For families planning a long-term sailing trip, the pre-teen years are probably the best. But as Aimee Nance, discovered, tweens come with their own set of challenges
We deliberately chose set sail with our daughters when they were 9 and 11. We figured that at these ages the girls still wanted to hang out with us, could help contribute to our adventures and remember spectacular memories.
Sure, we set our ‘Set Sail’ date so that Phil and I could both turn 40 in Mexico, but a far bigger consideration was getting out of Dodge before boobs, braces, and boyfriends.
There were still challenges, of course. And the challenges faced will be different for different family. But these are the general tricks we learned to make sailing with tweens as stress-free as possible.
Because we were sailing for a long time, and because our girls had always had their own private space, we knew it would be important to continue giving them their own space by way of separate cabins. Finding a boat with spacious cabins, and a list of other essential amenities all within our price range was a challenge. We eventually found Terrapin and while we love her, if it were just the two of us sailing, we'd have bought a much different boat!
While not everyone can provide separate cabins for children on board, there are other ways to give your kids space. We purchased a sailing dinghy for our girls as a way to help teach our daughters more about sailing and to provide a way for them to have their own space. If ever one of the girls needs their own space, they just hop in the dinghy and go!
It’s something every boatkid dreams of doing.... learn how to drive the dingy sans mum and dad. The girls have permission (weather permitting) to hop in the dingy and go whenever we are being lame.
One purpose of our major lifestyle change, was just that – change. Except for a few Kindle Fires that the girls use primarily for homeschool, we have replaced any ‘typical gadget with hobbies. Instead of a Nintendo DS or iPad, our girls have with fishing poles, spear guns, snorkel gear, kayaks, surfboards and other fun items.
We're thankful that Jessica wakes up and greets the sunrise with a fishing pole in hand. She talks about her lures like most girls her age talk about boys; some are cute, dull, flashy, or reliable.
One of the biggest fears about sailing off with kids of any age is that they won't have any friends to socialize with. I assure you, that even in areas of the world people would claim to be remote, there's almost always other kids to play with.
Boatkids make fast friends. Our girls have great friends ranging from 2 to 15 years old. This experience has given them the understanding that it's the quality of friends, not quantity, that really counts – a lesson that takes most of us decades to grasp.
Some cruising areas are more conducive to socialization that others. La Cruz, Mexico is a boatkid heaven. During both the seasons we spent in Mexico, our girls had a fantastic time running around with newly made friends. What makes Marina La Cruz so kid and cruiser friendly is their PR director, Kat. Each season, Kat has set up a kids club, allowing them to create kid events, swap toys or books and have a sense of kid community.
Phil and I are not the only ones directing our adventures – they are driven by the four of us. Our girls are actively involved in deciding where we go, what we see and sailing our boat. We have learned to sail Terrapin as a family and from this experience we work as a cohesive team, providing skills to our girls that will serve them later in life. Our adventures have also proven to help Jessica with her anxiety – a condition that some parents might use a reason to not take on such an endeavour.
We actually stole this phrase from some of our best friends. Basically, every now and again, we do something regardless of whether the girls are interested in doing it or not.
Like waking up at 6am to hike one-mile straight up the side of a dormant volcano. The girls aren’t always thrilled about what we're doing at the time (and sometimes won't speak to us for a few hours after). But they are always happy later to have been pushed to do something they really didn't want to do. Hence, ‘mandatory fun.’
We also have a "You need to try it once" rule with food. Jessica tried sashimi once and now can’t get enough of it. Emma is now willing to armwrestle anyone for an avocado.
We are currently Stateside, getting ready for another sailing season, something each of us is looking forward to. In the short amount of time spent on our boat, we each can agree that we're better for the experiences we have shared together.
Aimee Nance is currently 'cruising' around the world with her young family. You can follow their adventures on Sailing with Terrapin.