You don’t need a lot stuff or a lot of money to be happy

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday September 27, 2015

Unabridged from my Bonus Years column in the Lifestyle section of The Sunday Capital, Annapolis, Maryland

Talk about downsizing, here’s one that takes the cake: How about trading a home of 3,000 square feet on 5 acres of land for a sailboat 28 feet long by 8.5 feet on the beam.

By my calculations, that’s 238 square feet — and it has to be shared with a diesel engine, galley, head and all the other “amenities” that go with a live-aboard sailing vessel.

For several years, this “home” of 238 square feet was shared by two adults, Dennis and Mary Mauck, and their two teenage boys, Collin and Darryl.

But Dennis reminded me, “It was not that cramped. Remember, we have two levels — the upper deck and the below deck.” I thought Dennis was about to make a joke.

He wasn’t. He continued, “On the upper deck we have a cockpit where we spend a lot of time enjoying God’s creation. The upper deck also provided space to haul two bicycles and two sailing boards for the boys. OK, it was cozy. But it worked. You don’t need a lot of space to make things work.”

That was my first window on the amazingly simple but enormously rich way of living carved out by the Maucks, who reside part of each year in Annapolis.

Dennis and Mary are now in their bonus years, but they did not wait until their bonus years to pursue their dream of living on a boat, experiencing the growth and development of their children up close, and exploring the world together.

Dennis and Mary met on a blind date, dated all through college at Jacksonville University in Florida and married in 1969. Mary was a hospital-based medical technologist, and Dennis ended up as vice president of an orange juice company.

Throughout their 15 years of a conventional life — jobs, two children, community activities, etc. — Dennis and Mary harbored a dream. They loved sailing and dreamed of someday jettisoning the big house and doing the Great Loop.

The Great Loop is an “inland odyssey” that refers to the counter-clockwise circumnavigation of eastern North America — up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi and other inland waterways to the Gulf of Mexico.

Then Dennis’ father died at age 56. This unexpected event focused Dennis and Mary on the fragility and unpredictability of life and its many blessings — not the least being the blessing of their boys, now aged 13 and 16.

Result: They decided they would not delay the pursuit of their dream as adventurers and live-aboards. Nor would they delay the opportunity to expand the horizons and experiences of their boys.

So in 1987, they started home schooling their boys just to make sure they could continue their education as live-aboards.

When they discovered home schooling worked, Dennis purchased a 28-foot Kells sailboat. After christening Thursday’s Child (“has far to go,” according to the 16th-century English poem), they departed Jacksonville on a 5,200-mile adventure, sailing and motoring the Great Loop. Counting side trips into Canada, down Mexico’s Gulf coast, up the Potomac to Washington, D.C., etc., they clocked more than 30,000 miles.

According to Dennis, “It was a terrific education for the boys. Each served as ‘captain for the day’ week after week. As captain, Collin or Darryl would assign responsibilities, decide where they would stop for the evening, maintain the log book and decide all special activities.”

Mary observed, “I don’t think we missed a museum on the Great Loop — and in places like Chicago and Washington we visited more than one.”

During this time, Dennis taught the boys to shoot both guns and a sextant. Mary taught them to cook — everything from chili to bread, even soybeans — and both taught them math, science and social studies. Dennis added, “With the boys at the helm and a 5-foot draft, we also ran aground a lot.”

After completing the Loop, Dennis and Mary considered a global circumnavigation, beginning with a passage to the Bahamas. Along the way, Mary found that her appetite for blue water sailing was limited. So they decided to spend the winter in Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas’ Abacos Islands. That was 1990.

For the next 25 years, Dennis and Mary made the Bahamas their winter home and Annapolis their home for the summer-autumn hurricane season.

While in the Abacos, Mary and Dennis are fully engaged as volunteers. Mary is a librarian at St. Francis, a Catholic school serving nearly 300 students.

In addition, both Dennis and Mary volunteer at a school called Every Child Counts, serving nearly 100 special needs kids. Mary teaches sewing and Dennis is a jack-of-all-trades handy-man — mechanic, plumber, locksmith and gardener, where he and others cultivate food for the students.

While in Annapolis, they live in the “lower level” of the home of a longtime friend. Dennis mischievously noted, “Some would call it a basement.” These are months when Mary works at Fawcett Marine, where she sells soft goods (shoes, clothing and foul weather gear) and Dennis works at Port Annapolis. Both attend the Naval Academy Chapel.

“We live very simply,” Dennis said. “We seldom eat out. We don’t have expensive habits like drinking or smoking. Our only technology is the cellphone. We have two. They serve as our email and GPS. No TV. No electronics. We have a 1999 rusty Subaru that we keep in Annapolis and use around here and to travel to Jacksonville each autumn for our annual return to Marsh Harbour.” After 25 Gulf Stream crossing, the Maucks now fly to the Abacos where they walk a lot. No car.

And the boys? “They went off to college and got married.”

Collin, now 45, is living in Texas and following a career in law enforcement and will soon be a border patrol officer. Darryl, 43, lives in Utah where he works in the pharmaceutical industry. Together, they account for seven grandchildren.

I asked, “What are the lessons from these 25 years?” Mary quickly responded, “When you have a dream, don’t wait till everything is right. It will never be right. Just do it! There are so many rewards for doing it. I would not trade those years with my boys for anything. Nor would the boys. Each has written a letter telling us they were thankful for being educated ‘Dad’s way’ — which, they said, ‘opened our hearts and minds and let us see the world.’ ”

As Mary talked, I thought of John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.”

That view is also found in the ancient Scriptures: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

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