Bluewater Families: Growing Up Cruising

While the majority of bluewater cruisers take to the seas kid-free, there are a brave few who manage to raise a family while cruising. It’s not a well-worn path, but teenage cruisers Gina and Fransisco Rowe wouldn’t think of following another.  
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When people hear we’ve been cruising since we were seven and nine, their questions are often the same-—How can you get a decent education while traveling the world? How do you keep in touch with friends? 

Schooling while sailing presents all sorts of obstacles, not the least of which are logistical. We recall three months of math curriculum that was mysteriously consumed by the Egyptian mail service, and another package of coursework that showed up soaking wet. In earlier years, our parents created our lesson plans, but since high school, we’ve been corresponding with a program in New Zealand via an SSB radio connected to our Pactor modem. Online classes are simply not an option. 

Transforming the boat into a classroom is a challenge. Imagine trying to maintain neat handwriting while bent over an exam paper in Thailand, layering tea towels over a book so the sweat from your dengue fever won’t soak through. Imagine trying to stay focused on a history lesson scheduled for 1500 to 1800, when a squall hits at 1530 and you have to reset the anchor. 

Perhaps the biggest difference is that we don’t have classmates with whom to collaborate or compete. Without this context, it’s easy to feel detached. So we have to set our own pace, be creative with the resources at hand (man, do I miss libraries!) and rely on self-motivation alone.

However, after overcoming the challenges of isolation and technology, of resources and distraction, we have, in fact, been receiving a much richer education than we would in a traditional school. Consider when we sailed across the Indian Ocean in convoy: we stood watches, performed defensive drills and scanned the horizon for heavily armed pirates. During those weeks, it was difficult to take time out for study, but we learned other valuable lessons you would never get from a textbook or in a school.

People also wonder about our relationships, platonic and otherwise. The bottom line is that when cruising, family takes precedence. You live on a boat together and exist as a unit. You get to know your family very well and, because you can’t get away from them, learn how to tolerate their flaws. The cruising lifestyle can make or break families, but for those who work at it, cruising can create a very strong bond. 

Friends, on the other hand, present a challenge. The constant moving around means you’re always making new acquaintances, but can rarely keep up with them. The relationships you are able to maintain can become strained because landlubbers don’t realize how much time and effort cruising requires, and they view your lack of correspondence as negligent. 

Inviting them to stay on the boat for a week usually resolves this misunderstanding, but keeping in touch never gets easier. Instead, while the boat’s moving, your focus shifts: you keep in contact as best you can, hang out with the locals, and enjoy the moment. 

When it comes to dating in the traditional sense, it’s pretty much nonexistent. There are a lucky few who manage to maintain long-distance relationships, but usually, it’s meet, greet and goodbye. And usually, we’re okay with that. Cruising teens realize there’s simply no time for dating, and we often become a lot more confident in ourselves as single people, rather than getting hung up on being part of a couple.

Those on shore seem to have two sorts of opinions about cruising teens—some think we’re lucky to be seeing so much of the world, and some think we should be spending our time with other teenagers, going to school and dating. In reality, we don’t hang out with kids as much, but we are in school and, often, we are dating. Staying in one place would undoubtedly allow for a steadier social routine, but I, personally, am looking forward to seeing Italy. 

Click here to read "Bluewater Families: Cruising with Kids."

Photos by Gina and Fransisco Rowe

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