Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What’s the ‘Point of Sail’? A Q&A.

What got us interested in cruising with our kids?  
When Ann and I lived in Sausalito on our Cal 40, we met teenagers who had grown up on boats.   They seemed to be comfortable being around adults, respectful, and showed an interest in life and others.  We remember spotting two teenage friends who were running across a parking lot on a Friday night.   We shouted to them, and they looked like they’d been caught grabbing cookies.   But they were just excited about getting off work and to sail little El Toros in the Bay at night.  Their classmates may have been at home or mixing at a crowded party.   These two chose adventure, night sky, freedom.

How do our children like cruising?
Smiles and enthusiasm.   Henry, 9 years old,  fishes and sees the ocean as his backyard, watches fishermen harvest shellfish and fish, and runs the dinghy to visit coves, friends’ boats or a beach like its his own set of wheels.  He’ll troll a line for hours or take half an hour brushing his teeth over the rail while watching  the morning schools of fish scurry around the hull.   

There are several cruisers with kids, and we tend to orbit the same anchorages.  Their ages don’t matter.   Chandler, 10 years old, met Zada (5) on Eyoni and
bonded on sleepovers, cupcake bake outs, jewelry making, hair styling, fingernail painting and Littlest Pet Shop, and even hide and seek in the V-berth!.   Henry also runs outside his age with 4 to 14 year olds.   They’ve all got the same interests: dinghies, speed, and catching fish.   They’ve all got stories (toilet seat diving behind a dinghy!) and they are all fascinated in the other’s adventures; some day, it could be their’s.   These kids are all in the same “boat”. 

What do you do about school?
It is said that if you create the environment for learning, a child will learn.   Sailing, like a farm, or camping in the mountains is a learning environment.    We schedule a little of the usual:   math, reading, and writing.   We have our kids practice Spanish also.    Around noon, we each give reports: what we did, how we did it, what we didn’t do, and why not.   Then lunch and we jump in with reading classics to them and playing cards and games like Scrabble, Set, Bananagrams, backgammon, chess.   There are chores each morning before breakfast.  And for misbehavior?  Stuff 7 pieces of trash into a plastic bottle.  This compacts the trash, keeps down odors.   Henry however finds pleasure in taking a screw driver and pliers and cramming stuff into a hole.  

What is it like being together on a 35’ sail boat?
There seems to be some good mojo to raising kids on board.  Is it the closeness?  Is it an awareness that it takes each person to keep a cruise going?  Maybe its that something as personal as showering becomes an outside sport (in swim suits) because everyone has to plunge in and scrub together off the back of the boat.   There is no “walking away” from problems.  Everyone is needed at some point whether for launching the dinghy, carrying food back to the boat, or making sure something is tied down or safe on the boat.    You learn to put any discouragement or anger aside for more important focuses to find a solution to keep your boat safe.   It’s not just about you; your crew needs you.  

I lived in Japan in minimal space for 14 years.  On weekends, I’d see kids on the train at night returning to their homes after a long day out in town at the park or some hip-hop, shopping street -- their hair spiked or streaked, costume-dressed as street fighters or Bikers and girls made up as Go-Go girls to malt shop and saddle shoes of the 50’s.   And I’d wonder, “What happens to all that “image” as they crowd back into a train of the everyday conforming dress and manners now so close and surrounding them in the train?”   And when they reach their stop,  the narrow streets  funnel everyone down its traditional alleys with customary sounds of bathwater splashing on the ofuro tiles and the steady sliding sound of  aluminum door covers closing up for the night; and the smell of yakitori and straw tatami mats replace perfume and hairspray and leather jackets.   Then the front door is opened and all the teens’ shoes: boots, heels, stylishly torn  sneakers, are all removed and in each house the word, “tadaima” is announced in a low voice  -- a centuries’ old password that says “I’m home”, and the automatic response, “Okaerinasai”  is muffled from the other side of the paper shoji door of a common living/dining room.     And now a family is there in a space too tight to continue the day’s play,  in a community too familiar to pretend away from, in a culture too much one’s self to shame.   The separation that allowed the day’s pageant is closed, and  reminders of tomorrow’s role as uniformed school kids are laid out like bath towels and soap.   The change is just another role to play to fit in the home front.          

And a boat isn’t much different – the narrowing passages that lead to this lifestyle create commonalities that we all find necessary for successful voyaging.   Despite what mixed backgrounds or careers we paraded at one time,  Mother Nature and boat maintenance (and friendships) are so central that everyone’s part has value, insight, niche expertise, camaraderie, and often a simple part for an otherwise impossible repair.  Regardless of whatever fashion, clique, or age group our children imagine themselves in, this  environment brings them back to their “tadaima”  of the innate importance of  family and respect for others.  

What special moments do you find?
There are moments that make parents smile that are moments completely originated from  kids.  Like when our kids figured out how to rig a halyard so they can swing out over the bow and land on the cabin soul like buccaneers because they saw it on a friends’ boat.   Like when our son and his 4 year old friend invited us to the bow to see the sails they’d  rigged up --- all made from bandanas, clothes clips, and fishing line because they’ve seen how the sails work when the boat is under way.

Like when the kids wrote their own poetry pieces because they heard someone recite some lines or because they liked the words written on an old sandal that was hung on the “sailor’s shrine” bush on shore.   Like when Henry will grab a slimy fish or run a hook through live bait, or slurp a raw clam because their friends do and there’s nothing like bringing home or making your own lunch.  

To hear a 4 year old tell his buddy Henry, “When I grow up, I’m going to have a Ketch and sail the Ohio River.”  To hear a 5 year old do perfect VHF radio protocol to hail Chandler, and then watch our daughter race out the cabin and jump into the dinghy and pull start the engine and race away to a play date.  To collect shells for hours together on a beach.   Whatever this boat culture is, it is taking hold; they are picking up an education; the trend is in building confidence and independence. 

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