Occasionally it's time to stand back and let my better half have the limelight, so the following story comes from Nan, though it carries my byline.
The year our daughter was three, I had the sudden inspiration to join a cruise aboard my father's sailboat. For years our twin sons had enjoyed cruises along the coast of Maine in the early days of June with their grandfather, honing their sailing skills with someone they loved and trusted.
Although partially raised on a sailboat, the boys found cruising with "Fa-fa" in Maine on his old-fashioned wooden sloop a very different experience from life aboard our cruising catamaran in the Bahamas or Caribbean. A 50-foot mast, enormous sails, rails-under type sailing, unpredictable weather, and the ever-present possibility of fog all contributed an element of drama and excitement to the undertaking. Nor is my father a cautious grandparent, preferring instead, as he did when I was a child, to let children pursue an adventurous course through life, a pleasure all too often denied them in today's overly-protective approach to parenting.
This particular year I decided to go along, taking our intrepid, adventurous daughter on her first sailing expedition. Born between times when our family owned sailboats, she had yet to experience life on the water despite an impressive history of foreign travel in her few short years of life. However, my announcement that Gwyneth and I would be joining them for the trip met with horror on the boys' faces.
"Oh no!" exclaimed seventeen-year-old Colin. "Now we won't have any fun." "What do you mean no fun?" I asked. "You know, Mom. We'll have to poke around and go nowhere with you and Gwyneth on board." "That's what you think," I replied. I certainly wasn't going all this distance from our home in Canada to Brooklyn, Maine just to poke around and go nowhere. My ideal itinerary incorporated every hitherto unvisited island along this particular stretch of coast, including Matinicus, the furthest inhabited offshore island on the coast of Maine.
Arriving at the boat on an unseasonably balmy spring day, we moved aboard and quickly settled into the familiar surroundings of a sailboat. Cruising is a wonderful equalizer, incorporating people of all ages with ease. Despite its adventurous image, life on a sailboat is as condusive to babies and toddlers (given a little forethought) as to teenagers, adults, and the elderly. Here we were, spanning an age difference of seventy years, yet all equally comfortable, safe and happily occupied on board.
Age, of course, played a part in the immediate activities we undertook, as well as the roles we aquired throughout the cruise. My father soon had himself seated in his favorite corner of the cockpit, a spot from which he could effectively keep an eye on proceedings, instruct when necessary, and issue orders, all while seemingly reading an epic 500-page book. The teenagers, which included my two sons Colin and Tristan and their eighteen-year-old cousin Naomi, acted as crew, leaping with alacrity to haul anchors, change sails, adjust lines, crank sheets, and generally provide the brawn needed to sail a traditional boat like this. At anchor, their favorite activity was exploring in the rowing dinghy, an undertaking with numerous possibilities in the predominantly unpopulated environment of Maine's coastal islands.
I soon found myself not only chief producer of food, but head helmsman as well. All those childhood years under the tutelage of my father must have paid off, because it was me he always wanted at the helm during tricky navigational moments. My final and most impelling role was in direct contrast to Tristan and Colin's earlier fears that the cruise would be too tame. Instead, I insisted that we go to as many destinations as possible. Who cared if we arrived a little late. I simply served up quantities of tea and goodies to keep everyone going when necessary.
Father had a boatload of adventurers and he loved it. Gwyneth proved the biggest surprise to the teenagers, exhibiting a willingness to do almost anything, an imperviousness to seasickness, and a far-from-timid nature that was in keeping with the cruise. Wherever the big kids went, she did too, harnessed securely to some immovable object on board. At three, Gwyneth was already well versed in the flexibility of travel, so for her a sailboat was simply another exciting way to go about it. And besides, anything her adored older brothers were doing, she was determined to do as well.
Our most comical moment on the trip occured upon our arrival at Matinicus, that far-flung island with its small, intrepid fishing community that has always intrigued me. As soon as the anchor was down, all of us except Father piled into the dinghy and rowed over to the wharf. Suddenly we noticed it was low tide, with the wharf towering over us, accessible only by a long, wet, steep ladder. Sending Gwyneth up first, I followed behind, urging her up the endless succession of rungs. All went well until she reached the top and discovered a slight gap between the final rung and the edge of the wharf. Peering over the edge, she took one look at the water far below and started to wail. They must have heard her clear over on the mainland as she stood there immobilized while the rest of us clung to the ladder in various stages of asendancy. "Just crawl across," I hollered up at her. "I can't!" she wailed. "You have to," I shouted back. "I can't," she wailed even louder."You'll get an ice cream cone if you do," I shouted in final desperation. Quick as a flash she was across the gap and standing wreathed in smiles on the wharf.
Matinicus proved as alluring as I had hoped, with lovely surroundings, a quiet serenity, and a quality of remoteness. From there we visited numerous other secluded anchorages, each free of the abundance of cruising boats that would appear as summer progressed. As always, a sailing cruise worked its magic on us, this time binding our three generations into a solid unit of camaraderie. It was a magical time, especially in this day and age when all too often the generations are separated into their own peer groups, with little interaction between them. Once again, sailing had taught us valuable lessons about life that we would never forget.
Cruising With Kids by Liza Copeland
Juggling Offspring and Boats by Kevin Jeffrey
Sailing With Children, the First Day by Michelle Potter
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