1. What made you two decided to raise three girls on boat? Whether your two families support you or not?
The decision was a pretty organic one, Scott and I cruised first as a couple – sailing from Chicago to Trinidad together over the course of a couple years, and during that time we found that we were really impressed by “cruising kids”. A family was always in our future, and when we found out we were pregnant with our first daughter, Isla, we didn’t even bat an eye about bringing her on board. We sailed over 5K nautical miles with her from Florida to Grenada and back up to the BVI’s and it was a really amazing experience and one that Isla thrived in. During that time we discovered we were pregnant with twins and that threw us a major curve ball. We decided to move back to land after sailing right up to my third trimester, and lived with my parents for a year as we adjusted to life with three very small children. When the twins, Haven and Mira, were ten months – we decided to give it a go and bring them on the boat despite being told that it could not be done and we were insane. Our plans were very conservative, and we remained in the very easy sailing waters of the British Virgin Islands.
For the most part, our families are very, very supportive of our choices. Some may not understand it – or would not do it themselves given the opportunity – but to each his own. We all support each other and the life choices we make for the most part, which is lucky and sometimes rare with this lifestyle where many have strong opposing views about raising kids on a boat.
2. What has been the most challenging part to live like this? How you face it?
Hmm…living on a boat with three small children is definitely challenging. I would say biggest challenge lies in logistics. Getting three toddlers from A to B is hard on land. Imagine doing that via dinghy, via island taxi and mostly on foot. We don’t have the space for a great big three child stroller and our kids are still too young to walk safely by our sides, so we have to find other ways. We do a lot of baby-wearing and have a collapsible wagon we use to get around. But it’s time consuming and exhausting and toddlers are not always the most compliant of humans. In a year or two this challenge will change, but for now – just wrangling the troops is tough. The other challenge is making the most of a small space. While I love the “tiny house” mentality, we are a family of five in a space that is smaller than most people’s living rooms. We only have two bedrooms. Keeping the kids from waking each other up and finding any privacy are things that are challenging. We envision a bigger boat one day, one that has three cabins so everyone can have their very own bunk. We’ll see.
3. How to solve the Baby's safety problem?
Boats, by their nature, are actually pretty “baby proofed”. Because they are made to withstand large waves and rocking to and fro, everything is attached to the hull, all the cupboards ‘lock’, there are no outlets or dangling chords to contend with, and there simply isn’t a bunch of superfluous stuff around so the interior of our boat is very safe. The obvious issue is that a boat is surrounded by water and none of our children swim yet. The perimeter of our boat is covered in life-line netting, making our deck one big play pen – and we are very vigilant about keeping the girls in harness and tethers and/or lifejackets when we are sailing. They are also never on deck unsupervised and we have a strict policy to always wear lifejackets in the dinghy and on any docks.
4. How does your life differ from the normal life?
First and foremost, we live with less than most (suburban families) simply because we have less space. This means toys, clothes, gadgets and just about everything else. That’s not to say that we are doing without, we live very comfortably on our boat… but I have found that - for me - just as you will spend as much money as you make, you will fill your living space with as much as it will take.
Second, we maintain our boat almost exclusively ourselves. If something fails, we must fix it. That means my husband is a plumber, electrician, handyman and woodworker all by default. There’s a much higher level of self-reliance on a boat.
Also, we don’t have the amenities many homes have like dishwashers, washer/dryers, and microwaves so we make do without those things. I do our laundry by hand, for example. In addition, we must be super vigilant about power and water usage, as on a boat there is not an endless supply of these things and they are resources we need to use and replenish ourselves.
Lastly,we are together a lot more than most families, spending nearly 24/7 together (this will change soon though as Scott is going back to work). We are also outside more than your average suburban family, simply because our boat is so (comparatively) small that getting off it to stretch out our legs is a must.
As much as our life is different, many things are the same as well. We’re still parents of three small children and all the challenges that presents (discipline, tantrums, sleep deprivation, milestones, messes and stresses) - we are not immune.
5. What your future plan? Will move back to land?
We are currently in the states right now, awaiting our work permits to be working residents in the British Virgin Islands. We have very big plans for the next few years, but unfortunately, at the time of writing they are still not able to be made public. As for moving back to land, it’s hard to say - there’s so many amazing things to do and places to go in this world, it’s hard to say that we will live like this forever. I imagine that one day we will have some sort of home base on land, but I can also say with absolute certainty that we will also always have a sailboat of some sort. It is a huge priority for us to travel with our girls and show them as much as the world as we can, whether that be by boat, bus or plane. Who knows what the future holds?
6. How do you spend time on the boat when you don’t go for sailing? I saw a picture on the internet of Isla swinging with her dad on boat, is there any story about the swing, and any other recreational facilities?
