Sail Baby Sail!
There we were on the sweetest of beam reaches, our big yellow spinnaker was like a team of racehorses, hauling us across the sun speckled water, the wake was hissing from the stern. I finally had the mainsail trimmed just perfectly and all of the telltales were flying straight out. We were southbound in our trusty C&C 27, “Zia” heading for the Choptank on as fine a summer day as the Chesapeake can produce. As I reached for my drink on the pedestal holder, I was horrified to hear a cry from below decks, “Joe, your turn to change her diaper – and you might want to bring your gas mask”. Ah well, the rock star reluctantly turns over the wheel and slinks below to attend to the task at hand. While I’m down in the V berth taking care of business with a squirming 18 month old I can hear my wife Christy re-trimming the main. I can just imagine the smile of joy on her face as she squeezes an extra tenth of a knot out of her.
Sailing with children is a subject with which we are fast becoming familiar. We took a three day cruise last year when our daughter was 6 months old and it was a fine success. Of course at that age she probably didn’t know if she was in her crib or on a sailboat. This year we knew it was going to be different – anyone who has ever spent a day chasing a toddler around the house will understand. Christy was also 7 months pregnant and not her usual nimble self on the boat.
BOAT stands for “Break Out Another Thousand”
The first order of business was setting up Zia to be as kid friendly as possible. No easy task when you consider that a sailboat is a rocking, heeling and jumping conglomeration of hard fiberglass and metal surrounded by that most deadly substance, water. Since Zia is on the far side of 20 years old, we figured the lifelines would be a good place to start. They were yellow and cracked with age and showed traces of rust at the swages. We struck a deal with Fawcetts to bring them the old set as a template for the new ones. They were on time, on budget and did a great job, and happily we didn’t dent our “thousand” too badly.
We then purchased enough nylon safety netting to go around the boat. Installation was simple after we hit upon the trick of weaving the top lifeline in and out of the safety netting to hold it up. After a pathetic attempt at marlinespike knotwork we discovered a stash of plastic cable ties that answered admirably for attaching the bottom of the netting to the slotted toe rail. We tensioned the netting so that it was good and tight so that the baby would bounce off rather than get tangled up. We had to get creative and work around the netting to set up the genoa and spinnaker blocks as well as the dock lines but after some trial and error it all fell into place. We also bought a windscoop to funnel wind down the forward hatch at anchor. We should have gotten one of those long ago, they’re easy to set up and really effective. Since we had sprung for a bimini last year, the only other external job was to cut a piece of thick cushiony carpet to fit the cockpit floor.
Cassie has always worn a life vest on the boat so that was not really a problem. We didn’t scrimp on the purchase of a Mustang Li’l Legend which garnered Practical Sailor’s (June ’99) highest rating. This is one of the most effective, and almost as important, comfortable vests on the market. We have a rule that when she is below decks she doesn’t have to wear it.
There’s only room for so many toys
Setting up the inside of the boat was a little easier. We brought down an expandable kid gate to block off the V berth. We then lined the berth with pillows and comforters until there were very few hard surfaces for Cassie to roll into. I have to say it looked inviting to me, I just hoped it looked inviting to Cassie.
What to bring and what not to bring, that was the question. After asking around we got a great variety of hints from other cruisers. The advice ranged from “buy a 12V TV and VCR” (we absolutely refuse) to “get a babysitter and leave her at home”. We settled on bringing a nice sized bag of soft toys and books although it turned out that a Lewmar winch handle was her favorite toy. One other tip that was invaluable was to get a bucket to fill with water and let her play in the cockpit. That was a huge but wet success. Food was no problem since she basically eats what we eat these days with the exception of whole milk.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, a week before departure, we went for a trial run. It was horrible, a real trial you might say. The second she got on the boat she started whining and fussing. It seemed that no amount of distraction could cheer her up. We divided our time between trying to sail the boat and keep Cassie occupied. After three hours we came home exhausted and discouraged. Maybe she was just having a bad day – it’s happened before. She has been sailing a few dozen times although generally for only an hour or two. Well, kids have lived through much worse situations than cruising the Chesapeake so like it or not she’s going to live on this boat for 3 days. We decided at this point to leave the dog at home since we knew we would have little opportunity or desire to row the pooch ashore. One less distraction to deal with.
