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Living on a Boat With Children- Season Two

It’s a wrap.

Season two is complete. No, this is not a reality TV show or some family sitcom (often debatable), this is the end of our second winter that we have lived on our sailboat in the Sea of Cortez of Mexico’s Gulf of California with out two young children.

Emma is an old hand now. When she was 14 months old we effectively went bust and moved onto our 1978 CSY 33 and left Georgia bound for Key West. We sent four months on the boat before finding out we were pregnant with Charlie (Granny and Poppy’s evil plan by taking Emma for the weekend leaving Mom and Dad alone on a very small boat for 48 hours!) and needed to supersize our vessel to accomodate two little heads (not toilets).

Charlie was born in Georgia late November and before she was two months old we brought her south of the border and onto our new (to us) 1993 Gemini 3400 Catamaran.

The first season was actually easier. Charlie was so tiny and little more than a little ameoba (sp?) that she wasn’t very mobile. We had a rougher time getting adapted to the boat, Mexico, and having two kids. It takes a little while to adapt to a completely different way of life. As much as the new language, peso conversion, and being dirt poor, the challenge of keeping the children healthy and entertained without going completely bonkers yourself proved to be a lot of work.

This second season Charlie was just over 12 months when we went down to the boat and now she’s 18 months as of yesterday. Because she is a LOT more mobile we have had to spend more effort corralling her and depsite our best efforts shehas taken any number of falls over the salon sofa, down the 3 steps into the galley, off Emma’s bed. Each incident complete with frantic parents and screaming soundtrack. Luckily, no broken bones or severe disfigurement.

Ironically, the only accident of note was after we returned with Emma (pre Charlie) to my Mom’s house and she tripped on the carpet upstairs and cut her face on a cabinet corner. 13 stitches, a plastic surgeon, and several thousand dollars later this is the worst accident we have had with the kids (knock on wood).

This year we ventured forth. We did a lot of day sailing from San Carlos and we spent five weeks across the Sea of Cortez (72 nautical miles) in the bahia de Conception. The girls were introduced to the high salinity waters of the sea and Emma took to it like the metaphorical fish out of water while Charlie is witholding judgement.

A cruising book I read suggested that when cruising with children equal time has to be taken sailing and recreation for the kids. For us adults, living on a boat is a lifestyle choice. For the kids, it’s just home. There’s really nothing magical about it. Imagine if you tried to keep your two kids cooped up in a small two bedroom apartment all day every day for a week (with no TV or DVD’s). Not only would they go bonkers, they would drive you bonkers. As a result we end up spending a fair amount of time TRYING to get off the boat (mainly for the kids but cabin fever does set in).

Contrary to my father’s belief that it must be nice to lounge around on a boat for 6 months sunning yourself, there is a shocking amount of work to be done just in the ordinary course of living. After we make time for outings for the kids, restocking, schlepping everything back to the boat via dinghy, fixing what must be fixed, the day is gone and Mom and Dad are looking forward to bed time.

Speaking of which, we would get so tired by the end of the day watching and entertaining the kids (Mom mostly) and trying to just keep the boat afloat and livable (Dad mostly) that we would be counting down the minutes to bed time trying to hold on. Unlike on land, the kids revert to a natural “up with the sun, down with the sun” sleeping routine. They would be in bed by 8:30pm and up by 6:30am. We thought, “how nice, a few hours that we can entertain ourselves- reading, a hobby, or maybe a little you-know-what:)”. But NOT SO, we would be so tired by the time we got the kids to bed either of us could barely keep our eyes open. Luckily neither could the kids.

Both kids really took to their books and could spend hours each day coloring, painting, and ‘reading’ through their activity books. Charlie would basically follow Emma’s lead so wherever Emma went Charlie was sure to follow.

San Carlos doesn’t have a lot of kids around being mainly an expat retirement community. Emma took advantage of the times we could find kids of any age (even Jody, a mid twenties sailor we met) and would play despite age, language, or even gender differences. She didn’t really seem to mind. We would like to find a location

with more children around but it will take some time to explore and find a spot that works.

I am probably a little too harsh of a disciplinarian. It’s because I worry. On a boat there is the opportunity for tragic accidents. There is real responsibility that needs to be learned and earned and real rules that must be followed or people can get hurt- or worse. The catamaran has allowed to lax our rules for the kids in the cockpit compared to the monohull, but we had to change the latch on the cockpit door to keep small hands from being able to open the door. Nevertheless, Emma is a good kid and behaves about 90% of the time. Interestingly, right now she acts out worst when her baby sister is around. We think Charlie is getting mobile and vocal so it is taking some attention away from Emma which she will do anything to get back. Hence the acting out. Alone with Mom or Dad she is always a good companion. If I have to run an errand and she comes along, she is polite, listens, and is good at staying close and not wandering off. For a child of three and a half, I think she’s doing great. The biggest problem with Emma is remembering she is still only three! She’s tall and communicates like an older child but emotionally she is still only a three year old. I have a real hard time keeping that in mind and setting my expectations accordingly.

