Ten Thousand Miles of Summer



Kid-Friendly Boating Fun Around the World

Written by Nadine Slavinski

They say that goals are dreams with a deadline; all it takes is the willpower to let go of the familiar. I had harbored dreams of crossing an ocean under sail ever since I was a teenager, day sailing with my father and reading the likes of Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki. Many years later my husband, Markus, bought into the dream too, and together we set a deadline. We purchased a 1981, 35-foot Dufour sloop and secured leaves of absence from work– me from my teaching position at an international school, and Markus from his job at a major consulting firm. For Nicky, our inquisitive three-year-old son, the timing was just right for such a family adventure.

Markus dubbed our journey the ten thousand miles of summer. We started in Italy and sailed our sloop, Namani, to Greece to cruise the Ionian Islands and Cyclades for a month. After this we made our first long passage, to Malta. During the six-day crossing Nicky proved wonderfully adaptable, while Markus and I proved capable of round-the-clock three-hour watches in everything from contrary, force 7 winds to a more enjoyable beam reach. We then meandered down through Tunisia, Spain, Gibraltar, and the Canary Islands. The 26-day run across the Atlantic from the Spanish island of Lanzarote to Antigua in the Caribbean was equally as memorable as the Malta crossing, if not as smooth as we had hoped. The real highlight of our year was the four blissful months we spent cruising between Grenada and Puerto Rico. After that we turned north to Turks and Caicos, then up through Florida, the Carolinas, Virginia, and eventually to New England.

Was it difficult to adjust to life on board? Actually it was easier than I had expected. I quickly adapted to irregular sleeping hours and once again being a full-time mother. With no water-maker or refrigerator, we traded luxury for time and sweet simplicity. I collected rainwater from squalls and learned to bake bread; we created our own entertainment through excursions, books, and music. And along the way we learned countless new lessons, chief among them that a child and a boat are instant conversation starters and always an “in” with locals.

 Even though Nicky was pre-school age, learning still played an important role on the trip. We enjoyed endless projects: classifying seashells, dissecting fish, reading about the smoking volcanoes we visited. From steering the dinghy to helping change engine oil, Nicky was a dependable asset and enriched our own experiences through his unique perspective. “Mommy, the stars are closer at night,” he said in one priceless moment. I was delighted by how the sea pulled Nicky into a life in tune with nature.

When we finally sailed into sight of Portland Head Light in southern Maine, my sailing home waters, it was a bittersweet moment. The wistful dreams of a young girl had been turned into indelible memories, but our 10,000 miles of summer were coming to an end. During the voyage our family had stopped being a divisible three-part unit that scampered off in its own directions each morning; we had become a connected, committed whole working together to achieve common goals.

Now that we’ve been back for a while, my husband and I have set a deadline for our next dream: sailing across the Pacific. We look forward to taking our son cruising at an age when he will be even better equipped to appreciate the world’s lessons. The hardest part about living aboard a relatively small boat for a year? Not the close quarters, nor the Atlantic crossing, not even the uncertainty of a few tenuous anchorages. The hardest part was simply making the decision to go. From that point on, it was all smooth sailing.


Kid-Friendly Boating Fun

Perhaps the biggest thing to remember is that if you give kids meaningful tasks and  responsibilities to do while boating, they’ll enjoy it more.Here are other tips about how to keep your crew enthused about cruising.

  • Carve and decorate a swim noodle into a sea serpent, then tow it in your wake
  • Construct, decorate, and tow a small vessel, like the raft my son devoted half a day to.
  • Create a boating version of your favorite board game.
  • Classify shells collected on the beach using a good field guide.
  • A lesson in buoyancy using a lump of clay and a bucket of water
  • Hands-on physics using block-and-tackle.
  • Track and graph fuel or water consumption.
  • Study how the engine works.
  • Art projects inspired by the scenery or a subject on board.
  • Documenting your trip or illuminate a theme using a digital camera.
  • Story telling or writing; embellish your own boating experiences into a pirate adventure!
  • Study whales and dolphins or sea birds using a good field guide.

For more structured learning, refer tomy book, Lesson Plans Ahoy: Hands-On Learning for Sailing Children and Home Schooling Sailors.

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