Jenny Goff: Sailing Into Parenthood

Posted in More Stories

Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
May 3, 2017

Mission accomplished: 13 days and 750 nautical miles after leaving Port Townsend, the sailboat “Coyote” arrives in Ketchikan. (Photo by Jenny Goff)

My legs were wobbly as I stepped onto the dock in Ketchikan at 2 a.m. After 13 days of rowing, paddling, sailing, and drifting about 750 nautical miles from Port Townsend to Ketchikan during the second annual Race to Alaska (R2AK), our crew of three was nearly delirious and totally ecstatic to have made it to the finish line.

A crowd cheered and surrounded us with congratulations, questions, and much-appreciated beers. When the R2AK interviewer asked us what our next adventure would be, my mind immediately screamed, “Garden and babies!” This was not exactly the standard reply among such an adventurous group, but I knew that the homestead and family life would be the greatest adventure I could possibly undertake.

I was ready to start ASAP. I was ready to get home to Whidbey.

As I wandered around Ketchikan waiting for my flight home, I had a chance to ruminate on the race and my two decades of sailing adventures. I knew that there was a direct correlation between all that I had learned at sea and the new territory I was settling into on terra firma: the extreme emotions of fear and exhilaration, the connection with nature and self, the pendulum swinging between total responsibility for survival and a distinct lack of control.

The Race to Alaska gave me a booster shot of all these lessons and challenged me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I started off the race with confidence and enthusiasm, as I had tens of thousands of nautical miles in my wake. But the ferocity of the landscape quickly humbled me. We were three women on a small homebuilt trimaran without an engine (part of the race rules) and with very limited gear. My team encountered tidal rips, extreme weather fluctuations, whirlpools, and racing currents.

Jenny on the Coyote during the race (Photo by Katy Stewart)

My mind worked overdrive thinking of all the disasters that could befall us. I found myself yearning for control, but after days of being pushed backward by strong currents, dealing with dead batteries and malfunctioning gear, and struggling with luffing sails while nursing blistered hands from rowing, I realized (once again) that control was a myth. Day after day, there were bouts of extreme exhaustion. I felt ready to give up more than once, but the fire inside would not let me. I knew I needed to change my attitude if we were going to make it to Alaska.

Instead of focusing on the discomfort and all the horrible events that could happen, I made the conscious decision to stay present to what was actually happening. I repeated to myself over and over, “In this moment, I am OK.” I knew all I could do was simply guide the boat to the best of my ability, listen to the wind and waves, and surrender to the flow of events.

Enter farming and parenthood.

Back on the island after the race, my partner Kevin Dunham and I worked in our increasingly fertile garden, tended pigs, turkeys, chickens, and goats, and dreamed of starting a family on land that we would someday purchase. We didn’t have to dream for long because we found ourselves pregnant less than two months after my return from Alaska.

Jenny pregnant in the garden. (Photo by Kevin Dunham)

I was overwhelmingly ecstatic about being pregnant, but I was caught in emotional, confused seas that tossed me about like nothing I had ever known: I was seasick (on firm land) for months. The constant barrage of worry about genetic testing, possible prenatal complications, labor, and that whole “Will I be a good parent?” thing seeped into my thoughts. I was driving myself crazy with all the possible disasters that could befall our tiny family before it even began.

Meanwhile, we were acquiring more and more animals that needed our daily attention and care, but we couldn’t always predict the outcome of our efforts. Chickens disappeared, turkeys grew too quickly, goats wouldn’t mind us even with a cup of grain in our hands. Our vegetable garden was sometimes as unruly: seeds didn’t germinate, bunnies got through our gantlet of fences, weeds took over entire beds and drowned out heirloom beets and carrots.

Jenny and Kevin at their Bayview farm (Photo by Cindy Boone)

Feet in the soil, fingers around a shovel instead of a tiller, I close my eyes, feel the rocking of the sea in my bones, and remind myself “In this moment, I am OK.” I have not had complete control of my pregnancy and will definitely not have total control over my child after she is born. I can nurture the animals, but their lives will not always be predictable or easy for me to handle. I can plant seeds, water and tend them, but also know the garden ecosystem is not fully tamable (nor would I want it to be — I love dandelion in my salad).

As with an ocean voyage, there is no such thing as being in control or totally prepared for all that is ahead of me. I can simply remind myself that, in this moment, I am OK (often more than OK) and surrender myself to the flow of child-rearing, animal husbandry, and farming.

And love every minute of this wild, adventurous, beautifully-rooted journey on Whidbey Island.

This article was inspired by the talk I gave at WOW 2017. You can watch a video of it below.

Video courtesy of Seriously Fun Productions and WhidbeyTV Productions

Jenny Goff is a writer, chef, gardener, and sailor living on a small farm in Bayview.


Enjoy more articles in the print edition of Whidbey Life Magazine, which you can purchase at local and off-island retailers or receive in the mail via subscription.

WLM stories and blogs are copyrighted and all rights are reserved. You may link to this story. To request permission to use or reprint content from this site, please contact us.


  1. Dearest Jenny,
    I am in awe. This was so beautiful and well written and powerfully delivered and it brought me to tears several times over. What an offering of your delicious soul. Courage beyond courage to take your next step into unknown waters. And yet, you’ve been here before, and before…I look forward to floating the rivers alongside you on your journey with my wild boys in tow, our little ones naughtily capsizing us on our little perfect boats, over and over till true surrender takes hold….
    Love you so very much. Thank you for sharing this..


Leave a Reply