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12 Questions to 12 Sailing Families

S/V Out of Bounds Gulfstar 41' - Privilege 39' catamaran, USA

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Barbara & Tom THEISEN + Kate & Kenna - Currently editor of SSCA's Commodore's Bulletin, Barb Theisen offers her perspective on nearly 20 years of cruising with two daughters with widely different needs. - More about the OUT OF BOUNDS family

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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 did you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?
3. Any modifications to the boat for your children?   9. How did you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?
4. Any advice for would-be sailing families?   10. How did you handle: TASKS and CHORES?
5. A typical day on board?   11. What did you like BEST / LEAST about cruising?
6. What are the kids' responsibilities aboard?   12. Has cruising changed your family?

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

  • What I thought would be our biggest challenge, homeschooling, actually proved to be one of the most exciting and positive aspects of cruising as a family.

  • Money (or lack of it) was probably our biggest challenge. We’ve been fulltime liveaboards and part-time cruisers for the past 20 years. We’d stop and work whenever we needed to replenish the cruising kitty.

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

We've had the wonderful experience of cruising with toddlers on up through high school and beyond


Our two daughters were 3 years old when we first went cruising. Our oldest daughter, Kate, is 3 months older than our adopted, special needs daughter, Kenna.

So we've had the wonderful experience of cruising with toddlers on up through high school and beyond. All ages have proved to be fantastic for us.

Some people say that you should wait until your kids are at least 5 or 6 years old, as they won't remember the cruising experience if you go sooner.

However the opportunity to spend lots of time with your kids when they're young would outweigh any inconveniences in my opinion. They may not remember, but you'll have wonderful stories, photos, etc. to share. And more important, they'll have had the chance to have both parents giving them plenty of quality time.

Hopefully you'll continue to cruise as they reach what most would consider the best age to cruise—5 to12 years old.

Cruising with our kids as pre-teens and teenagers was a wonderful experience. Of course our girls had been raised onboard and it seemed only natural for them to continue cruising and homeschooling as they reached the high school years.

If however you don't start cruising until you kids are already teenagers, you'll want to make sure that they don't feel shanghaied. You need to make sure that cruising becomes their adventure too.


Kate, her boyfriend John and Kenna celebrate Christmas 2008 in the Bahamas. Kate joins us aboard whenever she can.

And now that our oldest daughter, Kate, is off on her own (finishing her last semester of college) she continues to cruise with us when she can.

She spent a four week Christmas break during college to sail with us from Grenada to Puerto Rico a couple of years ago.

Last year she and her boyfriend spent 6 weeks aboard sailing from the Florida Keys to George Town, Bahamas.

We love having her come back to cruise with us when she can. The catamaran ensures we have plenty of room so she can bring friends.

Our daughter Kenna (adopted at the age of 2 and just 3 months younger than Kate) is special needs and is now 23 years old and still lives aboard and cruises with us.

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

We lived on a monohull for 15 years and have spent the past 5 years on our catamaran.

I think a catamaran would make a wonderful home for a family with younger kids because of the stable platform it provides. And as the kids grow, the separate hulls provide for privacy.

On our monohull we did have an aft cabin, which allowed for a bit of privacy. It also had a center cockpit, which was great.

One thing that's important is for kids to have a place to call their own.

If possible, let them have their own cabin, even if they need to share it with another sibling.

Kids need to be able to personalize their rooms.

They can do this by hanging netting filled with their favorite stuffed animals, by hanging posters, postcards, or other mementos (try using products made by the 3M company that will remove from walls without leaving any holes or marks). Let kids pick out their own sheets and bed covers. If there is no door to their room or their bunk area, hang a divider for added privacy and to make them feel like they have their own “private space.” For simplicity, sew lightweight fabric to hang on an expandable shower rod that you put in the door opening. During the day you can use some ribbon to tie the door open to one side to aid ventilation.

As kids reach the teenage years, they may have a need for even more privacy. If they share a V-berth or cabin with another sibling, consider hanging a divider between the beds. This can come down when needed to aid ventilation. Our girls shared the forward berth until Kate went off to college.

Kate and Kenna discuss their snorkeling adventure at Exuma Land and Sea Park in the Bahamas (1998)

4. Do you have any advice for families?


Just do it.

It will be an experience that will bring the family a lifetime of joy and great memories. It will change how you and your kids see the world.

I can't imagine that cruising wouldn't bring a family closer together.


My advice for cruising kids is to just enjoy it!

There might be times when you get seasick, or you're tired of being within 40 feet of your parents or siblings for weeks on end, or you miss your land-friends.

