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March 20, 2011

The New American Couple

the new american couple
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Sima Baran, 30, and Paul Robertson, 47, sailors on their 41-foot yacht, Leander

It was a perfect day — crystal-clear water and sunny skies. But as we sailed through the Indian Ocean, Paul and I were stressed. We were entering a dangerous part of our voyage, "Pirate Alley," a stretch between Africa and the Middle East where armed fishermen hijack boats. If we were attacked, the plan was that one of us should stay behind. So for the month we navigated pirate territory, we made it look like I'd never lived on the boat.

We hid my clothes and jewelry, and back on deck, we searched for hiding spots where I could duck in and wait it out if pirates came aboard. We thought the sail cover might work, but when I climbed up the main sail and crammed myself into the canvas case, Paul could still see me. Next, I tried squeezing under our inflatable rubber dinghy, which was tied upside down on the deck. I wriggled under feet first, but it was too hot. Finally, we found it: the locker at the very tip of the boat where the anchor chain was stored. The opening was tiny; I just fit inside. We stocked it with water, food, a flashlight, hammer, and knife, and over the next few days, we made dry runs. These are safety precautions just in case, I thought as I closed the door behind me. The alternative was too scary to consider.

We first had the idea for this trip in the spring of 2005. I was exhausted from my strategy consulting job, and one day I was complaining to Paul on the phone.

"Wait," he interrupted. "If you could be anywhere right now, where would it be?"

"Sailing around the world." It just popped out. Neither of us had ever sailed, and the idea sounded expensive. "Well, let's think about this," Paul said.

We had started dating a year before, in April 2004, when I was a paralegal at the Boston law firm where Paul was an attorney. After that phone call, we began sailing every weekend, and in 2006, we looked for a boat to buy and planned a trip. We bought our boat in May 2007, for $150,000. It sounds like a lot, but the boat would be our home. Paul is older than I am, so he had savings. We set sail from Massachusetts on October 12, 2007.

The decision to leave civilization behind wasn't that hard. But I knew I would miss certain things: lunch at Sakurabana, my favorite sushi restaurant; yoga classes; and Dunkin' Donuts pumpkin muffins. And life on the boat, as much as I love it now, took some getting used to. At first, I didn't want Paul to see me get really seasick, but we've become more comfortable around each other. Now getting sick is like having a runny nose: It's no big deal.

But just because we've seen each other at our worst doesn't mean we aren't romantic. On Valentine's Day 2010, we were in Malaysia, and Paul surprised me with local pancakes from a street vendor and a bouquet. Our relationship has become more passionate. We don't have the "I'm too tired to fool around after work" dilemma. We have time on our hands, which is fun.

Sure, we've had torn sails, engine failure, and dead autopilots, but nothing we couldn't handle. We never did have any pirate trouble. And when we sail, our decision-making is fairly equal.

At first, we called the trip an extended honeymoon — we left soon after our wedding. We thought we'd only be gone a year. Now it's been three years. And in February 2010, I got pregnant. (We had my OB/GYN programmed into our satellite phone.) I had the baby, Alexander, in November, and we plan to finish the trip with him by spring of 2012 — I hope to go to business school. At that point we will have been sailing for five years. We've gotten so close, and I was crying the other day thinking about how it's almost over. Then I realized: We have another one and a half years to go!

— As told to Sophia Banay Moura

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