Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Baby on Board: 10 Challenges of Cruising with a Baby

Ever since we had a baby it's like our blog exploded.  So the lesson here, folks, is:  if you want your sailing blog traffic to increase, have a baby.  Okay - I'M JOKING.  That is terrible advice.  But it's true, readers do seem to be really curious about babies on boats,  probably because most people think it's totally insane and seeing a baby growing up on a boat is sort of like seeing a liger in the wild - cool, weird, and probably dangerous .  But please do NOT have a baby just to up your blog stats.  That would be ridiculous.

While having a baby on a boat has come very naturally to us (after all, we know no different), it doesn't necessarily mean it's a cake walk.  In fact, it's a heck of a lot more challenging than raising a baby on land and anyone who has done both will tell you so.  Will it work for you?  I'm not sure.  Some moms can't handle the stress of it all, some take it in stride.  Where you might fall depends on a whole slew of variables.  I mentioned before that Scott and I are very laid-back parents which I think has helped us tremendously.  In addition, we have what many would consider an "easy" baby which is another huge advantage.  Your parenting style, individual child(ren), boat and cruising destination will all affect how you adjust to life afloat with little ones.  So, just in case you were thinking about doing this (and NOT just to up your blog stats!!) here are some things to think about:

Ten Challenges of Cruising with a Baby
  1. Supervision/Attention - Captain Obvious over here.  But really, having a toddler on a boat means one parent must ALWAYS have their eyes on the child.  We don't have a dedicated "play room" where we can leave her and we (thankfully) don't have a television to plop her in front of - which means it's all us, all the time.  For those of you who have not spent 24/7 with a child who's attention span caps out at twenty minutes and who's concept of "danger" has not quite formed - this is exhausting work.  Believe it or not, my #1 worry is not Isla falling overboard (of course this is a concern) but the countless other hazards a boat presents like: falling down the companionway stairs, plummeting through a hatch, hitting her head on any number of sharp, stainless steel protrusions, getting into toxic chemicals or dangerous tools...the list goes on.  They need constant supervision.  I only have one child and sometimes I feel like I'm herding cats.  It's exhausting.  Let's talk more about this when we have more than one...(sigh).  
  2. Anchoring/Docking - It never fails that pulling into a new anchorage always seems to coincide with dinnertime or bedtime which also happens to be when our baby is her fussiest.  Either that or she is fully wired and ready to play.  This is no bueno because Scott is at the helm and mama is on the bow and we both need to be paying close attention to our jobs, none of which include "baby entertainment".  In the past she was either tethered to the cockpit or strapped into her carseat, so she was safe - but that did not mean she was happy.  Trying to anchor while a baby screams bloody murder across the anchorage is no fun.  We've pulled into our fair share of anchorages at dinnertime only to have Isla announce our presence with frustrated wails that we could do little to quell because of the task at hand.  Snacks seemed to help, but having Scott unwrap organic granola bars and quickly hand them to a whining Isla while steering our boat into position didn't quite work out.  Now, I "wear" Isla in my Ergo baby carrier whenever we anchor or dock and she happily watches from my back while I do my job, with plenty of stimulation to keep her at bay.  Everyone is happy, quiet and, better yet, safe.
  3. Planning excursions in between nap times - I've mentioned before that we're BIG "sleep" people.  I did a lot of research on this and, to us, sleep is just as important as food and love for a developing baby so we take her snoozes very seriously and make "sacrifices" to do so.  At 16 months she is taking two naps a day, at 9am and 1pm and going to bed between 6-7pm.  That leaves short windows of time in which to do things like hike, snorkel or go to the store.  Typically, if it's errands we need to get done - we divide and conquer.  But if it's something fun like an outing or a day trip, we'll try to do it in the afternoon when we have a nice four-hour chunk of time.  We'll also skip a nap here and there for special occasions because what is parenting if not a lesson in flexibility?  Some might think we're crazy for all this napping, but we couldn't care less.  Our baby is well behaved and content and, in our opinion, one outing with a happy child is much more pleasant than three outings with a cranky, overtired, and screaming one.
  4. Meeting other cruisers- Because we have a baby, we're a little more closed off than we used to be - not necessarily by choice, but by circumstance.  If young cruisers are the minority, young cruisers with babies are even more so which means we're not amongst peers very often, if ever.  We don't go to jam sessions, we rarely (if ever) go to pot-lucks and we tend to do things on our own schedule (see #3).  Of course, many cruisers are baby boomers with grandchildren of their own whom they miss terribly so Isla gets lots of love, attention and sometimes even gifts from her "pseudo-grandparents" in marinas and anchorages.  But mommy and daddy social time?  That is much less than before.  We don't party like we used to, we don't stay up as late as we used to and, frankly, we don't have the energy for it even if we wanted to.  Isla us a VERY active child and if we do bring her out to a function or gathering, one of us is always chasing her around and making sure she's not getting into anything she shouldn't so being "social" is almost impossible because, "Oh, sorry, must run! My baby is eating a snail/climbing a tree/sticking her hand in the pasta salad...".  So we lay low.  Watching a movie (if I can stay awake) or kicking back with a good book is the new "normal" evening for us.
  5. Babysitters - or lack thereof.  I know people on land who interview like Google to hire a babysitter for their kids.  Multiple meetings, background checks, "test" runs...the whole shebang.  Obviously this is important because you need to trust who you leave your kids with and we all know the world is full of people who are cuckoo for cocoa puffs.  Considering that we live like nomads and are always moving - this type of process is just not realistic.  Sure, we've had some trusted friends babysit for us here and there - but it is by no means a weekly or even monthly occurrence.  When you have a baby on board be prepared to spend your evenings on the boat.  A "wild night" these days is having some friends over for dinner and wine and going to bed after 9pm.  I know - yawn.  Our "social life" is pretty pathetic but man are we well rested!  Considering we can both be a touch anti-social, we're cool with this arrangement.  The upside, of course, is that we spend almost 24/7 with our baby and that right there is doing a world of good for her psyche and development.
