Friday, September 12, 2014

Baby on Board: First Family Cruising Vacation

As most of you know, we spent a week living aboard my dad's 47 foot sailboat last month. As much as it was a well-deserved vacation, it was also a test: could we "successfully" cruise and live on a sailboat with three children under the age of three? While I am all about throwing caution to the wind and "just going for it", I didn't want our family of five to fly down to our boat in the Caribbean without at least some idea what we were getting into. Sure, we cruised with one baby easily. But, three? Mark my words, parenting three versus parenting one is a completely different beast and it certainly doesn't take a genius to figure that moving our party of five aboard a boat might prove...challenging.

The answer is, yes. Yes we can thrive on a boat as a family of five. Granted, we only lived aboard for one week, stayed in marinas the whole time and we only sailed a measly fifty or sixty miles, but it was the litmus test as we needed. You know how they say if you can run a half marathon you can run a full?  Well, I knew that if we could do it for a week - we'd be able to do it longer. Prior to this trip, my biggest concerns were the following (brace yourself, they are not going to be what you think they were!):  a) how would the five of us manage in such a (relatively) small space b) would the babies be able to sleep in a completely new environment (i.e. not their cribs) c) would the girls be able to go down for their respective nap times without waking one another up (boats have very few, very thin 'walls' and are much noisier than houses) d) would Isla be too active and rambunctious for the boat (making sailing with her wholly unpleasant) e) would sailing with all three of them be nothing short of a cluster (insert expletive) and f) would the general mayhem of our daily life allow for any time to actually enjoy ourselves?

Answers: a) Fine b) Yes c) Yes d) No e) No and f) Yes.  A resounding yes.

While our trip was not without challenges (diaper blow outs, a couple of terrible-two style tantrums and a clogged milk duct), my major worries were put at ease after the first 24 hours.  Our sleeping arrangements were as follows:  I was up in the v-berth with the twins (to easily accommodate night nursing), Isla had the aft cabin, and Scott was in the pullman berth in the salon. It worked.

The key to the general success of our trip was to keep it simple and stick to our routine:
  • We kept our boat jaunts very conservative, only sailing a few hours from place to place, and only moving during good weather. Because of these two things, we were able to relax, enjoy some decent sailing, and never felt overwhelmed. We also remained flexible and timed our sails when the twins' went down for a nap. One two-hour passage was completed with ALL babies sleeping! That was a treat.
  • We respected our children's schedules. I know I sound like a broken record, but it's so true; well-rested babies are waaaaay happier than tired babies. The twins would nap every two hours (from their last wake-up) and we made sure that I was back at the boat to put them down within that time frame. It worked out great because it allowed for Scott and Isla to have some quality time together, and I could rest while the babies slept. Isla was always back for her noon nap and all the kids were asleep by 7pm (aka "wine time"). While sticking to this schedule definitely limited our daily activities, it was well worth it. I've said it before, and it bears repeating: one outing with happy babies is infinitely better than three with unhappy ones. We went hiking, perused a local farmer's market, hit the beach, went out for meals (yes, you read that correctly - meals, plural), and enjoyed family walks and window shopping in the quaint harbor towns of Holland, South Haven and Saugatuck.  
  • We packed light (well, "light" for a family of five). Aside from the necessities like clothes and diapers, we kept it very simple on the "entertainment" front; Isla was allowed one small tote bag of toys (which she hardly ever played with) and a nice smattering of books, and for the babies all we brought was their no-nonsense activity mat and small activity triangle.  We brought one click and go double stroller which we hardly ever used because I wore the babies almost everywhere we went, and - of course - we traveled with their carseats. And now for my personal baby PSA: While it is very hard to ignore the lure of baby-directed marketing which would have you believe your child needs a semi-truck of stuff in order to make it through the first year, if you really break it down (and/or have to be mindful of space) children need very, very little in order to thrive. For example, I was told that an infant swing was an "essential" piece of gear for twins and that I would most likely need not one but two. I opted out and, surprise! We've done just fine.
Overall we had an amazing vacation that gave us the confidence to know that we can, indeed, go forward with our conservative, yet ballsy, plan to bring our family down to the British Virgin Islands and cruise for the bulk of the 2015 season beginning this January. With there be challenges? Of course. Will it be a piece of cake? Heck no. Will it be worth it? We think so. Time will tell. BVI's or Bust! The countdown begins...
Our vessel for the week.  A beautiful custom Kanter 47.
Yep, we actually went sailing!
Daddy and Isla making castles at the beach
Image compliments of Paul Steinmetz who came upon us while we were out
Sundown in Saugatuck
Baby butts on the beach, we love our oversized microfiber beach blanket and baby tushes!
This little sunshine child is just at home on a beach by the water as ever.