But during those times just remember how great it is to be able to snorkel right off the boat, to be able to wake up in a new place every day, and to be able to do your schoolwork whenever you want!

Whether you're going to live aboard until you leave for college or just for a year, cruising is an amazing way to live.

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5. A typical day aboard?

A typical day at anchor

Kenna does her impersonation of a starfish. Underwater field trips happened quite often aboard OUT OF BOUNDS. Kenna often combined her two favorite activities, snorkeling and singing.
She actually wore out the mouthpieces of several snorkels.


  • I'm the early bird on our boat, although cruising seems to make most people “early to bed, early to rise.”

  • We might try to get a few chores done before it gets too hot, depending on where we are. We usually did school in the morning, and afternoons were free for swimming, snorkeling, exploring, etc.

  • We almost always had reading time before dinner. When the girls were young, we each spent a half hour of quiet time with a book. As they got older, it grew to be about an hour long and often times, even longer.

  • After dinner and dishes, Tom would usually read out loud to the girls.

    Christmas potluck dinner on the beach.
    He actually read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy to them when they were about 9 or 10 years old. It took about a year, I think. He continued reading to them over the years.

    When they were about 13, they requested that he reread the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. And he did.

When we first started cruising (back in the days of VHS), we only had about a dozen movies in our collection. So we didn't watch a lot of movies. Now, in the days of DVD, we have a large collection and watch movies a couple of evenings each week.

And of course there are potluck dinners on the beach, bonfires, etc.

A typical day on passage

Since our homeschool was not regimented by a school-in-the-box type curriculum (Calvert or another correspondence school), we had a lot of freedom in what we did and when we did it.

I love to fish
  • If the passage was a bit rough, we'd tend to do less sit down school work and more reading or we'd get the girls into some fascinating discussions when we were all together in the cockpit.

  • The girls helped tremendously during passages by helping with watches, sail changes, navigation, etc.

  • We did a lot of stargazing at night. Once the girls turned about 8 or 9, they would spend time in the cockpit with one parent during a night watch. It was nice for the otherwise lone parent to have some company and it was a great experience for the girls who felt very empowered by this responsibility.

  • Kate is a lot like her dad when it comes to sailing. The two of them can spend hours “fiddling” with the sails. They love to try to get every extra bit of speed they can from the boat.

  • I love to fish (which actually means I set a couple of trolling lines). Of course success is all about knowing how to choose the right lure!

  • Kenna can spend hours sitting in her favorite spot in the cockpit reading a good book or listening to music.

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6. What are the kids' responsibilities aboard?

How involved are the kids in the boat?

Tom lends a hand as 4-year old Kenna raises the Canadian courtesy flag


One of the greatest benefits of cruising as a family is that this lifestyle offers a very natural and supportive environment for the development of capable individuals. Cruising kids contribute in meaningful ways to family life.

In most families, mom and dad head off to work, the kids go off to school and anything that is needed can be gotten at the local supermarket or the mall.

Cruising calls for self sufficiency. We rely on our kids to help out. Empowering our children in this way increases their self-esteem, their self-worth, and their self-confidence. If you were raised on a farm or in a family which operated a family-run business where, as a child, you were expected to help out—you'll know what I'm talking about. Cruising offers this same opportunity to kids.

So, yes, the kids are very much involved in the day to day things that need to be done on the boat, as well as sailing the boat. They have a say in where we go and what we do when we get there.

This is a family adventure.

Kids, what are your responsibilities aboard?


When I lived aboard, I was always very involved in the day-to-day upkeep and sailing of the boat. 

  • I had some chores that were similar to kids that lived on land - doing the dishes, sweeping, cleaning my room, etc. 

  • I had some chores that have the same name as those done by kids on shore, but were different on a boat.  For example - laundry.  Sometimes we'd have to haul the laundry up to the laundry-mat in the marina.  Sometimes we'd have to load up the laundry and dingy it a mile or two, and then walk it to the nearest laundry-mat (where ever that was!)  And, sometimes, when there just was no laundry-mat, we'd have to do laundry by hand - not a chore most kids on land would ever have! 

  • Then there are the chores that only boat kids will ever have the pleasure of doing.... things like stripping varnish, flaking the main sail, and making dad's night-watch coffee. 


  • One of my responsibilities is doing dishes.

  • I help with laundry.

  • I love to bake and I love to read.

  • I also like to do night watches with my dad. If the weather is good, sometimes he'll take a short nap in the cockpit. I keep a lookout for other boats. Mostly we look at the stars and watch for dolphins.

