He always dreamed of sailing away. She wasn’t a sailor but longed for her children to see the world. Thanks to the 35-metre MyStar, they both got what they wanted, learns Risa Merl.
“I had a desire for my kids to be inspired by the world and not just be stuck within four walls for their education,” says Maya Talit. “Today the world is changing at such a fast pace, so we wanted them to see the beauty now.” Meanwhile, her husband, Liran, was passionate about sailing. Together they forged a plan to take their four daughters on a far-flung sailing voyage that brought both of their dreams to fruition.
Over the course of nearly four years, the family traipsed halfway around the world on their 35.1-metre Alloy Yachts MyStar, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, the US to the Galápagos, across the South Pacific and finally back across the Pacific and up to Alaska.
MyStar is not only the first superyacht the couple has owned, but their first boat, full stop. Neither comes from a family of sailors. Growing up, Maya’s family hit the slopes instead of taking to the seas, although she notes that despite that fact, her sister somehow became a professional sailor. “We were busy running a global business and travelling for work, so the time never felt right before to buy a boat,” Maya says. Instead, they joined friends for boating holidays, mainly on motor yachts, but in his heart, Liran had a soft spot for sailing yachts.
Maya admits that in the beginning she was sceptical about the idea of travelling the world by boat. “It was Liran’s passion to be on the water – he got his skipper’s licence when he was young and he would go sailing with friends at every opportunity,” she says. “I didn’t have any interest and I wasn’t sure if I would like being on the water, but, as I discovered, the benefits are endless because you are on your own little island. You are in the middle of nature, it’s beautiful and private, and you have all your belongings with you. And you go to places you would not be able to get to any other way [than by water]. It’s priceless.”
The couple splits their time between Israel, London and Athens (where the yacht is currently based), but they’ve also lived in Hong Kong and New York. Liran grew up in Israel, the son of an Israeli media mogul, and Maya hails from Canada. The two met while she attended university in Tel Aviv as part of an entrepreneurship programme. Soon after getting married, they became partners in business as well, starting a successful television channel aimed at providing educational shows for babies and toddlers. Aptly named BabyTV, the channel provided 24/7, advertisement-free programming for kids up to age four. At the time of its inception, in the early 2000s, there was nothing like it. “We wanted to make high-quality content that would introduce colours, shapes and nursery rhymes.”
They moved from Israel to London to set up the business, which was initially launched in the UK and Europe in 2005. The groundbreaking idea proved to be a success and was soon snapped up by News Corporation’s Fox International in a partnership deal that helped BabyTV go international, appearing on screens in 100 countries and 400 affiliate platforms in more than a dozen languages. Years later, shortly after the couple purchased MyStar in November 2017, BabyTV was sold to Disney. “MyStar brought us good luck,” says Maya of the boat. “Liran was doing the deals to finalise the sale right after we started out on our trip.” He bought the boat for Maya’s 40th birthday present, telling her he wanted to sail off with her into the sunset.
At first, they had debated between power and sail. They liked the luxury of a motor yacht but the far-reaching range of a sailing boat – and then broker Roy Klajman of the Sea-Alliance Group helped them define the characteristics of a yacht capable of doing such a worldwide journey. MyStar was the perfect match. “When we found MyStar, she was a combination of both. As soon as we saw her for the first time in Saint-Tropez, we fell in love instantly,” says Maya. “You walk in and it’s all light with 360-degree panoramic views from the wraparound saloon windows. You have a view of everything in front of you and it draws you in.”
Launched in 1994, MyStar was built by Alloy Yachts to an Ed Dubois design. She had undergone an extensive rebuild in 2015, which included a redesign of the transom. The couple have since kept her up to date and in excellent condition with regular refit work. But what really drew them to MyStar was her seaworthiness and spaciousness. A true ocean-going vessel, she draws a reassuring 3.5 metres with a fin keel. “We thought, this is a boat that could sail us anywhere – she’s strong and had a good track record for sailing while also being comfortable and elegant,” Maya says. “And the cabins were big, and we could bring the nanny.” The latter was a crucial point as at the time of setting off on their voyage their kids ranged from two-and-a-half to 14 years old.
Maya says the previous owner had spectacular taste, creating an interior that was cosy and chic, and the yacht already had single beds in the guest cabins, which were perfect for the kids. But they did take time to update the operating systems and sails. “For me to live with my four small kids on board, we did everything to make sure she was as safe as possible.” Liran was also guided by the maxim “happy crew, happy cruise”, and so they upgraded the crew areas to be as comfortable as the guest areas.
