Thursday, January 16, 2014

Baby on Board: Sailing Magazine and Family Cruising

Sailing Magazine's latest issue has a special on "Family Sailing" and guess who helped contribute to it?  Yep.  We did!  The article highlights tips and advice from a few cruising families with children and offers some great insights to what it is like to cruise with kids from infancy through childhood.  While the article only featured selected quotes from our email interview - I thought I would post it in it's entirety here (with permission from the editor) so other families interested in cruising with an infant/toddler might learn from it.  I hope you enjoy!

1) How is cruising with a child different from how you imagined it would be?

Right now, we are cruising with only one toddler which, I must admit, has not been difficult for us (I will almost certainly be singing a different tune in a year when we resume cruising with our toddler and impending twins). There were very few surprises and this was always what we wanted for our kids.  We cruised before we had our baby and so we had a good idea of what to expect.  Cruising with a child, for us, makes cruising more fun.  We revel in seeing the world through our baby’s eyes and watching Isla enjoy and utterly thrive in this lifestyle makes all the extra work and effort it takes totally worth it to us. 

2) What's the biggest challenge of cruising with a child and how do you overcome it?

There really haven’t been any unforeseen challenges* that threw us for a loop but for us, the biggest adjustment has been that our boat is more or less singlehanded.  When you cruise with an infant or (especially) a toddler, typically one person must be on baby duty at all times meaning they are not available to help out as much with the boat.  We anticipated this and bought a boat that is very easy to single hand because of it (all lines lead aft to the cockpit, roller furling main, jib and stays’l, autopilot, windlass with remote...etc). Even still, I am expected to keep watch during overnight passages and those have proven tough because my husband and I are sleep deprived and Isla is well rested and ready to go the next morning!

Another challenge is our baby schedule.  Every parenting style is different, and we are very relaxed and laid back about most things except sleep, which we are pretty regimented with (unsolicited advice: best baby book ever, in our opinion).  At twenty months Isla naps once a day from about 10:30 to 12:30 and goes to bed between 6:00 and 7:00 (usually 6:30).  This means our cruising and related activities revolve around this timeline whenever humanly possible which, obviously, can be a limiting (i.e. anchor down before she goes to bed, short sails during the afternoon nap, day time excursions after the nap, back on the boat and in for the night at 6pm so she can go to bed - no late night pot lucks or bar hops for us!).  From time to time we do make exceptions for special occasions, but we found that the pros of having a schedule (namely having a happy, well-rested, even tempered baby) far outweigh the limitations it puts on us.  It is a sacrifice we are more than happy to make for our child (and subsequent children), and it would be no different if we were on land. 

Another challenge can be keeping her entertained, particularly underway on long passages or when the weather isn’t good for outside play or beach time.  On land there are a million places to take kids; parks, play groups, libraries, tumble gyms, story times, organized classes...etc.  Also, most homes have a large safe “play room” full of toys to keep kids busy and entertained.  Here in the Caribbean and in a boat, those things are not as plentiful and some are non existent.  Isla has a fraction of the toys of her landlubbing peers and, in addition, our family is very adamant about limited “screen time” and no television at this age.  At twenty months she is not quite independent enough to sit quietly and play by herself for anything longer than 30 minutes, which means we do a lot of  “entertaining” ourselves by reading to her, singing to her, and playing with very basic, everyday things with her.  While it definitely takes more work, creativity and effort on our part, I must say these things have only benefitted our child’s development. 

3)  Obviously, safety is a concern for anyone on a boat but especially a child. What has worked best for you to ensure Isla's safety and your peace of mind?

Isla is twenty months and has been on a boat since she was six months old, as a result she is very agile and moves with ease around the boat, up the stairs, in the cockpit and on deck...but from day one our #1 piece of safety gear was her infant harness and tether.  If we are underway, she is clipped in.  Our primary goal is to keep her IN the boat - and when she is clipped in, she cannot go overboard.  She is comfortable (not wearing a hot and bulky life jacket) and secure (can only go as far as the tether lets her).  We do have a life vest that we use on the docks and during dinghy rides, but the harness is - bar none - what we would consider the most essential piece of safety gear for extended live-aboard cruising.  In addition, we have netting around the entire perimeter of our boat which we would not do without.  Some people say it provides a false sense of security (we obviously disagree) but even with the netting, one of us is always on deck with her and she is never far from our reach when on the boat.  The other aspect of safety is to constantly talk to your child about it (yes, even if they are young) to instill good habits.  The more they understand about the dangers, the more cautious they will be.

As a side note, we let Isla explore, climb and roam and instead of dissuading her and/or holding her back from these things we teach her how to do them properly (i.e. climb up and down the companionway stairs backwards) since, no matter what, she will try to find a way to do them anyway.  As a result, she is very independent, confident, steady on her feet and agile when moving around on a boat or on land.  The child has sea legs I tell you!

4)  What do you do when the going gets really tough, say on a particularly rough passage?

I am with the baby, either laying down with her on me in the cockpit singing songs or if it’s really rough, we’re down below.  If we know ahead of time it’s going to be rough I will give her a tiny dose (quarter of a pill) of children’s dramamine (because she gets seasick from time to time) and do whatever I can to keep her comfortable.  She usually can sense when things are not right and if it’s rough, she just clings to me and keeps quiet while I sing to her.   I should mention we do everything in our power (i.e. watch weather closely, try not to have a rigid cruising schedule, only move when conditions are favorable...etc) to eliminate rough passages because they are no fun for anyone, and are infinitely worse with a baby on board.

