When Lyall and I met sailing in St. Lucia, we both knew sailing was something we would want to share with our children as soon as we could. We both desired to live aboard for a year with our future kids. So in preparation for spending that year together living on the sea, we bought a Dufour 382, based in Corsica with one of Dream Yacht Charter's unique owner programs. (more details on why we chose this ownership path in a future post). When our girls were little at 3 years old and just over 1, we embarked on our first three week charter in the British Virgin Islands, using some of our allotted annual weeks aboard with Dream Yacht.
Lyall had spoken of these islands and their idyllic cruising grounds for years, as he went their annually managing World Cruising Club events. We thought it an easy test trip for the girls as we intended to use our weeks all at once, taking a 6-8 week sailing adventure each year until we take full ownership in 2021. Lyall and I have both spent months backpacking and sailing around far flung destinations. We knew we wanted to share the love of travel and sailing with our children. We went all in and did our best to set ourselves up for success on this first sailing adventure with the kids.
In preparing for the trip we kept in mind our mantra: less is more. This is true for stuff, daily activities, and trip planning in general. As you always have more stuff traveling with kids, we kept our onboard items minimal. Captain Lyall invokes a two duffle bag per trip restriction. Rather than cluttering the boat with toys and bits, we opt for workbooks, coloring, and beach/water toys. They run around in their diapers, panties, or bikinis half the time so you don't need many clothes. Items we always pack are water bottles to stay hydrated, healthy kids snacks, annies Mac and cheese, fishing nets for beaching, sun hats, SPF swim tops, and their kid size life jackets. We also bring extra clothes pegs and stain remover so I can do some hand washing aboard. When potty training aboard, we accepted the fact that our lifelines are perpetually strung with little girls panties. Our yacht always has that "kids aboard" look to it, try as we might to keep it ship shape.
We commit to getting them off the boat as soon as we finish breakfast to give them time ashore to play and run. We always seek shelter during midday sun and retreat for a siesta of sorts to relax before another late afternoon shore time. As there are so many NO's aboard for safety reasons, we try and be less restrictive when ashore and let them enjoy their freedom. We enforce a strict life jackets underway and in the dingy policy, but let them roam around while at anchor when an adult is on deck.
Bring them on board young. Accept that they will fall in at some point. Don't be afraid to adventure with your children! It is such a unique opportunity to teach your kids about the ocean, its incredible creatures, new cultures, and to literally unplug from the routine of everyday life and spend quality time together as a family. Disconnect from devices and the dock. Stay on anchor for days and indulge in life's simplicity. Get them involved in boat chores and driving the dingy. Immerse them in the sea. We knew our first sailing mission was a success when in Anegada towards the end of our three weeks, a woman came up to us and told us that we were an intrepid family. I was beaming on the inside with pride and smiled back at the kind compliment of us parenting two young girls aboard a 40' sailboat. We had not just passed the first mission, but were apparently exceeding expectations of other sailors likely watching us from within the anchorage wondering what kind of crazy people take their young girls sailing as an idea of fun.
We have since done two more adventures aboard with the girls; a month spent on our yacht in Corsica, to Italy and Croatia, and this year six weeks exploring the Society Island in French Polynesia. Each time they become more confident and comfortable aboard, take on more boat chores and responsibilities and continue to become more more adept at living on, and being in, the sea. People often look at us like we're crazy, and maybe we are a little, but we honestly cherish every day living aboard with the girls and showing them the world. Fear of the unknown is what immobilizes us. These girls already embrace the unknown and take on new challenges with a brave smile.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime for more tips on sailing with young kids!