Cruising

5 Lessons My Kids Learned from Cruising

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Growing up with a sailboat as a home affords this young mariner a unique perspective

When I asked my daughter, Tamsyn, 10, what she and her brother, Griffyn, 7, had learned while sailing aboard Madrona, our Tayana 37, she cited some obvious things, like becoming a better swimmer and learning about marine life by observing it firsthand. Sailing, geography and foreign languages were also high on her list. But after watching our kids live and play far from “home” these past three years, it has become apparent that some things they’re learning are less obvious, but more profound.

1. How to Define Happiness

Tamsyn and Griffyn have discovered that some of the most content people in this world have few material possessions. They have seen firsthand that very poor people in less developed countries can be just as happy as people with lots of stuff in “advanced” countries. Traveling by sailboat has allowed them to see alternatives to the materialism they grew up with in. It has opened their eyes to the possibility of steering a different course and still ending up satisfied.

2. A New Way of Keeping Time

Living aboard and abroad has afforded our kids a pause from the frenetic pace of the modern world, with its play dates, after-school sports and 30-second sound bites. In the island schools they now attend in the South Pacific, they might spend whole days on a single topic. After school, they’ll spend afternoons following fruit bats flying overhead or observing schools of squid around the boat. They don’t feel pressure to hurry up and achieve the next goal; they’re encouraged by their surroundings (both the place and the people) to enjoy the present moment. This new sense of time has allowed them to learn more about who they are, as opposed to who society thinks they should be.

Grammar school in the South Pacific

3. A Limitless Definition of Friendship

The ability to befriend anyone, young or old, is a trait that’s common in the children of cruisers. When we arrive in a new port, our kids instantly seek out other kid’s boats. On shore, they seek out local children, but no more so than locals of any age. In Port Villa, Vanuatu, Griffyn developed a friendship with a young man who worked in a cantina. They hung out together whenever we were on shore, and Griffyn would studiously help him shift tables and clear meals. Other times they would sit quietly under a tree and play games. Our daughter also makes friends easily and is always giving away little gifts she makes.

4. A Sense of Trust

Every time we pull into a new port, our kids get a chance to meet new people who look, think and act like no one they’ve ever met before. Because they’ve never lived in an isolated or over-protected community, they’re comfortable walking up to strangers wherever we go to talk and ask questions. Locals are instantly at ease, charmed by their trusting nature. The shell of suspicion and caution that society instills in young people back home has withered away. They trust in the inherent goodness of most people, and through the many countries we’ve traveled, their trust has not been misplaced.

5. A Sense of Scale

Through cruising, our children have learned that the world is wide—full of diverse cultures, rich in amazing ecosystems—and when traversed at the intimate pace of a sailboat, it is no longer an abstraction in a book or a video. They have experienced the world by harnessing the same wind they feel on their faces. It is this awareness that we hope will engender understanding and wisdom as our kids live their lives.  

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