Monday, April 06, 2015

How's It Going With Three (small) Kids on a Boat?

The other day I was interviewed by a journalist about a possible piece in a popular parenting magazine. "How's it going with three kids on a boat?" she asked, "Harder than expected? Easier?" I had to think about how to answer this - because I don't want to make it sound like living on a boat with three little ones is easy, but I also want to be truthful and say that living on the boat with our three kids is going, more or less, as we expected.

Does that mean just anyone would enjoy life on a boat with three kids? No. Definitely not.

While I'm all about telling people to "go for it" (we get lots of email from parents wanting to do the same) - I also want to be realistic. I know for a fact that our adjustment from land to sea with "three under three" would not have gone as well if we'd never lived on a boat or cruised before. Living on a boat with three little kids is NOT easy. It's a lifestyle, not a vacation.  And, luckily, we knew what we were getting into by graduating to where we are. Our cruising career has occurred in stages; first as a couple, then with one child and now with three. Each step gently and methodically prepared us for the next. Each time we adjusted accordingly.

For example, cruising as a couple (from Chicago to Trinidad) gave us confidence in all areas of boat handling and passage making. We learned about the nitty gritty stuff that acts as a slap in the face to the idealized “I live in paradise on a boat” image.  For example: the importance of watching weather, the never-ending attention to boat maintenance, the somber realization that fixing stuff is a constant and very necessary evil, and the fact that a cruising boat's systems are running, at best, at 80% at any given time. We also learned (and are still learning!) how to live 24/7 in very close quarters with your loved ones (newsflash: not easy) and what sort of gear was essential (to us) and what was unnecessary. When we brought Isla aboard (at 6 months, started cruising with her at 10 months) we had already cut our teeth on the cruising lifestyle. We then honed in on what we learned and bought a new boat with features that jived with kids and family-style coastal cruising in mind. Boat selection, fyi, is a huge factor in how easy it can be to cruise with small children and, luckily, we chose a boat that was up for the challenge.

From there it was about learning to cruise on our new boat with a baby. Things like: securing her safely, teaching her how to move about the boat properly, respecting her sleep schedule, making passages as safe and smooth as possible (hint: during nap times) and attempting to have the anchor down by bedtime. We sailed over 5,000 nautical miles with Isla (from Florida to Grenada and back up to St. Maarten) and a thousand or so of those mile were logged while I was pregnant with the twins (we cruised right up to my third trimester.) We had a lot of time to prepare and envision what life might be like with more children on board. And we learned a few things: We knew that rough passages with an infant aboard sucked. We learned that overnights while great in theory, are still super exhausting when you have to be 100% "on" at 6am with a bouncing baby the next day. So when the twins came, we knew enough to know that there was no way we were bringing them aboard until they were at least ten months old and (*hopefully*) had a more reliable "schedule." This proved wise.

Sailing with one baby also drastically changed our dynamic. We were no longer equal partners in running and maintaining the boat. While we were still very much a "team", it was more of a "divide and conquer" strategy: I was on baby duty while Scott single-handled the boat. When we learned we were pregnant with twins I knew it would be an even bigger adjustment and that I would be even less active in sailing and maintenance. If long, rough passages were hard with one baby they'd be damn near impossible with three (two arms for three babies is not enough, fyi). Because of this, we planned to cruise in an area where we never had to sail more than a few hours at a time and where we would never feel pressed to sail in rough weather to get from point A to point B: the British and US Virgin Islands. Another smart decision we made, based on experience.

Which brings us to today.

Long story short, the transition from land to sea has gone really well (minus our first day, this anchoring fiasco, and the poop incident) because our expectations were very real and based on personal experience. We knew we wouldn't be "cruising" like most people our age do. We knew we wouldn't be yucking it up at any full moon soirees and we wouldn't be socializing with the masses at potlucks and parties. We knew that our days would revolve around naps, hugely limiting our time to explore and play. We knew that sailing would be a challenge and more of a means to an end rather than a way to unwind and relax. We knew we wouldn't be traveling far or crossing oceans anytime soon. We're adjusting in small, digestible chunks. Which, for us, makes it enjoyable. The payoffs of spending so much quality time together and watching our kids thrive in this lifestyle are worth the challenges.

That said, we still face all unpleasant stuff every parent of young children does. We deal with tantrums, melt downs, blowouts, bumps, bruises, screams, fevers, fights, sleepless nights, early mornings and the never ending question of what the hell to cook (ugh). It still takes us forever to get "out the door" and simple outings require the type of preparation most people reserve for, say, a weekend camping trip. Just like any red-blooded mom, I have days where I want to throw in the towel and book a one way ticket to (drown myself in) Wine-ville, USA. We still have to discipline and we still have to create boundaries. We still educate and encourage sharing and kindness. We, too, have days where we pull our hair out and wish we had a nanny or even a simple two-hour break in which to take an uninterrupted nap. We might be in "paradise" (and, yes, the view is lovely!) but we are parenting 24/7 and it's no joke.

But, again, we were prepared for all this. We knew what we were getting into.

So how is it going?

In short: It's extreme, it's exhausting, it's exhilarating... and I totally love it.


Carolyn - The Boat Galley said...

Actually, you don't mention it, but your and Scott's sailing backgrounds long before you met and began cruising also plays a part in being able to do it successfully. Three kids -- or even one -- makes it tough to learn while doing. Kids on boats are great; babies on boats are great; but you have to be realistic about what you can do with them aboard. I love your approach and how you're taking it slowly.

Anonymous said...

On Italic usage from

Garner, a well-trusted grammar source, says about an older-generation grammarian, “H.W. Fowler cautioned that many people, though competent in their own special subject, don’t have enough writing experience to realize that they shouldn’t try to achieve emphasis by italicizing something in every tenth sentence. With experience comes the competence to frame sentences so that emphatic words fall in emphatic places” (4) - See more at:

Unknown said...

Not related to this post, but long ago in reading about your initial refit, you mentioned scraping the bottom of your boat. I am learning the joys of boat ownership by doing my first bottom job. Sanding was going terribly slow and I was getting discouraged. I remembered your blog, and tried scraping. It worked marvelously, and sped up my pace 5 fold. So long story to say your blog helped someone learn something that saved some frustration. Thanks, and God bless.

Windtraveler said...

@Carolyn - very good point!!! That is very true, the learning curve was still steep for us - but at least we knew enough to be dangerous. That would definitely add a whole new level of complexity!
@Anonymous - THANK YOU. Good grief - I italicized the heck out of this piece. Thank you for helping me to be a better writer - I will now be WAY more conscious of how I emphasize! (I am editing this piece STAT).
@Kenneth - happy to help! :)

Wise living said...

Must be pretty interesting :-)

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