Family living on sailboat in Charleston welcomes newborn son aboard
Nicole’s first love was travel. Then she met Jack Midence.
The two met in Honduras in 2005. Hailing from Illinois, she was a traveling nurse working at Loma de Luz, a mission hospital in Balfate; he was a native Honduran, an engineer and one of the hospital’s founders.
Four years ago, the two were married in Illinois, rode off on a burnt orange motorcycle and have been living aboard their sailboat, christened the Kitty Hawk, ever since.
The boat has become central to their lives. It’s become a kitchen, a dining room, a bedroom and for their 18-month-old daughter, Marietta, a playpen.
At 8:01 a.m. Tuesday, it became the birthplace of their son, Jack Benjamin, when he arrived into his father’s hands.
“I had the privilege of catching my son as he was being born and placing him on his mama’s chest for her to hold,” Jack Midence, 53, said. “It was a very emotional, very wonderful, wonderful experience.”
After sailing to Honduras, the Bahamas, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere throughout the Atlantic, the family has been living in Charleston’s Ashley Marina for the last two months, preparing for Jack Benjamin’s arrival.
The couple chose the city in part for Nicole Lavallee, a certified professional midwife of Coastal Birth Services, who has experience, albeit limited, with births aboard. The Midences’ birth was just her second on a sailboat, and it went well, she said, even if it was “a little tighter” on the family’s 44-foot CSY craft.
But while their home is transient, Nicole and Jack Midence said they’re not so different from other parents.
At port, they stay in and read aloud, rather than go out with other sailors. Aboard, they’ve “baby proofed” — adding a net around the sides of the boat, adding another to their bedroom to make a playpen (or, as they call it, a “baby jail”) and installing a car seat on the deck. And Thursday morning, a line of cloth diapers were neatly clothespinned to the starboard netting.
“I wouldn’t know how to be a land parent,” Nicole Midence, 38, said. “This is all I know.”
Like other parents, they work to make ends meet and stay debt-free. Jack Midence does boat repairs and maintenance when the family is docked, and Nicole plans to go back to work as a nurse eventually.
“Boat work keeps us afloat,” he joked.
The couple plans to homeschool their children, using their day-to-day experiences to explain otherwise sundry school subjects. Navigation with paper charts and compasses uses algebra. Observing marine wildlife exemplifies biology. Visiting sites like Fort Sumter helps make sense of historical concepts.
Like other parents, they’re protective of their kids, and Jack Midence said he’s especially conservative and keeps close tabs on weather trends when he charts their course.
That’s why he contests media reports, like one article posted online by the (U.K.) Daily Mail, that his family was sailing and caught off guard when Nicole Midence went into labor Monday night.
“It sounds quite a bit irresponsible to be out there with a woman about to give birth,” Jack Midence said. “As a captain, there’s a great deal of responsibility on my shoulders. The safety of my whole family depends on us doing things right.”
But even the restraints of parenthood haven’t sapped the couple’s adventurous spirit.
Next year, they plan to head to the Pacific Ocean and its Sea of Cortez, which separates Baja California and the rest of Mexico. Where they’ll go from there is up in the air, though, Jack Midence said, even those plans are bound to change, as the family sails “about the world” — not, he clarified, “around” it.
“They say sailors don’t have plans,” he said. “They have intentions.”
But as those intentions surface, the couple are still getting used to having Jack Benjamin aboard.
“Children, now,” Jack Midence said, pausing. “That sounds weird.”
“It’s plural now,” Nicole Midence added.