In 2019, they started their journey in the Mediterranean, spending time in Greece and Italy, then crossed over to the Caribbean for winter, calling in at Grenada, Tobago Cays, Mustique for New Year’s Eve and St Barths: “We loved St Barths and stayed for some time,” says Maya. Then, it was down through the Panama Canal and up to the US West Coast. In California, they took their daughters on a tour of the Meta headquarters, the Tesla factory to see how the cars were made and to SpaceX, where the girls got to touch the rocket that would later be launched into space.
They sailed down the Baja Peninsula and up into the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. “The Sea of Cortez has such incredible nature with whale sharks and seals, and the water is crystal blue and the mountains are red and dry,” says Maya. From there, they headed further into nature-rich lands, visiting Cocos Island and the Galápagos. “When we sailed from Cocos to the Galápagos, it was the smoothest sail and then suddenly we entered an area where there was so much life in the sea – whales, dolphins, tuna jumping, birds circling. It felt like we were in an oceanic Circle of Life,” Maya says. It was these moments of being in tune with the natural world that Maya most appreciates about her time at sea.
In 2020, their trip paused, along with the rest of the world, when Covid-19 hit. The yacht had just arrived in French Polynesia – the family didn’t do the crossing but had just flown over to meet MyStar there. Within a matter of days, everything shut down. They spent six weeks quarantining in a rental house on land. French Polynesia closed its borders, but allowed free travel within the country to those who were already there. So after the quarantine, they were free to explore the islands. They were stranded there, but there were certainly worse places to be stranded. “We were in Bora Bora without any other tourists,” says Maya. “It was paradise – we had gorgeous al fresco dinners every night in Bora Bora for 30 days in a row.” They also visited Tahiti, Mo’orea and the Tuamotu island group, where they dived with the sharks at the Fakarava Atoll. “There’s a pass where the atoll meets the Pacific Ocean – it’s an area where a lot of sea life comes in, and we saw a wall of sharks,” she says. “My kids are all scuba divers and multi-certified.”
The last stop was Alaska, where MyStar sailed up to Glacier Bay. Moored in a bay where glaciers kiss the water’s edge, the girls all decided to jump in wearing bikinis and socks for a cold-water plunge. Alaska was also the setting for one of Maya’s favourite memories of the trip. They spotted bears on shore, catching fish from a stream that meets the sea, so they boarded the tender in the pouring rain to have a closer look. “We just sat there in the dinghy in the rain and looked on in awe. No one complained they were getting wet or wanted to go in,” says Maya.
The experience of living on board and travelling the world has given her kids a different mindset from landlubbers, says Maya. “They are very centred, confident and open-minded. They know themselves well. They feel calm being in nature, and they make friends quickly.” Perhaps the biggest influence was on their youngest daughter, who grew up on the boat from toddlerhood. “She’s so strong and optimistic and happy,” says Maya. “She loves the boat and being at sea. When other kids draw houses, she always draws a boat!”
The trip has also had a positive impact on the family unit overall. “It definitely made us closer,” says Maya. “You have to learn quickly to show up as your best self, because if not, everyone else suffers. You learn how to manage your emotions and communicate well. We have a great connection now because of that.” The family returned to shore in the summer of 2022 so their eldest daughter could have the high school experience, while the Talits look for inspiration as to what might be the next boat to pique their interest. “My husband loves the idea of building something new, but I still need to digest that,” Maya says with a smile.
Though once a reluctant sailor, Maya wouldn’t trade the experience of going to sea with her husband and kids for anything. She wholeheartedly recommends an adventure like this to other families who might be keen to throw off the bowlines. “My advice? Don’t wait!”
MyStar is currently for sale with Roy Klajman of the Sea-Alliance Group (firstname.lastname@example.org).
MAYA TALIT'S TIPS FOR HOME-SCHOOLING AT SEA
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PROGRAMME “We opted for Laurel Springs. The school is fully accredited, offering Advanced Placement classes and even a model UN club, and graduates have gone on to Yale, Harvard and Princeton universities. It was also user-friendly for the girls to do self-study.”
HAVE ACCESS TO TUTORS
“It’s always helpful to have some extra support. The girls had some back home in London before we left, so whenever we wanted we could connect with them.”
LEARN ACTIVELY WHEREVER YOU GO “Wherever you go, be active and seek out people who are interesting in the community. Keep your kids engaged. In Corsica we learned about Napoleon. In Mexico we met a shark scientist and helped her research baby sharks. In French Polynesia, we went for a hike and encountered archaeologists digging for ruins, and they found a bone while we were standing there! All these experiences stayed with them.”
DON’T WORRY ABOUT SCHEDULES “Let them run their own schedule. It’s not healthy for kids to be starting the school day so early like they do on land. They could make a schedule that suited each of them individually and skip a few days when we were travelling.”
KEEP IT FUN
“It has to be fun; they have to enjoy it. Every year we’d ask the kids, ‘Do you want to keep going?’ It was up to them as much as us.”
First published in the April 2023 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.shop now