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La Gitana2The following is an article published in Latitude 38 many years ago. I’m reprinting it here as part of our Sea Saga series, about our six and a half year circumnavigation aboard our sailboat. The article will be posted in two parts. This is the first.

Cruising with Kids–Dream or Nightmare? Part One

It was the last day of our garage sale and I was happily breezing through the house directing potential buyers to the last of the hanging plants and picture frames. Within the week we would be moved aboard “La Gitana,” our 46-foot Formosa, preparing her for our long-awaited cruise into Mexico and the South Pacific. I was so excited by the prospect that I almost didn’t notice Kelli, our eight-year-old daughter, when she came into the family room and stood staring at the empty walls as if stunned
“I thought it was only a dream!” she cried, then burst into tears.

La Gitana3It was “only a dream”–a dream-come-true for Dale and me. But for our children, it may have seemed more of a nightmare as they watched the bits and pieces of their lives being hauled away by strangers.

A year of patiently hand-feeding them tales of sailing off to tropical isles where they could swim, snorkel, and fish every day was rapidly losing its influence. When tasted with the very bitter sacrifices that were being required of them, such tales did not seem so sweet.

Our decision to go cruising had not been a sudden one. The idea had been playing in the backs of our minds since we were first married. We decided then that “someday” when the children were the “right” ages, when we were financially able to leave on an open-ended cruise without the need of returning to a work-day world any time soon, we would leave for the South Pacific. Ultimately, our dream was to sail around the world.

Virgin Islands30But it took an idyllic bareboat charter in the Caribbean some ten years later to finally budge that dream into reality. We realized that our children, then seven and ten, were the perfect ages for living aboard a boat. And with a little reshuffling of the financial deck and a lot of belt-tightening, we could just about squeeze by on that open-ended clause.

After all, if we didn’t go now, when would we? We could wait until the children were grown, but how could we deprive them of such an adventure? And who could wait that long anyway?

Dale and I spent many happy hours convincing ourselves that what we would be offering the children in a life at sea would more than compensate for the things that they would be giving up. We thought of the wonderful experience of traveling, the great cultural and environmental education, the challenges and opportunities for self-development. It all sounded so good, so true, and yet, a perverse thought kept plaguing me: Was it perhaps “too good to be true”? I began to consider the darker side of life at sea.

La GitanaSimply moving aboard a boat and sailing off into the world was going to require some drastic changes in lifestyle quite apart from the obvious benefits. The mere logistics of gathering the four corners of our large house and fitting it within the space the size of our family room alone required some creative mental maneuvering. Trying to envision some semblance of tranquility and order within such a jumble seemed beyond the stretch of my imagination.

Could the four of us truly be happy living together in such close quarters? Wouldn’t the lack of space and privacy release hidden demons within us that would turn our cruising dream into a nightmare?

Even simple luxuries took on new ominous dimensions as I tried to mentally delete them from the frugal lifestyle we were contemplating. While it seemed we ought to be able to live happily ever after without the benefits of hot showers, a cold fridge, a washing machine and TV–what if we couldn’t? Who knew what trivial monkey-wrench could throw the whole dream askew?

snorkelingOne of my secret fears was that we might all become extremely bored with our cruising life. I tried imagining day after day, week after week of nothing but bright skies, warm seas and white sand, and found the effort becoming tedious.

After all, just how much swimming, fishing and snorkeling could one endure? Even heaven could become tedious after a while—couldn’t it?

Most of our worries centered on the children. Chief among these, and certainly the one most on the minds of the grandparents, was the question of safety. Were Dale and I being irresponsible in taking the kids off into the unknown danger that seemed integral in such long-distance cruising? Who knew what deadly storms or hurricanes, shark and appendicitis attacks, pirates or revolutionaries we would be exposing them to?

Chris and Kelli and dolfin3Then there were their social lives to consider. Our children never seemed so happy as when they had hordes of kids to play with. Surely it was grossly unfair of us to deprive them of their peers and of the opportunities and enjoyment that organized sports and recreations offered. Often, I would find myself closely watching my two children as they moved about their daily activities–the very activities of which we would soon be depriving them.

Christopher, at eleven, was fully enmeshed in that preadolescent social scene of soccer and baseball, skate boarding and video-games. It was a life-style in which he felt quite comfortable, and even while Dale and I felt that the life we were offering him was better, the question remained: Would he think so, say ten years down the line? Or would he feel cheated of the normal activities of adolescence?

Kids in boats1At eight years old, Kelli’s life was so much simpler, and yet such simplicity seemed all the more wretched to deprive her: doll houses and baby cribs, roller skates and her first two-wheel bike, gymnastic classes and tap dance lessons. Was she a budding ballerina whose career was being cut to the quick? What other new talents and skills would be left unplumbed as we dragged her away from future softball games, piano lessons and Girl Scout activities? Really, just how much were we truly asking our children to give up in order to accommodate our dream?

With Kelli’s tears that bright June morning, all of these questions and doubts came bubbling back to the surface, bringing into sharp focus our quandary: would this cruising life that Dale and I so clearly envisioned reach in reality the expectation of our dreams; or would it fray somehow and wear thin under the wear and tear of everyday living, dissolving into the nightmare our children half-expected?

SLa Gitana at sail close-up3The trouble was that we would never know until we had lived it. And to Dale and me, regardless the outcome, this life we so clearly envisioned seemed worth the effort and the risk. We had this singular opportunity to draw together as a family and pit our strengths, our skills, and our spirits against an unknown life and, just perhaps, come out the better for it. It was a chance we could not pass up.

(To Be Continued) Read part Two HERE:



Sea Saga, Part I – Catching the Dream

Sea Saga, Part II – Honeymoon Sail Bailing Water

Sea Saga, Part III – First Stop in Paradise, the Virgin Islands

Sea Saga, Part IV – Ex-pats and Pirates in the Bay Islands of Honduras

Sea Saga, Part V – La Gitana, Our Larger Self