This post is a continuation of the article I wrote about long-distance sailing with children that I wrote long ago as we embarked upon what would be a 6 ½ year voyage around the world. Read Part I, HERE.
Cruising with Kids, Dream or Nightmare? Part Two
So amid tears and protests, we moved aboard “La Gitana” where she lay patiently at her slip in Ventura, California. There Dale and I gave up the roomy aft cabin to the children with their collections of stuffed animals, Barbie dolls and Star War Empires. Then we settled back to await the inevitable bouts of tears and sulkiness that must accompany this new adjustment period in our lives.
But it never happened. Chris was too busy learning to sail our dinghy, while Kelli was totally enchanted with her new, tiny inflatable and happily rowing off backwards to visit new-found friends living at the marina.
Soon surfing and boogie boarding became the favored past-time, and the children were heaving boards to heads and going off to explore the waves together.
By the time January and our much delayed departure date rolled around, the children had made new lives and new friends for themselves at the marina. But there were no tears at departing this time–they were as ready to head out as we were.
Already they had learned that they could adapt to a new environment and make their own places in it, wherever that place might be.This easy acceptance of and adjustment to the cruising life continued. We spent two delightful weeks at Catalina Island before heading further south.
Even in that short time, the children’s sense of independence and self-reliance increased as they rowed themselves ashore each day to explore the little town of Avalon by themselves or took their places at the fishing dock among all the old-timers there.
Chris became so adept at working the oars of our ten-foot dingy that he became the family’s official rower. Whenever the four of us went to shore together, it was his strong back and broad smile that transported us there.
I’ll never forget one twilit evening when Kelli offered to row the trash ashore, and, despite my doubts, Dale said she could handle it. I watched, trans-fixed, as my little eight-year-old daughter heft the large bag into our ten-foot dingy, untied the painter and shoved off, manning the heavy wooden oars that I myself had trouble with. She rowed, not backwards this time, but like a good seaman with her back to the future as the gathering twilight slowly hid her from view. Kelli won more than a bit of independence that day–she won respect and admiration, for she rowed a straighter course than I could.
By the time we reached Cabo San Lucas and rounded the tip of Baja into the Sea of Cortez, we had discovered that many of the more trivial concerns that, nonetheless, loomed so large in our minds had disappeared. Now it’s hard to imagine why we once thought that lack of privacy or cramped quarters would become a problem.
Our forty-six foot Formosa with its large center cockpit and forward and aft cabins has provided us with all the privacy and living space that we seem to need. We live as peaceably here as we did in our house and perhaps more so. Not only are our cramped quarters not a problem, but they have often proved a blessing.
Now when the children bring the Legos out to the salon table to build spaceships, Dale or I are often drawn into the creative enterprise. And it is easy to supervise school lessons from the galley while in the midst of kneading sourdough or canning chicken. Then, when we do need that time to “be by ourselves,” we’ve found that cooperation rather than space is the prime factor. And cooperation is readily available. Why we once thought otherwise seems a mystery now.
The simple luxuries of a daily shower, a washing machine and TV are no longer missed. While the privacy of a good, hot shower is still a luxury that we would readily welcome, we’ve found that it’s only just that–a luxury, not a necessity. Its absence does not affect the quality of life or well-being in the least.
Fresh water sponge baths and sea-bucket showers are enough to keep us feeling as fresh and clean as the humidity permits. Then, when we are in a port where fresh water is plentiful, nothing compares with a fresh-water sun shower during the heat of day or within the warm caress of a starry night.
I’ve discovered that washing laundry in buckets of salt water and rinsing them in fresh keeps our clothes as clean and soft as they need to be. It is not the drudgery that I had anticipated. At the house, doing laundry for me was always a rather tedious task performed alone in the semi-gloom of our garage. Now I do the laundry in a bikini on the bow of the boat with the brilliant sunshine and wind refreshing my spirits while panoramic views of busy harbors or lovely anchorages enchant my mind. And never am I a lone. There is always Chris to haul up buckets of water for me, Dale to help rinse and wring, and Kelli to hang the clothes on the life lines.
The absence of TV has been one of our greatest blessings. It opened the fascinating world of books to our children who, until we began cruising, seldom read. We were only a week into our cruise when Chris, quickly drying the last of the dishes so I could begin our nightly reading session of The Hobbit, exclaimed, “This beats watching TV any day!” And this from a boy who had suffered the cruelest deprivation of his life only months before when we cut the cable to MTV.
Since we’ve been cruising, I’ve ceased to worry about depriving the children of their involvement in organized sports and clubs. We’ve found that this life at sea provides ample opportunities for developing skills, independence and self-reliance that more than compensate for that lack. These cruising activities seem to be more holistic in scope, as well, encompassing many aspects of a single theme.
Fishing, for example, has become a favored past-time for the children, but this passion involves far more than casting a line into the sea. Each child catches and salts down his own bait, rigs and cares for his own poles, then cleans and fillets his own catch. They both spend many enjoyable hours making lures out of feathers, bits of colored string, and other odds and ends.
Chris, especially, actively seeks out and devours any articles or books on the sport of fishing that he can find, and he spends hours pouring through our charts and cruising guides, looking for the best fishing and diving spots.
Our fish identification book has been worn to tatters by constant perusal. Now, when I am puzzled by the identity of an unfamiliar fish, I have only to describe it to the kids to find my answer. Even the children’s artwork nowadays includes many finely detailed and colored drawings of the fish they admire.
In cruising, we’ve found that many of the skills that the children learn provide as much practical use as they do play, Rowing, sailing, and working the out¬board motor are not only fun but are the children’s main means of transportation to and from shore. Swimming, snorkeling, and diving provide excellent recreation as well as dinner.