5) What's the best way to pass the time when the usual stuff isn't working?  

A toddler needs more entertaining than an older child, so for us the name of the game is distraction, distraction, distraction.  We have become masters of this.  When she gets bored and fussy, we distract, “Look at that bird!” “Oh, where is daddy going on the chart? Point to it” “Let’s look for dolphins!” “Oh - here are your blocks! Let’s build a tower!” and there is always the offer of a snack and/or water.  The key for us has been to focus on one thing at a time (instead of having her surrounded by a ton of toys) and when she’s had enough, we rotate.  There are moments when fussiness is inevitable and you just need to let it ride it’s course.  For the most part, however, distraction, healthy snacks and some select toys on a regular rotation seem to keep our baby happy.  If we are really desperate, we will bring out the iPad for her to play with (along with one of us to keep interaction up) but we have rarely had to resort to that.  Another thing that is an almost an instant fix for fussiness?  Grabbing one of her baby albums or scrolling through photos on my iPhone.  Babies are little narcissists and LOVE looking at pictures of themselves!

6) And what about stuff? i.e. what are the kid accessories that you wouldn't live without and what have you found is really not necessary?

The things we love the most and would consider essential are (in no particular order): 
  • Phil & Teds Traveller Crib(it’s secured in the v-berth and keeps her closed in and safe on all four sides).  I should note that the older generation, which we have, had a side zip and top zipper which we loved - the new ones do not have these features unfortunately.  It doesn't necessarily need to be this crib - but a way to secure the baby safely in his/her bunk (preferably on all sides and above) is a must.
  • Bumbo Seat with play tray addition for eating is all we ever have used for her on the boat, great for down below and in the cockpit - the seat is also handy on the low side if I am needed on deck.
  • Infant Safety Harness with tether (for underway), Life Jacket (with collar for easy hauling in and out of dinghy!) for docks and dinghies.
  • ERGObaby Carrier (or some type of carrier) for shore excursions and hiking. 
  • Books, books and more books. 
  • Bucket, shovel and lightweight beach blanket for the beach. 
  • Simple toys like blocks, puzzles, flash cards, glockenspiel, dollies (and some that are small and travel well for shore excursions).
  • Sunscreen, rash guards, and sun hats (with ties) and sunglasses (preferably wrap around so they stay on).
  • Crocs (simple slip on shoes that are great for water/boats) - Isla had 2 pair and never wore any other shoes ashore.  On the boat we are all almost always barefoot.
  • Healthy snacks that are easy to eat - we found things like small pieces of cut up fresh fruit, graham crackers,  squeeze pouches and organic granola barsworked well and we stocked up on these items any time we could (tiny snacks like cheerios just got everywhere, whereas these other snacks were easily handled by baby).
  • A Travel high chair proved useful for shore meals/happy hours at local restaurants because eating with a squirming toddler on your lap is no fun (most restaurants where we travel do not have high chairs).
  • While we hardly used it after Isla turned one year old, the car seat (which could be secured both above and below deck) was useful in the event that it was really rough and both of us were needed on deck (this never happened, but it was nice to know we had the option) - we also would use this if we rented a car (though in local transportation we always had her on our laps, such is the island way).
We believe very strongly in the “less is more” approach when it comes to baby stuff and we thought very carefully about what we brought aboard, doing lots of research and making sure things had more than one purpose and could be stored easily.  As a result, we found that we brought along very few things deemed “unnecessary” in retrospect.

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Interested in cruising with a baby?
Be sure to check out my other musings on the subject after sailing 5,000 nautical miles with ours:
* I should note that we got VERY lucky and cruised with a buddy boat for six months who had a child roughly the same age as Isla and I don't think our experience would have been as enjoyable without them - so not having other people in the same "boat" so to speak, I imagine, might be a challenge for some.  We just got very lucky in this regard.
Hey, do these folks look familiar?  That's Isla's bedroom up in the corner!
Still my favorite boating picture with Isla


Anonymous said...

After long being an avid reader of your blog, and having done some cruising although without kids, you guys have my enthusiastic vote for cruising parents of the year. The ceaseless patience and joy you find in parenting Isla leaps off the pages. Your twins to come will make it three of the luckiest kids around, when they too get to take off with their cruising and very kind parents, and see a bit of the watery world while growing up. What an education they will have in life!

MaryJo Boyle said...

It's such a joy to read your posts about living/cruising aboard with Isla. If only more parents--on land and sea--had as much common sense as the two of you this country would be a much, much better place.
I know how much work it is to produce a high-quality blog like you do, so when the twins arrive we'll all be patient when you find it difficult to keep up the same pace as in the past.

Brittany (A Healthy Slice of Life) said...

Love hearing about your experience! We have a two year old girl and another baby girl due to arrive in May. We aren't sailors (YET!) but hope to be in about 5 years. Maybe we'll meet up out there sometime :) Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Anonymous said...

When is your baby doe?

Unknown said...

It's such a joy to read your posts about living/cruising aboard with Isla. If only more parents--on land and sea--had as much common sense as the two of you this country would be a much, much better place.Top 5 Video Baby Monitors

Best Bathing Tubs For Babies said...

It's such a delight to peruse your posts about living/cruising on board with Isla. On the off chance that lone more guardians - ashore and ocean - had as much judgment skills as you two this nation would be a much, much better place.

I know how much function it is to deliver a top notch blog as you do, so when the twins arrive we'll all be quiet when you think that its hard to keep up an indistinguishable pace from before.

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