For many young parents it is a dream to take some time off and have a longer sailing trip – with their young kids. It´s either a sabbatical (leaving your job without quitting with a guarantee to return, unpaid during the absence) or a parental leave. Some countries in this world have laws that permit parents to have a leave from their jobs, receiving full payment (by the state) and having a guarantee to return. Germany, for example, has this: Both parents can do a parental leave of up to 6 months, which is a great social institution and – for families and especially or the kids – this is a wonderful occasion to spend so much time exclusively with their parents who do not have to fear disadvantages in their jobs.
I talked to Cati and Johannes Erdmann, a sailing couple Germans know very well. Johannes sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in a cheap eBay-boat right after passing his A-levels at the age of 18, some years later the couple – no kids at that time – repeated that adventure in a new boat. Returning to the Caribbean in a catamaran, both worked as skippers in the charter business on their own multihull. Now, with two young kids, the sailing family took a 6-months-parental leave and spent a wonderful time with their two cute boys: Here´s what we´ve talked about …
Bureaucratic hurdles and challenges
Lars Reisberg | NO FRILLS SAILING.com: „Cati, Johannes, thanks again for taking your precious time to answer my questions! Let me first ask: How did you guys decided to do parental leave at sea with your two kids on a boat?”
Johannes Erdmann: „Pleasure is on our side, Lars. Well, let me say, in general, the idea to have a time out from regular work for half a year with your kids is pretty alluring. Spending that much time exclusively with your family is an amazing notion. Many of our friends and colleagues had already done it and so, for me, it did not seem inappropriate to follow suit. I find it amazing that something like this is possible in the first place. Doing this, at least as a German citizen, is pretty easy, I would say. The German state wants you to – of course – spend the time with your kids. But there are no restrictions as to where and how you have to spend it. So we thought why not go on a boat? Now, quickly, the jigsaw pieces began to fall into place: A friend of us had a Delphia 33 monohull somewhere in Greece on dry land for years and offered that we´d take her. Now, the plan was suddenly materializing: Let´s sail from Greece up North through the Adriatic to Venice!”
Cati Erdmann: „After our Caribbean adventure we are now back in Germany since three years. As a sailing couple that we have been from the start, we regularly thought about possible ways how to get back onto the water for longer periods of time. Of course, having kids does limit opportunities and Johannes´ job as a yachting magazine journalist is a pretty time consuming effort too. Parents know it: The “Clock of freedom” is ticking, zero is induction day of your kid. In Germany we have compulsory schooling, kids must attend school. Other countries have compulsory education where parents could do the schooling. So, it was clear right from the start that we would take the opportunity of parental leave, grab the kids and board the boat for a half year´s sailing adventure. This somehow perfectly fits our lifestyle.”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: „Let´s dive a bit deeper into the preparation phase: How did you organize the parental leave, which challenges and obstacles did you guys have to manage and maybe which things turned out to be easier than you had initially thought?”
Johannes Erdmann: „For me, as a true team player, I must say the biggest obstacle was my own guilty conscience. Somehow a part of me found it inappropriate to leave my colleagues at the job and go for a fun sailing trip. Because of this I protracted the final decision for a relatively long time. On the other hand, the German state wants parents to do this so it was a socially perfectly accepted move. Well, at some point my bad conscience was persuaded and we went for it. Paper works with authorities was pretty intense: Welcome to Germany! But somehow we got everything together and I programmed a countdown app in our cell phones which ticked down and got us pretty motivated and excited. Sic months! What a privilege! The last weeks before casting off we collected spare parts, gear and equipment and send a full pallet to Greece – nevertheless, when we drove down by car, every inch of the interior including the big roof rack was stuffed. We were all excited!”
Cati Erdmann: „I made sure that our kids would be able to receive had all the necessary medical examinations and vaccinations. This is quite a few, especially for very young children. In Germany it is quite important that your kids receive them, the state does ot allow for all too many exceptions. Being underway in Europe makes it easier, of course. I don’t know if you know but I personally do have Multiple Sclerosis. Starting from there we had been able to count on many very valuable experience being underway, which made it easier for us. But it´s quite a hustle, you can imagine: Finding a sufficient doctor, an appropriate anchorage, organizing a rental car and such. But luckily my fear was unfounded and we were able to do all the medical stuff before we casted off.”
Underway with two young kids
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: „What would you advise to parents who also want to go sailing with their – very young – kids?”
Cati Erdmann: „… what is most prominent in my recollection, if I may say, was the sleeping situation aboard. You should really invest some thought into this. Maybe you boat needs lee-cloth, like it was very practical on our boat. Sometimes it is good to have the kids separated when sleeping or each parent “gets” one child. We for example had a very different idea how we do it when we started and arrived with a completely changed sleeping concept. Underway our kids used to have their afternoon nap in the cockpit, which was always very cute to watch and so refreshing for their well-being.”
