this," Karen Massey said. "We weren't just parents, we were teachers, and we took that very seriously."
The family crossed the Atlantic Ocean at the end of November 2002 as part of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, an annual, post-hurricane season gathering of boats that do the transatlantic crossing together.
They celebrated Thanks-giving in the middle of the ocean. Karen Massey cooked a frozen turkey breast she had been saving for the occasion. The crossing took 16 days, landing in Tobago near Trinidad. They spent the next winter working their way north through the islands. They had a water maker and solar panels so they never needed to stay in a marina. They sailed through the Bahamas and made their first U.S. landfall in Charleston, N.C., in June 2003.
"We passed Fort Sumter on the way and thus began our American history tour," Dean Massey said. "We took it slow."
Jack Massey remembers the Yorktown Battlefield, Williamsburg and the re-enactments at Jamestown, places most students his age only read about in their history textbooks.
They anchored at the Capital Hill Yacht Club in Washington, D.C., for 2 1/2 weeks.
"We would have school in the morning until 11 a.m. and then take in a museum in the afternoon," Karen Massey said. "That's the kind of thing you can do when you can slow down and take your time."
Heading north, they sailed toward New York City, passing the Statue of Liberty, passing aircraft carriers full of soldiers returning from Iraq and into the 79th Street Boat Basin, where they spent two weeks docked on 79th Street and Broadway.
They ended their U.S. history tour in Boston before heading back to the Bahamas. Karen and Dean Massey had agreed to return to mainland life once Ben and Jack were old enough for middle school.
They knew the next year would be their last on the boat.
"We decided we needed to make it a good last year," Dean Massey said. "We had met a fair number of cruising families, but the older kids were not socially adapted. We wanted the kids to be in a traditional school during their teenage years."
The Masseys spent Christmas in Key West, Fla., then sailed to Honduras, to Guatemala, up the Rio Dolce and on to see the Mayan Ruins.
In spring 2005, Dean Massey posted the "Snowcat" catamaran for sale on the Internet. To everyone's surprise, it sold quickly to a couple in San Francisco.
Their last night on the boat, the family performed a ceremony to mark the end of one life and the beginning of another. Ben cut off a ponytail he had been growing through the entire trip. Ben and Jack had built a small wooden sailboat and they set it off to sea, and Ben had to climb the mast one last time.
On their return to the mainland, they searched for a small town with good public schools in the mountains. They moved to Steamboat Springs in June. Ben and Jack attend Steamboat Springs Middle School. Ben plays soccer. They both play lacrosse, and the whole family has ski passes.
Now it's time to use what they learned as a family on the boat in their new life far from shore.
Dean and Karen are working on their resumes and deciding where they want to plug into the community.
"We decided we could move somewhere that we knew we could get a job," Karen Massey said. "We decided to move somewhere we knew we would love and evaluate our skills. We threw out our anchor to see if it sticks, and I think it will."
-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210 or e-mail email@example.com