Now it is time to eventually casting off at last: After years of preparation, of talking an planning I will finally have my first real sailing trip with my kids and I must admit: I might be as excited as they are! So far, everything went just fine when it comes to sailing with kids: I´ve taken slow – but steady – steps to prepare my children to this one first long trip. Small steps, baby steps literally. The idea was to not stress them or overstretch their capabilities. At last they are small children. Reading sailing books, being aboard as much as I could, going out for small, very short sail times on the water. I´d say, they are now ready for a first, 10 day holiday.
Which is a big thing, both for the parents and the kids. I´ve always seen children´s education and upbringing – and that is true for every field in parent-kid-relations – as a matter of mutual consent. If the parents are happy with what they are doing, children will automatically follow and be happy with it too. Sailing-wise, I never pushed them or forced them to love it, I rather let them check if a boat was what brought them fun, if the marina was a place that was of interest, if sailing was something they´d want to do. I am happy that this slow approach yields fruit and that they are so keen to casting off for their first real offshore experience.
Choosing a proper route for a 10-day sailing trip
And I mean a proper offshore experience here! We have big summer school holidays in Germany right now so there´s plenty of time for them to spend. My plan was to come up with a nice 10-day-conceptt for a summer sailing holiday. In order to convince mom too – who naturally is much more cautious and a bit afraid, I must admit, too – I planned a route which wasn´t so much about sailing but much more about discovering.
I figured that the route, in order to be attractive and motivating for my kids, must tick two boxes to be attractive. First check is: We sail to a foreign country. That is something very important because leaving your own country and travel abroad is exciting for kids – even if this “abroad” is just around the corner. Lucky me, with the Baltic Sea we have so many great countries to visit with so many great cultures to touch. Second precondition: It must be an island we are heading for. Instead of hopping from one marina to another, sailing along a boring coast line, it is much, much more adventurous to have your kids looking out for an island. Believe me, it makes such a difference! So, looking at the charts, there is this one attractive, exciting island that has it all: Bornholm.
I sailed to Bornholm two times in my life and I always loved it. This Danish island in the middle of the Baltic Sea is a classy destination for summer sailing and offers plenty for a proper family holiday apart from sailing. As my boat already sits in a destination from where reaching Bornholm is just one day sailing, everything is on “go” for this first family sailing holiday. So, now that we have set a destination, let´s plan ahead a bit. Why planning? Well, that´s easy: For adults, sailing is pleasure and exciting. As small kids cannot really grasp or understand the very essence of sailing nor can they be of any help in the cockpit when they are of such young ages, sail-time is mostly boring for them. So we have to “spice” it up and make sailing fun for them: It is good indeed to have a plan here.
I started by opening up an Excel-file, fill in the dates and days of the whole trip. I would say the secret of a perfect family holiday is a balance between “adult-days” and “kid´s days”. What does that mean? Well, an adult-day is a day out sailing, travelling or moving from one destination to another. Not much to do for the kids, more fun for the parents. A kid´s day, you guessed it already, is a day dedicated to suit the needs of your offspring: Having fun, making exciting stuff, be on land and run around. For us as a family, when on land, the ration between adult- and kid´s days is 1:1, meaning that we have a daily change. During the sailing trip, I moved this ration to 1:2, meaning, that for every sailing day out on the boat, the kids receive two full days for them. Why? Because sailing literally means confining the kids to basically sit and stay on one spot. A boat, especially such a small boat as GEKKO, forces them to behave, sit still, do nothing. I´ll have to compensate for that. Now look at the plan above and you´ll notice that we have quite a nice balance between sailing and fun days.
It´s good to have a plan – for both parents
I am not a pedagogue nor am I a trained educationalist, but I am a pretty proud and committed dad. I´d like my kids to discover new things and try out everything, be open for new stuff and visit what other call “foreign” or “alien”, to see with their own eyes, that there are normal people living, doing normal things (but maybe a bit different) and that this is a good thing. So, I figured, next to the complex task of commandeering the boat and being a responsible skipper with all connected tasks, it is good to have a plan for how to incorporate the children into daily ship´s life. In this, I´ve come up with a plan for each day, which can see a part of in the previous pictures of this article.
That plan shows where we should be moored the day and basically what can be done at this particular place. For that, it is good to already know the destinations at least a bit or to have some pre-knowledge by reading a travel guide or check affiliated websites. For my big plan, I also differentiate from spare time activities like for example “visit the nearby castle with rented bikes” from onboard activities like “count the windmills of the offshore windpark off Bornholm´s coast”.
It is always good to read in advance. No matter if you travel with children or go somewhere new place. For the Baltic Sea there are plenty of guide, also sailing instructions, and the internet is bursting with travel blogs, marina guides and websites offering a wide selection of data. I keep my plan very detailed on the one hand to be able to fill a complete day and at the same time being flexible and open to changes, maybe due to weather, sea state or simply other circumstances forcing me to adapt. Even if in the end it turns out that each and every single day was different from what I had planned, it is good to have a plan. That is because I am sure changing a plan is much easier than to improvise on a daily basis.