Johannes Erdmann: „I´d say giving out hints for parents in general is quite difficult as every child is different, every family and structure, their daily routine and habits is different as well. Of course, what we´ve done was to check and adjust the boat to maximum child-safety: Mounting nets to the reeling, trying to minimize potential sources of injury and such. I found it hard to plan ahead for half a year in advance in terms of clothing and the upgrowth of the kids. Our small one, for example, joined the crew being 7 months old. Surprisingly he started to walk with 8 months, which is pretty early. Now he is one year old and climbs up and down the entryway, which is quite a steep drop – we have to keep an eye on him 24/7 of course. I find it important to have the kids occupied, keep them doing things when underway. Our older son plays with is toy cars but he gets angry when too much of a swell meddles with his meticulously arranged traffic jam under deck. Very practical was a baby-stool for the meals by IKEA which was quick to assemble and disassemble and turned out to stand strong and safe even in sea motion during the meals. Well, there are so many details … but parents will surely figure out quickly.”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: „Let´s stick a bit with the safety aboard and kids. Many parents may have concern to sail offshore with their children. Could you dive a bit deeper here?”
Johannes Erdmann: „Well, I absolutely agree that it is a different style of sailing. Let me tell a short story: When we started we had our older son, Theo, always wearing a life jacket for kids and connected him via life-belt to the steering post. I know many parents who have their kids on a leash when walking the pontoons in harbors. But, talking about my children, I can say that they very quickly learn and adjust, they understand what is right and safe to do and what is not. Climbing on the coamings is a no-go, going to the fore deck is only allowed when the boat is safely tied up. Always wear a life jacket. But sure, there is always a possibility that kids fall, get bruises or smaller injuries. But, I was astonished myself, they quickly get their “sea legs” and roam about pretty safe and controlled.”
Cati Erdmann: „Absolutely agreed! I wonder often about their masterly body control! Amazing how fast this develops even in small children. We also developed an own kind of “timing”. I mean, when the kids are sleeping, many things become feasible and doable, so we planned ahead and adjustes courses, sailing legs or other activities according to their sleeping habits, which made often the trick.”
Boat parents: Exclusive!
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “Let´s talk about your amazing trip. You started in Greece, why? How did you guys plan the route and why exactly this?”
Johannes Erdmann: „That is easy to answer: The boat was already there. To be precise, we started in Porto Heli in the Peloponnes. Which, by the way, was a pretty lucky shot because Greece is a wonderful country and a very kid-friendly travel location. We started by sailing 15 to 20 miles a day to get used to sailing mode and trying to get the kids accustomed to life on board. When arriving at a new destination, we stormed the local playgrounds at first which became sort of a tradition and highlight to look forward to for our kids. As the Corinth Canal was still closed when we started, we´ve had to go all around which was a 200-mile detour. Setting course due North-West we began to sail up the Adriatic towards our final destination, which was Venice. Longest leg was Korfu to Montenegro, a 170 mile-trip and one-and-a-half days sailing. To our surprise this worked out just fine, the kids loved it. As we speak we are mooring in Croatia, having sailed roughly 1.000 miles with our last 300 miles still ahead.”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: „With your parental leave slowly but surely drawing to an end: What have been the highlights of this trip for you and your kids?”
Cati Erdmann „It depends of what we were doing in particular. For example, when we were driving down to Greece, days in the car, we tried to construct some highlights for our children. For example passing through Austria and the Alps, we had a great stopover at a farm high up in the snow, which was just great for our kids. Now being in Croatia, bathing and fun in the water is top of the list for the children. It depends on where we are. For me as a mother I´ve always tried to provide the kids with some kind of daily routine – just like at home – but transferred onto a boat. That means times for meals, cleaning up, sleeping routine and so forth. Just like at home, you do not have to provide for a fireworks of highlight every day. I would say those highlights will show up spontaneously, just as normal. Only a few times we really had to think and come up with something.”
Johannes Erdmann: „Speaking of highlights, I can say that travel-wise our top-locations had been situated in Greece. What a great country! I also find it absolutely great to finally have the time to
really discover Croatia. This country offer so much! As does Montenegro, by the way. For us the sailing itself and collecting miles was never priority. When winds and general weather at sea didn´t really fit, we wouldn´t cast off. See, if a 20 mile leg becomes 40 or more when having to tack against the wind, it can quickly turn red alert because kids may loose their patience and start to complain. Loud. My absolute highlight though was a night sailing leg that I had spent with my son alone in the cockpit long until after sunset. We both sat there, no words spoken, in awe. It is heart-warming to watch your kids playing and interacting with nature: How they react when seeing Dolphins or Turtles. It was also pretty amazing watching them making friends so quickly with other children from many, many nationalities on the playground. Especially in times like these this really touches your heart …”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: „What is a normal day aboard like with kids?”
