Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Five Year Anniversary: Thoughts, Reflections and Confessions

Five years ago yesterday we untied the dock lines from our slip in Chicago and changed the course of our lives forever. If Facebook hadn't gently reminded me that "Here's a memory from five years ago!" and showed me the above picture, I absolutely wouldn't have remembered it (I mean, I can barely remember my own wedding anniversary), and I wouldn't have spent a large part of the day reminiscing and reflecting on all that has happened. I shared the picture to our Windtraveler Page with this caption:
This was the day we departed Chicago, 5 years ago. We sailed through the Great Lakes, across the Erie canal, down the Hudson River, down the East Coast, to the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, DR, PR and all through the windwards and leewards to Trinidad. It wasn't always pretty or easy (and more times than I'd like to admit we wanted to throw in the towel on the lifestyle and each other) but it was definitely an adventure!
Two boats, over a dozen countries, fifteen thousand nautical miles, three daughters, countless 'wins', an equal number of mistakes and zero regrets. 

When I look at this picture, I am struck by several things. First, how utterly naive we were when we left. I mean, we did not have a CLUE. When we think back and talk about those days, both Scott and I shake our heads in disbelief at how ill-prepared we were and thank our lucky stars that we didn't get ourselves killed. Which tells you a little something about boats (they are stronger than we are), common sense (a little goes a long way), and luck (it was on our side). We made so many mistakes...We sailed right into a terrible storm (still to date our worst yet), ran into a rock in the Erie Canal (it's truly a miracle we didn't sink our boat), took on water (thank God it was fresh) which, subsequently, killed our transmission (hooray for warranties!) And that was all within the first month of our leaving! We had never, ever anchored. We'd never even heard of a GRIB file, hadn't really communicated via VHF before and - aside from one little shakedown sail across the lake - had never sailed over night. I will say this, though, those first six months - as steep of a learning curve as they were - were among the best, most exciting months we've had. The world was our oyster, and everything felt thrilling and new. It was, in hindsight, a pretty magical time. We took baby steps the entire way, and that is a large part of the reason we are still here.

The other thing that strikes me when I look at this photo, is how different our initial agenda was from what has become our reality. We all know that 'plans' are subject to change - particularly for those of us who have the luxury to live on boats with no real agenda other than that which our vessels and Mother Nature dictate... but it's funny how quickly - and drastically - ours changed. Our journey went from being a "3-5 year circumnavigation" to becoming an open-ended semi-nomadic life in the Caribbean. Why? The obvious answer lies in our blissful naiveté, we literally had no idea what, exactly, a circumnavigation entailed and, frankly, we decided that maybe we didn't need to circle the globe to be content (we reserve the right to do this later when our girls are older!) The other answers are tied up in getting work to fill the cruising kitty, taking six to thirteen month shore-side breaks to have babies and getting a bigger boat to accommodate this rapid crew expansion. The other day I ran into a friend from our Chicago sailing days and she said, "Hey! You guys were going to sail around the world, right?" and I laughed and replied, "Yeah, well...we didn't get very far!" But what we didn't cover in nautical miles, we covered in life (three of them, to be exact) and those little girls are our greatest accomplishments. Our's is more of an evolution to a life less ordinary than a journey "from point A to point B," and I'm cool with that.

I'm also struck by how much we have changed both as individuals and as a couple.  There's been a lot of laughter and a lot of tears. There's been some serious soul searching and many, many questions. The emotional roller coaster that is life on a boat has been as diverse as the winds and seas we've sailed in. When we left, Scott and I were newlyweds - and now, after spending almost all of our married years together 24/7 on a (relatively) small sailboat we're... not. There are land-based couples who don't spend as much time together as we have in five years in twenty-five years and that is really something. That much togetherness is intense and, to be honest, it's been pretty detrimental to our relationship at times. In fact, I'm not sure that kind of excessive togetherness is healthy for most couples (sure, there are the "unicorn" pairs for whom this sort of situation is 'easy' but that is not us) and I have many friends that tell me there is no way they'd survive day in and day out with their spouse. We are still very much trying to navigate the ocean that is wedlock and it is challenging to say the least, particularly on a boat. We've learned a lot about ourselves and each other, and it's not always pretty. But we ride the waves; learning, loving, stumbling and growing - trying to stay afloat both literally and figuratively. Some days are easier than others, just like cruising.

We've sailed a bunch of miles, traveled to some amazing places, and done things that most people will only dream of - but, at the risk of sounding mega corny - these things are very much secondary to the journeys that have taken place within. Among other things, we have found our passions on the sea; I have found a voice on this blog and now know my calling is to write and share; Scott got his 200-ton captain's license and has found his life's work on the ocean. We have grown from wide-eyed wanderers to lightly-seasoned cruisers who have decided to make a life afloat, at least for now...