Emma’s language skills are very good for her age. I would suggest this is the result of her significant interaction with adults and older children versus her peers. More interesting, she starting to use spanish words inter mixed with her english without realizing it. Back in Tucson Emma asked her great aunt Claudia for “Leche, por favor” and when asked about colors she responds in spanish.

At her age she can count to mid teens and “sing” her alphabet correctly about 50% of the time. She is a jabber jaw. Non stop talking when we get in the car. She picks up phrases and words from conversation or music and then kind of randomly inserts them into her dialogue. Another cautionary tale of why parents should watch what they say around the kids!

Sail days, Emma prefers to stay inside the boat and color or paint. Another advantage of the catamaran- no heeling. She is prone to sea sickness right now despite the mild action on the catamaran. I think it is largely psychological. After getting sick once, she insists she’s sick whenever we sail despite only intermittently having any symptoms of sea sickness. We know she’s not feeling well when she sacks out on the salon sofa for hours. This is a kid that NEVER naps! Something is wrong when she initiates a nap without argument or a struggle. In the end, she comes through ok and I think, with time, she will be fine.

Charlie on the other hand has never had a problem with sea sickness yet.

Both girls enjoy riding in the kayak or rowing in the dinghy and even at their young age, seem to understand the gravity of listening to their parents while in the dinghy. A nightmare of ours is a child falling overboard in the dinghy but the kids seem to take to it naturally as other children learn to stay seated while on a bicycle with their parents.

We move around a lot in general. During the summer we travel in a motorhome and then we might spend a month visiting family before leaving for Mexico. Then in Mexico, we sail the boat and plan on sailing more each season. The girls have been very adaptable. After being in Tucson for a month or more, Emma might “want to go home to Grandpa’s” for a few weeks but it fades as new and exciting events unfold on the boat. We have tried to become “regulars” at a few places

wherever we sail. I think it helps everyone (parents included) to see some familiar faces and a comfortable environment. In this way we have built a “family” of acquaintances we visit seasonally that offer some grounding for the girls to identify as we travel. One of her favorite places in San Carlos

Emma James and Charlie Bella at Soggy Peso!is a beach bar/restaurant called, the Soggy Peso. We might be in the middle of Wyoming and Emma will be telling stories about the Soggy Peso!

The kids concept of space is more generalized than ours as adults. There are places, namely outside the cockpit, that are forbidden zones but otherwise anywhere can be a play area for the kids. They pull out canned good and make castles, bang on pots and pans, make forts under clothes in our berth, litter Emma’s berth with flash cards and her tea seat, spread playdough around the salon and under the table. Despite having a maximum of about 14′ wide and maybe 20′ long area to play they manage to find plenty of things to do (many thanks to Mom for that). However, whenever we have guests on the boat- all bets are off! Anybody else beside Mom and Dad is like Saturday morning cartoons for most kids. We hardly get a word in edge wise with Emma and Charlie crawling all over the guests. Luckily there is no shortage of substitute grandparents in the sailing community.

In conclusion, The kids appear to be developing along a similar range as other children who don’t live on a sailboat half of the year. I think our constant involvement in their daily lives (like all day every day) may attribute to Emma’s language skills but that is not related to living on a boat as much as the circumstances of our proximity and attention. What can’t be denied is the exposure and experiences the kids derive from their daily association to a different culture, the sea, and the wildlife around us while on the boat. Sea lions, dolphins, and turtles are common place sightings. Fish, clams, and crabs are a daily routine. Soon, I hope the water is as comfortable for them as walking on land.

You know an ICE COLD draft beer in Mexico is a very affordable price of approximately $1.25! Click Here to Buy Us a Beer.

3 comments to Living on a Boat With Children- Season Two

  • Great post!
    Loved the photos!
    Your kids are adorable!
    Miss them!
    Miss you all!

  • Bill

    Great wrap-up JC. It sounds like your kids will be having tons of adventures and seeing many amazing things that others never get to experience. Good for you for choosing your unconventional lifestyle.

  • big cheese

    Hi Bill-

    It was a good season. How goes your adventure?

    JC