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:
Updated:
Original:

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.

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.

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

01-LEAD-IMG20210409160620-copy

Cruising: La Soufrière Volcano Eruption

This past spring my family and I were at anchor aboard our 50ft steel-hulled cutter, Atea, off Bequia, a small island five miles south of St. Vincent in the Southern Antilles. Bequia’s large, protected bay is lined by a collection of beach bars, restaurants and hotels, and is a ...read more

01-LEAD-GMR_ISLA_0415-1

Electric Multihulls

Witnessing the proliferation of Tesla automobiles you would have no doubt that the revolution in electromobility is well underway. Turn your gaze to the cruising world, though, and you might well wonder what went wrong. Where are all the electric boats? And as for electric ...read more

Lee-Cloths-Lee-Boards-and-single-bunks-on-ISBJORN_by-Andy-Schell_Trans-Atlantic-2019

The Perfect Offshore Boat: Part 2

November, 2009: Mia and I were sailing our 1966 Allied Seabreeze yawl, Arcturus, on our first-ever offshore passage together, a short hop from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. Our second night out, the brisk northwesterly wind shut down, but the sea state ...read more

210727_JR_SE_Tokyo20_186871368

Tune in for Olympic Sailing

Today marks the start of 470 and NARCA 17 racing on Enoshima Bay, and racing in the other seven fleets is already underway. A few of the American sailors are already off to an impressive start, with Maggie Shea and Stephanie Roble currently in second place in the 49er FX, Luke ...read more

Happy-Cat

Boat Review: Happy Cat Hurricane

I’m not sure what I expected from my daysail on the Happy Cat Hurricane. One thing I do know is that the day didn’t go as planned. The SAIL staff was invited by Alex Caslow from Redbeard Sailing to Gunpowder State Park on Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore. We were to test several ...read more

210722_PM_Tokyo20_4910_5979-2048x

Olympic Sailing Guide

The Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Games is finally here. From July 24 to August 4, sailors from across the world will be gathering on six courses on Enoshima Bay to race for gold. Ten classes will take part in the event: RS:X (men), RS:X (women), Laser Full Rig, Laser Radial, ...read more

01-LEAD-TobagoCaysHorseshoeColors

Chartering: Voltage is King

For some time now, both in the pages of this magazine and with individual charterers, I’ve talked about how important it is to pay close attention during a charter checkout. The idea is to listen “between the lines,” as it were, to be sure you aren’t missing any hidden red flags ...read more

AC75-No.-1

ETNZ May Abandon New Zealand

Remember when the Kiwis were the young, underfunded upstarts of the America’s Cup world, with right on their side as they took on the Big Bad Americans? Remember the withering criticism leveled at Larry Ellison when, in the wake of “The Comeback” on San Francisco Bay, arguably ...read more