I think that's what strikes me the most about this picture: the fact that we had no idea what was ahead. If you would have told me five years ago all that I have just wrote, I don't know that I would have believed you. I look at this picture and feel hope, excitement, and wonder. I can put myself back in that precise moment five years ago like it was yesterday; the nerves, the butterflies, the giddy excitement, the awe...I can feel the (unusually) warm fall air, hear the gentle rumble of our engine, recall exactly what I was wearing (my SLAM long underwear and Patagonia pants, no shoes) and summon the surreal feeling of being hyper-aware of how lucky we were, of being totally cognizant of a mega paradigm shift and knowing full-well that nothing would ever be the same from that moment forward. I was totally present and grateful. 

And that, right there, is the beauty of the endless horizon. You might know exactly where you've been, but you never know exactly where you are going.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Your Life is an Adventure, But No One Wants to Hear Your Story

I'll never forget the time I came home after living in Tanzania and went to the local bar where many of my high school peers would occasionally hang out. had been gone three years and was dealing with a fair amount of reverse culture shock - and subsequent depressive "funk" - as a result of my return. I self-consciously walked into the bar, saw some people I hadn't seen since highschool and after striking up generic "what have you been up to?" pleasantries with all of them (this was pre-Facebook, people!), I found it a) hard to describe that I had been living in Africa without sounding like a pompous asshole and/or dreaded 'travel snob' and b) interesting that once I did describe what I had been up to, "Err...I've been...in...um....Africa" - no one really cared. Sure, I got a few, "whoa's" and some "very cool's" but, in general, it ended there. No one wanted to know any details about anything I had experienced at all. Zero. 

It was an important lesson for me, and one that I am grateful I learned. While I'm embarrassed to admit I was feeling rather "interesting" and "exotic" coming right off my worldly travels and experiences (I mean, I witnessed a Masai circumcision for crying out loud), the fact that I did not 'hold court' in that hometown bar regaling tales of African adventure served me well by knocking me down a peg. It taught me an important lesson about sharing stories. Namely, that "sharing" plays a huge part in the telling of stories, and if there is not something shared between the listener and the storyteller, the story is irrelevant. A hard pill to swallow for someone who just had the most intense and incredible three years of her life and possesses an almost intrinsic compulsion to share (hence this blog). It doesn't mean that your 'audience' needs to have had the same experience as you, but there must be an interest, a desire...something to connect with. Many of the people in the bar that night had never been out of the country, let alone to Africa, so there was a lack of understanding. Not "ignorance" or "jealousy", simply no frame of reference. It hit me like a ton of bricks: just because you have a story to tell, does not mean others want to hear it. A humbling lesson for a twenty-seven year old gypsy spirit to learn.

Take parenthood, for example. For many of us, our kids dominate our conversations, thoughts, and Facebook feeds. Being parents is the most important thing we will ever do, and those of us who have children cannot imagine a life any other way. We find tremendous joy in watching our children grow and sharing our lives with them. We actively seek out friendships with other parents who understand our happiness and empathize with our struggles. Is parenthood is for everyone? Are people who chose a child-less route are any less fulfilled? Can we no longer sustain conversation and friendships with people who don't have kids? Absolutely not. I believe it's this way with cruising, travel and adventuring. It no doubt enhances and enriches the lives of those that chose it, but it's not for everyone. And that's a good thing.

It's the same now, after having lived on the boat. Rarely do Scott and I talk about our travels or life on our boat when we are out with our friends back home. It comes up almost never, and if it does - it's brief and not something we dwell on. Does this mean we don't love our friends? That we have nothing in common with them anymore? That we feel 'lost' in our own country? No, no, and no. We are blessed with amazing friendships that transcend our need to share our experiences abroad and we connect with them on other levels. The fact of the matter is this: not everyone is interested in travel or sailing or adventure. It might seem shocking to us that are, but people find happiness and contentment in many ways. When we get the pleasure to meet up with fellow travelers, adventurers, sailors or soon-to-be cruisers, the questions come flying. Why? Because these are people with whom we share our wanderlust with. People who possess this adventurous spirit, either in desire or in actuality, will revel in your tales from off the beaten path and you will revel in theirs. Stories have a time and place.

So don't be surprised if people aren't asking about what it's like to live on a boat, what it feels like to sail overnight, or what thoughts go through your head when you sail into a squall.... There's a quote that says, "We share with people who've earned the right to hear our story..." and while, at first, that sounds snobbish, I don't think it is. We are each of us a composite of a million stories, and how we connect truly and deeply with another person is in shared experiences. We are all multi-faceted individuals and most of us don't fit into any one single box, we can connect on many levels. We are a conglomeration of many: Traveler. Poet. Surfer. Musician. Writer. Athlete. Widow. Artist. Botanist. Addict. Parent. Teacher. Sailor. Animal lover. Techie. Husband. Wife. Sister. Brother. Daughter...etc.These shared experiences are what 'earn' us the right to hear, and share in, another's story. If you find that people aren't interested in the story you want to tell, don't take it personally; sit back, enjoy their company, and ask questions. You'll find a story that is shared.