Underway … and she likes it!
Cassie was in a much better mood when we cast off for the trip. After about half an hour of motoring we were cruising in 10 knots of sea breeze. Cassie had the run of the ship – with mom or dad always within lunging distance just in case. The netting worked great, Cassie would hold the lifelines and work her way up to the bow and then back down the other side. A few bumps and stubbed toes on cleats and shrouds were all she suffered, but hey, this is sailing after all.
When it was mealtime and we were underway, she ate below on the cushions spread out all over the floor of the cabin. We also lowered the dinette table so she had a double berth to play on. She had a great time watching our friends Ray and Joni sing her the jumping bean song from the leeward rail of their Tartan 34 “Morgie” sailing alongside. Cassie smiled wide as she clenched the lifelines and jumped up and down in time to the song.
At anchor the first evening in Grace Creek she went to bed at her usual time and mom and dad stayed up late after dinner grinning like idiots and stargazing. The next day we just relaxed on board. We swam, played in the water bucket ,took dinghy rides and generally just hung out. Our friends weighed anchor around noon to go tour Oxford while Cassie was still napping. Adhering to that parents mantra of “never wake a sleeping baby”, we decided that we’d wait for her to wake up and rendezvous with them later that night at LaTrappe creek.
Sailing up to LaTrappe Creek we decided that this boat life was getting to be business as usual. Cassie would eat, sleep and play just as though she was at home. She did seem to miss the dog and her crayons (I had to draw the line at bringing crayons) but overall she seemed completely contented. Christy and I would switch between sailing the boat and Cassie duty. When she slept or entertained herself down below it was just like old times with both of us on deck and sailing.
A near T-Bone
Rafting up with some power boater friends in La Trappe creek later that evening we had a close call. I was steering and Christy was on the port bow getting ready to toss a line to our friends who were anchored in a big honking condo-sized powerboat. Just at the critical moment Cassie, who was clutching the lifelines near the cockpit, let out a shriek that meant real pain. My choices ran instantly through my head, grab for my daughter and risk t-boning this huge powerboat or let her wail. I took the risk and stretched out to grab the handle on the back of her life vest. I hoisted her into the carpeted cockpit sole while only losing touch with the wheel for a second or two and managed to avoid giving our friends on the powerboat a fiberglass kiss. Cassie had fallen and wedged herself between a winch and a cleat but she was just fine; two beers later, so was I.
The sail home the next day took from 0900 to 1500 and was absolutely glorious. Christy and I were more relaxed and Cassie was definitely more of a treat than a burden. She was the star of the show cruising through Knapps Narrows as she waved and smiled at all of the land lubbers on shore. Cassie learned a few new nautical phrases and words like wake, wave, bridge and sailboat. How can you go wrong if you get to fly your spinnaker for three hours straight while your daughter sleeps for two of them. This is how family sailing should be.
The V-Crib is the key
We feel that having the V berth (V-crib now) kidproof and safe was really the key to a successful cruise for us. We were able to plop her down below for a nap just like we could plop her in her crib at home. Heeled to port or starboard, she was safe. Happily, she adapted to the V-crib and treated it just like she would her home crib. Before we set sail, we decided that if we had any emergencies that demanded both of us (except for an imminent collision), one of us would stash Cassie in the V-crib and then haul butt back on deck to help out. We could then handle the problem knowing she was out of harm’s way and if she cried, we could live with that until the crisis was over.
We still need to clean the Oreo’s and bananas out of the non-skid below decks but overall, the trip was an unqualified success. We now have the courage to plan an even longer cruise for the future.
Joe and Christy Boyle sail their C&C27 “Zia” on the Chesapeake our of Annapolis. This article was originally published in Spinsheet Magazine.