  6. Playmates - kids love other kids.  It's like they are genetically programmed to find each other.  Isla, in particular, LOVES other kids.  It doesn't matter if they are big or little, if they speak English or Elvish, if she sees, hears or smells them, she makes a bee-line for them, gives them a big smile and a full-body hug.  Not all kids are into her affection, unfortunately, but it doesn't seem to bother her.  Finding playmates her age is challenging and we don't have the luxury (or ease?) of mommy groups, kid gyms and play dates since we're always on the go and things like that just don't exist down here.  Isla has made a boat load of friends on this trip but, unfortunately, they come and they go.  Her current best friends are a French-speaking brother/sister duo aged six and eight.  They are adorable and have become Isla's little fan club.  As a result, Isla now says "bon jour" with insane perfection and after we say "bye bye" she says "or awa" which is her version of "au revior".  I don't feel like she's missing out on a thing, but that doesn't mean you won't with your child.
  7. Sailing and Trip planning - Sailing in and of itself is challenging with a baby (see #1). Underway they need to be changed, fed, entertained and kept safe.  This is no small feat.  This means that, usually, our boat is singlehanded (by Scott) while one of us (me) is on full-time baby duty.  Luckily, we had a hunch about this and intentionally bought a boat that is very easy to single-hand so this is not a big deal for us.  But, we also have a car seat that can be attached both above deck and below should conditions require all four of our hands.  Because of the single-hand factor, we like to plan our travel days so that we raise anchor after she wakes up at 6am and arrive at our destination by her bedtime at 6pm.  This time schedule is not always easy to adhere to and, well, the ocean and weather don't always cooperate.  But here in the Caribbean, it works because islands are pretty close together.  Furthermore, overnight passages can be a beast with a baby, at least this one was, so on any passage longer than 24-48 hours we'd suggest trying to get an extra crew member to help out.
  8. Staying on top of chores - I am a bonafide neat freak and our boat is (almost) always clean and tidy.  I wish I could be the kind of person who's all "Oh, this mess?  It's just 'lived in'" but I am not.  If it's out of place, I must put it back.  If it needs straightening, I must straighten.  I'm obsessive like a Jack Russell in this way.  I clean up her toys about five times a day and I am happy to report that our boat does NOT look like it has been taken over by Toys-R-Us.  Other chores however?  Like replacing hoses, checking the rigging, re-bedding hardware, polishing the steel and scrubbing the waterline - the ones that are IMPORTANT to the upkeep of a boat?  Those go by the wayside.  With a baby on board time and energy for big boat chores is significantly less - and they take a lot longer to finish.  Not to mention that usually these chores are done by one parent while the other is on "baby" duty, therefore cutting efficiency in half.  We're probably going to be hiring out more work than ever this hurricane season just to help us get things done.
  9. Entertaining - out here we don't have things like "mommy groups", music classes, child-proofed playgrounds, and "adventurous eating clubs" to take our babies to.  Heck, I don't even think any of these islands have zoos.  Before I had kids I wondered what the heck all that fuss was about but now I get it:  it's something to DO.  Being a stay-at-home parent is a lot of work and keeping a toddler entertained all day long takes a lot of effort on a boat, especially when it's 110° degrees outside or pouring rain and conditions make being outside thoroughly unpleasant.  So we must be very creative; we go to the beach on nice days, if there is a mall well head to the mall on extremely hot and/or rainy days, we ride busses and take lots of walks .  We make do with the simple things and Isla is equally (if not more) happy collecting hermit crabs on the beach than she'd be at a baby gym.  Furthermore, we don't have "play rooms" or basements on our boats where our kids can have the run of the mill, and boat babies probably have 1/10th of the toys and goodies land babies have so again, creativity must thrive.  I personally feel that our child is better off with less, but it can make playtime more challenging.
  10. Rough Weather - we have seen very little rough weather thus far but we've dipped our toe in the water to know that it's not nice.  When it's really rough there are very few places that are more uncomfortable than a sailboat.  The boat is being tossed about like a toy, waves are drenching the cockpit, and wind is howling through the rigging - usually underway, Isla and I stay in the cockpit but conditions like this make it an unsafe place to be so Isla and I remain down below, usually laying together all snuggled up.  For hours at a time.  This sucks.  Isla gets seasick from time to time and cleaning up baby vomit while riding a bucking bronco and still trying to care for a sick and miserable munchkin is awful...in fact, it's borderline impossible.  It's happened exactly once and while I'm sure it's not the last time, I'm in no hurry to experience it again.  Wearing baby puke for three hours was not a good look for me.
To us, the benefits of raising a baby on a boat hugely outweigh the challenges but that may or may not be the case for you.  Just like the decisions to work or stay at home, to use cloth or disposable diapers, to public school or home school, to cry it out or not, what's best for you will be what works for you and your family.  Isla is a child who is clearly thriving in this lifestyle and for that we are grateful, but - as illustrated above - it's not always easy.  This is a challenging lifestyle without kids, so throwing a baby or two into the mix makes it that much more complicated.  It takes more effort, more sacrifice and more time but for us, it's totally worth the extra energy.  Of course these challenges will evolve and change as Isla grows and we add to our crew, and we might not even want to live like this forever, but for now - it works.