And if that doesn't do it for you, find another outlet for telling your stories and start a blog. Worked for me ;)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Living Legends: Ten Questions with John Kretschmer

We actually have a little bit of history with famed sailor and author, John Kretschmer... When we were first getting ready to sail from Chicago back in 2010, a friend of ours told us that a client's brother was a famous sailor, that he'd be speaking at Strictly Sail, and that we should meet him. Scott and I, total greenhorns and eager to soak up any knowledge from anyone who'd 'walked the walk', went to his seminar and met him afterwards. He was easygoing, unassuming, and kind. Totally relaxed despite the fact that he'd just come off an ocean passage and was now on his feet all day doing seminars and entertaining questions from (possibly annoying) newbs like Scott and I. Yep, it was instantly apparent that John Kretschmer was not only a class-act and a super nice guy, but the real deal. Afterwards, we devoured a few of his books, and loosely kept in touch via email over the years.

Fast forward to 2015 at Nanny Cay, Tortola. Scott, never forgetting a face, had seen John at the bar and struck up a conversation. He learned his was there on one of his sail training passages and invited Scott and I aboard his boat, Quetzal, the following day. Despite being a tad on the shy and easily intimidated side, the next morning I approached him and said, "Hey John, not sure if you remember me but..." and with a friendly smile he replied, "Windtraveler! Sure, Brittany! We have a lot of passengers who love your blog, you're inspiring a lot of people... Come on aboard." He's the kind of guy who is devoid of ego and will make your day with a passing compliment like that. We chatted with him and his crew in the cockpit and got the grand tour of his beautiful boat. "What seminar is this you're doing?" I asked him. "Heavy weather training," he replied, as casually as if he were selecting a dish soap. This man is one with the ocean and if he smiles at you just so, he even looks a little like the real-life Popeye.

Here's our interview:

#1. How did you know that sailing was going to be more than just a hobby, but a way of life for you? 

My father died when I was 16 and that had a profound impact on me, and my decision to make sailing my life.  I already leaned toward the existential idea that life was what you made of it, your choice to live an interesting life was yours alone to make, and take responsibility for, but it always backed up to idea of time, time was the x factor, there wasn’t time to mess around because life might be snatched away at any time.  I wrote in Flirting (With Mermaids) that my dad’s death drove me to sea, and in a circuitous way that was true. Also, I loved the freedom ocean sailing seemed to present on one hand, and the raw challenge on the other. I never wanted it to be easy.

#2. You sail predominately long distances - ocean deliveries and training passages - this is obviously very different from the traditional “cruising” (i.e island hopping) that many people dream of - why do you love it?

I guess I touched on this a bit in the first answer but crossing oceans presented the sense of adventure I was looking for.  I had been an athlete, a pretty good pole-vaulter alas, and while I never viewed ocean sailing in a competitive way I really responded to the idea of personal challenge.  I grew to love passage making when I learned that there is no “personal challenge,” at sea, that notion is actually absurd. The sea is dispassionate, storms are not personal, small boat seamanship is a matter of figuring out how to fit into the ocean environment. There’s no room for chest pumping at sea.  
Image courtesy of the John Kretschmer sailing Facebook Page
#3. You’ve sailed with a lot of different people and personalities - is there one glaring character trait that you think does not jive well with the sea?

Hubris, and a lack of respect for the sea, not good traits at all for it is (pathetically to paraphrase my own book,) a serious ocean out there.  But it is also a beautiful environment out there too, and you don’t need to be afraid and drape yourself in the latest safety gear.  The safety scolds are rather sad folks and I am sure you have run up against them for taking, Neptune forbid, your young children to sea. Screw them. Also, a lack of irony is not a good trait, you need to be able to laugh at the vagaries of the sea.  

#4. Sailing on other people's boats can be risky business, you are - in many ways - putting your life in someone else’s hands (by trusting their boat) what’s your “ritual” before you take off on another boat? Have you ever turned a delivery down due to the boat’s condition?

It usually depended on how much I needed the money, referring to deliveries.  I have delivered some sad vessels in my day. I am pretty good about sussing out a boat quickly, I have come to know what is important and what isn’t.  Things I check are the through hulls, not just where they are and if they work but more importantly if they will be prone to back siphoning underway. I check the rig, a quick check is to see if the turnbuckles have ever been adjusted, tells you a lot.  The sails are often in amazingly poor conditions, especially on boats that have not been used in a long time, sitting in the tropical heat deteriorating.  The engine is also essential, and I probably spend more time making sure it’s ready to run and collecting spares than I do on anything else.  
Image courtesy of the John Kretschmer sailing Facebook Page
#5. What are three things you would not go offshore without?

Charts, my sextant, and a basic toolkit.  Sounds crazy, but everything else can fail but I can always find my way. I am big on notion of finding my way. I’ve logged a ridiculous amount of miles, and I love GPS and all the accouterments there of, really I do, but many of those miles were done pre GPS and they were, in a weird way, more satisfying.  I don’t like the idea of being lost, just being hard to find.

#6. You are the author of several fantastic books and you are clearly a gifted writer. When did you discover this talent and would you say your passion for writing is greater than your passion for sailing, or visa versa - and/or do they share a symbiotic relationship in you?

