Back from a decade at sea

Brothers attend high school after sailing the world


Viewing photos from their travel blog, freshman Mark TenEick (left) and sophomore Conrad TenEick reminisce on their time sailing. The family sailed to over 400 locations, including Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Thailand, Maldives and Panama. Photo by Kate Leverenz.

From a distance, all they could see were waves and plumes of whitewater erupting from the sea, but as the naval rib got closer, its enormous automatic gun mounted to the front of the boat came into view and was pointed directly at sophomore Conrad TenEick and his family.  

While sailing on their boat “Perry,” Conrad TenEick, freshman Mark TenEick, dad Matt TenEick and mom Jennifer Lee were stopped by the Tanzanian Naval Command, who attempted to board the family’s boat and confront the TenEicks at gunpoint when leaving a port in Tanzania in 2021.

“They pulled up beside us and they [had] this gigantic automatic gun aimed at us,” Conrad TenEick said.

At first, the TenEicks didn’t know what the Tanzanian Naval Command wanted from them because of the language barrier. 

“They tried to get onto the boat and we were trying to [keep them off] the boat,” said Conrad TenEick. “It was really tense because they were shouting at us, and then we would shout back, so then everyone would start getting more angry.”

The family later realized that because of the civil war in Mozambique, a country bordering Tanzania, the Tanzanian Naval Command held suspect any boats moving in or out of the country as potential ferries for transporting rebels or weapons.

“As a result, they were searching every boat they came across,”said Conrad TenEick. “Obviously we didn’t have any weapons or rebels on board, we actually gave Mozambique a bit of a wide berth because we didn’t want anything to do with the happenings there, but that was why [the Tanzanian Naval Command was] so aggressive in their approach.”

Setting off to sea

Matt TenEick and Jennifer Lee moved their family onto “Perry” in 2012. After eight years of planning, the parents sold their home and bought a 48-foot catamaran which they would live on for the next 9.5 years. They decided to embark on this trip because they didn’t think it would be a healthy lifestyle to only see their kids for a couple of hours each day. 

“Even though we knew that it would be a bit of a gamble and a risk to do this, at what would otherwise be the prime of our careers, we decided it was worth it to take some years off and to do this as a family,” Matt TenEick said.   

Stuck in Sri Lanka

While on passage from Thailand to Sri Lanka in March 2020, the TenEick’s computer stopped working, eliminating their contact with the outside world. In those few days without connection, the spread of COVID-19 caused many countries to lock down, and when the TenEicks got to Sri Lanka, the borders were closed and a 24-hour curfew was in effect. 

“When we got [to Sri Lanka], we were put in quarantine,” said Conrad TenEick. “We had no idea what was going on because we didn’t know [COVID-19] was a thing.”

The TenEicks were quarantined on “Perry,” isolating them to the port they docked in. They were not allowed to enter the country because Sri Lanka stopped issuing visas due to COVID-19 concerns.

“We eventually made a deal with a commodore [of the Navy] there and he took pity on us and allowed us to go out to get food under armed escort every three weeks,” Conrad TenEick said.

School on deck

The brothers didn’t just sail and explore foreign countries, but they also received an education by homeschooling on their boat, which the TenEicks referred to as “boatschooling.” When boatschooling, the brothers learned using a variety of curricula with age-appropriate materials their parents pulled from multiple sources. 

“Pretty much everyday we did some kind of boatschool, and it was not a formalized program,” said Matt TenEick. “The curriculum itself was drawn from a number of resources, and there’s a lot of programs that are out there, but a lot of them are online based. [When] you’re on a boat and you’re in different places, you don’t always have access to the internet.”

The brothers used reading, writing and math books for boatschooling, which sometimes made it difficult for Mark TenEick to grasp certain concepts, especially in math, he said.

In Mark TenEick’s classes at Glenbrook North, content is explained at a slower pace and bigger concepts are repeated, but when he boatschooled and learned out of a textbook, lessons took about five minutes.

The brothers worked out of textbooks or novels depending on the subject. Their mom assigned self-directed readings and book reports to be completed in allotted time frames.

“We wanted them to learn things, but I think a lot of what they learned was also from visiting different places,” said Jennifer Lee. “A lot of people don’t get to see the places that they’re studying or actually visit and see the way that people live [there].”

Although the brothers didn’t specifically focus on history in their textbooks, every place they went, they would make an effort to learn about that location’s historical events.

“We did go to Vietnam, and as brutal as the war was there, it was interesting,”said Conrad TenEick. “We went through the tunnels there that were dug for the war and just [learned] a lot of the history there.”

Boat breakdowns

While sailing through Raja Ampat, Indonesia in 2017, the TenEicks noticed a log in the ocean had gotten caught in one of the boat’s rudders, destroying the port-side engine. 

“We couldn’t get [the engine] repaired there, so we [had] to go down to Australia,” said Conrad TenEick.“But the boat wasn’t sinking, so we just spent a lot of time motoring around on one engine.”

According to Matt TenEick, the marine environment is very harsh on boats, so “Perry” was always breaking, rarely functioning at 100 percent.

“There’s always a long list [of] repairs waiting to be done, whether you’re waiting or trying to find the right part, or you just don’t want to tackle something because you’re not in a good location to do it or it’s just not a critical thing,”said Matt TenEick. “So you’re always repairing a boat, and the joke is that cruising is really the art of repairing boats in remote locations.”

Returning to land

The TenEicks always knew they would move back to Northbrook, specifically for the brothers to attend high school, but COVID-19 prevented them from moving back in time for Conrad TenEick to enter high school as a freshman. 

After docking in Florida and selling their boat this past summer, Mark TenEick walked into a land-based school for the first time in his life and Conrad TenEick for the first time in 10 years.

Because Conrad TenEick constantly traveled to new places with his family, he felt comfortable moving to Northbrook and attending GBN, even though he had been boatschooled for a majority of his life.

“The thing with living on a boat is you get really used to going to new places and it’s like, ‘Okay, this is the way it is now,’” said Conrad TenEick. “And if you stay in one place for too long, it just feels like that’s the way it’s always been.”