Johannes Erdmann: „It starts in the morning: Of course, our kids are awake first and they do not hesitate to wake us up. Most of the time they play with themselves, sometimes one of us hat to accompany: Jigsaw puzzles, reading, playing and such until breakfast is prepared. After this we get ready for the next sailing leg. My part is readying the boat, like getting rid of the trash with loads of stinking diapers, replenishing fresh water and such. Cati will ready the kids: Getting them dressed properly, applying Sunscreen and life jackets and so forth. We cast off and time will pass pretty fast when underway. Mostly we will have a small snack after mid-day, like pancakes or waffels. We feed the kids who seem hungry all the time. We try to reach our daily destination around three in the afternoon so that there is enough daytime left for the kids to run around and play, to have their bodies exercised and release some steam by movement. I myself will do some work at the chart table – I am a journalist working for a yachting magazine – as I am not completely “free”.
NO FRILLS SAILING: „As parents, what do you think, or rather observe, do your children like the most? Do you think that this trip will have a permanent, formative impact on your kids? Is sailing a good idea?”
Johannes Erdmann: „Oh definitely: A clear yes! They both really love the onboard life so much. My older son is so keen on driving around in our small dinghy, the small one loves standing at the reeling and waving at the people on the waterfront. Thy learn so many things, even in a relatively short period like a few months. It is truly amazing! They occupy foreign playgrounds and make new friends like it is the most normal thing in the world, no hesitation whatsoever. Language is not a barrier, which is hart warming. They find ways, somehow, to communicate. Our small child – roughly a year old – is much ahead for his age. Walking, talking and understanding what is going on around him. This regularly leaves us amazed and speechless. Of course, the small boat restricts physical movement, which can be stressful at time. This is why we often thought back to our time on the catamaran, which is really the better choice of boat for a family at sea.”
Cati Erdmann: „As a mother I hope that these six months will somehow leave a permanent mark or impression on them. Many other parents told me it would be a shame if they wouldn´t have any recollection of this amazing voyage. But I really believe that somehow maybe a deeper fundamental complex of emotions, maybe some fragments of memory or an underlying “taste” of this trip will somewhere prevail inside of them.”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: „With you both being sailing parents, what would you say is your aim to teach or show to your kids through sailing and spending time on the water?”
Johannes Erdmann: „I would say it´s not so much sailing itself. Would be cool, anyway if they would later develop a love for boats and sailing as we have, of course, but predominantly we would like to have them teached that the world is a great place. That curiosity for the unknown is a great thing, that being abroad or on foreign land is something good, something that enriches your life. The love and respect for nature is pretty important to us as well as the fact that meeting other people is personal enrichment.”
Cati Erdmann: „… but we don´t have an agenda. It all comes naturally, I´d say. Our kids are too young to have a plan. But sometimes, for example, we speak with the kids, easy contents like: “Why is it wrong to put trash in the sea? How would Mr. Turtle find this?” or why wasting fresh water is not so clever. It´s the small steps. I hope that we can convey a certain attitude in them that comes naturally, spiced up with some practical own experience and memories.”
Coming back is the hardest thing.
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “Now that your amazing trip is drawing to an end, how do you plan your returning to normal life? Kids to the Kindergarten, normal work-hours … is a return to a life on the shore even possible after so much freedom?”
Johannes Erdmann: „Well, really quite this way, yes. Our oldest son will immediately be back in Kindergarten upon arrival and I can tell he is really looking forward to reuniting with all his friends again. You see, he is a Corona-Kid, born in September 2019 and as such he unfortunately didn´t had too much contact with same age kids. This voyage is a big adventure for him and naturally he looks forward to meeting his friends back home. For me personally, I will return to my job as editor for a yachting magazine. I managed to swap my job from power boats over to sailing boats again and so I am very keen on starting to write stories about sailing yachts and my beloved sailing catamarans again.
Cati Erdmann: „I´d say when it comes to big live changing events we are definitely premier league now, after years on a multihull and our catamaran-adventure in the Caribbean. For my kids I am so happy to join Kindergarten, this will be a big thing for them! They also look forward to see our family again as they seldom suffered from home sickness. I plan to stay at home with our small child for one or two more years. He will most certainly do not have a detailed recollection of our past country life and I look forward to re-conquer our homestead with him. For me, spending so much time with my second-born is a true gift. From many parents I know that this is especially for the following kids not a matter of course.”
Cati, Johannes and their lovely two kids are currently on their last sailing legs, enjoying the sailing adventure drawing to an end. Thanks so much to you guys for giving such an intimate, detailed insight: Wishing you a very intense last weeks, come back home safely!
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