You know that these days I conduct offshore training passages, and funnily enough my old high school English teacher signed aboard a few years ago. He amused the crew, telling them that he thought there was a remote chance I might make the Olympics as pole-vaulter but would never have believed that I’d write a book!  Actually books have been my friends forever, longer than boats.  Peter Freuchen, the great Arctic explorer and voyage wrote the he “discovered the ocean in his imagination.” I did too, in books.  I wanted to be an explorer and when I realized that explorers had a hard time finding work in the late 20th century, I decided I wanted to be a sailor and write about my adventures, and I made this decision when was 13 or 14.  Thanks for the kind words about my books,  I still feel exposed when I write, if it’s not emotionally honest it’s no good, that’s my motto I guess. 

#7. As someone who’s husband worked term charters for a while (being away at sea for weeks at a time), I imagine that your roving lifestyle can be difficult on your wife. How do you two make it work?

This has been a very difficult thing for me to balance.  My wife Tadji is incredibly understanding, independent and super capable on her own, but still it is hard for us to be away from each other for long stretches. In some ways I have two worlds, home and at sea, and keeping them both going is not easy.   The ability to leave my boat all over the world has been quite liberating.  Indeed, Quetzal is in St. John’s Newfoundland and I am in Ft. Lauderdale now, and I’ll head back in a couple of weeks, pressing on for Nova Scotia, and then later in October for the Caribbean  Also, now that 3 of 4 kids are either on their own or in college, and the last is a senior in high school, we are able to spend more time together.  (Sorry to make you envious!  Not really, these years with your kids aboard are to be  treasured. My girls still tell sea stories.) Tadji and I have a plan to be on the boat together most of the time in the future, with Tadji accompanying me on some training passages, and leaving me to do my thing on others.  But we will definitely be in more of a cruising mode between passages than I’ve ever been before and I am really looking forward to it.
Image courtesy of the John Kretschmer sailing Facebook Page
#8.What is something that people might find surprising about you?
That I am really easy going on the boat, that I am not all a stickler for rules and rote learning, that I am flat out ok when folks make mistakes.  That’s probably not right, people already know that. Hmm what else, that I love the Miami Heat and that I know more about books than boats. 

#9. You’ve had countless adventures at sea - what is your mantra when the shit hits the fan?

To be active, not to assume that the weather will suddenly improve or the problem will somehow fix itself.  I have well-honed instincts, mostly because I have made a hash of things so many times that I’ve finally learned to listen to my hunches. If I feel a hint of being over canvassed, I reef.  If I suspect conditions are going to deteriorate I prepare.  I almost never go into bunker mode, I believe that storms require action, clear thinking, collaboration when possible, and engagement as conditions change.  

#10. What is one thing you haven’t done yet, but wish you could?

Hmm, can I have two? Although I have sailed a lot of miles, I’d like to do a trade wind circumnavigation with my wife and occasional friends/crew.  And, I’d like to write a good novel.


Thank you, John, for that insightful and thoughtful interview! Can't wait to catch up in person again soon!

Want more John? Check out his website and Facebook Page, and be sure to check out some of his incredible books:

Flirting with Mermaids: The Unpredictable Life of a Sailboat Delivery Skipper - this was the first one Scott and I read, it's a great collection of tales from John's life at sea full of adventure, romance and wry humor. A good laugh and an enjoyable read for anyone cruising, or dreaming of sailing off into the sunset.

At the Mercy of the Sea: The True Story of Three Sailors in a Caribbean Hurricane - this book is insane. It's the true story of three Caribbean-based sailors (one who was a personal friend of John's) who got caught in they eye of Hurricane Lenny in 1999.  John tells this story with incredible accuracy, precision and care, and brings you right there into the storm with them. It's harrowing and tragic, but a fantastic - and important - read for any boater. I loved this book.

Sailing a Serious Ocean: Sailboats, Storms, Stories and Lessons Learned from 30 Years at Sea - this is one we have not read, but it's on my Kindle! "Tales of storm encounters and other examples of extreme seamanship will help you prepare for your journey and give you confidence to handle any situation―even heavy weather. Through his personal stories, John will guide you through the whole process of choosing the right boat, outfitting with the right gear, planning your route, navigating the ocean, and understanding the nuances of life at sea."

