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Sailing Families Revisited

S/V Asante 44' cutter-rigged Brewer - Homeport: CHICAGO, USA

Families Revisited
12 Families

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

Us, the very day we left Chicago.

When we left in 2010, it was only Scott and I so the biggest challenge was making a commitment to the lifestyle, which - for us - was committing to the unknown.

We were very naive and super excited so, aside from the hiccups of refitting a boat for cruising (which can be significant) - we just dove in head first.

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

Scott and I didn't have kids when we began, which really worked out in our favor in terms of giving us a great base of cruising knowledge for when we did have kids. The full-time cruising life is a very steep learning curve so having gone through that before we had our kids was not necessarily the ‘plan' but it worked out to our advantage.

By the time we had kids we had very real expectation of how life would look with kids aboard and knew ahead of time the changes/concessions that we needed to make.
(See our post: Expectations, Experience and Equipment: A Recipe for Successful Cruising?)

For example, that a bigger boat and one that was more set up for single handed sailing would be necessary (for us).

We brought our first daughter, Isla, aboard at 6 months and sailed over 5K nautical miles with her from Florida to Grenada (where we discovered we were pregnant with twins) and then back up to St. Maarten.

Underway with Isla as an infant, 2013

We sailed up until my third trimester with the twins, after which we returned stateside to have our girls, Haven and Mira, due to the fact that twins are a ‘high risk' pregnancy.

We lived on land at my parent's house adjusting to life with three under three and brought them back to the boat in the British Virgin Islands at 10 months old.

In terms of an ideal age - it's hard to say since we only have brought babies on board which, if you ask me, is a fantastic time to bring kids aboard. They are super portable, adaptable and - as long as they have mommy and daddy near - they are content.

When you bring kids aboard very young you are setting the bar at a certain level. I always say it's easier to start with less than to take things away. What I mean by that is that it's easier to start with less, than with more. For example, a kid who watches zero television, will protest a lot less to a television-free environment than a kid who is used to to watching three hours a day. Or toys, if your kids have a giant playroom in your basement now, they might have a hard time paring down and adjusting to life with far fewer playthings.

Our girls have very little (space/toys/scheduled activities…etc) compared to most land-based kids, but they know no different so it's no big deal to them to them - because we just don't have that stuff and never did.

I don't necessarily think there is such a thing as “ideal” time, every family is different and every child is different so I think this really depends on each unique situation.

That's not to say babies on boats are easy, because there are a lot of concessions a couple must make to accommodate for kids.

Nap and bedtimes must be considered, the boat must be baby-proofed, your time for boat chores/work/maintenance will be halved (or more), you must grow eyes in the back of your head and you will probably want to seek out other kid boats (to name a few).

With our first baby, we found cruising to be relatively easy - we did longer passages, sailed some aggressive miles and it was not difficult because our roles were very defined. I took care of all the baby duties and my husband sailed and maintained the boat. A 2:1 adult to child ratio is very doable on a boat.

Once the twins came aboard, this changed.

Daddy and his girls decompress after lunch in the cockpit.

Being outnumbered by small babies made us “change tacks” as it were, and we decided we would stick to only one geographic area (BVI's) and do only day sails until the girls are older to make life easier.
(See more here: How's it Going with Three Small Kids on a Boat?).

It has worked great for us and we would not change a thing.

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

Our v-berth modified
with a custom designed twin bunk up front.

We bought our second boat with kids in mind and there were several features we knew we wanted that would make it ‘kid-friendly'.

Those features were:

  • roller furling main/jib (easy to single hand),
  • large center cockpit (this provides an aft-cabin for mom and dad and a safe, roomy cockpit where we can hang out/play/lie down underway and at anchor)
  • swim platform (this makes getting on/off the boat with little kids SO much easier),
  • a high-output watermaker (we go through a LOT of water washing clothes, during bath time, and we even have a baby pool for the kids to splash in on the aft deck)
  • LOTS of storage (for gear, food, and toys)
  • and a windlass (again, easy for one person to raise/lower anchor)

to name a few…

We also put lifeline netting around our boat and find that to be an important piece of gear for a boat with small babies. Out nets not only keep the babies from slipping through the lines (they are NEVER on deck unsupervised!), but have also saved a lot of gear from going over!

