With the new year and my traditional annual vacation on the Canary Islands (sadly) being over I am starting a new category of articles here on NO FRILLS SAILING.com – “Sailing with kids” will become a major topic here since my own kids are now growing older (thank god) and now with their growing maturity it is indeed becoming safer to take them on board with me. I will try to write down my experiences and put them in a right order so that newbie sailing parents might find it interesting to browse these articles.

Of course, as a skilled skipper it is always my first priority to insure the safety of all people aboard, including children. With this, you might find my 2 year old – nevertheless pretty up-to-date article on how a child´s life jacket is made helpful.

Breathtaking nature – how to get children excited for sailing?

Arriving on the Canarian Island of La Palma, standing at the rugged coast line and watching the mighty waves breaking on the volcanic rocks, one gets a pretty awesome impression on how powerful the seas are and which force lies inherent in water. For me as a dad I try to show my kids (two boys at the age of 6 and 3) exactly this: The awesomeness of nature, the fascination for it´s power and the beauty that lies in it. Also, at the same time, teaching them to be alert and respect the power, watch out for the dangers and develop a sense of how to protect themselves against the latter. During this holiday I thought: “Why not demonstrate these powers … on an actual boat?!”

Making a Raft from Flotsam and Jetsam

Easy said and done: As mom likes to sleep longer in the mornings and the boys get up so soon, I took them out on our daily morning “stone hikes”, as we used to call them. That´s half an hour, max one hour or strolling the stony beaches of La Palma, watching the waves, looking at the fiery-red crabs, seeing the fishermen eviscersating the catch of the day and – collecting flotsam. I told them that we were going to build a raft, an idea that was echoed by an excited “Yeah!” and glooming eyeballs.

Maiking the hull from flotsam, kids learning about stability

So, after two more stone hikes during which I had trained my boys to look for dry, straight hard wooden branches we had quite a good collection of floating timber. Of course, we tested each of these knobs if they would float in the first place. Which was a lesson of its own: My kids understood that there are certain “qualities” of timber and properties of which they hadn´t had a clue up to this point: There is floating and non-floating timber.  Back at home we bought some 100 metres of yarn (yepp, for such a small raft you will need this length!) and we began to make the raft.

Mast, backstays, rudder: How does a sailing boat work?

I showed them how to connect the individual branches with rope, making it tight and rigid. I also could show them what a keel and which task a stringer has to fulfill. I can tell you: If you incorporate your kids into a task like making a raft, let them do things, experiment and explain, you can spend hours. As a parent I found it very much rewarding to see the kids being this engaged and willing to learn: By garnishing my “lessons” with stories, for example about Thor Hyerdahl´s KON TIKI adventure, you can also light up some little sparks which will be very fruitful for their imagination and the seed for great dreams.

Attaching a square sail and the sheets – let´s go!

After two building days which included making the “hull” of the raft we stepped the mast – not just a piece of wood by a double-mast with speaders, two self-made wire-woven backstays and a forestay. We converted an old jute sack in which I used to carry some shoes (NO plastic in the seas!) to act as a suqre sail and finally attached a halyard and two sheets as the running rigging. A rudder blade was installed later and last but not east some flags attached: The Hamburg flag at the back and the guest flag of the Canary Islands (with colors in wrong order) self-painted by my kids. In this model I was able to explain and actually show all the essential parts of a sailing boat to the children. And better than that, I was able to have them experienced by themselves how a boat works and why those parts are needed.

Maiden Voyage of the self-made Raft

We got seemingly attached to the boat up to a point that the kids wanted to have the raft “sleeping” in their bed rather than letting it alone in the dark outside on the terrace of our holiday home: Another lesson, the emotional attachment to a boat. I explained to the kids that boats should always get a female name. So my younger son proposed the name of his most favorite girl in kindergarten. Just as the sun came down on the other day, mom had to christen our raft to the name of DILARA and we agreed to have her launched and sailing off to the ocean the next morning.

Capsized, drifting away: Lesson learned?

It was perfectly clear to me that DILARA wouln´t be able to survive the long, harsh surf even in the calmer morning-mood of the Atlantic Ocean but there was a last lesson to be learned – the power of the seas. So, when I let her out into the water, putting her right to the wind, she actually had her sail filled with wind and sped off. Much longer she survived and much farther she managed to sail when finally a wave caught her and make her capsize. Of course, the kids were down, but they also saw that sailing is serious business. “Daddy, what does a helmsman do?”, asked one of the boys. And I thought: Well done! Let´s move on to the next chapter.


Other articles on selfmade boats:

A Class 40 racing yacht from cardboard

Making a Class Mini from plywood