Cape Horn to Starboard - "Legendary account of the author's voyage around Cape Horn in a 32-foot sailboat, sailing east-to-west (thus the Horn is to starboard, or on the right). This is a notoriously difficult and dangerous passage, especially in a boat this size." - Amazon


Enjoy this series? Check out my other interviews with awesome sailing people:

Living Legends: Ten Questions with Cap'n Fatty Goodlander
Living Legends: Ten Questions with John and Amanda Neal
Living Legends: Ten Questions with Former US Sailing President Gary Jobson
Awesome Sailing People: The Delos Crew
Awesome Sailing People: Katie and Jessie on a Boat
Awesome Sailing People: Ten Questions for Distant Shores
Awesome Sailing People: Q & A with Solor Sailor Emily Richmond

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Road-Tripping with Three Toddlers: Tips for Avoiding Highway Robbery

To say I was 'anxious' about our first six hour + road trip of this season with our three girls (ages three and eighteen months) would be a huge understatement. While traveling with our children is par for the course with our semi-nomadic lifestyle, most of our traveling is done in our home (aka our boat) meaning moving from point A to point B is relatively easy (barring no mechanical breakdowns or bitch slaps from Mother Nature.) Traveling by car? This is not something we are used to. The first time we pulled it off without me having to pop a Xanax and/or tuck-n-roll out of the vehicle I chalked it up to luck, but after three more successful six hour road trips (complete with major buzz killers like flat tires, traffic jams, and Ark-inducing downpours) I think it might mean we are doing something right. Maybe.

Before I go on, you need to know a few key pieces of information: we drive in a (borrowed) SUV with only one row for the girls, meaning they are jammed in the back seat like sardines. We also do not have the luxury of any sort of portable (or built-in) DVD players, and - while we have been blessed in many, many ways - we were not blessed with good car sleepers. To add insult to injury, our girls despise their car seats (what kid doesn't?)...so we weren't dealing with the greatest of odds going into our travels.  Knowing this, I prepared for the worst and spent many a night laying awake dreading these car trips. I did a lot of worrying beforehand and this list is for fellow mom's and dad's embarking on similar trips in the hopes that I can alleviate some of that stress for you. I hope it helps another family hit the road because, for us, it was so worth it...


#1. Relax on the Rules. When we are road tripping, keeping the peace is our number one priority. I cannot tell you the hell that is being enclosed in a car on a highway with three screaming kids. We now do everything in our power to avoid this. Don't get me wrong, toddler anarchy does not ensue in the car, but our strict rules on sugar consumption, constant snacking, and watching electronics do not apply when road tripping. For example, I'm a total 'neat freak' in our home, but that flies out the window when road tripping. If playing the iPad longer than usual keeps Isla happy and quiet, then the iPad she shall play. If sugary snacks (I'm talking yogurt melts, not Twizzlers) are what keep Haven from having an epic meltdown, then sugary snacks she shall get. If a cheap, blinking and beeping toy keeps Mira from screeching in her highest Mariah-Carey octave, then that toy she shall have.  Keep. The. Peace.

#2. Organization is key. My list-making has become something of a joke around here, but being organized makes what can be a very hectic day less hectic. That means prepping for the trip in advance (buying the snacks, selecting the toys, deciding what needs to come and what doesn't...etc). We pack up our clothes, tick items off our list, and try to have the car packed the night before. I load up our SailorBags backpack /diaper bag with everything I might need handy (diapers, wipes, spare clothes for each girl, Tylenol, and snacks) and keep it with me the front seat for easy access. Traveling with three little kids can be stressful so doing whatever you can to alleviate the stress ahead of time is worth it. Tip: I make a list with categories for myself, the kids, the diaper bag, baby gear, medicines, last-minute packing reminders, electronics and car entertainment so we don't miss anything important.
This list is one of about 100 that I have on file. Crazy, I know. This simple template is built into Mac's version of Word
#2. Dramamine is your friend. Yes, I realize this is probably a little controversial because I am basically saying "drug your child" but, hey, if you have ever been in a car with three crying, screaming, and very unhappy toddlers then you know you would do just about anything to avoid it. People have suggested Benadryl to me but I've heard it can have the opposite effect on some children and I don't want to play those odds while contained in a car for six or seven hours. I do, however, have experience with Dramamine and know that it makes my girls drowsy. As I mentioned, none of our girls are good car sleepers and sleep is your friend. Before departure, I give the twins 1/2 dose of children's dramamine and Isla a full dose (one pill). This guarantees at least an hour and a half of sleep once we hit the highway and when the girls wake up semi well-rested, they are 1000% more pleasant for the rest of the trip. Note: Children's dramamine is not recommended for kids under the age of two. I used it at my own discretion and you should do your own research. I am NOT a doctor!
This moment is brought to you by Dramamine.
#3. Try to time the trip around naps and/or sleep. As I mentioned, car sleep is your friend. Many people suggest driving overnight to reach a destination of over five hours or more so the kids sleep the whole time, and this is a great option for those who can swing it. Unfortunately, Scott fell asleep at the wheel as a teen and got in a horrible car-wreck so he understandably is against overnight driving. What we do instead is try to schedule our departure right before nap time. We eat lunch at home around 11am, I dose them with Dramamine right after, and we hit the road by noon. The girls usually are asleep within thirty minutes and we have anywhere from 1.5-2 hours of blissful quiet. We also try to time our trips so that only one "sleep" is interrupted, thus leaving before nap so that we can arrive at our destination in time for dinner and bedtime in a proper bed. Once, we woke the girls at 3am to arrive by noon and despite the fact that the girls did not sleep at all in the car (this was before the Dramamine lightbulb went off for me), it was a good trip and they fell right back into schedule upon arrival with zero issue.

