So many friends and relatives thought we were crazy to take our two young children on a 39-foot sloop around the world. Our answers to the many questions became a wonderful reality as we gave our children experiences of a lifetime that few will ever have. I would like to give those disbelievers some evidence that bringing up young children, on a small cruising vessel, provides the greatest education, strongest knowledge of responsibility, and most important of all, the necessity to have a close-knit family where each respects and admires one another, and loves to be together.
To name just a few of the important aspects of cruising is to give children the ability to grow up in an ever changing atmosphere, of living in a very small area, and having the family as the central, most important unified glue of friendship and reliability. I believe this unique life is ever so much better for children and parents than living in a land-based home.
What did we do to make this wonderful adventure as a family so easy, and fun, and stimulating and safe? Let me give you just a few ways that made the glue of family life so much more adhesive.
To entertain the children. No screens, no internet, no telephones, but rather books and more books, and the time to read together to open up the world to our children. Every single day we would keep to a fun schedule of reading to each other. The books were sometimes stories, but more often historic and cultural literature of the many places we visited. Some were educational books, some were wonderful literary tales, and a lot were simply sea stories. We used to call it, "going to the movies." Our family would sit in the cockpit on nice dry days, or at the dinette table, or even in our bunks at night, all listening to one of us as we read books aloud to the crew of four.
To educate the children. What better education is there than to teach children the heavenly planets and stars, the weather patterns of the ocean, the necessity of steering an accurate compass course, the math of figuring out a reciprocal course, the making of the knots of a sailor, the trimming of sails for most efficient speed and comfort, the reading of a chart (a paper chart), and laying out a course to the next destination. And think about it. Every aspect of our daily lives aboard our small boat was an education in life. And it was not a classroom, it was real honest-to-goodness physical education for well being and surviving in the real world. There were no tests or exams. No unnecessary stress, just the great feeling of learning something that was of practical use in everyday sailing life. Wow, think of that!
Contact with other children their ages. Samantha was 7 years old and James was 4 when we waved good bye to our family on the beach in Fort Lauderdale in 1985. Yes, they had their Mother and Father for friends. And the children they met, and played with in Haiti, San Blas, Panama, Galapagos, French Polynesia, Tonga, New Caledonia, and further west around the globe, these children became their friends. It was sad to leave these friends when departing for the next unknown port of call, but exciting to know there will be so many more friends to be made in new countries. I am a firm believer that if all children were brought up sailing around the world and meeting and making friends with the children of foreign countries, that peace on Earth would be a easy goal. What better way to get to know and appreciate what others think of you, what you have in common, and what you can do to make the world population a better place?
Responsibility for children. Just think about it. A two-hour watch in the middle of the night. All by yourself in a damp and dark cockpit. Watching the compass for a correct course, often times having to hand steer, checking the sails for the right trim, looking out all the time for anything else out there in the vast ocean, listening to every sound of a sailing boat crossing an ocean, and smelling the sea. And all the while watching heavenly constellations march across the velvet sky. All this while the rest of the crew is sound asleep knowing you are in full charge of their lives. Sammy and Jamie, from the day we departed Florida, until the hour we sailed back into Port Everglades, always took their two-hour watches. If that isn't responsibility, I don't know what is!
Making meals in a rolling and jumping galley, cleaning up the dishes with a foot pump for water, eating sitting on the cabin sole where the motion is the least, helping reef or change sails (often in the middle of the dark night), putting the boat back like it was never at sea after a long and uncomfortable sea passage, keeping everything in its place and a place for everything. How many children know such responsibility?
Don't ever let me hear anyone say it is irresponsible to take small children to sea. To me, and I am sure to my children today, it was the single most important aspect of life that we, as parents, could have given our children.