We have been very careful with the kids sailing experiences to date. Regaled with childhood tales from various friends – of weekends spent in the Solent aboard smelly, cold boats in the pouring rain, which left in its wake only a hated of sailing – we decided early on to make sure the kids experiences were positive & rich with happy memories.
A fundamental part of our gap year plan was the support of the children – they needed to be looking forward to it as much as we were. There are plenty of obvious ‘kid wins‘ in our plan – a year away from school; sunshine & beaches to play on; visiting fabulous islands – but there could be many more ‘kid fails‘. Leaving friends, family and our wonderful community behind for the year is an essential part of our adventure, but that year is a lifetime to someone who is only 7. To overcome this and the other social challenges of a year on board, we make a decision early on to become fair weather sailors.
We have earned our stripes on the Solent. I remember being very, very sick overboard whilst changing the foresail (yes, I know – back in the old days) in a blustery December, whilst taking my Day Skipper exam. The military instructor from the Joint Services Sail Training Centre wasn’t impressed & failed me anyway. We’ve raced, day sailed, crossed the channel and navigated one of the busiest stretches of water in the world in all weathers, we’ve sailed in the Baltic, the Atlantic & the Irish Sea, it was exhilarating, sometimes scary and always worth it, even when soaked to the skin. But these are not the places to engrain an abiding love of sailing in very small children. They are going to see the cold & wet, the scary bits and the boredom, but not the awesomeness and freedom.
So we headed to the lands of fair weather, where sailing is a means of getting from one gorgeous location where we can jump in the sea to cool off, to the next; where “Mummy, come in, it’s like swimming in a jar of fish!” is always the cry; the clothes dry off in an hour on the rail; and the kids just can’t wait to go sailing again.
The archives of this blog detail some of our holidays, the first was a ‘club’ holiday where we stayed ashore but had the use of various dinghies and day boats when our youngest was 3, but once we had established the kids were happy with the concept of being aboard we bareboat chartered from then on. Greece & the Ionian were favourite locations, but we also ventured to the Aegean, Turkey and the Caribbean.
Encouraging friends to join us was also a great experience for the kids. We always had at least a four cabin, 44ft vessel, which could happily house two families for a week. It’s close living, but with good weather below decks becomes just where you sleep & cook, and the outside space is limitless for young explorers, or adults who need some ‘me’ time.
Having a dinghy and a kayak on the boat allowed the kids some freedom & independence. We were always careful to ensure it was monitored, low risk independence, but a sheltered bay with an onshore wind is a wonderful place for a kids’ kayak adventure; playing ferryman to get the beach BBQ gear ashore, or fetching Daddy another beer from the boat.
Our last & final sailing holiday before the start of our gap year was out to the Caribbean, to give the kids a first hand experience of what they will be doing. By coincidence, friends of ours, the Hendersons, (aboard Skylark – https://skylarkingaround.com) were in Grenada as part of their sailing adventure. Already nine months into their three-year cruising plan, their similar aged kids took ours under their wing & showed them what its like to be a boat kid!
The shared fair weather sailing experiences within our family, between the kids & their friends who have been sailing with us, reflected upon over time and looked back on with joy, have borne fruit in the positive attitude of the kids to our big adventure. They are going to miss their friends; there won’t be a gymnastics club to go to; or a Cub pack to join; it will be Mummy & Daddy ALL THE TIME, which could get a bit much; and Granny & Grandad will be too far away to pop over. But they love sailing. They love the wind in their hair; they are completely fascinated by the sea & all marine life; Will is self-styled dinghy & kayak captain and loves his independence & freedom to just set off & potter about; Amelie adores snorkelling and is passionate about saving the oceans from waste (collecting flotsam & jetsam to the point we may need a bigger boat).
This adventure is their adventure as much as ours. But we have carefully managed that, they also own it & have contributed their ideas throughout the planning, and this is not the end. There will be moments of homesickness & sadness; sulks about lack of screen time; fights over getting the homeschooling done before the fun begins; overcoming the fear of long overnight passages; but we have at least got them on board. Let the adventure begin!