We made a lee bunk for our three year old in the walk-thru to the aft cabin, and we custom designed a twin berth up in the vee-berth for Haven and Mira.
(See more here: Our Sleeping Arrangements).

The other thing we made since we had three very small kids aboard was a specialized dinghy seat for the twins, which now is patented.

The "dinghy slingy" we designed to take the twins to and fro. Works like a charm. They are safe, easy to get in and out, and can stand without falling over in rough seas.

4. Anything you wish you had known before you got started? Do you have any advice for families that are considering going cruising?

That we were having twins!!
Haha…honestly, that was really the only thing that really threw us for a major loop. We would have definitely bought a three cabin monohull if we'd have known!

As far as advice, the best advice I could give would be to take baby steps.
You can still go “all-in” with the lifestyle, but you don't need to immediately cross an ocean.

As I said, there is a very steep (and often frustrating) learning curve with cruising - when you invite children into that mix, particularly if you have never cruised before, you will have even more to juggle/consider/fix and less time (and people) to do it.

Baby steps would be my only advice.

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5. A typical day aboard?

A typical day at anchor

6:30 am

Rise and shine! Our babies are up and ready! Play time/story time in the aft cabin or v-berth for a bit while mommy and daddy wake up and get coffee on.

7:15 am

Breakfast time. Kids are lined up in their high chairs and are served breakfast, while most meals are eaten in the cockpit to avoid mess - breakfast is done down below to respect our sleeping anchor neighbors (our kids are….spirited!)

8:00 am

First outing. We get the kids suited up in swimsuits and hats, slathered in SPF 50 and usually head to the beach via dinghy or iSUP. Sometimes we'll go on a hike.

This is also the time one parent might run out to do an errand like getting a part or groceries while the other watches the three girls on the beach. We've got a great array of sand toys and our girls can happily play for a couple hours.

11:30 am

Head back to the boat. Everyone gets a freshwater rinse off the back of the boat, new diapers and fresh clothes.

Then we prepare lunch while the kids play down below.

12:00 pm

Lunch time in the cockpit with a view.

12:30 - 2:30


Daddy will try to work on a project (in silence!!! not easy to do…) and mommy will usually read and/or blog

3:00 pm

Outing number two! Usually this is either a repeat of outing one, or we do something else like a short hike, beach combing, play date on a friend's boat, happy hour in town, swim off the back of the boat…etc.

Either way, we are outside and off the boat if weather permits. Mom and dad usually bring a cocktail or two along to this outing.

4:30 pm

Head back to the boat. Everyone gets a freshwater rinse (again!! see why a water maker is a big deal to us??), and new diapers. Then we prepare dinner while the kids play down below.

Rinse-bath on aft deck after the beach.

5:00 pm

Dinner time. Kids eat dinner in the cockpit. They then squeal with delight as they feed the leftovers to the seagulls and remoras.

6:30 pm

Twins down for bed after jammie time and story time. Isla usually plays on her ipad during this time and/or has alone/quality time with mom and dad. Workbooks, stories…etc.

7:30 pm

Isla in bed.

8:00 pm - ?

SIIIIGGGGH. All is quiet and peaceful on the boat. We either entertain friends, I (Brittany) will write and Scott will tinker or watch a movie. Bedtime anywhere between 9pm and midnight depending. G


A typical day on passage

Underway with each girl in their harness and tether. 

These days we typically sail when our girls are napping and because we have strategically chosen a place where we don't need to sail any more than 4 hours between places, we can do this. To call these sails “passages” is laughable, so we do “day sails” which is SO much nicer with the little ones on board, although at ages 2 and 4 now, they are becoming easier and easier to manage if they are awake. They really enjoy short sails and handle themselves very well on board.

When Isla was a baby we did longer passages (anywhere from 8 hours to 5 days) and I wrote about how we prepared for those here: Passage Making.

All questions

6. How involved are the kids in the boat?

Our kids are very young, age four and under, so right now they are not very active in sailing the boat, but not for lack of interest!! The twins love nothing more than to “drive” and Isla loves using the winches.

We are very talkative with our girls and Scott is very ‘instructional” so they are learning a lot by osmosis.

They move very naturally on a boat and love to climb around on deck and watch the water and the waves.

All questions

7. If something comes to mind, tell us one small story – an incident that captures the best of cruising as a family for you?