Do you have a baby on board?  What do you find to be the most challenging aspect?  Share in the comments so we can all learn and be better prepared!

13 comments:

Mel Bowden said...

Oh, Brittney, this is bringing back so many memories - you've nailed it. While not by choice did we give up that lifestyle, your list reminds me that we also gave up many challenges that we really struggled with. Mind you, we've swapped the boat for a RV, so some of them still exist! They're just a lot easier to deal with on land. Hats off to you and Scott for making it work so well. People will start asking you soon when you'll be making it four!

Mel, AB, Oscar & Sienna

Mathieu Néron said...

How my... I do feel and understand all that you said Brittany.

We live with a 2 yo and twins that are 4 yo, this is so beautiful to see them grow up on the boat. They are on the boat since they're born and we are expecting a fourth one so obviously the experience of baby on boat never stopped us gratefully ;)

You're explaining so well the challenges that we encounter that I cannot say better or more then what you described except for the fact that having a 2 yo on-board with twins that are more agile make the younger one either try to follow or cry because we know he won't be able to follow. But it's good as he already swim just by following the older ones.

We can keep going and going on this subject but the only thing a can find is that those little one are so beautiful to see grow that we can't stop looking at their progress with enthusiasm.

Which you good sailing, Bon vent ;)

Windtraveler said...

@Mel- good to hear from you!! And happy to hear you are still living like nomads on the open road - that is awesome. While the challenges you face might be different, the benefits of being able to be with our kids 24/7 remain the same. Safe travels sista! And oh yes, we're already getting questions and pressure for baby #2. We'll see!! We definitely want more so there will be more babies, that is for sure :)
@Mathieu - TWINS!?!?! TWINS?!?! Annnnd a two year old?? WOW. Okay, you must be incredible. I have often said that twins would *probably* be a deal-breaker for us - but i completely and utterly applaud you because that must be TOUGH work. But, as you say, it is SO worth it to watch them change, grow and evolve every single step of the way. We feel VERY lucky to be able to do this and be so involved as we are. Best of luck and fair winds to you!!!

