I managed to bring up two children with not much more adventure than an odd camping trip here and there. I barely remember those trips, but one does hold strong in my memory of being severely washed out of the tent, where daughter and father moved themselves into the car for the remainder of the severe rain storm that night.
I often compare camping to sailing, and although one might be surprised the latter is often much dryer. We had a few summers of sailing under our belts on Rainbow before adding a soon to be 4-year old to our crew. Modifications had to be made and strict rules enforced and we consequently ended up with a delightful summer of sailing.
The previous summer we had two young lads, Jake and Jai who came on trips with us and I would put them up on the floor in the cabin to sleep at night. That sleeping arrangement was fine for occasional overnight trips, but with Layton being the type of child we knew he was, (who loved to sleep in and stay up late), he needed something out of our way and not at all under foot. We needed to be able to travel safely while he slept in.
We were rather reluctant to drop our galley table down to make a bed as our dinette seating arrangement was so different than any other Vancouver 25 and extremely convenient for us. We figured it was the only solution to the sleeping arrangement. The pilot berth hadn’t seen its mattress for three years, and that area was the spot for our cooler/fridge, sails, and everything else too large to store elsewhere. It wasn’t an option for a three year old at all. Also, he was a bit overwhelmed by the difference on a boat and we discovered quickly that he needed someone to lay down with him at night. That someone would be me. The table was dropped, I added a honeycomb sponge on top of the mattress, then a thick mattress cover, sheets and covers and we were set to go!
Storage under the table/bed now doubled, as we no longer needed to keep it open for sitting. I could still easily access my pantry in behind and on top of the seat, so the move from table to bed didn’t cause any access issues. Just no longer had a table. Minor point. A folding table would work fine. So now the child had a space of his own. We could share it with him, but everyone needs a space they call their own. Layton became so comfortable with sleeping in each morning we traveled, that when we stayed in a place for more than one night he would be surprised when he awoke that nothing had changed!
I purchased a clear plastic container, with a lid and fold down handle for his clothing and an assortment of small toys he had on board. Under the bed it went. He could easily access anything. His pajama storing spot became a spot under the mattress. I found a new friend for him, a pillow brown stuffed dog, which turned from a pillow into a dog with a velcro strap, whom he named “Bone.” Bone served as a puppet at times when he “needed” to discuss issues, only a 3 yr old would have. Scared, missing mommy, bored, etc. We watched movies on Netflix with an internet connection, watched DVDs or read books until bed time. Most times I fell asleep before him, while he was playing games on the iPad.
Meal preparation didn’t change much as he is a perpetual snacker, only eats when he is “starving,” and never hungry enough for the same thing we are eating. I did have to add more drinks and snacks to the pantry though! I had a plastic “beer” bucket designed for lots of ice, with a wide brim and not very tall, that was a promotional item. It was small enough to fit under the bottom step from the cabin to the cockpit. That became the snack stash where he could help himself, when he asked first. His “auntie” added fun stuff like fruit snacks and suckers, but I had raisins, breakfast bars and individual packaged cookies for him to grab when the urge hit. He really had no preference over one or the other. We discovered quickly that tetra drinks or anything with a built in straw was the best for him. Easily captured with minimal spillage when it fell over.
Life lines are a necessity on a boat. Especially for children. We opted to not add netting. I once read a story where a person put too much emphasis on netting and allowed his two-year old to roam around the boat unsupervised without a life jacket. The child somehow slipped (or crawled) underneath the netting, fell overboard without anyone noticing and drowned. The boat was at a dock. There is no safety measures that substitute for supervision. Personally, from experience I believe supervision is the primary concern one should have with a child on a boat. Life jackets are your emergency back-up.
Layton quickly learned the rules of the road. He knew that when we told him to do something, like move away or hang on tight, to do it right away. He mastered the companionway stairs quickly. He knew he couldn’t come up to the cockpit without his life jacket on. He knew he couldn’t roam around the boat, unless it was at a mooring, anchored or docked. He knew he couldn’t stand up on his bed while under sail. He also knew he had to watch for flying objects! His safety was our prime concern and he made us very proud.
Although I shouldn’t be surprised, toys are easy to find for children. While still in the boat yard, he played in what he thought was a sand pile, with a small plastic container and a spoon. The next trip, I brought along a bucket and shovel.
Boat children crave other children to play with. It tends to be the only child syndrome. When we were at shore, especially at a yacht club where there were sailing lessons and loads of children, Layton would want to be near them on their breaks. Although, they were invariably always much older than him, he would still strike up conversations. Having our small 9 lb peekapom dog did give him a playmate, if he was desperate and at least a companion to push around, like you would a younger sibling.
Prior to putting the boat in the water, Layton had plenty of time to explore shorelines at the marina which allowed me to easily observe his sense of carefulness. He didn’t seem to do anything out of the ordinary. Listened to simple instructions and didn’t take any unnecessary risks.
Layton loved going to shore and the first time we anchored and went to an island, Michael jumped off the dinghy to pull us up to shore. The water was well over Layton’s head, but he took that same “man overboard” signal and jumped off too! He was wearing his life jacket, but it did give me a scare. After that swim to shore, all he wanted to do was play in the sand and explore the small crescent beach! The difficult time was to get him off. He figured he was planted and saw no reason to ever move. With all that space, why on earth would anyone want to go back into a small boat? I suppose next time, we could bring a tent!
The summer was a magical ride for him. As each destination, held wonders beyond his belief. Even playing the part of a pirate was second nature to him resulting in long lasting memories. Every chance he had he wanted to visit with his older friends Jake and Jai in Chester.
Everything was wonderful, when it was sunny out, but what do you do when it rains? No matter what the weather, children want to be outside to watch the action. One year we just put up a small tarp over the boom. This past summer, we purchased a boat umbrella which hoists up with a halyard.
The next summer we planned to add a gazebo cover to our boat. but bought a sunshade instead to protect from both sun and rain. It is more stable than the blue tarp shown in the photo.
Although Layton’s favourite toy was the iPad when he was young, he quickly put that aside, if we were anywhere he spotted a playground. It didn’t matter how hot it is outside, I only had to be prepared to have plenty of drinks and a book to read and make sure I didn’t forget a blanket to sit on, while he played on the swings, slides and tried every thing there was to try out. There was always a predictable incident that happened, when I tried to pull him away from play ground equipment and usually it was the mosquitos at dusk that made him agree that we must go back to the boat.