    One night my dad saw another boat. He said, I think it's a sailboat. I said, “no dad, it's big ship.” I was right. It was an aircraft carrier.

  • I don't like having to pick up my room. But now that I have my own room and I have more space, it's not so bad.

7. A great moment?

I remember a Christmas in the Bahamas when the girls were maybe 12 years old or so.

Kate was in her swimsuit in the cockpit when we saw Petey, the resident dolphin in George Town making a beeline for our boat. Petey swam up to our anchor rode and Kate quickly donned her snorkel gear and jumped in. Petey swam over to her and together they swam and dove together.

It was amazing. It was Petey's special Christmas gift to all of us.

8. How did you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?

Keeping the kids safe aboard


Establish safety rules and then enforce them.

Your rules will depend on your own unique circumstances and the ages and maturity of your children. For example, you may require your children to don their life jackets before they come on deck and you may require them to ask permission to go forward of the cockpit. If enforced, this will soon become second nature.

Be sure you can enforce them at all times, not just some of the time. A rule that isn't consistently enforced might as well not exist.

That's not to say that rules shouldn't ever change. As children grow older and more responsible, rules may adapt accordingly.

Teach your children responsible behavior around the water by setting good examples.

For instance, teach them how to walk forward by holding grab rails, show them the proper way to board and disembark from a dinghy, and teach the proper way to use a winch. Older children should be taught the proper use of such things as the VHF and safety equipment. This shouldn't be a one-time demonstration: Your actions speak louder than words. Perhaps one of the more important examples you can set for your children is your own use of good judgment concerning the wearing of safety harnesses when conditions dictate.

When the girls were 5 years old, we were hit by a tornado.

The boat was at dock and Tom was not on board. When it hit, I could feel us being tossed up on the dock and then back into the water. I went topside and couldn't see anything through the storm, but I knew we were no longer tied to the dock and I felt like we had been spun around (and I couldn't see the nearby drawbridge, yikes!).

I yelled down to the girls to get their lifejackets on. I started the engine. In just a few minutes things were clear again. Our dodger was ripped to shreds and I had a million bumps on my head from being hit by hail.

I opened the hatch and there they were, both in lifejackets, holding hands. Kate looked up at me and said, “I had to help Kenna.” She then helped me by taking the wheel while I pulled in the docklines, with cleats still attached.

The girls never questioned my request. They reacted immediately. They knew where the lifejackets were. They stayed together and helped one another. I was so proud!

9. How did you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?


Homeschooling your cruising kid can have great benefits.

  • For a gifted student, like Kate, it provided the chance to dive deep into subjects that interested her. A challenging curriculum tailored to her own interests prevented boredom.

  • For the average student, homeschooling may provide the motivation to excel, to rise to their true abilities.

  • Kenna does school work
    aboard OUT OF BOUNDS
  • For the student who has been one step behind in the classroom, it will provide the opportunity to develop and learn at his own pace. Kenna, who is mildly mentally retarded, had great success at homeschool because it was easy to tailor a curriculum that fit her needs. Learning was always a positive experience for her. Her success at school in turn helped built great self-esteem and self-confidence.

    We also found the cruising community to be very warm and welcoming towards Kenna. They accepted her for who she was. Kenna never had to endure the pain of name calling or being ostracized.

    Kenna also needed help with her speech. We found that with the initial help of professionals, speech is something a parent can continue to work on with a child while cruising. I'm sure this is true of many other special needs, as well.

    I hope that parents of other special needs kids will not automatically assume that cruising isn't a possibility for them.

Homeschooling was an awesome experience.

When we started homeschooling in 1991 there were few resources for homeschoolers. And all of the cruising magazines seemed to recommend using Calvert Correspondence School.

Navigation was an important part of math class.

We discovered that there were other methods to homeschooling our children and what we did could best be called eclectic.

Here's my favorite quote, which is by Maura Segar, “When we started homeschooling, I felt as though I had tucked a child under each arm and jumped off a cliff. Imagine my surprise to discover we have wings.

Most homeschooling families find success by trying different methods, by combining what works from one method with that of another and by remembering that your homeschool is not static, but always changing and growing with your own needs.

We studied Mayan history and rainforests while cruising the Rio Dulce of Guatemala
  • What works for one cruising family may not be what is best for your family.

  • What worked at the beginning of the school year may be “burning out” both parents and kids six months later.

  • And what worked great for your kids when they were younger may need to be changed when they reach the middle school years.