Anonymous said...

Hey Brittney! My husband, Aaron, and I met you really briefly in Fort Lauderdale with our daughter, Claire, last October. Actually, Claire gave Isla a cold. My apologies!!

You've really nailed it here. We bought a 36.5 Pearson this past winter and have it docked in Chicago, but we just got back from spending a little more than a month on it, sailing up the western coast of Michigan and back. We knew that living on board with our 15-month-old would be really hard - and it was so much harder than we imagined!! But it was so incredibly rewarding, too, and we plan to do as much cruising as a family as possible.

I know we've only had a glimpse into what you and Scott are doing, but so much of what you say in the blog resonates completely with us now! Entertaining Claire on the long crossings, dealing with a seasick baby, figuring out what to do in each port and how the heck to even dock the boat while she's fussy and trying to climb out of the cockpit.

I think the most consistent response I got from people we told we were going on the trip or met along the way was, "isn't that, well, horribly unsafe to do with a baby???!" I had to laugh at just how little people know about it, or how little credit they give us boat moms and dads. And I wound up saying, "yep, and can you believe those moms who strap their kids in car seats and take them on the road with potential drunk-drivers and who knows what else?"

You're spot on - it's not an easy lifestyle, but it's an amazing one for those who can recognize the challenges and value the rewards more.

-Megan Downey, s/v Clarity

Kira Maixner said...

Get tips for boating with a baby on board! there are also some great tips on http://getmyboat.com/resources/boating-how-tos/58/boating-with-baby-on-board

Thanks for all of the advice and happy travels!

melissa Dawson said...

Hello! Me and my husband have lived on boats in the past, but i have a whole host of concerns now that we are expecting a child in Jan. Is there anything legal I need to worry about? Will we be harassed by CPS or the police? People barely seem to be able to accept our living situation as adults and I'm paranoid about our rights as parent. We are in the states if that helps, previously we have lived on the ocean but we are headed for a river this time as we live near Chicago now. my email is freecandy89@gmail.com if you or one of your readers has any advice for us we would be very grateful!

-Melissa & Mike

Josie said...

We have been cruising with a 6 month old here in Australia, and you have nailed it.

Is cruising with a baby hard at times......well yes, but is it worth it?? Absolutely!!!!!!!

I think our daughter could sense smooth water, on passage she would sleep or play happily, once we approached an anchorage/marina/port she would chuck the tantrum of all tantrums.

The good side of this is that up and down the coast we never had a shortage of people to grab our lines, when we would enter our slip we would always find friends waiting for us....."how did you know we were here??" we would ask....."We heard Sophie!!!!"

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and just came across it. I am a newly single mom and have 2 small boys ages 4 and 1. I sail with my father and 2 boys every weekend and agree with all of your must haves for having a baby on a boat. My 4 year old has been sailing since he was 10 days old. I baby wear when docking almost every time. You nailed the fussy baby syndrome when docking paradox. The 4 year old is learning how to help with bow lines now and it is awesome sharing sailing adventures with my boys. I am a teacher and debating on living on my dads boat this summer with just the boys in the Keys. Is your little one still in a crib? Have you thought about sleeping arrangements when she is a bit older but still a toddler? Im looking for ideas. Thanks for your time. I am sewing a fabric baby gate for the companionway this spring and just love yours. Keep up the good work.

Amber S said...

This is so well-written, hilarious, and informative! Excited to follow your adventures.

Susan said...

Hi! I think your blog is great. I have a few questions...
1. How do you get around once you get to the island? Do you use bikes with a baby carrier?
2. Do you have a list somewhere of what goes in your medicine kit?
3. Do you fly home for baby appointments?
4. Why places in the Caribbean are most baby-friendly?
5. How do you handle the heat?!

Thank you!!!!!

David Benton said...

I'm sure someone else has seen it already (right?), but I'm just noticing the second and third comments above (from Mathieu Néron and Brittany) and having a chuckle...

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

They're just a lot easier to deal with on land. Hats off to you and Scott for making it work so well. People will start asking you soon when you'll be making it four! Workouts for Babyboomers

Kevin Nguyen said...

I didn't know that i can met many Challenges of Cruising with a Baby like that. But i will not raising my baby on a boat. Btw, thank you.

ibert safety childs bike seat

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