Not sure if this is the “best” of cruising, but it's a story that captures the essence of cruising with three under three! (See story here:Cruising with Kids: The Ugly and Poopy)


8. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?

Keeping the kids safe aboard

Underway, babies clipped in to their boat seats, Isla in her PFD
  • When sailing, every child in cockpit is either in a life vest or clipped onto the boat with a harness and tether, no leaving the cockpit unless with a parent and unless conditions allow (aka, glass-flat).
  • No kids are on deck at anchor without a parent up with them.
  • Life jackets at all times in a) the dinghy and b) on docks.

Caring for the kids offshore

We haven't really gone offshore with the three, but we did do one five day passage with Isla. I wrote about that passage on our blog and it offers some tips/insight.
(See post here: Keeping a Baby at Bay While Passage Making)

Caring for the kids in rough weather

If it's rough we try very hard not to sail and because of where we are, we can make this choice. We also sail while the kids are sleeping and have found that they sleep through almost anything, no matter how big the waves.

We have discovered that children's dramamine is helpful for tummy issues and we will give our girls 1/4 to 1/2 a tablet before any passage we know might be rough.

Keeping the kids healthy, eg getting medical care

Medical care in the islands is very cheap and affordable. Barring any major calamity and/or pre-existing conditions, the island doctors are not only experts in island afflictions but also very affordable.

When Isla got hand. foot and mouth in Grenada, she was seen by a doctor and diagnosed for I think less than $20. Also, because we are sort of away from the masses means our kids get sick less on a boat, they still get cold and such, but much less than when we are up north.

The only issue with island medical care? It, too, works on “island time” - be prepared to WAIT to be seen!


9. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?


Our girls are four and under so this is not yet a concern, particularly because we subscribe to the idea that kids should not be rushed into “school” but rather learn through play during these early, formative years.

Because we have (semi) permanently relocated to the British Virgin Islands to live and work (we run Aristocat Charters) for the foreseeable future, and because I am a solo-parent most of the time (See more at: The Joys (and challenges) of Being an almost Solo Parent: How I Survive (and sometimes, thrive)) we will be enrolling our girls in private school here when the time comes.

If we were out actively cruising like we were before, we would definitely homeschool - but since our situation is different, we are opting for a more traditional school atmosphere for a number of reasons; namely: my sanity.

Friendships and social interactions

We have been really lucky to always find very good friends with kids our kids' ages. It makes SUCH a difference to buddy boat with a fellow kid boat, and not just any kid boat - but one with kids who are peers of your own.

The areas we have spent the most time (Grenada, BVI's and Bahamas) are host to so many kids, local and otherwise, so this has never really been a problem for us (knock on wood).

Keeping the kids entertained

Self entertainment is a big deal for us so we have a nice array of strategically chosen toys that are in arms reach. We also have a ton of children's books aboard and even though our girls do not yet ‘read' they love their quiet time ‘reading' which is pretty hilarious.

We also listen to a lot of music and we do utilize the iPad for our three year old as well.
(See more here:Top Ten (toddler) Toys for the Space Conscious Parent)

Isla has her own “bunk”.

Personal space aboard

What is that!?! Haha. We don't have very much personal space which is why we try to spend as much time outside as possible.

Luckily, we have three YOUNG daughters so their ‘personal space' isn't much of an issue yet.

The twins have their own room in the v-berth with their clothes and toys, and Isla has her own “bunk” that we made in the walk-through and she has two little shelves to keep her treasures as well as a book sling at the foot of her bed to keep her favorite books.

Family back home and their concerns

We have been very fortunate in that our families', for the most part, are very supportive (or at least understanding) of our lifestyle.

We are also very fortunate in that we have been able to spend long chunks of time back home (living with my parents) for their births.

Our mom's have both made several visits to the boats, as has my sister. Since we're not off the beaten path means that we're never that ‘far'.

10. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES?

Hand washing: Doing a little each day keeps the laundry at bay.


With five people laundry can pile up so fast. We have a high output water maker aboard and I have found it SO easy to do a little bit every day. I actually derive great satisfaction out of doing laundry by hand!!

At the dock, the clothes pile up quicker because, namely, we are wearing them (rather than swimsuits which is what we wear at anchor most of the time).

The twins in particular go through at least two outfits a day so I do laundry in the marina laundromat here once or twice a week.