Chris has become quite proficient at hunting and spearing fish and lobster, often free-diving to thirty feet to stalk a grouper or free an anchor. Kelli’s snorkeling and diving produces clams and scallops for supper, as well as a myriad of pretty shells for creating jewelry.
A cruising life does provide less opportunity for the children to play with their own peers, but even this lack does have its compensations. The children have been forced to seek companionship in unexpected places, including each other. Their many expeditions to shore to explore the beaches and towns together has fostered a growing sense of responsibility, cooperation, protectiveness and con¬sideration between the two. It is often commented on how close they seem to be–comments rarely merited in the highly separate lives they led ashore.
In addition, both children have become quite adept at striking up friendships with many of the adults they meet. These adults have included not only other cruisers or vacationing Americans, but many of the local Mexicans as well. Some of these friendships have become very special .and lasting, while others have led to some unique experiences.
The children’s increasing command of Spanish has allowed them to become friends with some of the Mexican shopkeepers and fishermen and their children. In the process, the children have waited on tables, made signs in English, and helped out their friends in other small ways, as well as enjoyed several tours of local commercial fishing boats. One special friendship with a young American couple working down here led Chris to work and pay for his own diving instructions, allowing him to become a certified scuba diver at the age of twelve.
When the children do happen to come into contact with other cruising children, these friendships tend to be swift and deep, bonded as they are by their shared, unique experiences. They are learning that friendships need not be limited to one’s own peer group or even to one’s own nationality but are to be nurtured and savored wherever they are found.
One of the very special aspects of cruising has been the increased opportunities it provides for children and parents to play together. The few bouts with boredom aboard our boat have only led to the discovery and sometimes rediscovery of enjoyable pursuits. I’ve discovered the joys of sewing, an activity I had formerly shunned, when Kelli and I began to design and hand-sew doll’s clothes. Dale, after a lifetime of avoiding most board games and cards of any sort, now enthusiastically plays both with his family. The children’s love of drawing has caused me to rediscover my own love for it and Dale to discover it for the first time. Most notable, I believe, is the rediscovery of the child within the adult, as Dale and I find an increasing sense of whimsy and nonsense pervading “La Gitana.”
It is not only the play and pleasures, however, that are shared aboard a cruising boat, but the work, the responsibilities, and the learning as well. Aboard “La Gitana,” all the water and fuel hauling, the grocery shopping, the laundering and cooking, mending and sewing, and the bottom cleaning are joint activities, shared by all to some degree. Chris and Kelli are a great help when it comes to sailing the boat. They handle much of the foredeck work as well as much of the anchoring now.
School, however, is our most challenging responsibility. I have been very pleased with the quality and content of the Calvert correspondence lessons, but it has taken some time for all of us to adjust to the children-as-pupils and mother-as-teacher relationship. Having taught school a bit in the past, I had no qualms about teaching my own children. However, I have since discovered that there is an emotional bond, or perhaps tension, between mothers and their children that does not exist in the normal classroom and does not facilitate the learning process.
It seems to make the goofing off and the squabbling, the stricter expectations and shorter tempers all the more prevalent. The children somehow feel much freer to criticize their own mother’s teaching standards and techniques than they ever did their former teachers. I, in turn, find my own children’s sloppy work habits and inattentiveness much more exasperating than I did with my former students. Even normal shipboard activities seem to confound our best efforts as Dale tears apart the salon looking for some tool while working on one of his own projects, or friendly neighbors row by for a chat. Underway there is always a herd of dolphin, a caught fish or a call to tack to upset our lessons. And yet, I keep reminding myself, isn’t this what we imagined maritime cruising to be all about–pitting ourselves against the unknown challenges in the world, in each other, and in ourselves, grappling with it and coming out the better?
And so, we’ve grappled with our schooling these past two years, and, in fact, have seemed to come out the better for it. School is now a much more orderly process. The disruptions still occur, but we’re learning when to be firm and when to be flexible. The children are learning to accept my higher standards, and I am learning to handle the highs and lows of teaching them with more equilibrium.
The satisfaction of personally supervising their studies and watching each child struggle with and acquire new skills and concepts now outweighs the moments of temper and frustration. Dale and I feel, more than ever, that the children are receiving a better, more comprehensive, more individualized education than they ever would have received ashore. And, in the process, our own basic education is getting a thorough review. It’s a learning experience shared by all.
We have been cruising aboard “La Gitana” for over two years now, and not one of us would trade this life for our life ashore. Not all of it has been pleasant. I haven’t mentioned the time our drinking water turned a gunky brown and all of us were sick flat on our backs for a week, or the time I heard a bump in the night and looked out the porthole to see a huge shrimper looming over our bow, or the time I set the kids’ bunk cushions ablaze while trying to dry them with the portable heater.
Then there was the time I dropped the thermometer and the mercury rolled into the 45 gallon water tank that Dale had just cleaned and refilled, and the time our kitten swallowed some bait attached to a fish-hook, and in her excitement jumped overboard and had to be reeled in on the pole. And there have been other times like these, including the common drudgery of hauling water, cleaning fuel tanks and scraping the boat’s bottom. But what life is without these “times”?
To me, one of the magical things about cruising is this meshing of the ordinary with the extraordinary, the dreadful with the delightful. This life, we’ve discovered, is not an extended vacation, an action-packed adventure, nor an escape from reality.
It’s neither dream nor nightmare but simply a way of life—of living from day to day—that we find very satisfying. All of the doubts that plagued me before our cruise began have now been thoroughly tested and dispelled–at least for the time being. I’ve learned that this cruising life can be all the things that we dreamed it to be, and more, and sometimes less. In fact, it’s a wonderful life; but this one, like any other, has its great unknown–and that’s the magic of it.
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