Erik Orton: Leaving Land to Focus on Family

Whether it’s doing a puzzle or sailing or flying to St. Maartin, there are countless ways to create a strong family bond while the kids are still at home.

And for the Orton family, time together with all five kids at home is running out, making this the perfect time to take the family trip they have planned for over six years. “Life moves fast,” Erik Orton records on the family blog, “This is our last year before our kids start leaving for college, missions, marriage, etc. All good things, but life will change. We want one last chance to be together as a family before we move into that next chapter.” So where is their six-month ultimate family experience taking them? Try somewhere in the Caribbean on a 38’ catamaran boat they’ve named Fezywig.

It isn’t every day that you hear a tale of a family picking up and leaving everything to live on a little boat, away from wifi and friends, but despite expectations, Orton told LDS Living in an interview before they set sail this past weekend that they have had an enthusiastic and encouraging response: “I think the response that has been most unexpected is that people will send us a note or talk to us and say 'You know, this is so great. I’ve always wanted to do _______ and seeing you do this with your family just makes me feel like I can do the thing that I want to do.'” Orton adds of their experience that “it kind of sparks something in [others], which is really wonderful to see and be a part of.”

The family of four daughters and one son gets along very well and has a lot fun together according to Orton. And since they were already used to living in close quarters in a 2–bedroom apartment in New York, they don’t foresee any challenges worse than the occasional cranky spells, although Orton says one of the hardest things for himself will be to slow down. “I like to live life pretty fast and keep a pretty good pace. I have a high work metabolism and I think for me to really slow down is going to be a challenge, but probably a good challenge.” A good challenge because, Orton explains “There’s so much to learn about the world by traveling slowly across the water.” For one, he points out that being stuck on a boat will inevitably cause conversation, get everyone away from electronics, and allows them to just sing songs and play games together as a family.

Though the family intends to spend a lot of time on the water, Orton was quick to confirm that they plan to be as active as they can in participating and serving at church. In fact, he has already contacted the branch president where they will be picking up their boat to volunteer their speaking and musical talents. On the days that they are not near a branch or ward, Orton has received special permission to hold a family sacrament meeting.

Following through on such a massive undertaking took a lot of careful planning and research to make the trip a good, safe experience. Part of that included six years of practice sailing as a family. Though Orton and his wife Emily have done a majority of the planning, the Orton children are also excited for this family adventure. When asked what they hoped their children would gain from this experience, Orton responded with three important take-aways:

1. "I would say that we draw closer together as a family, that we love each other and that we have fun."

2. "I would say I hope that they have even greater confidence in their own abilities to navigate life, whatever challenges that might be that they can personally take them on and succeed."

3. "I just want them to have a greater appreciation for the earth and the people on it. The different beauties of nature and also the different wonderful people that we hope to meet along the way.”

Though we are excited for the Orton family, we realize that not everyone has the time or ability to plan such a big event, so we asked Orton what advice he had for those wanting to create family time from their homes. He had a perfect, simple suggestion:

“A while ago we decided to start something that we call family day. Basically we’ll pick one Saturday a month where absolutely nothing else can happen outside of our family on that day. We find that our schedules get pretty packed with all kinds of good things, but we’ll pick a Saturday in advance so there’s no time for anything else to get in there. Even if there’s a baby shower, or somebody’s moving, or there’s a birthday party, no matter how wonderful, if it’s not announced in advance then we just sort of carve out that day and nothing happens except being with our family. I don’t know what people might say about that, but we’ve found that we really enjoyed having a day where it was just us as a family, and a whole day is really a big stretch of time.

"So if somebody was looking to just start, if the goal is to sort of be together as a family, I would start with that, because you can do it right where you are. You just have to be strong about your parameters. But beyond that I think a lot of times people feel like 'Oh we have kids and so we can’t do that until after the kids are out of the house' and all these different things, and my feeling is the time to go is when you have your kids with you because you only have them for a short period of time. And there will be plenty of time to make more money, there’ll be plenty of time to take it easy in retirement when you’re older, but the reason we’re going now is because we want to go while our kids are with us. I would just say let your kids be a reason rather than an excuse.”

You can follow the Orton family on their trip by reading their blog about their experience

What traditions or plans does your family have to strengthen each other and spend time together? Let us know in the comments below!

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