Clean-up and daily maintenance of the boat (inside and out)

I am a little bit of a neat freak and am constantly tidying. Our boat is always in order, always clean and I prefer a clutter-free environment.

I love living ‘small' but one disadvantage is that even a little disarray can feel like a big mess, so we try to keep it contained - way easier said than done with three toddlers on board!

We clean up regularly throughout the day and the girls are pretty good about tidying up their toys when they are through. Everything is stored in specific containers (like toys, clothes, etc) and so it keeps things organized.

When we play with toys, we usually don't have more than 2 or 3 types out at a time. If we bring out another, something must get put away. This helps with our kids' focus (they are not overwhelmed by too many options), and teaches them the importance of cleaning up after themselves.

That said, organization on a boat is ALWAYS a work in progress.

Feeding the family, nutrition and cooking

Ugh. I am embarrassed to admit that these three things are the bane of my existence.

I really do not enjoy cooking, have ZERO creativity in the galley and tend to eat the same few things over and over. We also eat vegetarian on the boat so that can be somewhat limiting (a chicken breast is cheap and easy to cook!). Scott enjoys cooking more than I and when his work schedule permits, he'll take breakfast duty and the occasional dinner (sadly his work schedule doesn't permit this that often).

We try to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, but these things can often be expensive in the BVI's. Quinoa is something that finds itself into many meals as it's easy to cook, goes well with anything and is a “super food”. We cook a lot of Mexican food aboard, I always joke that we should have cruised Mexico because we eat like Mexicans. Lots of cheese, tomatoes, rice and beans!

11. Has cruising changed your family?

It's hard to say how cruising has changed our family as we have more or less always been on the boat, on and off.

First and foremost, cruising has given us a livelihood. If we hadn't cruised, we'd never have bought our day charter company and settled here in the BVI. Cruising has turned Scott into an accomplished sea captain and a master of fixing ANYTHING on a boat.

As for me? I take more time to think. I don't over-schedule. I relish spending all my time with our girls and I simply love living someplace that is visually spectacular. I truly believe that living among mind-blowing beauty, particularly near the water, does nothing but amazing things for a person.

I wear a smile most of the time and feel thankful every single day


Living on our boat has done amazing things for our girls as well.

They are independent, confident, strong and friendly. They are constantly around people, always interacting with different cultures and people of different ages.

Physically speaking - they have amazing climbing, balance, and spacial awareness skills. My two year olds can climb right up the mast and onto the boom - BY THEMSELVES!! It's awesome to see these skills develop and it's no doubt a direct result of a) living in a floating jungle gym and b) Scott and I giving them the freedom (and encouragement) to explore, use their bodies, and test their limits on a daily basis. We learn by doing, after all.

12. If you have gone back to shore, how was the transition back to land?

We've gone back to shore for long stints now three times; once to have our first child, then to have our twins, and for a summer while we awaited our BVI trade license and work permits.

We're sort of default commuter cruisers. The transition has always been just fine as we come home into the arms of friends and family and it's never been “permanent”. We always live with my parents (we do not have a land-based home) and it feels very transient, but wonderful. It's important for us that our girls have relationships and memories with our shoreside family so we enjoy our breaks home.

I imagine if we truly “swallowed the anchor” and sold our boat, the transition would be much, much harder. At least for me. I really love the cruising/island lifestyle.


We are Brittany (36), Scott, (38), Isla (4), Haven and Mira (2).
We live aboard our 1988 cutter-rigged Brewer 44.

Pre-kids Scott and I sailed from Chicago to Trinidad from 2010-2011 aboard a 1976 Hallberg Rassy Rasmus.

We then came home to have our first daughter in 2012 and buy our larger, current boat. With Isla, we sailed from Florida to Grenada (where we discovered our twin pregnancy), and then sailed back up to the BVI's into my third trimester with the twins.

We came back to the USA to have our twins, Haven and Mira. With the twins we have remained based in the BVI's where we currently reside and run our day charter business (www.aristocatcharters.com), and where we have decided to live-aboard/ work and “settle” for the foreseeable future.

We are now island-dwelling live-aboards who cruise our local islands when we can as we build the cruising kitty. We'd love to sail to Cuba in the next couple years and then, when the girls are older, cross the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

We write about our life and mis-adventures at www.windtraveler.net.

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