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12 Questions to 12 Sailing Families

S/V Ceilydh Wood's 40' Meander catamaran - Homeport: Vancouver, Canada

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Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Photo copyright Jodine Baluk

Diane Selkirk & Evan Gatehouse + Maia (8) - This Canadian couple is outward bound on their second cruising adventure, this time with a 7-year-old daughter. They are now cruising Mexico. - More about the CEILYDH family

Click on a question or scroll down this page

1. The biggest challenge you faced in getting out there?   7. A great moment?
2. Is there a best age to take children cruising?   8. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?
3. Any modifications to the boat for your child?   9. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?
4. Any advice for would-be sailing families?   10. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES?
5. A typical day on board?   11. What do you like BEST / LEAST about cruising?
6. What are your kid's responsibilities aboard?   12. Has cruising changed your family?

Update (2015)

The CEILYDH Family 5 years later...


1. What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting out there?

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse   Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Maia was 3 when we started working on the boat--so for years she thought all boats were construction zones and was surprised that some people actually sailed theirs.   Goodbye! Our boat CEILYDH being pushed off by friends in Canada.


This is our second time cruising, the first time Evan and I went was before we had Maia, when we were in our 20's.

We learned then that the trick to actually leaving is staying focused on the goal and not getting hung up on having a perfect boat or a perfect situation before you go. There will be time to work on the boat once you get out.

That said, we pretty much built our boat (we chopped up our catamaran with a chainsaw and went from there…) It took 5 years when we expected 2. It was exhausting and really hard on our family life.

It was vital that we took time just to enjoy ourselves—so we still took holidays, had BBQ's and went out with friends. It wasn't as frequent as it should have been, but we still tried.

2. How old was your child when you left? Is there a best age to take children cruising?

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Maia was 7 when we left on this boat.

Maia was born on our last boat and it was fun having an infant and toddler at the dock—but I personally would have had a tough time cruising with her when she was that little.

There are so many moments when cruising when a boat needs two people—and the kids need to manage on their own. I would have been really torn by the need to leave my baby and care for the boat.

Maia was 7 when we left on this boat—it's really been ideal.

She's old enough to be independent—and do all the cool cruiser kid activities, but she's still little enough that she's filled with wonder.

I think anywhere between 5-12 is pretty ideal, but we have met kids both younger and older who are having a great time.

All questions

3. Did you make modifications to the boat for your children?

We made sure Maia had her own space.

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Maia and friends playing in her forward play area.
It's a separate space than her bunk.

Space for the kids doesn't need to be huge—but I think they need a place that is their own.

Somewhere that doesn't need to be tidied up to make a table, or shared with someone else.

Maia has a curtain that we added to her berth once we were underway—it gives her a place where she can go and hang out with a friend, or alone and still feel like she has a bedroom.

4. Any advice for families that are considering going cruising?

Don't worry too much about how your kids will do.

They will have great days and terrible days just like they do on land—but somehow when it's terrible out here we blame the cruising, not just the fact that they are kids.

And don't push them to get rid of their stuff too quickly.

They are making a huge change and if you insist all the stuffies or extra toys need to go before they move aboard, it can be a bit heartbreaking. Maia brought way too many toys and clothes with her—but she's been steadily shedding them at her own rate as we travel.

All questions

5. A typical day on board?

A “typical” day at anchor

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse

After doing this for more than a year I think we are still trying to sort out a typical day. I guess there is our ‘ideal’ day, then there are the endless variations on that…

  • Ideally, I like to get up before Evan and Maia and have time for yoga or swimming on my own.

  • Then we all have breakfast—a pretty leisurely affair on our boat. After breakfast we do a Spanish lesson together (when we remember and when something else hasn't come up); after that it's chore time; a combination of school, work for me, and boat tasks.

  • We tend to wrap up the work part of our day by noon, and then after lunch we head out for snorkeling, hanging out with other cruisers or heading off to explore.


We're cruisers though—so the whole plan thing changes regularly…


Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse

A “typical” day on passage

Passages tend to be pretty relaxing. We tend to skip the chores and play games, read or watch movies together.

If it's calm enough and cool enough Maia and I will often bake a treat for dessert. Life really revolves around meals on our boat—so we try to make the food worthwhile.

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Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse

6. What are your kid's responsibilities aboard?

  • Maia's major task is taking care of her cat, Charlie.

  • She also has the typical housework chores she'd have at home: sweeping, cleaning the bathroom, helping with dishes.

