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Children on Board

In the fourth article of their series on sailing with children, Kevin and Nan Jeffrey show how easy it is to get started with toddlers. If you missed part three, click here to see Making Your Boat a Home.

You will get no complaints when taking very young children sailing.
Of all the anchorages on Cape Cod, the one where our catamaran Kjersti lay at anchor was surely the most beautiful. Tucked around a point away from crowded Cotuit Harbor, our cove contained a small group of boats moored off the unobtrusive Oyster Company. Despite the pleasant seclusion, we never lacked visual entertainment. On weekdays we watched the flat oyster boat ply its way up and down the harbor, bringing home oysters to be shucked expertly on the shed dock. Weekends drew early morning clam diggers to the small beach as well as energetic sailors hurrying to hoist their sails and make the most of their few free hours. Beyond our anchorage, the narrow channel linking Cotuit and North Bays teemed with activity as boats sailed or motored around the backside of Little and Osterville Islands.

For beginning sailors, our location could not have been more perfect. Even without venturing out into Nantucket Sound, we could sail the comparatively sheltered waters of Cotuit, West and North Bays, Prince Cove, and the Seapuit River. This area's diversity is unparalleled on Cape Cod. Together, Osterville Grand Island, and Little Island offer a wonderful circle route of channels and bays, with narrow Dead Neck Island giving protection from the Sound side.

Going out for daysails we quickly acquired a leisurely, comfortable pace aboard Kjersti. With twin toddlers Tristan and Colin comprising half the crew, one could hardly aspire to anything more demanding or ambitious. After breakfast, dish washing, diaper-changing, and "berth"-making, the children were clipped into their safely harnesses and turned loose on the premises, something they both took very seriously. One minute they would be playing beside us in the cabin, the next they would be peering down through the foredeck hatch, or poking a foot through the galley window. We quickly discovered that one-year-olds are remarkably adventurous, intrepid, and self-reliant.

Meanwhile, with Kevin at the helm and me casting off, we proceeded to get under way. Beating our way up Cotuit Bay against the inevitable southwest wind, we dodged small racing boats from the yacht club while attracting our usual share of attention. On the conservative New England coast we were something of a rarity, and our comfortable, sedate, floating cottage, with naked infants popping out of hatches had a way of drawing onlookers. Boats sailed alongside while people gawked, admired, questioned, and finally departed muttering about that "trimaran." We failed to impress upon them that Kjersti, a cruising catamaran, was an entirely different breed.

Having beat the length of the Bay, we came about, decided to forgo our usual tame outing to the nearby beach, and sat back instead for a lovely wing-and-wing run down the channel to North Bay. Tristan and Colin were happily settled in the cockpit with a bucket of sea water and tub toys, for the most part oblivious to the fact that we were even under sail. Once through the narrow, well-marked channel and across North Bay, we drifted up the creek toward Prince Cove, passing elegant homes with yachts at private docks, plus a handful of fishermen casting in the shallows. Suddenly, just when we were convinced that the creek would narrow to an impasse, a quick puff shot us around the last bend into the Cove where we dropped anchor for lunch.

Exploring and learning about the world around them is easy when sailing is involved.
We laid out a picnic on the foredeck, where Colin and Tristan jubilantly dropped bits of food through the gaps in the wooden slats. We barely rescued the cutlery from the boys who were looking for heavier items that would make bigger and better splashes.

After the children were packed off for their naps, Kevin and I relaxed for a while reading. The return sail was an endless exercise in tacking. Once beyond the protection of the creek we found a brisk wind blowing straight down the channel against us. We had an exciting beat, cutting buoys, sandbars and spits of land as close as we dared. Despite Kjersti's extreme shoal draft, we had learned to exercise caution after meeting disaster on our initial venture across the Bay. Never would we forget the moment. Both sails were fully filled, with the wind on a broad reach. The sun was shining, the wind strong, as it always is mid-afternoon on the south side of Cape Cod, and the tide about half-way on the ebb. Glancing over the side of the boat, I found myself looking at what was clearly some very shallow water. So shallow it looked like an infant could safely play in it. In fact, even for an infant it might not be enough water. It certainly wasn't enough for our boat. We fetched up on the sandbar with a finesse that defied imagination. Few things are so ignominious as landing on a shoal under full sail in a boat with only a two-foot draft. Our only consolation was that no curiosity seekers could get anywhere near us as we sat there in full view of the weekend boat traffic.

Eventually, the tide came in and we floated free. We had learned our lesson, not to take anything for granted, even in a protected body of water on a boat with almost no draft. We would exercise more caution and awareness, despite our growing confidence as sailors. In the meantime, as always, our children had remained oblivious of the whole ordeal. To them it had simply been another afternoon outing to the beach. Only this time we'd had the whole beach to ourselves.

They'll appreciate the sailing skills you gave them—both now and later.

Before long, as our confidence grew, Kevin and I began taking Kjersti out into the more unprotected waters of Nantucket Sound. Initially, we wondered how the children would react to the increased motion of the boat in a chop. Just 10 minutes out into the Sound we had our answer. Both lay on the bunk in the salon, blissfully lulled to sleep by the rocking. Thereafter they slept their way through most of our daysails, only to awaken when we returned to quieter waters. As a babysitting service, daysailing proved to be an unparalleled asset.

 Suggested Reading List

1. The First Day - Potter
2. The Right Age to go Sailing - Rousmaniere
3. Cruising with Kids - Copeland
4. Sailing with Children:The First Day - Potter
5. Homeschooling in the Tropics - Gounard

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