Cruising cats offer a stable platform for voyaging with young children.
Our decision to buy a sailboat occurred one cold February evening in 1979.My wife Nan and I were experiencing the usual travel frustrations thatalways seem to set in about mid-winter and were longingly discussing variousoptions. As inveterate travelers practically since birth, we had alwaysvowed to keep up our adventurous lifestyle even after the arrival of ourfirst child. However, carefree plans to attach a sidecar to our motorcycle andbring the baby along were seriously challenged when our one child turned out to be two. How, we wondered, did one travel with infanttwins? Not in a vehicle. We both hated the confines of car and campertravel, as do most children. Not on a motorcycle or on bicycles. Andcertainly not on foot.
"What about a sailboat?" Nan suggested gaily.
"A sailboat?" I said. "We don't know how to sail."
"I do," she volunteered. "After all, I've spent much of my youth cruisingon my parents' 35-foot wooden sloop along the coast of New England. But it'll have to be a catamaran," Nan continued, warming to what she nowconsidered a brilliant brainstorm. She had just finished reading RosieSwale's Children of Cape Horn, an account of one couple's ocean-sailingexploits aboard a cruising catamaran with their two young children.Admittedly, Nan has always been easily influenced by the books she reads,but a cruising catamaran seemed to offer the perfect solution to ourtraveling woes. According to Rosie Swale, our babies could be loadedaboard with all their paraphernalia, a comfortable, mobile home baseestablished, and parental sanity maintained as we experienced theexcitement and challenge of life on the water.
The author and his twin "crew."
As winter wore on, we found ourselves seriously researching cruisingcatamarans. Rosie Swale's book had convinced us that this was the onlywise choice of boat for a family with young twins. Nan's memories ofclinging to the scuppers as her parents' sloop heeled steeply in the wind,struggling along a slanting, spray-washed foredeck to douse the headsail(or, God forbid, change it), and listening to a cacophony of sounds asitems crashed about below while beating to windward, all vividly remindedher that this type of boat was not for our situation. What we needed was acraft where milk cups stayed upright on the table, children didn't roll outof bed, and movement above and below decks under sail was easy, safe, andcomfortable. According to Swale, her family had enjoyed all this and more whilecareening through the Roaring Forties on their way around the Horn, becoming thefirst catamaran to do so.
In the late 1970s, cruising catamaran choices wereprincipally limited to a handful of sturdy, seaworthy, English-built craft.After a serious look at all the options, a careful perusal of Jim Andrews'book Cruising Catamarans, plus a realistic assessment of our finances, wechose the 26-foot Heavenly Twins, an attractive, seaworthy, compact boat withsufficient room for a family with two small children. The advantages of acatamaran became increasingly obvious as we discovered just how manyattributes a boat of this type has—attributes that extend well beyond theadvantage of level sailing. How else on a 26-foot boat can one enjoythe pleasures of permanently made-up berths, a spacious galley out of theline of traffic, cavernous locker space, an office/navigation station, ahuge foredeck play area, and a saloon cabin located at the same level asthe cockpit? Easy and forgiving to sail, the Heavenly Twins would prove tobe an excellent choice for novice sailors, particularly ones with one-year-old twins in tow. And after five years of ownership, we would learnhow to get the maximum sailing performance out of her as we cruised our waysouth and through the Bahamas. While numerous modern designs have floodedthe market in recent years, we still consider the Heavenly Twins one of thenicest and most attractive catamarans ever built.
Having made the final decision, we located a used Heavenly Twins on LongIsland and talked Nan's father (a prep-school professor) and a motley crewof his students into helping me deliver it to Cape Cod. We suddenlydiscovered ourselves on the eve of our first outing as a family. With our one-year-old sons firmly harnessed to the mast, we hauled up sails, castoff the mooring, and headed out for an initial jaunt around the harbor. Asmaiden voyages go, this was a memorable one, one that 19 years ofhindsight hasn't diminished. All went well as we blithely sailed thelength of the harbor until it came time to turn and head back. Suddenly,winds that had seemed light and caressing took on a more menacing note.Sails flapped at inopportune moments, and all our efforts to tack failedto get us back up the harbor. Surreptitiously turning on the engine, wemotor-sailed home, struggling to douse the sails, and somehow managing to endup moored backward, something only a catamaran can do.Looking at Nan accusingly, I remarked "I thought you said you knew how tosail." That was the problem, Nan admitted. She had thought so too.Unfortunately, she no longer had her father around telling her what to do.
Recuperating from the drama of our first sail, we looked around for thechildren. Following the lines of their harnesses, we discovered them both fast asleep in the saloon cabin. As Nan and I had struggled, argued,and generally made fools of ourselves, the children had played, then fallenasleep happily, oblivious to the fact that we had even gone anywhere.Despite our initial ineptness as sailors, our choice of buying a boat hadbeen the right one. We were sailing converts for life.