  • As her interest develops in other aspects of life aboard, we'll add those to her responsibilities. She has dabbled in navigation and knows how to drive the dinghy but mostly she's still at the hanging-out-and-playing stage in her life.


7. A great moment?

It's not an incident really, but every now and again I get a glimpse of our cruising life through Maia's eyes.

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse   Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Play dates in paradise. The girls from S/V HOTSPUR and THIRD DAY celebrate their cruising reunion after a long separation with a sleepover.   Road tripping with Carolyn from S/V HOTSPUR--we rented a car and headed to a mission in the mountains.


When it's not going well she's more vocal, the whole thing sucks.

But there are moments when she tells us it's just about perfect.

She loves being free to roam docks and beaches—where she has her own adventures and makes her own discoveries. She loves that there are loads of ever-changing kids to play with. And she can have sleepovers almost every night.

I've tried to articulate with other cruising parents just what makes this lifestyle so wonderful for kids. I think what it comes down to is when you're out here the world becomes kid-sized.

That simplification that the adults enjoy—where life is about messing about in boats, finding food, doing laundry, exploring and hanging out—translates into a world where kids are free to be kids. There's no pressure to get to school on time, there's no push to be like someone else and there is no end of new things to experience.

But unlike other types of travel, there is always the comfort and routine of home to fall back on.

It's not always perfect, but there are moments when it is.

8. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?

Keeping the kids safe and healthy aboard

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
We are religious about sun protection

I'm a big believer in preventative health. We eat well, take our vitamins, get lots of exercise, visit a dentist regularly and seek out local medical help when required.

I have melanoma, so we are religious about sun protection. Maia wears sun protective clothing and is regularly slathered in sunscreen. I'm always leery when she plays over at the boats of kids who have tans—kids with tans don't need sunscreen reapplied every hour or two, so Maia often ends up getting pink when she visits, even if I send sunscreen…

Caring for the kids offshore

Offshore hasn't offered any unique challenges.

We've been in bad situations a couple of times where I've been in conflict between comforting and caring for Maia, and taking care of the boat—but she knows we need to take care of the boat, so it can take care of us. We do keep her apprised of what is happening, in an age-appropriate, non-scary way.

9. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?


Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse

For the first year we used a correspondence program from British Columbia. The work was a bit too easy for Maia, and we found mailing it back and swapping books was difficult.

This year we're using the math books but we're focusing on the geographic regions we're traveling through. We've stocked up on books and literature about the area and are designing a more flexible curriculum.

I'm not sure which will work best—so we're still experimenting.

I do believe that some structure is important for us though. Maia will happily avoid school forever if we don't have a schedule.

Friendships and social interactions

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse   Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
The wonderful thing we've found
about the kids we've met is that
they all have really great parents.
  The other cool aspect of cruising is
how interactions aren't limited
to her own age group.


When we come across another kid boat there seems to be a bit of an unspoken rule that we spend time together. I think we all know that a cruising boat is only going to be as happy as its most unhappy member—so finding friends for Maia can be a quest at times. The wonderful thing we've found about the kids we've met is that they all have really great parents—so it's been easy to hang out with them.

We also encourage Maia to stay in touch with her friends back home. She writes emails and keeps a blog and also calls on skype when we have a good enough connection.

The other cool aspect of cruising is how interactions aren't limited to her own age group—Maia has made friends with kids much younger and much older than herself. She's also gotten to know a range of interesting adults.

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse

Keeping your kid entertained

We've never really had to entertain Maia.

Cruising lets her have one of those old-fashioned, self-directed childhoods we tend to be nostalgic about.

What we have done is collected a variety of reference books (so she can research what she sees); gathered up loads of art supplies and building materials and several books on different types of art projects (so we always have inspiration) and stocked up on board games.

We were never big TV watchers or video game users—so while Maia may watch the occasional movie with friends or play the occasional game—we don't rely on them for entertainment.

Mostly Maia creates her own fun—she recently had a pet hermit crab and spent hours watching him, arranging his home and setting up a circus for him to perform in.



Photo copyright Selkirk/GatehouseOne issue we've seen come up is transportation.

One-dinghy families tend to have someone who ends up shuttling kids around all day.

We got an inflatable kayak for Maia so that she would have her own ‘wheels’. It takes the place of a bike in her life and lets her go where she wants when she wants.

10. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES


We use the bucket-and-plunger method (with a wringer) when out in the islands but when we have access to local laundry facilities we usually splurge on them.

