Cruising with kids

JOHN MARTIN - BOATING NZ
Last updated 15:01 27/11/2011
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What better environment is there to bring up your children than cruising around the world? The naysayers will ask "How could you?"

But in every instance we have seen, including with our own two children, it has been a huge success. There's sure to be an exception somewhere but by far the majority of cruising kids you meet are well-rounded youngsters.

It takes some effort by parents when it's full-on 24/7, but there are plenty of resources, and depending on age - if you're a New Zealander - the Correspondence School is there to assist with education.

The upside is you get to 'grow up' with your kids, although according to our son Adam, he was the only one that grew up. The kids get to see nature at her finest and experience other cultures firsthand, and that's just for starters.

In a fleet of 30 boats this year on the ICA Pacific Circuit Rally, there were five boats with children aboard ranging in age from just two years old to several in their teens. That's higher than usual; some years there is only one or two and social interaction with other kids can be a problem. News does tend to get out though on the cruising grapevine, and boats with kids tend to gravitate to each other.

Getting started is the biggest step. Which boat will be the right one and how do you set it up? Getting past the "should we be doing this?" stage is also a big part.

We introduced you to David Wyman and his two year old daughter Eva in Boating last month. His is a situation that pushes a lot of boundaries, and that brief introduction sparked a good number of questions. After the last leg of the rally from Noumea to Opua, I asked David those questions.

David and Eva did the whole rally aboard their Peterson 44 Sea Esta, starting at Opua in May this year, heading up to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and then back to Opua in early November. Taking Eva cruising was borne out of tragedy when Eva's mother Karen died of cancer shortly after her birth. Eva is now nearly three.

"The decision to go cruising was a toss-up," says David. "I either continued to work and got a live-in nanny, or stopped work and looked after Eva."

David chose the latter and being an avid sailor, the logical direction was cruising. Was it a tough decision?

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"No, it was more of a logical progression." Once David made the decision to be a full-time dad, the choice became a financial one. "From a budget perspective it's way cheaper to live aboard and cruise than to live ashore."

David's love for the sea may have had a small hand in the decision too.

Choosing a boat
There were a number of requirements that needed to be fulfilled when it came to a boat that would suit both father and daughter. David has been a professional sailor so performance was a must. The boat had to be big enough to live on but small enough for David to handle solo if required. Critically, it also had to tick the boxes safety-wise for Eva.

They eventually settled on the Peterson 44, a centre cockpit cutter-rigged sloop that had been lovingly looked after by her previous owner.

"Sea Esta ticked all the boxes," says David. "She's quick and sails well, so I'm happy and she was easy to set up for Eva."

The Peterson is a medium displacement boat so her motion is gentle, she has a deep centre cockpit with wide uncluttered decks, and high metal railings that are easy to child-proof. Below deck, Eva has her own cabin and the main saloon can be easily converted into a big playpen.

Setting up the boat
You can tell that a boat has either young kids or small dogs aboard before you see either because they will be fully netted. David ran netting right round Sea Esta on the railings, and also came up with some clever fixes to keep Eva out of certain areas on deck. The bow (while anchoring) and the stern area were impossible to fully net so they are screened by netting 'dams' across the boat.

While on deck and sailing, David carries Eva around in a front pack which means she is involved in all aspects of sailing the boat and this includes the cockpit area.

"This allows me control but still keeps Eva interested."

When Dad is busy, Eva is happy to spend time below thanks to a bit of bribery and corruption in the form of a DVD player, flat screen TV and lots of toys.

Her cabin and the main saloon are also set up with lee cloths (partitions made of material) to keep her from falling, and a strict regime of "ouch" training has seen her learn very quickly what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. Eva, like all two year olds, is very good at giving the occasional temper tantrum but is switched on to what's going to hurt.

Life aboard
David finds the small confined area within the boat easy to control, and Eva knows the area well and has found ways of getting around that suit her.

"I'm less worried about water than I am about cars. I'm sure her balance is better than other kids her age and I've set her duties already so she's a part of the crew."

I wondered if the competitive sailor in David had any difficulty adjusting to cruising.

"If I wasn't doing this I'd be doing things like the Vendee Globe, so yes, it's hard to rationalise sailing to cruising. The passages became a race for me and that's been important."

David has mellowed over the six months away thought, and lately has even been caught 'turning the key' on passage so the sails don't get quite the same attention and the autopilot gets more work.

"Sitting on watch allows you to get into your own head and that's helped. It confirms where you want to go. There's time to sit back and just enjoy."

No matter how much a cruiser you think they are though, put sailors on a boat in a race and the competitive streak will quickly surface. As part of the build-up to the Vila - Ouvéa leg of the rally, the Vanuatu Cruising Yacht Club organised an interclub 'fun race' around Vila Harbour. Five 'cruising' boats from the ICA fleet and four from the VCYC took part. But we're not competitive, not by half.

The social side
"I was worried I'd get bored," says David. "But between Eva and the boat, that never happened."

He also found cruising in a group was a lot of fun. "The dynamic of cruising in a group is extraordinary." 

David feels Eva may have missed out on social interaction from her own age group but this has been more than compensated for by the large number of surrogate aunts, uncles and grandparents in the fleet.

Cruising for six months was a "social experiment" says David, but one that he and Eva are going to repeat next year.

"It's been superb. (It was) risk awareness followed by risk management and ensuring that Eva is aware of the consequences of her actions."

John Martin runs the Island Cruising Association with his wife Lyn.

- Boating NZ

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