Friday, May 31, 2013

All the Comforts of Home Squeezed Onto Our 51' Sailboat

        Back in March, after a 15-hour sail from Acapulco to a small fishing village, we drop the hook and set up the boat for being at anchor for the night.  For some boaters, this means tidying up lines, covering sails, doing dishes, cleaning the cockpit and perhaps taking a nap.  For us, a cruising sailboat with two children aboard, it means getting set up to play before darkness sets in.  It still amazes me that on such a small space we can create as much opportunity for play as we do on our 1+ acres of land at home in Anchorage.  I thought I would try to describe our kid-centered home afloat.

        When we come to anchor, one of the first things that often happens is Carmen helps rig her favorite swinging rope off the end of the boom for tarzan-style swinging into the water.  Meanwhile, Bruce and I share a cold beer before before launching our kayak and paddling around the quiet bay.  Richard often gets to work setting up a hammock to read in or launching the dinghy from which he plans to "dinghy surf."

        This particular afternoon, upon returning from a short sunset paddle, I look at the good ship Northern Passage and started to giggle - "Look at us, Bruce!  We are so obviously a cruiser with kids!"  One image you might have of sea-going sailboats is of pristine, shiny white, glistening chrome and polished wood "yachts."  Such boats do exist, however in my experience, these boats are not the "cruisers," at least not the cruisers with kids aboard.  "Kid Cruisers" are lived in for months or years at a time and tend to spend as little time at docks as possible.  Generally, we go to marinas to fuel up, wash down the boat, do repairs, fill our tanks with water, go grocery shopping, and perhaps take a long hot shower ashore, but we don't spend most of our time there.  We spend most of our time sailing or at anchor.  Our boats often have a, well, sort of "lived-in" family look.  S/V Northern Passage looks very much like our land-based home and yard used to look.  Busy.  Messy.  Lived-in.

      Here are some of the tell-tale signs of a family cruising sailboat (at least this is what OUR family cruiser looks like):

Davits on the stern serve as our "garage" for our "car" - the dinghy.
Notice the stuff stored inside - just like my van at home!
1)  TOYS ON DECK AND CHILDREN ON RIGGING:  Recreational toys on a cruising sailboat serve important functions: they are our transportation to shore and on shore, plus our means to play in the sun and get those sillies out after long passages at sea.  Many kid cruisers tend to have an abundance of toys strapped to the deck of their boats, as four or more people sometimes need to play at once.  Our dinghy (the closest thing to a "car" that we own) hangs from davits off the stern while a paddleboard, surfboard, boogie board, rip stick and skimboard are strapped to the rail; two bicycles are on deck while two more are stowed below in our shower/"storage shed."  Parts of the rigging of a windsurfer also line the rails, just in case we ever run across the other bits and pieces we need to make yet another complete toy.  Fenders are often dangling off the rail as they make for good toys or climbing apparatus.  Snorkels and fins are almost always strewn about the back deck.  Above decks, the entire boat is a junglegym.  It is typical to see children hanging from stays, sitting on spreaders, lounging on booms, swinging from davits.
Dinghy, kayak, paddleboard get everyone ashore.
Yes, that is Carmen - she free-climbed using her
monkey toes up a halyard to sit on the spreader!

2)  SHADE-MAKERS:  Since it is almost always hot and sunny in the tropics, those who live aboard have to create shade however possible.  Until about four months ago, our awnings were blankets and towels hung in strategic locations from the boom and stays.  However, in Zihuatanejo I bought a roll of canvas, set up the sewing machine and designed and sewed "proper" awnings.  Still a bit home-made looking, they have made life in the hot sun much more bearable.  And they keep fragile children's skin from burning to a crisp! 

3)  BOOKS:  Belowdecks, many cruisers' boats are filled to capacity with books.  This is especially true with boat-schooling kids aboard.  Our books are crammed into every available space.  There are also legos, stuffed animals, board games, craft and art supplies in every nook and cranny. 

4)  CREATIVE REPAIRS:  Many cruising sailboats flaunt evidence of home-done repairs, as supplies are often few and far between so we must become creative and adaptable.  On our steel boat, chipped paint gets covered with special rust-proofing paint that we call "duct tape paint" because of its silvery grey color.   The spigot for our washdown hose, long ago broken off, has been a pair of pliers for the past 9 months.  Until we get the fiberglassing materials out, duct tape serves to protect the dinks and holes in our paddleboard.

5)  CREATIVE TOWEL AND CLOTHES DRYING RACKS:  Winches are large gears with handles attached that help us crank in sails under tension.  They also make excellent clothing and bathing suit dryers, and while at anchor our winches are typically covered with such items as hats, bikinis and swim shirts.  Towels get draped over booms and along lifelines.

6)  COCKPITS FULL OF STUFF:  It is a losing battle to get STUFF out of the cockpit.  The cockpit is kind of like the kitchen or den in a house - it is where we hang out most of the time we are on board, the place where we bring food and drinks and books and pens and paper and knives and shoes, pillows, blankets, clothing, bathing suits, sunblock.  After a day of collecting shells and rocks along a beach, the cockpit table is where the treasures are displayed.  It is the heart of our floating home.

7)  NOISY:  A cruising sailboat with kids is not a quiet, serene place.  Especially when more than one kid-cruiser are at anchor, the harbor is filled with splashing, laughing, shouting kids.  On board, there are sibling battles being fought and laugh out loud movies being watched.  I wonder if the cruisers who arrive at an otherwise pristine anchorage turn around when they see a cruising boat with kids anchored up.  So much for a peaceful evening with nature!

All this said, I am sure there are neat and tidy kid cruising sailboats on the sea also.  Our boat is just not one of them.  As we get ready to return to land, at least for the next year or so, I wonder why we need so much space there, when we can fully entertain ourselves aboard our 51' long, 14' wide (at the center) floating home.


  1. Very good description and great pictures. You should patent that shade device you made. One could use old sails perhaps to make those. I know a woman in Chatham who has a business making things out of old sails. Very lucrative!
    I love the picture with Tiger in it...also the kids climbing!!!
    I was so lucky to be with you twice: once in cooler climbs (Victoria, BC) and later in Mexico. I loved both trips and look forward to more.

  2. Love your writings Jennifer, I did notice all your toys aboard when we sailed with your family. Coming from a family of 5 kids I understand about the lived in feel of a home where ever that may be. I'm looking forward to your next adventures with your family as you cross the country in pursuit of new horizons. I spoke to Hooper about meeting you and your family he was jazzed to hear what you were up to, and he said he would tell Amy. Take care and have fun hope to see you in the NW sometime on your way through! Christine Bluestone