Rite of Passage

Taking the dinghy out alone is a huge step for cruising kids — and parents.

April 24, 2014

Del Viento- dinghy dock

Parking is at a premium lately at the Marina de La Paz dinghy dock. Our yellow dink is diminutive tucked in the middle of the right-side row. Michael Robertson

“Hey, we’re here,” I told Windy from the shore-based radio.

That morning, Frances and I drove south to the Cabo airport. We had lunch and walked around, killing a couple hours for a delayed flight arrival. Then family emerged from the terminal and we hugged and laughed and started the long drive back to La Paz. Now it was late in the afternoon and Auntie Julie, cousin Eoin, and cousin Kat were eager to get out to Del Viento and see Windy and Eleanor.

“Okay, I’m going to send Eleanor in the dinghy to pick you up,” Windy answered.


“Just Eleanor?”


“Hmm. Okay, I’ll watch for her.”


I couldn’t help but smile broadly, imagining how proud Eleanor must feel en route to the dock where we waited. This would be her first time driving the dinghy alone. Eleanor’s logged many turns at the helm with Windy or I aboard, preparing for this. Yet I knew when she came into view, my girl wouldn’t be wearing her own smile. She is a master of restraint and would suppress it, pulling up in the dinghy nonchalant, playing it totally cool for all of us, and maybe especially for her cousins.

Ten minutes later, when she was 40 feet away, I caught her eyes and gave her a look to let her know I knew she was swollen with pride. I saw a sparkle on her face and then she rolled her bottom lip over the top to stifle her grin. I couldn’t get her to look at me again for ten minutes.

Eleanor made a soft landing, secured her boat, greeted everyone, and then helped to load and organize people and luggage, reminding the other kids to don the life vests Windy sent with her.


A week later, my sister and the cousins were gone, Windy was in Thailand, and it was nearly time for me to take Eleanor to her 9:00 a.m. artists’ meeting at the cruiser’s lounge ashore.

“Frances and I won’t need the dinghy until later today, why don’t you drive yourself to your meeting?”

She nodded like that would be fine, like she didn’t mind helping me out by driving herself. I sent her with water bottles to fill, the handheld to call me on, and a time to call me by.


It’s an oft-repeated sentiment that childhood is fleeting, that this time passes quickly. This never rang true before having kids. Even at 30, the 18 years I spent under my folks’ roof was still almost two-thirds of all the time I’d known. But now, at 45 and with a 10-year-old daughter, I wonder what happened to put the past decade on fast-forward. Thankfully, the nearly 24/7 time we’ve spent together as a family for the past two years and ten months has served to arrest things just a bit, to slow them down enough that I can keep up with the girls’ changes and do my best to make them smile.

There’s nothing quite so pleasurable in this life than experiencing maturity milestones like this with my kids. My vantage point is intimate and the feeling is magical.

In our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at


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