Over the past year and a half, people have asked us either;
What's the "best" age for children to set sail ? OR
How can I entice my preteen to leave their current life behind for a sailing adventure?
There is no good answer.
I would say the "best" age would be determined by whether or not you plan to actively cruise versus living on a boat docked in a slip. For us, sailing off with the intent to cover thousands of nautical miles didn't include babies or toddlers in tow.
We purposely set sail with daughters ages 9 & 11. At these ages, the girls still wanted to hang out with us, could help contribute to our adventures and remember spectacular memories. I remember putting together a "set sail" date that was specifically chosen so that we would both turn 40 in Mexico and more importantly we were trying to get out of dodge before boobs, braces, and boyfriends.
What's the trick to getting preteens onboard...literally? While everyone is different, here was our approach.
For us, we knew that the longevity of sailing was going to be related to how much fun we were having. We felt that because our girls had always had their own private space, it was important for us to continue giving them their own space by way of separate cabins. Attempting to find a boat with spacious cabins, with a list of other amenities all in our price range was a challenge. We eventually found Terrapin and have never second guessed our purchase. Don't get me wrong, if we were sailing just the two of us, we'd have a much different boat!
|Move in day aboard Terrapin|
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, hop in the dinghy and go!
Something every boatkid is eager to do.... learn how to drive the dingy sans mom and dad. The girls have permission (weather permitting) to hop in the dingy and go whenever mom and dad are being lame.
One purpose of our major lifestyle change, was just that...change. Minus a few Kindle Fires that the girls use primarily for homeschool, we have replaced any "typical" gadget with hobbies. (Good luck finding a TV aboard Terrapin). We suggest replacing gadgets 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 often talks about her lures like most girls her age talk about boys; some are cute, dull, flashy, or reliant.
|Emma and Phil spear fishing on a daddy daughter date|
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. Like cruisers, 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.
|Tuesday night slumber party on Terrapin|
Some cruising areas are more conducive to socialization that others .... La Cruz, Mexico is a boatkid heaven. Both seasons while 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 net, allowing them to create kid events, swap toys or books and have a sense of kid community.
|Jessica, being announced as the seasons first kid net controller|
KEEP THEM INVOLVED
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 (we were not skilled sailors prior to setting sail) 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 anxiety, a condition some parents might use a reason to not take on such an endeavor.
|Washing the decks in the rain|
"MANDATORY FUN" !
We actually stole this phrase from some of our best friends. Every now and then we implement "mandatory fun". Regardless if our girls are interested in the event we want to pursue...they're doing it! It's highly unlikely that your child will suggest waking up at 6am to hike one mile straight up the side of a dormant volcano to capture a breathtaking view before the days intense heat will have you feeling like you're melting. That's where "mandatory fun" comes into play. We implement mandatory fun every few weeks....and while they're not always thrilled about what we're doing at the time (and sometimes won't speak to us for a few hours after) our girls are always happy later to have been pushed to do something they really didn't want to do. We also have the, "You need to try it once" theme with food. Jessica tried sashimi once and fell in love. Emma is now willing to arm wrestle 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.