Of all the various opinions in sailing, in the small corner which involves cruising with children are found perhaps the strongest. Some who have not done so recoil at the very thought of living with children on a small boat; others set firm ages before which you should not take them to sea: five years old, seven, twelve. You’d think that with all those feelings strongly expressed, there’d be a lot of judgment coming toward anyone who takes a different approach. Strangely, though, when we set out with our three daughters in a 31-foot boat, ages 5, 3, and 9 months, few seemed to have anything to say. We were regarded with more of a wistful envy—as though the other cruisers wished they had taken their young to sea in early days. Of course, there was the occasional busybody who wanted us to put lifejackets on, or complain to the authorities that there were people living on a boat, and burning wood for heat! But those are easily ignored and mercifully few and far between.
So, what’s my take on the right way to go cruising with children? Simply this: the only wrong way is to not do it at all. There are a thousand right ways to do it, and each one will vary with the situation. Just as everyone is cruising within their unique parameters of boat, budget, comfort level, and goals, adding children to the mix is just another variable. In our case, an early three-day crossing from Baja to the mainland showed that we had no real interest in a two-week passage to Hawaii followed by more long legs across the south Pacific. So, we altered our goals and coasted to the Panama Canal instead. That of course had its own challenges, but being able spend more time anchored and exploring than underway was a great strategy for child care, and of course personal sanity.
With the very young, caring for them is a full-time job, which leaves little time for operating the boat. I was essentially singlehanding Ganymede much of the time, with Danielle taking a spell at the helm, usually with a baby strapped to her chest in a carrier, while I made sail changes or cooked meals. Without a doubt having the kids aboard limited our cruising options and was always the biggest factor in any decision, but looking back on our family cruise, I can’t think of anything I’d rather have done than exactly what we did—it was one of a thousand ways to do it right, and the limits imposed were far offset by the unlimited joy we had, both in the moment, in memory, and in anticipation of more to come.