The swing is a BIG hit with the little ones and, yes, we rig that up quite frequently! We are actually sailing a very small percentage of our life on the boat. Typically, we sail to a place and stay for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
When we are at anchor, we spend our time doing shore excursions; hiking, exploring the town, and - of course - hanging out at the beach. Someone once told me that the best “toys” for small children are water and sand, and I could not agree more. We spend many, many hours playing on the beach and swimming near the shore. We also hang out on our boat and our girls are very used to being in a small space together. We have a wide array of crafting supplies and a ton of books, all of which our little girls love. We also have some selected and engaging toys that the girls enjoy (see more: Toys for the Space Conscious Parent). We go paddle-boarding, explore the anchorage in our dinghy and swim off the back of the boat. It can be challenging to keep three kids stimulated and happy when there’s a lot of down time, but nature is a pretty good entertainer.
7. In order to making the boat is suitable for a family, do you have to change some part of the boat?
We chose a boat with kids in mind, so the boat we bought had a lot of suitable qualities for kids. Namely, a large cockpit (great for playing in), a swim platform (for easy on, off the boat), and roller-furling sails (meaning our boat is very easy to sail by one person). When we were planning on moving back with the twins I knew that getting in and out of the dinghy with three small kids would be a challenge, so we designed a twin dinghy seat which keeps the girls safe and contained while we go from A to B. We made a few small adjustments ourselves; we put lifeline netting around the perimeter of our boat which makes our boat something of a giant playpen. We also designed a “twin bunk” up in the vee-berth which keeps the twins contained and safe when they sleep. Because we only have two ‘bedrooms’ we had to get creative with our eldest’s bunk. We decided to make her a special spot in the walk-through of our boat so she has her own place to sleep and store a few of her toys. (See more: Our Sleeping arrangements on the Boat)
8. Do you have long-distance sailing with three girls to now? To where? How about that sailing experience? Can girls swim? Does Isla have some simple sailing skills now?
With our eldest, we sailed a lot - from Florida to Grenada and back up to the British Virgin Islands (BVI’s), roughly 5K nautical miles. With one child, it was relatively easy to do that. When we discovered we were pregnant with twins, we knew enough to know that covering those kinds of miles with three under three would be super stressful and probably no fun (for us). We made the decision to stay and sail in the BVI’s where the water is rarely rough and where passages need not be any longer than 2-4 hours to get somewhere new. This was a great decision for us, we still get all the benefits of “cruising” without the stress of long passages and overnight sails.
None of our girls are swimming yet, but love the water. Isla is currently in swim lessons and we hope to have her swimming by the end of this season. The twins are true Pisceans, and LOVE the water. I imagine they will be swimming much sooner than Isla did since they are much more keen to try than she was at that age.
As far as sailing goes, Isla likes to work the winches and knows a lot of boat terminology, but she is not involved in sailing the boat in earnest yet. Since we will be living in the islands for the foreseeable future, we plan to enroll her in a junior sailing program, so that will probably change.
9. What's the most unforgettable thing after you moved to the boat? Living on a boat, what are you gained and lost?
That’s hard. I’d say the thing I love most about living on a boat is that every day is an adventure and you are every day presented with opportunities that test and challenge you. As exhausting (and frustrating) as it can be, it’s a very intentional way to live and I like that.
On a boat we gain a lot of self-reliance. We are in nature all the time. We are constantly challenged and have to work through those things. Our girls learn to self-entertain and, we hope, this close proximity to each other fosters stronger and deeper relationships. We are learning to live more with less, to enjoy the simple things in life. We don’t have crazy, rushed schedules and there’s not this constant pressure that there is always somewhere to be or something to do. The pace of life is slower, and I like that as well. Those are a few things off the top of my head.
What is lost? We miss our families. We miss out on holidays and miss major milestones like birthdays, weddings and new babies. That can be very hard. We also miss out on some of the nice things that a “suburban” life might offer, like great libraries, museums, restaurants and theaters. That element of “higher culture” is missing, which I really enjoyed having lived in Chicago. But everything in life is a trade off, and - to me - the benefits outweigh the negatives.
10. How you raise three girls? What is your main source of income? Does this income enough afford daily family cost? If not enough, What would you do?
Right now we are living off savings but are getting ready to work again. Scott is a US Certified captain and has worked on and off for the bulk of our time aboard. We also came back to shore to have our babies, we lived with my parents during those stints so had very low living costs and each time we did come home, Scott got work. Now that we are changing gears and will be working on a more permanent basis, this will change and we will hopefully be putting a lot more money in the ‘cruising kitty’. (More on this soon!)
11. Can you give some suggestions to those families which want to live like yours?
Read, read and read. Get inspired by other families doing the same thing. There are SO many resources out there now; in the past few years it seems cruising and living “differently” in general has gained tremendous popularity so there’s a lot of great info out there for anyone who’s interested. This life is definitely not for everyone, but if you think you are up for it - I say go for it. To throw a cliche quote out there, “You’ll regret the things you didn’t do, more than those you did do” (or something like that)… I personally think cruising and boat-dwelling is an amazing way to live and raise children. I’d suggest to start with baby steps (chartering a boat, taking sailing lessons, joining a cruising club..etc), as the learning curve is very steep. Then, just do it. You won’t regret it. High risk, high reward, I think this is true in gambling…and life.