Departure Day: As the plane lifted off the runway, I muttered my final goodbyes out the window. My parents had purchased an Island Packet 445 10 months prior, and the day to board this boat had finally come. I was 11 years old and knew absolutely nothing about this cruising lifestyle my father had been speaking so highly of for the previous five years. I wasn’t on that plane by choice, but rather bribed on with the promise of a trip to Disneyland; the only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to leave my home.
Because I didn’t have any say in this big life change, I did anything possible to avoid moving onto the boat. I didn’t help pack the house. I made my homeschooling exceedingly difficult for my mother. I filled my younger brother with lies and tales of how he wouldn’t get to bring his stuffed animals onto the boat, how we would die, and how we would run out of money and food; my brother ate up all of this with a big spoon. I am told the excuses I constantly presented to my parents became increasingly hysterical as we came closer to the departure date.
Despite my best attempts, we were on a San Francisco-bound plane that September morning. My father was excited, my mother nervous, my brother impartial, and I sullen. I was not at all eager about this change in my lifestyle. My attempts to wreck the trip had failed. I had finally accepted defeat after I sat down on the plane, and I, to put it simply, was an undesirable child for the next week (maybe a year, according to some).
The Adjustment Period
The first three months on the boat had not been very easy. What my dad called an adjustment period, I called a nightmare. My “adjustment” to a homeschooling program had not been going well. In fact, my school days started with endless yelling and ended with streams of tears; I still hadn’t got the hang of working so independently. To make matters worse, my most dreaded fear was coming true: We had not met any other boats with kids, as my father had promised would so quickly happen. In contrast to how my father guaranteed I would have fun, I was having increasingly terrible days. I was always quick to make suggestions to return to Canada, my desire to turn this idea around still strong in my mind.
But, after three months of traveling, we had a lucky break. In La Paz, there was another cruising boat with a 13-year-old boy aboard. At the time, I was quite shy and didn’t want anything to do with him. But my parents were determined to make me a friend, and two weeks later, Glen and I could be seen endlessly boogie boarding the crashing waves to the beach. As I began to enjoy myself more and more, many other things happened. A big one is that the amount of time I spent on my schoolwork shrunk from eight hours to four, and the tears I had so endlessly shed began to make fewer appearances. All I wanted to do was play on the beach.
After meeting Glen, cruising for me began to get better and better. Kids having other kids to do kid stuff with is really important, and for some reason, we did not meet any other boats with kids for a long time. I began to get up early and finish my schoolwork so I had the rest of the day to myself. This system was working out great for me; I was having to complete only a couple of hours of schoolwork a day, and then the rest of the day was mine. At some point during these months, I must have decided to give this cruising idea a chance. I tried to withhold my suggestions to return to Canada and kept my negative comments to myself. I tried to ignore the negatives and focus on the positives, and after a while, I permanently ignored any negatives and enjoyed all of the positives. Instead of refusing the idea of living on a boat, I refused the idea of moving onto land.
Six Months Later
The day I shot my first fish was the day I began to consider myself a true cruising kid. (You know the type: long sun-bleached hair, ragged clothes, skinny-looking.) Why? We had met a new boat with kids on board, just a week after parting ways with Glen and his family. This boat was called Exodus. The father on Exodus, Tim, introduced my father and me to spearfishing. This became the new sport for our little group. Every single day, the kids and the dads piled into a dinghy along with all of our wetsuits, snorkels, fins and spear guns for a day of searching for fish, lobsters, scallops and anything else we guessed to be edible. This new sport took up the majority of our days and was a large part of my life at the time. That activity, in a way, represented how I was growing up. I was learning new skills and learning how to work independently, as well as part of a team. I was growing up in a way most kids don’t; I had adults around who helped me succeed and gave me support whenever I needed it, always doing their best to guide me in the right direction.
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One Year Later
Leaving from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we arrived in the Marquesas after a 23-day Pacific Puddle Jump crossing. What an experience to be so alone for so long. Well, we did have a radio and SSB email, but it was still a real test to be stuck with the same three people in a small space for over three weeks.
We continued touring through the South Pacific, soaking up the attractions of French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, American Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. During this time, my independence continued to grow. I often took a five-hour watch during the dark hours of long passages. This was quite a bit of responsibility to hand over to a 13-year-old, especially considering I was in charge of reefing and adjusting sails as the conditions changed, as well as dodging squalls using the radar, and keeping an eye and ear out for any problems. I woke up my father only when a ship was nearby and I wasn’t sure of its intentions. Almost everybody in the cruising community treated me as an adult while still understanding I was a child, thereby giving me the flexibility to make childish mistakes.
As of this writing, my family has now been aboard for three years. We have just left French Polynesia, and I am still enjoying this lifestyle we have embarked on. We have plans to return to Canada in 12 months and, similar to how I opposed moving onto the boat, I am now completely opposed to moving off it. I have so much fun and learn so many things on this boat that I can’t imagine ever returning “home”—a place I hardly even remember, where people are so different than the cruisers and the locals I have mingled with since.
Kyle Danielwicz and his family are back in Canada after cruising the Pacific aboard Lady Carolina, an Island Packet 445, for four years.