The wind is seesawing their boat side to side as the sound of loud ripping indicates a decimated sail. Lighting cracks feet from where they float, throwing quick, hot, flames of fire even closer to their worried faces. With all secured on deck, the family lowers the hatch and sits together, murmuring prayers for safety and solace. When the rain subsides and they drag themselves to the mainland, others inform them that the storm threw more than two thousand bolts of lighting into the sea where their boat was barely holding anchor. It's times like these that Emily Granger knows there is something bigger than herself guiding each breath she takes.
Emily, now 25 years old, was 16 when her parents sold their family home in Middleville, bought a sailboat, and set off to champion a westward world tour. Along with her younger sister and brother, Emily continued her education through homeschooling, but mostly by means of her invaluable life experiences. For four and a half years, the family learned to sail–their experience prior to the trip was limited to escapades on Gun Lake–learned to confront problems early on, and saw the world for its beauty and innate good.
It was November 2003 when the Grangers set sail from Hampton, Virginia and traveled south through the Caribbean then west through the Panama Canal. From there they continued toward sunset across the Pacific Ocean making stops along the way at the Galapagos Islands and other French Polynesian destinations. They tried to stay away from main tourist attractions in order to get an authentic idea of what the region entailed. For a time, Emily's favorite time, the family was in Indonesia where she picked up the language and made some friends.
"When we were sailing through the Pacific Ocean, the islands were quite different than the United States, but it was still French. Australia is also similar to the United States. But when we sailed to Indonesia, it was a completely different culture. The way people view time, the way people view their values…People are pretty different in comparison to the United States. It's just more a sense of what's important–being with family, making a living for the right reasons," Emily says.
They stopped at Bora Bora, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia as well as Fiji. They spent six months in Australia, their base Sydney. Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka also made the list before they continued west to the Mediterranean Sea. The trip was not without its turbulence, weather-wise and health-wise. Off the coast of Eritrea, malaria infested mosquitos were buzzing and nearly cost Emily's father his life.
"There are four types of malaria, he had the worst type. Meanwhile, he was in Egypt getting treated, and we were in Eritrea running our of food and money. But people were so gracious from the other boats, they gave us money and let us use their satellite phones," Emily says. "We see a lot of bad things happening in the world on the news, a lot of sad things. I don't think very often we see positive things being written about and publicized. For a lot of the bad things that we see, there's so much good. There are bad people in the world who do bad things, but for every one person who decides to make a wrong choice, there's thousands of other people who are nice and welcoming and have good values."
Back home in Michigan, Emily applies the lessons she's learned to every day life. A graduate of Calvin College with degrees in international development and sociology, she's job hunting for something in which she can put to use her worldly skills and her genuine care for bridging cultures.
"What we did, our eyes were just opened to so much. You get a much broader perspective and tend to see things in a different light, you see things more positively…It changed me in a way that nothing else could have."
Click here to check out a book written about the family's journey called Sailing Faith: The Long Way Home and read about the Granger family's trip in more detail! The book is also sold at Schuler Books & Music.
Written by: Erika Fifelski is West Michigan Woman magazine's editorial coordinator. She was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. Erika enjoys gardening, vacuuming, and discovering new ways to live sustainably and support local businesses. Photos courtesy of the Granger Family and Nicole Lindblom.