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I have often wondered if sailing has been - on the whole - such a good experience for my five children. Has it contributed to their behaviour (reasonable so far) if not their character (good so far)? I think it must have contributed to a sense of tidiness because on a boat everything has its place and if it isn't put back then it can't be found again when it is needed in a hurry, or at the first puff of wind it slides off the table and breaks or spills all over the place. Sailing is to do with being orderly rather than disorderly. And obeying orders from the skipper (also known usually as Dad but sometimes as Mum, who at home is less often obeyed), a trait honed by much bedtime reading of Swallows and Amazons and the now out of print Little Tim books by Edward Ardizonni. Later, Patrick O'Brian comes into play. Also, family sailing must contribute to a sense of relying on each other, particularly in times of not exactly danger but at least some anxiety. After all when Dad is at the mast trying to reef and Mum is hanging on to the tiller is not a good time for a child to demand instant attention. Also the children have to become self reliant and competent in all kinds of quite small things like tying knots (so a good knots and splicing book is a must), securing the tender on the stern, cleating sheets and so on.
Of course the whole experience of sailing in the Hebrides gives the children an amazing close up introduction to wild life (birds, seals, dolphins, jellyfish, flowers and whatever) and just appreciating wild and beautiful places in what I hope is an ecologically acceptable way (although I do worry about the antifouling, but then I have got an electric outboard motor to compensate but in any event hardly use it preferring to row, and teach the children to row too).
And what to reply to those families that do their 'sailing' in the Mediterranean or even the Caribbean and who cannot imagine swimming in Scotland? Buy wetsuits and go snorkelling.
What does one do with the little darlings when they get bored? Curiously that seems less of a problem while sailing than on land where just sitting in the same place and doing very little would be unheard of, particularly without a TV or DVD player, or ipod touch. It would be unheard of me too. It must be something to do with the rhythm of the sea. On a wet day in the cabin it is down to games of whatever takes their normal fancy, jigsaws (of nautical scenes of course), drawing and colouring in, card games, dominos. A CD player or an ipod is an essential item, for stories and songs. Try cooking cakes, bread, dinner, anything really. Reading to them can pass lots of time, but do chose books that you enjoy too (Arthur Ransome is an obvious choice, and Harry Potter although I personally have never really got on with him). Of course once they read for themselves, even if it seems and probably is literary junk, your problem is solved. Really just do what you normally do at home but without recourse to the TV or laptop if possible. A kindle is help as long as it isn't dropped overboard.
A wonderful tip from New Zealand friends is to give the children a goal, skills and an interest. So produce certificates that each child has to work through: cabin boy or girl, ship's boy or girl, second mate, first mate and so on (not skipper of course!). You can make up your own curricula but to give you some ideas, click here. In fact I don't believe the older children ever finished them before they were on to their real RYA dinghy sailing qualifications.
And bring along their friends, provided their parents are up for the risk!
There are of course several books written about coping with children on boats. I think the most informative is not a 'how to do it' book but 'One Summer's Grace' by Libby Purves, 1989, and widely available as a paperback. Her emotions and views about sailing around the UK with her two children aged three and five at the time, and her husband, are incredibly helpful to those who struggle with just a trip round the bay.
I am often asked if my children enjoy the sailing. Silly question. I have never asked in case I get the answer I don't want.
Off for a girly gossip
Take wet suits for swimming in Scotland
Look, no hands!