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
  Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Maia plungering   Evan wringing

Clean-up and daily maintenance of the boat

No splurging here… We work together as a family to keep the boat reasonably clean.

Feeding the family, nutrition and cooking

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Our first try at sushi

Maia is learning to cook, so typically helps one of us with meal prep.

We eat local foods and try for as much variety as we can get—which isn't always that easy....

11. What do you like BEST / LEAST about cruising?





Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse


I love exploring. I really love visiting a new town for the first time or heading off to see where a hike will take us.

Getting to be somewhere new all the time is an amazing opportunity.


I don't like being uncomfortable and scared. If it's stormy at sea or really rolly in anchorage, or really hot, or really cold it is pretty miserable.

I also get a bit stir crazy when the boat is messy—it seems really small then.



Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Making new friends


It's hard to narrow it down to one thing. But I enjoy meeting new people and making new friends. It happens more readily in the cruising community than it did at home. I also enjoy exploring new countries and new cultures—I find it interesting how different each place is. All the little quirks that make a place unique are what makes it fun.


I find rough anchorages particularly difficult. I like calm and sheltered anchorages but when it's not comfortable I don't enjoy it.



Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Having a sleepover with friends


I enjoy meeting someone and then having a sleepover with them the same night.

Take my friend Carolyn and I for instance; my family and I were pulling into the dingy dock when I saw her on the breakwater. I said hello, we played together for a while, had a very fun time and then asked our parents if we could have a sleepover.


I hate big storms on the water. They are much scarier than those on land.

I also miss friends when I leave them in different anchorages.

I also miss my friends in Vancouver.

12. Why did you go cruising as a family? Has cruising changed your family

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse
Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse

Why did we go cruising as a family?

Diane and Evan

Because we never really finished our first trip, we always had the plan to go again.

We also had met several cruising families when we were out and came to the conclusion that it was a great way to raise kids.

Most of the time this is a great life—but there are definitely days when it's not. In many ways it's a harder way to live than a land-based life; there are more risks, more moments of discomfort and more wrenching goodbyes.

But there are some amazing trade-offs.


I wanted to go because I was sick and tired of the rain in Vancouver.


Has cruising changed our family?


  • It's made us realize we can accomplish anything we want together. That's a powerful feeling.


  • We spend more time together—which can be good and bad.


  • I'm more independent.
  • I'm not scared to kayak to a friend's boat.
  • I'm less shy when I make new friends.
  • We get on each other's nerves more on the boat.

About the CEILYDH family

Who is aboard?

Photo copyright Jodine Baluk
Diane Selkirk, 42  

Onshore life was mostly about being a stay at home mum and building a career as a freelance writer.

Out on the water Diane's the primary breadwinner. While Evan and Maia tackle school work or search out the next hot snorkeling spot, Diane writes and illustrates stories for a wide range of magazines and websites including Cruising World, Islands, Men's Journal and MSN Travel.

She also makes a very tasty key lime pie and a killer margarita.

Evan Gatehouse, 44 

Before setting sail Evan worked as a yacht designer—and was involved in projects as wide ranging as ice-breaking life boats and Volvo round-the-world yachts. He designed and implemented all the modifications on Ceilydh—and was super happy that we didn't sink when we went back in the water.

On board he's an expert in all things that require he get dirty, dusty, wounded, smelly, or shaped into a pretzel. He's also lethal with a spear gun.

Maia Selkirk, 8 

Life in Vancouver was all about the circus for Maia. She mastered the unicycle just after her 7th birthday and quickly moved on to tightrope and tumbling. Aboard Ceilydh, Maia has been expanding her skills to undersea circus performances—she now free dives like a demon and dreams about being permitted to do fire poi on deck.

Photo copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse

What kind of boat do you have?

Wood's Meander 40' Catamaran (heavily modified)

Ceilydh (pronounced Kay-lee) is a Gaelic word that means celebration or social gathering, and it's derived from an old Irish word that means companion. As a boat name it has grown to mean that our boat is the companion that gives us access to a life of celebration.

Where have you sailed? What's next?

We left Vancouver in July 2009—went north into Desolation Sound then down the coast to Mexico.

We're spending the summer in the Sea of Cortez and will head to the South Pacific next winter/spring.

List your blog or website(s) if you have one.


Note: All photos copyright Selkirk/Gatehouse except the photo of Diane, Evan and Maia on top of page and top of "About Ceilydh", copyright Jodine Baluk.