By Joe Boyle
There we were on the sweetest of beam reaches, our big yellow spinnaker like a team of racehorses, hauling us across the sun speckled water, the wake hissing from the stern. I finally had the mainsail trimmed just perfectly and all of the telltales were flying straight out. We were southbound in our trusty C&C 27 Zia heading for the Choptank on as fine a summer day as the Chesapeake can produce. As I reached for my ice-cold beer on the pedestal drink holder, I was horrified to hear a cry from below decks, “Joe, your turn to change her diaper—and you might want to bring your gasmask." Ah well, the rockstar reluctantly turned over the wheel and slank below to attend to the task at hand. While I was down in the V berth taking care of business with a squirming 18-month-old, I could hear Christy retrimming the main. I could just imagine the smile of joy on her face as she squeezed and extra 10th of a knot out of her.
Sailing with children is a subject that we are fast becoming familiar with. We took a three-day cruise last year when our daughter was 6 months old and it was a success. Of course at that age she probably didn't know whether she was in her crib or on a sailboat. This year, though, we knew it was going to be different—anyone who has ever spent a day chasing a toddler around the house will understand. In addtion, Christy was again pregnant and not her usual nimble self on the boat.
BOAT stands for “Break Out Another Thousand” The first order of business was setting up Zia to be as kid friendly as possible. This is no easy task when you consider that a sailboat is a rocking, heeling, and jumping conglomeration of hard fiberglass and metal surrounded by that most deadly substance, water. Since Zia is on the far side of 20 years old, we figured the lifelines would be a good place to start. They were yellow and cracked with age and showed traces of rust at the swages. We struck a deal with a local dealers to bring them the old set as a template for the new ones. They were on time, on budget, and did a great job, so happily we didn't dent our “thousand” too badly.
We then purchased enough nylon safety netting to go around the boat. Installation was simple after we hit upon the trick of weaving the top lifeline in and out of the safety netting to hold it up. After a pathetic attempt at marlinespike knotwork, we discovered a stash of plastic cable ties that worked admirably for attaching the bottom of the netting to the slotted toe rail. We tensioned the netting to make it good and tight so that the baby would bounce off rather than get tangled up. We had to get creative and work around the netting to set up the genoa and spinnaker blocks as well as the dock lines, but after some trial and error it all fell into place. We also bought a windscoop to funnel wind down the forward hatch at anchor. We should have gotten one of those long ago—they're easy to set up and really effective. Since we had sprung for a bimini last year, the only other external job was to cut a piece of thick "cushiony" carpet to fit the cockpit floor.
Already the previous year, our daughter Cassie had worn a life vest on board. We actually bought the top of the line that Mustang had to offer, looking at sparing no expense; after all, this was not an area where we were prepared to be cheap. We have a rule that whenever she's above deck she has to wear a life vest.
There's only room for so many toys Setting up the inside of the boat was a little easier. We brought down an expandable kid gate to block off the V berth. We then lined the berth with pillows and comforters until there were very few hard surfaces for Cassie to roll into. I have to say it looked inviting to me; I just hoped it looked inviting to Cassie.
What to bring and what not to bring, that was the question. After asking around we got a great variety of hints from other cruisers. The advice ranged from “buy a 12V TV and VCR” (we absolutely refused to do so) to “get a babysitter and leave her at home." We settled on bringing a nice sized bag of soft toys and books although it turned out that a Lewmar winch handle was her favorite toy. One other tip that was invaluable was to get a bucket to fill with water and let her play in the cockpit. That was a huge, albeit wet, success. As for food that was not a problem since these days she basically eats the same as us.
“Trial” run On a sunny Saturday afternoon, a week before departure, we went for a trial run. It was horrible; a real trial you might say. The second Cassie got on the boat she started whining and fussing. It seemed that no amount of distraction could cheer her up. We divided our time between trying to sail the boat and keeping our daughter occupied. After three hours we came home exhausted and discouraged. Still we were determined not to give up; maybe she was just having a bad day. And heartless as it may now sound, we figured that kids have lived through much worse situations than cruising the Chesapeake so like it or not she was going to live on the boat for three days. We did decide then that we could not manage a child and a dog so we decided to leave the pooch home since we knew we would have little opportunity to row the him ashore.
Underway …. and she liked it! Cassie was in a much better mood when we casted off for the trip. After about half an hour of motoring we were cruising in 10 knots of seabreeze. Cassie had the run of the ship—with mom or dad always within lunging distance just in case. The netting worked great: Cassie would hold the lifelines and work her way up to the bow and then back down the other side. A few bumps and stubbed toes on cleats and shrouds were all she suffered, but hey, this is sailing after all.
When it was meal time and we were underway, she ate below on the cushions spread out all over the floor of the cabin. We also lowered the dinette table so she had a double berth to play on. She had a great time watching our friends Ray and Joni sing her the jumping bean song from the leward rail of their Tartan 34 Morgie sailing alongside. Cassie was smiling wide as she clenched the lifelines and jumped up and down in time to the song.
At anchor the first evening in Grace Creek, she went to bed at her usual time and mom and dad stayed up late after dinner grinning like idiots and stargazing. The next day we just relaxed on board. We swam, played in the water bucket , took dinghy rides, and generally just hung out. Our friends weighed anchor around noon to go tour Oxford while Cassie was still napping. Adhering to that parents' mantra of “never wake a sleeping baby,” we decided that we'd wait for her to wake up and rendezvous with them later that night at LaTrappe creek.
Sailing up to LaTrappe Creek we decided that this boat life was getting to be business as usual. Cassie would eat, sleep, and play just like she was at home. She did seem to miss the dog and her crayons (I had to draw the line at bringing crayons), but overall she seemed completely contented. Christy and I would switch off between sailing the boat and Cassie duty. When she slept or entertained herself down below it was just like old times with both of us on deck and sailing.
A near T-Bone Rafting up with some power-boater friends in LaTrappe creek later that evening we had a close call. I was steering and Christy was on the port bow getting ready to toss a line to our friends who were anchored in a big honking condo-sized powerboat. Just at the critical moment Cassie, who was clutching the lifelines near the cockpit, let out a shriek that meant real pain. My choices ran instantly through my head: grab for my daughter and risk t-boning this huge powerboat or let her wail. I took the risk and stretched out to grab the handle on the back of her life vest. I hoisted her into the carpeted cockpit sole while only losing touch with the wheel for a second or two and managed to avoid giving our friends on the powerboat a fiberglass kiss. Cassie had fallen and wedged herself between a winch and a cleat but she was just fine; two beers later, so was I.
The sail home the next day took from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and was absolutely glorious. Christy and I were more relaxed and Cassie was definitely more of a treat than a burden. She was the star of the show cruising through Knapps Narrows as she waved and smiled at all of the land lubbers on shore. Cassie learned a few new nautical phrases and words like wake, wave, bridge, and sailboat. How can you go wrong if you get to fly your spinnaker for three hours straight while your daughter sleeps for two of them. This is how family sailing should be.
We still need to clean the Oreos and bananas out of the nonskid below decks but overall, the trip was an unqualified success. We now have the courage to plan an even longer cruise for the future. Wish us luck.
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