Sea-day vs. land-day
Now, let´s take a closer look at the difference between a land day and a sea day. When aboard, ship is underway, safety for the kids is my utmost and biggest concern. As you may have read in a previous post, when I sail, my children must wear an automatic life jacket and are tied up and connected via life line to the boat. That, of course, limits their radius of action to a very small circle. Because of the fact that my boat is a fast racer-cruiser, and a small one too, they cannot do much on board than to sit with us in the cockpit or go down and do something in the (very small) saloon. That means I have to bridge the long sailing hours and try to excite them, deviate them from boredom. This is achieved through dedicated tasks I came up with.
For each day, my kids will receive duties and assignments. Real work, I shall say, no kid´s bullshit. For my oldest son who will turn eight in a few months, steering the boat will be an exciting task. Now you shall say that holding a tiller and try to drive the boat in a straight line is boring, but remember: He is a small child. Being at the control of such a big thing like a boat that is going fast through the waves indeed is as exciting as it can get for a boy! And it is not just steering: It´s also trying to out-manoeuvre waves, holding a course by checking numbers on the compass, watching out for obstacles in the water, avoiding traffic and even look for the landmass to finally come up over the horizon. A sea-day is indeed exciting because kids will do adult-stuff on the boat – as there is no kid´s stuff there.
Of course, my son won´t be able to concentrate on steering for the duration of a full watch (and Mr. Autopilot will do most of the time the steering), but anyway, that does not matter: Even if it´s only 15 or 25 minutes, the impact on him will be great, his impression will be much deeper and he will feel like as if he had steered the boat for days. It´s about creating excitement, commitment and overwhelming impressions of adventure and fun. A boat is the perfect place. Now this all is stress. Pure stress for a small man. To keep levels low and allow for true recreation it is then necessary, to let the kids “cool” off and allowing them to be kids again: Land days are fun, running riot, be on playgrounds and do things which are not adult at all. For that, of course, you need to know where to go on the island. Every now and then, a simple day at the beach will also be a perfect thing.
Kids are a part of the crew
In all this I am sure that it is important to treat kids aboard – at least partially – as a normal part of the crew. They are not guests and certainly not “cargo”. If you do that, they will easily get bored and will reject the idea of sailing as a great occasion. Kids want to learn, they want to participate, to understand and to contribute something to a greater cause. If you deny them a proper task, it will be hard to excite them for sailing. By the way, the boredom and the fact that nothing at all can be done is the big reason – I think – that kids often do not like driving in a car.
So, what can we do. Well, I already have written about it but here I want to dive a bit deeper. I first of all have assigned permanent duties to my kids. The small one is “Safety Officer” of the GEKKO. What does that mean? He is responsible for overseeing that all crew-members are wearing their life jackets properly and in time (before casting off). He is to check the adults and his brother and the boat cannot leave the quay up until he gave his okay. That is a very important task – no child´s play – and my son perfectly understands that. He accepts this task and is really proud and engaged to fulfill it.
The other son, he is 7 years now and just finished first grade, so he is capable of reading and writing, received his own logbook. Hi task is, every day in conclusion, to re-capitulate what was done and where we have been and to formulate a proper log-entry. He writes this into his book. This is additionally rounded up by a “picture of the day” which is to be taken by my younger son (now 5 years) with a Polaroid action cam with an instant picture – Instax by Fujifilm. He can decide which motive is the “pic of the day” and is instructed not to waste the film on useless stuff but to decide when to take the picture and what the motive shall be.
In addition, on my big family trip plan, I have also thought of the whole trip in advance. For each day, just according to the area we are sailing in, the harbors we get to land our boat into or the sceneries we pass, I came up with a couple of tasks my kids should fulfill: Playfully, with a lot of fun. It´s adventurous, fun and always bringing something new on the table. For example, I will have one task stating “Collect a some sand from each beach we arrive to and glue the samples to the log. What can you see?”, or: “Try to find a shell of the rare white-red conch”, or: “What does the flag of Bornholm look like? Paint one.” My aim is that the kids are not overwhelmed by tasks but to bridge the “boring” parts of the trip when we are on the boat for four, five or sic hours. Other than that, we will make sure that the kids will have the chance to run riot when on land, led bikes to see inland stuff like old knight´s castles and ruins or just spend a day at the beach or the playground. Nevertheless, I will treat them as proper crew when on board.
Sailing should be fun
Sailing indeed is a serious matter. When offshore, it is potentially dangerous and if the weather gets bad it can quickly become dead serious as well. I won´t hide this fact from the kids and try to make them aware of where we are and what we are doing. But I will also open their eyes for the absolute freedom, the beauty of nature, the fascination of wind-powered propulsion and marine wildlife. They have their own kid´s binoculars and will be able to discover the sailing world and the matters of the sea by their own. It will be great fun, I am sure, and an unforgettable start for my kids into – I hope – a series of many more sailing trips to come for them.
Learning, trying out, taking over responsibility, seeing new things and doing exciting stuff aboard a real boat that crosses a real “ocean” and sails to a real island: Which kid can tell such a story in kindergarten or school? I will push them to discover and understand the matters of the sea: Learning the compass, understanding how the wind is born and how a sailboat works. It will be our first real sailing trip as a family and for me the conclusion of years of slow, little, tiny steps, of reading seafarer´s stories to the kids and bringing them to marinas and aboard boats ever so slightly. Now it´s a big first – and hopefully for them a fun, exciting and unforgettable vacation. Let´s cast off – I will most certainly keep you, dear reader, posted on how this first family sailing trip turned out in the end.
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