#4. Make them comfy. "Comfy" is a relative term here. Car seats suck. They are constrictive, awkward, and a (very) necessary evil. We do what we can to make our girls comfortable in the car. We travel in light jammies and take our shoes off. While we usually don't let the twins use their paci's for any time other than sleep, for road trips they can have them all day (see #1.) We also bring their "lovies" and blankies for them to snuggle. Note: YOUR comfort will 100% be compromised as a result of trying to keep your kids comfy (hashtag 'parenting'). The person in the passenger seat will need a chiropractor by the end of the trip from having to twist and turn and retrieve and pass and wipe and give... All. Day. Long. But the peace will be worth the neck and back ache, trust me.

#5. Have dedicated "car entertainment." Before our first road trip, I went to Target and got a few super cheap toys and dollar books to have in the car. Knowing that we had three girls and knowing that the attention span for each toy was about twenty to thirty minutes, I got six toys to rotate between them. This worked well. They made noise and beeped and flashed lights and all that stuff that I tend to avoid in our kid's toys, but they did the trick. The best part? Each one was equally appealing so there were very few jealousy "I want that one!" issues. It was all "Yeah! Something new!" The toys now stay in a bin in the car, only to be used when in the road so they don't lose their luster. Also, the iPad is a lifesaver for the three and older set. Isla is a piece of cake to travel with because she can easily entertain herself with it. Tip: Try to stagger the introduction of new toys to once an hour, that way you don't crash and burn with the "newness" too early. Always have something left in your "bag of tricks"!
Our "car toys". A small shoe bin of dollar store toys and a small backpack of dollar store books.
These are the toys. They make noise and light up and are, for all intents and purposes, crap...but they do the trick.
Dollar store books and the Melissa & Doug Water WOW Kit.
#6. Snacks, snacks, and more snacks. When the toys no longer cut it, it's time to bring out the snacks. We load up on snacks for a road trip like preppers load up on freeze-dried food for the Apocalypse. It's better to have too much than not enough and the key is in variety. Each of our girls has a snack catcher that I fill with finger foods like cheerios, raisins, popcorn, and goldfish (I refill and rotate as needed). I also bring things that are easy for the girls to eat with their hands, such as: graham crackers, animal crackers, cheese sticks, bananas and yogurt pouches. Grapes, apple slices, and oranges are also great. My piece de resistance, however, are the sugary "organic" yogurt melts that you can find at any grocery store. Sure, they are more like candy than a healthy snack (remember, normal rules do not apply for road trips! The goal is to do anything you can to stave off mayhem!) and I bring no fewer than five bags of these things (they'll go through a whole bag in ten minutes). I try to save these as long as possible for when meltdowns are imminent. Tip: Save the good snacks for when you need them the most!
A small sampling of the types of snacks we load up on.
#7. Include a well-timed pit-stop. We stop only once for a six hour trip and drive as long as possible before taking a break. Psychologically, it feels better to stop after 3.5 hours and say, "Phew...only 2.5 more hours to go!" While Isla is potty trained, we put her in a pull up for the car trip, just in case. But even if a potty break isn't necessary, it's nice to stop for a ten to fifteen minute break and let the kids stretch their legs, change diapers, and get a cup of coffee for mom and dad. For most of our trips, we stopped at rest areas that had green space. But on our last drive home, it was pouring rain so we let the kids run free in a grocery store. They loved it (and the fruit samples in the fresh market department!). Tip: Your kids will NOT want to get back in their car seats after this break. We bribe. Here is a good opportunity to use the "good" snacks. See "yogurt melts" above.
This particular stop was a good one, these were outside the grocery store they ran around in.
#8. When all else fails, distract. Scott and I have become master toddler distractors. Music is a good one, and our girls are big Taylor Swift fans. Busting out a little "shake it off" will have them car dancing in no time. Other good distractions are simply excitedly talking about what is going on outside, "Look!! A red car!! Oh. My. Gosh! A RED CAR! Yeeeessssss!" and asking the kids to look for things like bears, giraffes, hippos and deer (I know, we're evil). Scott's claim to fame is opening and shutting the back windows and/or the skylight. That, too, will usually stop them in their tracks for a bit. Tip: When we are getting super desperate with the twins, our final "Hail Mary" is to give them our iPhones (which have LifeProof cases on them). We don't do it a lot and haven't had to resort to handing them over in a long time, but in dire straights, they do the trick.

#9. Xanax, for you, to 'take the edge off' I kid, I kid! .... (Hushed tone) But, really, do you have a script for Xanax? You *might* want to bring it just in case.

Carseat tip: If you, like us, don't have a minivan and need to fit three kids across one back seat, the Diono Radian Convertible Car Seat is a great option and will fit three in one row! (We use two bucket seats right now for the twins, and one Radian for Isla but as time goes on, we will have three Radians as a minivan is not in our future right now!)

