Sailing with Kids: Easier Than Ever

Despite the inherent obstacles wannabe cruising families face, I think the real barriers are diminishing and that the number who do cast off the dock lines will continue to grow.

Frances Robertson

Frances in her element, in Mexico last year, a few months shy of six years old. Tomorrow she turns seven in Canada.Michael Robertson

Muriel Blanchet wrote The Curve of Time_, a book about her adventures cruising in British Columbia—with her five kids. She took the helm of her 25-foot powerboat, loaded the gang and supplies, and took off for summers to explore near her native Vancouver Island. She sold magazine articles about their times to publications such as _Atlantic Monthly. She was born in 1891, married at age 18, and widowed at 35. A single parent, five little ones, gone cruising.

In 1958, Sterling Hayden defied a court order to take his four kids across the Pacific Ocean (_Wanderer_).

In the 1960s, Lyle and Norma Graham took a young Robin Lee cruising through the South Pacific (_Dove_).

In the 1980s, Tom and Mel Neale raised their daughters up and down the ICW (_All In the Same Boat_) while Fatty and Carolyn raised their daughter cruising the Caribbean.

Clearly the parents’ desire to take their kids to sea is not new.

But today that desire is fulfilled in record numbers; look at all the families I've linked to on my website, 33 of them—and just a fraction of the cruising families out here today. This is surprising because families are a tough lot to get out here—people typically with careers in their prime and stretched thin with middle-life expenses.

Yet despite the inherent obstacles wannabe cruising families face, I think the real barriers are diminishing and that the number who do cast off the dock lines will continue to grow. We live in a unique time:

  • A Glut of Fiberglass—Moxie Marlinspike first turned me on to idea that almost all the production fiberglass boats built since the late 1950s are still with us, and they aren't going anywhere. This has resulted in many, many good, durable, plastic sailboats on the used market for comparatively, and increasingly, cheap prices. There is now a cruising boat out there for every family's budget.
  • Communications Technologies—Nothing has shrunk this planet like advances in communications. The Internet is increasingly available and employers are increasingly willing to accommodate folks working from afar—even if afloat.
  • Workplace Mobility—Forbes reports that, "job hopping is the new normal," and that workers stay with an employer an average of 4.4 years. This mobility presents opportunities to turn a transition into a cruising itinerary.
  • Sailboat Technologies—Advances in sail-handling and navigation systems reduce the demands on all crews. For a cruising family on a boat big enough to house a family, and with one parent often managing the needs of smaller crew, these steps forward are a boon.

I just exchanged email with the father of another family. After sitting behind the same desk for 17 years, dreaming of buying a boat and sailing away, he and his wife bought a Cal 34. Their passport applications are in the mail and his last day of work is only two weeks away. They're filled with crazy emotions anticipating casting off. I can relate, it's heady stuff.