What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting out there?
I think the biggest challenge for everyone is just deciding to do it, making the commitment and setting a date.
Every part of dropping out for a period of time to travel with your kids runs against the grain of societal norms. It isn’t what we’re supposed to do in our late 30s to early 50s. It doesn’t make financial sense. It leaves people wondering about our kids’ education. It even causes some to think that you’re putting your kids’ lives at risk.
If you share any of these common fears, you shouldn’t go. But if you don’t, if you’re eager to cast off and show your kids some of this big world and the way others are living in it, if you’re willing to make the personal sacrifices (mostly financial) to go, then you shouldn’t feel challenged in making the decision to go.
How old were your children when you left? Is there a best age to take children cruising?
I think going cruising is like taking your kids to the grocery store or out to eat.
- As infants, it’s a piece of cake.
- As toddlers, it’s a challenge, but you do it.
- After age five, it can be a real pleasure.
- At 13, you may have trouble convincing them to go.
But I think in that latter age group, we tend to cite stereotypes (there’s a reason for them), but it’s really kid- and family-specific. There are 15-year-olds eager to go. My advice is to go when you can.
In interviewing dozens of current and former cruising teens, two trends emerged.
First, teens who started cruising long before that age, still love it. Second, teens who were dragged kicking and screaming aboard came to love it after about six months.
But in the successful cases, the parents were accommodating.
Our kids were 5 and 7 when we left. I think these were perfect ages.
Did you make modifications to the boat for your children?
We did not, but we did buy a boat that had independent spaces for each of our girls. In retrospect, and for our family in particular, I don’t know how important this actually is.
What is a typical day like on board? What are your kids’ responsibilities aboard?
It totally depends.
If we’re near a population center, we are doing a lot of things we did at home (albeit very differently and at a much different pace).
If we’re someplace for a while, we will sign up for classes or activities and even develop a bit of a schedule.
If we’re anchored in a remote spot, we hike, read, eat, sleep, play, and work on the boat.
If we have guests it’s different too.
If we’re planning a passage, it’s different too. There is no typical day.
We set out on every passage with a list of little things we’re going to get done en route.
Nothing ever gets done on passage. The girls play or read. We read or tend to the boat. There is also cleaning and eating and sleeping.
Our 12-year-old has chores, just like land kids. She does the dishes.
Our just-turned-10-year-old does vacuuming and helps with laundry.
Neither girl is yet interested in sailing the boat, but they love seeing wildlife. They do like helping me with projects and routine maintenance, like changing the oil.
How do you handle: Health and Safety?
Our girls are at the age where they care for themselves underway, in rough weather or calm.
Our only role is to make sure they’ve got their vest or harness on when they come topsides.
We feed them healthy food and have the materials and know-how to deal with medical emergencies. It’s worth noting that in four years, we’ve not had any significant accidents or medical trauma.
Read the full interview with Michael Robertson on cruising with kids here.