What are your tried and true tips and tricks for road-tripping with toddlers? Please feel free to share in the comments!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Our Favorite (Affordable and Practical) Products for the Boat Baby

Babies on boats (specifically aged 3 and under) are kind of our "thing". We have yet to meet another family who has our configuration of small children aboard. I'm sure more exist, but if boats with kids on them are the minority, boats with babies (plural!) on them are even more so. That said, we have learned a thing or two about boating with infants, and since so many people write us asking about the products we use, I thought I'd compile a new list here. Of course I must say that these are products that have worked for us, we are not in the business of telling people what to do and I'm very much of the mindset "to each his own." Every parent, family, and child is different and we must tailor to our own needs and lifestyle choices.

We have many other such lists from back when Isla was a baby (check out this oldie), but times (and opinions, and gear...) have changed, so a new list was due. For more of our articles on all things "cruising with babies", please visit our Baby on Board page where all my boat-baby related articles are kept.

Here's my list of products we have found useful for our three boat babies, I hope you find something useful in it!

1) Harness and Tether - The goal is to keep the baby on the boat, at all costs. While a life jacket is great, the harness and tether when clipped onto the boat will not only be more comfortable for the kiddo (some kids, like our Mira, despise life jackets) but will ensure the baby stays on the boat. We use the West Marine infant harness and tether, but if we were to do it again, I'd by the Edelrid Fraggle full-body climbing harness as it looks to be a better product.
Believe it or not, this is Isla, not Haven! Sailing off the coast of Grenada 2013
Here you see a LOT of our faves; harnesses, fisher price hairs, and the netting.
2) Lifeline Netting - Many boating families call lifeline netting a "false sense of security" and while I understand the argument, I respectfully disagree and there is no way we'd go without it on our boat. Our lifeline netting not only keeps the kids from slipping through the very large voids between the lifelines, but it keeps gear they throw around on board too! It's saved hats, suits, toys and all sorts of stuff from going overboard. We installed our West Marine lifeline netting over two years ago and it's still going strong (see our article about Installing Lifeline Netting), with not a single spot of chafe. I also sewed a mesh "door" that we put up to cover the bow at anchor (the one spot the lifeline netting does not cover) so our boat becomes a giant playpen. We consider netting a "must" for our boat and something we highly recommend. I've heard that there is some great UV resistant sport netting out there that some families use, which outlasts the generic brands. That might be worth looking into as well.
When we first installed it, Isla (pictured) wasn't so sure. Ft. Lauderdale, 2013
3) Life vest - A no-brainer for the boating baby. While I admit that our girls are not in life jackets 24/7 (it's not practical), they give us tremendous peace of mind when we're in the dinghy, on docks (I am way more nervous about our girls running around on docks than I am when we are at anchor) and visiting the un baby-proofed boats of friends. There are many brands of infant life vests, just make sure the jacket you get is rated for the weight of your child and you might need to try a couple different brands to find the right (and most comfortable) fit for your child.
Happy girl playing freely on the deck. St. John, 2015
4) Soft structured carrier - I'm a huge, HUGE fan of baby wearing. It was awesome, wonderful and very "mother earth" with Isla, and I'm pretty sure that it saved my life (and certainly my sanity) with the twins (check out my post on Tandem-Wearing Twins). There are many advantages to baby-wearing and many different brands of carriers, but the most versatile and my go-to carrier for babies six months and up is the ERGObaby performance baby carrier. I just noticed they came out with a super light, breatheable version as well, which might be a good option for babies in the tropics.
Wear ALL the babies! Sopers Hole, 2015
5) Puddle Jumper/Swim Float - Being surrounded by water means we have no shortage of floatation devices aboard! The Stearns Kids Puddle Jumper is a US Coast Guard approved swim/life vest that we use for our girls at the pool or beach. They love them. You might not realize it, but life jackets are terrible for swimming. They are designed to put a baby on their back in the water so kids who are not strong swimmers will immediately go 'turtle'. No fun. The puddle jumper is great for encouraging kids to start swimming, and while it's recommended for kids 30 pounds and up, both our twins have been using them since they were much smaller, under close supervision of course. They allow them some independence in the water, and if there is one thing our girls have in common - it's a strong will to do things on their own!
Mira, one happy little fishy! St. John, 2015
6) Swim Diapers- beach attire is a big deal for us since we spend at least a couple hours each day there and because the twins are still in diapers, that means we often need a swim diaper. We were generously gifted some Bamino Mio swim diapers and love them, not only are their swim diapers super affordable ($9.99 a piece!) and super cute, but they get the job done (yep, they'll contain the poop. Just...trust me).
Tushie brought to you by Mira. Chicago, 2015
7) Rash Guar Swimwear - When at the beach, I like our girls to be as protected as possible and that means UV swimwear, preferably with full or at least partial sleeves. Our newest parnter, SwimZip, is our new choice of beach wear. Not only are their suits affordable, and boast a slew of adorable styles, but the greatest part is that they all feature a zipper up the front which makes getting them on and off SO. MUCH. EASIER. When you are dressing and undressing three small children several times a day (note: easier said than done!!), anything that will make the process a little less painful (and quicker!) is very welcome, and these suits do the trick. We love them.
