Bluewater Families: Cruising with Kids

The prospect of sailing 4,500 miles across the South Pacific on a 48-foot sailboat with two small children and a wife prone to seasickness is enough to make most sane skippers back away in terror. Lucky for me, my not-so-sane husband saw it as the chance of a lifetime. So in May of 2008, we cast off from Honolulu aboard our Swan 48, Sundance, with our two children, Sofia Maria, 5, and Rufo, 4, and threw ourselves to the wind.
Author:
Publish date:
bwfam1

The prospect of sailing 4,500 miles across the South Pacific on a 48-foot sailboat with two small children and a wife prone to seasickness is enough to make most sane skippers back away in terror. Lucky for me, my not-so-sane husband saw it as the chance of a lifetime. So in May of 2008, we cast off from Honolulu aboard our Swan 48, Sundance, with our two children, Sofia Maria, 5, and Rufo, 4, and threw ourselves to the wind.

Before leaving, we tried to acclimatize the kids with a few outings on the calm waters between Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor. These typically resulted in Rufo sleeping in the cockpit while Sofia Maria puked over the stern. They didn’t even enjoy dinghy rides around Ala Wai Marina. We were in poor shape for a long sailing trip.

Once in the Pacific, the challenges continued. In late September, for example, we left Samoa for a “quick” 26-hour passage to Tonga. The trip was supposed to be short, but heavy weather prevented us from sailing upwind toward the small volcanic island. We arrived a day late in the middle of the night with a ripped foresail, seasick children and a jibsheet around the propeller. It would have been madness to attempt to negotiate the reef-lined passage under those conditions, so we tacked back and forth under mainsail alone until daylight. At dawn, we hailed some fellow cruisers on the VHF, and in no time had four dinghies tied to our boat, ferrying us through the reef and into a safe anchorage.

bwfam2

Fortunately, despite uncomfortable experiences like this, the kids adapted naturally to life aboard and incorporated their many new experiences into a fantasy world of their own. At anchor, the boat was a giant playground: bunks and leecloths served as castles and forts; halyards were their swing set; sailbags were mountains to explore. They learned how to jump from the boat deck into the inviting clear water below where they swam about like seals.

In November, as most other boats headed for safe haven in New Zealand, we moved from Tonga to Savusavu, Fiji, a well-protected “cylone-hole.” There we docked stern-to at the Copra Shed Marina so the kids could come and go with ease. We also reserved a heavy cyclone mooring in case we needed to get Sundance off the dock and into the safer inland harbor. In early January, we lived on that mooring for 11 days, staying below as torrential rains and 40-50 knot winds battered Fiji, causing the worst flooding there in 30 years. Talk about family bonding.

When the local Fijian schools re-opened, Sofia and Rufo went to the Indian-run Khamendra School. There they learned the rudiments of reading and writing in English, Fijian and Hindi. Every day they lined up with their classmates to brush their teeth outside on the lawn, then marched through the school grounds in an orderly fashion bedecked in blue and white uniforms. At Khamendra school they were introduced to “discipline” as it existed a generation ago in the United States. Uniforms had to be clean and pressed, girls’ hair was to be braided with white ribbons, and fingernails were checked for cleanliness. Local children helped maintain the school, after rising at 0500 to help with their chores at home. In the end, I suppose it wasn’t so bad to be a cruising kid on a sailboat just passing through.

Sofia and Rufo spent weekends with other local children, chasing frogs, racing hermit crabs and watching small tropical fish swim along the shore. Around town, our kids were often the center of attention: adults smiled at them, and children touched their “golden” hair and giggled. After four months, we had become accepted palangi, which means “strangers,” but is literally translated as “cloud breakers” for the first Western sailors who came over the horizon, breaking through the clouds centuries earlier.

bwfam3

Sailing with our children slowed us down, but what we lost in socializing with other cruising couples, we more than gained in the intense relationships we established with local communities. Our children opened doors for us that are normally closed to visitors. They went to local schools, we attended the local church, and as a result we were generally more welcomed by locals.

We hope our kids will remember some of what they lived through during those two years. For me, my anxieties at the beginning of the trip grew less with each passing day. Minus a few days of discomfort, 600 days aboard a sailboat in the South Pacific with two kids turned out to be just about perfect. I will always remember the smiles on local faces, the reassuring presence of fellow sailors and the warm, calm nights aboard Sundance watching every sunset as if it was our first.

Click here to read "Bluewater Families: Growing Up Cruising."

Photos by Patricia Zumstein

Related

IMG_0173

Electronic “Flares” for Cruisers

The United States Coast Guard requires that all boats operating in coastal waters or on the high seas carry a selection of visual distress signals. Almost invariably, such signals include the pyrotechnic type, either handheld or fired from a flare pistol, but surely there are ...read more

M2-HOOK-TOP-AND-CHAIN-1

Gear: M2 Chain Hook from Mantus

Stay Hooked Chain hooks on anchor snubber lines tend to fall off when you least want them to. Not so this latest example from Mantus. The M2 Chain Hook is secured to the chain by a simple elastic strap, so it won’t come off when the snubber loosens. Made from corrosion-resistant ...read more

shutterstock_349918991

Successful Surf Landings with Wheels

“Ready to take the dink ashore?” Never had those words invoked as much anxiety as when my husband, Jeff, and I first moved to the Pacific Coast. Why? Because we had exactly zero experience with dinghy surf landings, and the possibility of being flipped upside down along with our ...read more

Sail2010_597

How to: Find Good Values on Charter Vacations

So, you want to find a great deal on your next charter vacation? Sure, you can scour the internet, hope for Black Friday deals or ask friends. But an even better way to find good prices on charter boats is to go to a boat show. Not only do charter companies like The Moorings, ...read more

leadphoto

Know How: Dinghy Modification

The rigmarole of stretching a cover over a dinghy in choppy water prior to hoisting it on davits can become a very wet business if you’re not careful. Leaning right over either end, trying to stretch a cover over the bow and stern pods can quite easily result in a head-first dip ...read more

25980

Catnapped Aboard a Racing Multihull

It was after midnight when I realized my daysail with Tony Bullimore aboard his giant record-breaking catamaran, Team Legato, was not going to plan. The big cat was en route for a December dash from England across the Bay of Biscay to Barcelona and the start of a drag race ...read more