This is what you call "extreme baby wearing"...a 45 minute hike complete with three hundred something stairs!
Big Red lighthouse
Overlooking the beautiful Lake Michigan from a dune in Saugatuck
Outdoor, casual venues with high tables, fast service and strong drinks were our restaurants of choice ;)
Daddy wears the kiddos too! I use a Tula Toddler carrier for Isla.
Who needs toys when you can have a tether and harness to chew on?
Yep, she's flying a kite all by herself!
Sunset on Lake Macatawa
We travel so light sometimes, that we even forgot her swimsuit.  Lucky for the birthday suit!
These two were a real hit around town and on the beach.  They loved feeling the sand under their bellies.
Teething, boat baby style.
Isla is so at home on a boat.  Just happy and easy. No need to hover over her, she will happily sit on deck and watch the horizon. Quite a feat for a very active 2 year old. "Once a boat baby, always a boat baby" ;)
Isla quickly makes friends wherever she goes. Hike!
Morning playtime in the v-berth.  A whole lot of estrogen right here! Poor Scott.
Happy on the beach.
Me and our first boat baby, the best deck swab and sailing buddy ever. My sunshine, my heart, my love.


Jessica said...

Pure Michigan at it's best, I love it!

Anonymous said...

It's so inspiring to know that you did all of that with minimal stuff. I agree with you that all of the"stuff" that is so important for happy kiddies really isn't. The first few times my girls brought the grandkiddies to our 30 ft. Trailer there was no room to sleep. I had to tell them to put everything in the trunk of the cars just so we could get to the beds.
Can't wait to live vicariously through you when you do start your next phase of your lives. I figure that if you are there and happy then you will have 3 awesome happy little kiddies. Can't wait! !!!!!! Colleen Charlton

Bec said...

Such lovely pics, your girls are beautiful! I know the excitment that would be deep in your belly now for when you get back to your boat and the feeling of freedom and adventure that comes with living on board and exploring the world by sea. This has given me a positive boost while I wait for our live aboard adventure to start in a few months time. Exciting time ahead for both of us! Bec

Christel Astin said...

What a great introduction you have created with your newly extended family to hop on and push forward. Have you all hopped on the dinghy yet to see how that all "pans out?" Our dinghy trip ashore comes with many glances as we have our two girls and dry bags filled with musical gear and instruments for a gig. It's a complete circus act, but works efficiently, crazy enough. I look forward to seeing all your shining faces on your dinghy, motoring to shore for the great adventures ahead of you. :)

Maggie Moo said...

Would you mind sharing what kind of ring slings you have?

My husband and I are expecting twins in February; we live on our Catalina 36' in Boston...looking forward to reading and learning from you in the near future!!

SailFarLiveFree said...

Sounds like we probably overlapped your stay in Holland while we were there in August too. In any case, great photos and congrats on a successful first family cruise!

Clubtray Sailing said...

Great photography. But what type of camera and lens you are using?

Unknown said...

It's been lovely to follow your blog as we "sail" quite different sea than those warm ones you're sailing. :)

Congratulations for the new and extremely cute crew members!

Please, take a look at our family boating blog (only in Finnish but photos speak all languages...)

Doctor S said...

How in the world did you get your 2 year old to stay still for those buns

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