Cut That Out Sonny or I'll Make You Walk the Plank
June 27, 2008 6:18 PM   Subscribe

Novel Research Filter III: What's it like to travel long distance on a yacht with kids?

In my book some children will make a trans-pacific crossing on a yacht with their parents. I'd like to know how children handle long distance sea travel. How do parents keep kids occupied. What kind of mischief can kids get into on a yacht. I'm not talking about Semester at Sea but rather family vagabonding in a boat.
posted by Xurando to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you imagining a scenario where it's a single family-sized sail vessel, where the family are the crew? Or is it a family among other passengers on a larger vessel, where the vessel is professionally crewed?

How old are the kids?

My SO's family did shorter trips (a few days, a few weeks) all the time when he was a kid on the Atlantic coast of the US. (In a single-family situation.)

Offhand, here are a few thoughts from their reminiscences:
They played a lot of cribbage and other card games, they read a lot of books (brother would eventually be driven to read sister's Sweet Valley High books once he'd read the Steven Kings too many times), they listened to baseball games on the radio. Brain teasers. Chitchat. Boardgames are possible if the seas are calm; I don't know how much of this they actually did. Today I suppose handheld video games. (I don't know what the electrical system is like, so how many recharges you could expect on a really long trip) I think the basic idea is that on a trip like that you get comfortable with long silences, and kids more or less understand that any really serious mischief (likely to drop a person or an important object into the water for example) is Absolutely a No-Go.

Other thoughts -
The kids know how to tie knots and read a chart. All that nautical terminology that might seem faintly antique (port, starboard, come about, fenders, cleat, lines, etc) is really used. They would take shifts staying up all night to keep watch. They have a ship's clock that chimes the shift changes. You should understand how the head works, and how sails work, and how to steer a vessel of the size you're interested in. Also understand what kinds of tasks need to be done when you hit port - checking in with the harbormaster or whatever, what needs to happen to the boat (emptying waste, taking on fresh water, etc). Fresh water is at a premium, so they always drank canned soda etc. Living on a ship is tight quarters, very narrow bunks, with very small (a few cubic inches) cleverly-arranged areas to cram your personal treasures into. No privacy. There might be a bench in the main cabin that folds into a bed at night, so quarters would be even more cramped at night. In their boat the nicest berth was up inside the bow, a kind of triangular berth that was good for a couple. Seals, dolphins, whales, etc would often appear and follow for a while. The stars were amazing; they had rotating paper-wheel star charts and they both know all their constellations. They're good at identifying sea birds. It's nearly always a lot windier out at sea than it is on shore - so ponytails for girls. If the parents are responsible, younger kids would wear a PFD anytime they're on deck. Both my SO and his sister have very fond memories associated with "boat smell", the smell taken on by any object that spent substantial time in the boat: salt water plus low-tidey sea smell, plus mildew from things being always a little damp in the cabin.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:00 PM on June 27, 2008

My neighbors just did a week with their three kids on a 40 ish foot boat around the Virgin Islands. A 14 yr old, 7 and 8 year old. Of course it was only a week but the kids did great. Tons of swimming, snorkeling, reading and napping. The little ones didn't worry too much about bathing, just washed in the ocean every day. Ate on the deck and apparantly adapted very well. The Mom was worried that the amount of time and close quarters would make the trip miserable but she said they took to boat life like "fish to water" (rimshot). Again, we are only talking about a week so I'm sure that several weeks would have been different.
posted by pearlybob at 7:02 PM on June 27, 2008

I have a set of cousins and a (different) set of nieces who have done several long (but not trans-Pacific) sailing/yacht trips. Weeks at a time, along the eastern seaboard and out to Bahamas, or in the Adriatic, Aegean, Mediterranean, etc. Books, games to play together, playing music (CDs and instruments), watching DVDs, and swimming top the list of things they do. As soon as my cousins were old enough, they were taught and given responsibilities on the boat. My nieces don't sail and their trips are crewed, so for them it's more the activities I mentioned. In both cases I think the parents try to put into port about once a week or so. If you haven't read Dove, by Robin Lee Graham, you may want to. Slightly different than the scenario you're asking about, but probably informative.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:04 PM on June 27, 2008

Also hats and sunglasses always; it's a lot brighter out there.

Also, it's better than a car trip, because you don't have to be basically stationary as you do in a car. Usually two people are up on deck and maybe one is up sunning on the bow, back against the mast and reading for example (depends on boat configuration), maybe one is down below reading or napping. Of course, the younger the kids are the more togetherness there would be, but also the younger they are the more they are interested in things like pattycake, look at that bird, etc (less likely to say "I'm boooored"). I think on a trip like this you figure out pretty fast that "I'm booored" is a non-starter, provided the parent says "ok, so think of something to do. Here we are on a boat far from anywhere, so it's not like we can just go out to Chuck E Cheese or something."
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:42 PM on June 27, 2008

The food sucked, Dad kept saying "We're having such a good time", Mum and Dad fought, we had to fish and I hate fish, my sisters and I fought all the time, it wasn't always safe to swim because of sharks and currents and aptitudes and all the books we took with us were read in the first few days.

Sand got everywhere, the toilet broke and we were all too embarrassed to go over the side. We got sunburned and bitten by sandflies and there was no tv, no radio, nothing to do after the sun went down. Dad was preoccupied with doing little maintenances on the yacht the whole time, and Mum was in a filthy mood because we hated her cooking, and she hated cooking and there was no shower and no fresh water other than the water used for drinking and cooking... which meant no suds for washing up or bathing.

And boat cabins stink... like boat cabins.

We used to go sailing every weekend (Great Keppel Island) and most school holidays (Great Barrier Reef/Whitsunday Passage)for up to two/three weeks at a time. Things may have changed, but it was bloody miserable. Pretty, and scenic etc... but miserable. Especially because fish sucks.
posted by taff at 11:58 PM on June 27, 2008

Look up some books by Rosie Swale (or on wikipedia).

Children of Cape Horn tells the story of her sailing around Cape Horn with her husband and two young kids. It's a pretty interesting read and would probably give you a really good idea of what it's like.

I reckon this woman is a champ!
posted by indienial at 1:30 AM on June 28, 2008

Further to that, we used to do a fair bit of sailing with my (quite insane but awesome) dad. There were four of us between about 8 and 15-ish, plus Pa. He kept us pretty much entertained by putting us to work-- we all took turns at doing the actual sailing, two of us on a 4-6 hour shift, 24 hours a day. We helped him with navigating and fishing as well.

When we got bored, he would do stuff which is, in recollection, quite mental. For example, we used to climb into this tiiiiiny little dinghy which was towed about 20 metres behind the boat, and you'd nearly fall out of it at every big wave. Our boat was not exactly in mint condition, so we also got roped into doing a lot of maintenance. It taught us a lot about how to be practical. And we learned a heap about different knots and flags and stuff.We also played a lot of card and board games, and games like that. I don't think we were ever really bored, but it did get pretty frustrating sometimes being so cramped (it was a very small boat).

But my fondest memories of it are the amazing conversations we would have, simply because we HAD to rely on each other and it made us a lot closer. One time in particular, I remember being on a 2am-6am shift with my 12 year old brother, who I never really spoke to at that point. We watched the stars, and saw amazing phosphoresence, and talked about everything and nothing. I'd say it definitely changed my appreciation of my brothers. Of course, it was hard re-adjusting when you got home, because we'd all be back to our selfish little selves and picking on each other again!
posted by indienial at 1:41 AM on June 28, 2008

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