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Mother of 7 and Spring 2020 graduate Kirsten Schafer shares her life experiences sailing the Pacific Ocean with her parents and again with her own ohana

The Schafer Family on board their sailboat.

As a young girl, Kirsten Schafer left Canada with her family and traveled across the Pacific Ocean on a sailboat. They sailed to California, the Marquesas Islands, and through the Tuamotu Islands and French Polynesia.

Schafer, a senior from Canada majoring in English, said her great grandfather was one of the first mission presidents in Samoa. The purpose behind her family’s sailing was to go to the island where her mother’s father had been born while his dad was the mission president.

She said, “It was really special to go back to that island to see where my grandfather was born and lived in Samoa among the people.”

Her experience visiting the Polynesian islands in 1989 with her family she said inspired her to go on a second voyage. Years later, she went sailing in 2013 with her husband and seven children for a year and covered a similar route.

Schafer said, “Living on a boat helps you to cut out all the unimportant things. All the busyness of life disappears, and everything you do in a day is just for survival.”

She said it is meaningful because all the people you are with and all the ways you spend your time have a purpose. She added, “I felt like my time in the sea, and especially the long crossings, were exceptional times in my life.”

While visiting the different islands, she said, “I met beautiful people who spoke differently, ate differently, and dressed differently. I fell in love with Polynesia before I ever went to BYU–Hawaii.” She continued, “I wanted to go to BYU–Hawaii because I love the islanders, and it was the closest Church university to me.”

When her family went sailing when she was a child, she said to stay educated, they read classical books. “My education was reading books,” said Schafer. Their final destination was Samoa, where they lived for five years, and where Schafer ultimately graduated from high school and applied for BYUH.

“My passion is English literature. I love reading classic books with my children. Whether my kids like it or not, [they’re going] to be raised having the classics read to them,” said Schafer.

Schafer Family voyage

The Schafer Family  underneath the Golden Gate Bridge on their sailboat.

Kirsten Schafer met her husband, Normand, in the 1990s at BYUH. She was good friends with his twin sister she said four months before he got off his mission in France. “[Normand] was fascinated by my family’s story of traveling to the islands. We got engaged and got married. Early on in the marriage he started talking about how he would love to go back to the islands and sail through the islands one day,” she said.

They have had seven children, and throughout the years, they heard stories about their mom’s life living in Samoa and traveling the islands. She said, “It was something they all talked and dreamed about doing.”

Normand Schafer shared he had loved the people he met at the Polynesian Cultural Center and the friends he made at BYUH. As a student, he said he made good friends with the people of Tahiti on campus since he had served in Southern France and spoke French.

Just before their older children went on missions, they decided to buy a sailboat and sail the ocean. They went down the coast of California to the Marquesas Islands and through Tuamotus and French Polynesia, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and Vanuatu.

Learning together

Kirsten Schafer shared the experience of living on a boat. She said, “Everything you needed was right in your own space: all the water you needed, all the food you needed, all the mates you needed, entertainment and transportation. That was unique.”

Schafer said she loved the beautiful view from the boat, “There was always breathtaking scenery that would change all day long, and the boat would glide on the water at night time, and you would see all the flying fish around the boat, and it was magical.

“Having traveled through the islands, my children had a love for the islanders. Several of them wanted to go to BYU–Hawaii because of it.” Now, two of their children have graduated from here, she said.

Orin Schafer, one of their children, shared how his experiences going through the islands and meeting so many people and experiencing culture helped him decide to serve a mission.

A graphic of a sailboat on the ocean with mountains in the background.

He said, “I got to see the different ways of life, and it really inspired me and made me want to find more new cultures. I wanted to be fully immersed in a new culture again. That experience has made me want to explore, try new things, and meet new people”.

Normand Schafer said, “Our family sailing trip was a very pivotal moment in the development of our family. The decision to do that has blessed not only our family, but also our marriage.

“It has created stories and experiences that have solidified our family’s relationships. Our younger and older children want to do the same thing with their families because they recognize how it brought our family so close together.”

Kirsten Schafer said it taught their children to work together. “On days there were storms, and it was exciting and exhilarating, but scary sometimes, and every day we had to work together as a team.

“There was no room for mistakes or for talking back to the captain [their dad]. Everyone had to work together perfectly as a team.”

Further education

Normand Schafer said Kirsten Schafer had surgery while pregnant with one of their sons just before he graduated, and she was unable to finish her last semester. After 24 years, she came back to complete her goal of obtaining a degree and graduated during the Spring 2020 Semester.

He said, “I love that she is dedicated and very goal-driven. I am goal-driven as well, but she also likes to make plans and achieve her dreams. Having a wife like that and being able to support her in her dreams is inspiring to me because she completes all the things she wants to do.”

View more of their traveling experience here.