Daniel Bramwell sailed into North Cove a few months back on his Westsail 32 with his wife Michelle. The two of them have been exploring the Pacific for the past three years. Now they had come back to New Zealand where he was born to order some new sails, earn some “freedom chips” and catch up with family. They chose our cove as their base of operations over the southern summer months and soon we learned Daniel is the child of cruising parents, having spent six years wandering when he was growing up. We can add him to a long list of cruising kids we’ve met through the years who are appreciate the gift their parents gave them by running away to sea. A few weeks after Daniel and Michelle arrived, my copy of the Ocean Cruising Club’s twice yearly collection of stories from voyagers arrived. The first article in it was about raising children afloat. I have asked permission to reproduce this article in full as it has some useful tips and encouragement for people who are wondering about the pros and cons of setting sail with children.
Jo and I first cruised aboard “KAJAN” in the late 80’s, early 90’s. It was a 35ft steel sloop with a VHF as its only “system” . Life was easy, the sailing was fine, no kids and no worries and the tasks of keeping the boat afloat and operational were easy, we could navigate anywhere we wanted and live life to the full.
Something was missing, including money so we reluctantly headed to Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia in 1992 with a 5 year plan to make money, buy a better boat and keep on sailing our lifestyle. Five years turned into twenty and by the time we had finally had enough of life in the fast(er) lane we bought “CHAOTIC HARMONY”, a 46ft, 21 year old Catana catamaran with all the required bells and whistles and tried to decide what we should do with her. Should we give up jobs and careers and a settled life and sail her where the wind decided or should we work a bit more?
The state of the engines in Chaotic Harmony provided us with the opportunity to sail to Thailand and install new Yanmars as well as seeing if our two children; Gill aged 11, and Keely at age 8 would cope with life at sea. They were adept at the 2000nm coastal passage from Cairns to Darwin, liked the harbour sailing in Darwin, enjoyed island hopping offshore and day sailing on the weekends but extended passage making was a query for us all.
So in November of 2010 we departed Darwin for Singapore via Ashmore Reef to buy new Yanmar engines and to our joy both kids loved the sail. Perhaps because we had decided to forgoe schooling for this first long passage. From Singapore it was onto Phuket for engine installation and the dreaded trip up the Malacca Strait against the weather and shipping. While the work was happening in Phuket we thought we may as well return to Darwin and make some decisions such as sailing vs work. The answer was easy and we soon rid ourselves of all worldy possessions, got ourselves mentally prepared to sail the globe and looked at schooling at sea. Was it to be correspondence, home schooling or some other form of educational madness inbetween?
The kids do not like school. Actually I have yet to meet any young person that does but boat school is not too bad. They try and get at least 2 to 4 hours a day individual teaching from both Jo and myself in the skills of maths, science, geography, history and Australian (English) literacy. These things are then discussed for the rest of the day to cement lessons. We find they also gain life skills by sailing in the form of problem solving, sailing, navigating and develop greater human relations in the art of conversation and communications. For Jo and I; used to just sailing and enjoying the sea this initially became a burdon until we realised that at last we are truly controlling our families destiny and it is us and not an unknown “teacher” that is shaping our kids.
“Chaotic Harmony” is our life in more than a boat name
So how is cruising with kids? Fan-bloody-tastic for 50% of the time while you see them grow and develop and emotionally strained for the other 50% while they wish they still had their optional extras like xBoxes and Playstations and all their friends. We solved this and now have an inverter that is rarely turned off and Chaotic Harmony has become a games centre when they find other kids at anchorages and they tire of water sports. The ships cat, Tizer the HOP (Hidgeous ol’e Pollywobble) adds to everyones enjoyment .
Other kids? This is the most important part of planning cruising with kids. We look for beaches and kid boats, not beach bars, museums and culture but these things are tolerated by the kids when we need a touch of culture. Unfortunately, most cruising guides do not include a kids section so looking for new ports is with information provided by word of mouth, and from others who have seen kids boats in their travels as well as tourist guides.
It is unhealthy for kids not to have peers and we try our hardest to ensure Gill finds some “mates” in various places. So far he has made great friends; not only with many sailing and non-sailing adults but with kids of many different nationalities in South Africa and in the Caribbean. Keely is a different kettle of fish and quite shy so mainly hangs with us oldies.
Is it worth it? To see your kids grow is a great experience. To be an integral part of the growth and to watch their joy when whales blow right alongside and dolphins lead our entry and exit into and out of ports is the ultimate experience. To be a part of their life 24 hours a day and share their experiences, frustrations and joys is priceless. I wish my parents could have offered this lifestyle to me.
Is it frustrating? Yep, but then again everything can be frustrating at times. You just need to sit back and think why you are doing this and the enjoyment that comes with it.
My son Gill is rapidly becoming a man. He is now 13 and can solve problems with the best of them. He is passionate, articulate and can spell and complete maths at his level, knows more geography that any other non-boat kid. Can sail and understands weather and cloud patterns in short and long term forecasting and is learning navigation. He is beginning to understand 12 and 220V electrics, plumbing and diesel fuel systems. He can use a radio like a professional and understands the dynamics behind sailing a large catamaran. He is also undergoing puberty and the hormones are flowing like the Nile in flood.
My daughter Keely is moderately disabled but sails with the best of them. She is learning at a fast pace and always wants to help. She does not suffer seasickness so is also the only person I can usually interact with for the first day or so of an ocean passage. She has improved as a person since we left and is the life and soul of this boat. She also adds the Chaos to the Harmony.
So where to from here? Lets just say we are growing a couple of great people within a great lifestyle for as long as we can. Can you cruise with kids? You are mad if you don’t!