8) Sun Hats/Sunglasses/Sunscreen - These three are lumped together as they are all necessary evils to the beach baby. Hats are tugged at, sunglasses are pulled off, and sunscreen - ugh - the daily ritual of applying sunscreen is quite possibly the bane of my existence. But these three items are must-haves and so I've included them here.
  • As far as hats go, we have tried a BUNCH of brands and the one that is by far the best is FlapHappy. We love them so much we approached them for partnership and they obliged. They have great styles, all of which feature either velcro or (better yet) tie closures making them a little harder for the kids to get off. Our favorite is the Flap Happy original flap hat which comes in a wide array of sizes and colors. 
  • For sunglasses, we have a couple brands we like. For the twins, I like Mustachifier Polarized Baby Sunglasses which are great because they are rubbery and almost impossible to break (ours are still going strong after being manhandled by Haven - aka "the destroyer of things"). The other brand I love for Isla are the RIVBOS Rubber Kids Polarized Sunglasses.
  • As far as sunscreen, I am not too picky. I try to buy the "good stuff' (i.e. not cancer-causing and toxic), but as long as it doesn't sting eyes and has an SPF of at least 50, I will use it. That said, I've recently been turned onto the Babyganics Mineral-Based Baby Sunscreen Spray and I have to say I much prefer it (and the cost!) to the more expensive, 'fancier' sun cream brands I have tried - plus, it's mineral based and that feels good.
Haven fixes Mira's hat. The Baths, Virgin Gorda 2015
9) Beach Bag/Diaper Bag - With babies, no matter how light you try to travel, comes gear. More kids = more gear. The best bag for the job, the one we have been using since day one, is our Sailor Bags Back Pack. I cannot say enough good things about this company and their bags (of which we have about fifteen!), and we are very proud to have them as a partner. We pack our backpack with beach towels, spare clothes, sunscreen, water bottles, and snacks. It's got enough room for our phones, camera, computer and wallets. We use it for everything from beach trips to provisioning runs and it comes with us everywhere. It's awesome. Big enough to hold a bunch of stuff, but not too big to be a burden. The perfect day pack, in our opinion. (Note: It's also a great carry on if you are flying with little ones!)
Our bag that we've been using since our FIRST BOAT! Cane Garden Bay, Tortola 2015
10) Fisher Price High Chairs/Booster Seats - when we were cruising with Isla, we loved the Bumbo Seat with the tray addition. Then we had our twins and it (very quickly) became apparent that we were dealing with three VERY different personalities and the Bumbo was not going to restrain Haven (Haven = Strong Like Bull) and was going to be uncomfortable for our little peanut, Mira. I went on the hunt for another solution. I found what I think is a far superior and more practical seat in the Fisher-Price Booster Seat with tray. This thing is fantastic. It travels well and packs up (relatively) small. We use it for every meal and it's a breeze to set up, break down and clean. It also doubles as a safety chair underway (two carseats would simply not fit in our boat and our girls do NOT enjoy that kind of restraint) we use the straps that are meant to attached to a chair, and attach them to cleats and winches and - voila! - we have seats that keep the girls entertained underway, with trays that I can add a few suction cup toys to for entertainment. (Note: I would not recommend this seat as a long term solution for serious passage-making, a car seat or something more protective would be better IMO).
It's not always pretty, but they're not going anywhere! Nanny Cay, 2015
11) Sturdy Beach Toys - Beach toys are key for babies who spend hours at the beach. While you don't need anything fancy, a few buckets, shovels and watering cans can go a long way with keeping little ones entertained on the shore. Up until now, I just bought the cheapest beach toys I could find. But after seeing how quickly they break down with constant use, I went on the hunt to find higher quality toys. I found them in Spielstabil Beach Toys. These beach toys are the bomb. They are made of higher grade plastic, super strong, and made to last (I mean, they are maufacuted by Germans!) When you hold them you can tell immediately they are of superior quality. I am pretty anal about keeping our toys together and in good condition and I am so pleased to partner with them and know that we have sand toys that will now last longer than one season!
12) Battery (or DC) powered sound machines - I know, I know. This one seems a little bit "out of left field" for this list, but I have two words for you: white noise. A 44 foot boat is by no means small as far as cruising boats go, but it does provide pretty cramped quarters for a family of five. As most of you know sleep for our kids is a big deal for me, and Isla sleeps in our walk through which is has no walls or sound barrier to quiet outside noise. The twins still wake up in the night, Scott and I have friends over from time to time, and general boat noises are sometimes loud, especially underway. We use the battery operated Conair Sound Machine to help drown out background noise so our girls sleep soundly. I can tell you that without them on, they wake up more frequently. The downside, of course, is that these are battery operated and so we burn through our rechargeable batteries pretty quickly. But if it means a better and longer nap, I'll take it!

So there's our current list of favorites, what are some of your great products or life-hacks for the boat baby? Share in the comments - we're always looking for new ideas of great products that make boating with babies a little bit easier!
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