The key to a successful transition into homeschooling is to take it slowly and be patient with yourself and your family.

Be flexible. Throw out what doesn't work. Try new ideas. Let your own homeschooling system develop for your own family. You'll probably discover it becomes a rich assortment of ideas.

We tailored our curriculum to take advantage of the places where we would be sailing to as well as our kids' special interests.

We often created unit studies, which would incorporate various disciplines such as reading, writing, science, history, geography, art, music, etc to study a subject. And it was easy and fun to teach both girls the same subject, just on different levels.

We studied Mayan history and rainforests while cruising the Rio Dulce of Guatemala and coral reefs while in Belize.

While cruising in North Carolina one fall we choose FLIGHT for a unit study.

  • We read books such as Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang, The Fledgling and Around the World in Eighty Days (we read out loud every day – a good idea even after the kids are old enough to read to themselves).

  • Writing assignments included both fictional stories with a “flight” theme as well as factual reports and even a “business” letter to the Federal Aviation Administration who sent us a package of information. Science was filled with hands-on experiments, which demonstrated the principles involved in flight. Some of our experiments included flying kites, paper airplanes, and balsa planes.

  • We took a field trip to the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk, NC where Orville's and Wilbur's famous flight was brought to life for us.

  • We followed that study with “Space Exploration” as we sailed down the East Coast to Florida. Again our studies included both fictional and non-fictional reading, experiments and writing assignments. Tom and the girls built and launched an Estes rocket kit. Computer software allowed us to fly to Mars or dock with a space station.

  • The finale to our studies was watching a shuttle launch from Cape Canaveral and visiting the Kennedy Space Center museums.


We homeschooled right through high school. Kate was instrumental in choosing her high school curriculum. She was accepted (and offered a full ride) to CalTech, one of the most difficult schools to gain admission to. She ultimately chose to go to New Mexico Tech to study astrophysics.

Kate's monthly newsletter: the "Out of Bounds Outburst"

My philosophy was for Kate to simply enjoy writing.  To do this, we separated writing from grammar.  When asking your kids to write something creative, the important thing is to let them write.  Let them get their ideas out. Don't make them worry about sentence structure or grammar or punctuation. If your child balks at the idea of writing, it may be because every time they write their heart out, they get back a paper full of red marks at every mistake they've made. 

Kate kept a journal. Sometimes she would write in it furiously for months and then nothing for week and weeks. I might remind her that she could write in her journal, but I never forced her to and I never read what she wrote. She also wrote loads of postcards and letter to friends and relatives. 

When she was in first and second grade, she came up with the idea to “write down” the news - our family news - everyday and then on Friday, she would give us an oral report.  She did this as if she were a television newscaster. In third grade this project turned into writing a newsletter that she called the Out of Bounds Outburst.

The Outburst was a monthly newsletter that she sent to relatives.  She did the Outburst on the computer, so she was learning computer skills as well (this was in 1994, so the software seems primitive to what we have today!).

She'd write about places we'd been, things we'd done, where we were heading to next, she might write a poem.  Sometimes I would give her assignments to get her to write in different ways.  She might do a first-person essay on her field trip to the maritime museum and a third-person report on the straw market in Nassau.  She might write a more technical account of rainforests and a book report on the latest book that she read.

When the newsletter was completed she would mail one copy to her grandmother in the States (we didn't have email), who would copy, address and mail them to the other 20 or so friends and relatives who “subscribed.”

Kate wrote and published the Outburst for probably 5 years or so.


Friendships and social interactions

Kenna (back left) and Kate (back right) enjoy an onboard birthday party
with their visiting cousins, Sammy Jo (left) and Amy (right).
This was Kate's 8th birthday in 1994.


A common concern facing new cruising families is socialization.

Actually, most families who cruise find that improved social skills are a benefit of cruising. Cruising kids have a unique opportunity to interact with adults and children of all ages and backgrounds. If you (or your kids) are worried about the lack of socialization or lack of friends, rest assured; there is a cruising community of kids out there. I'd recommend heading to a place where cruising kids tend to gather when you first start cruising, for example, George Town, Bahamas.

Cruising kids gathered in one stop will often set up a “kids net” on the VHF. They will invite any new kids to join in as they make plans for their day's activities. Parents are thrilled as they see the kids "hit the books" in the morning so they can be done in time for the afternoon fun. Often times, two or more cruising families who meet and enjoy each other's company will temporarily change plans so they can spend more time cruising together or “Buddy Boating.”

Kids learn quickly that they can make new friends easily as they cruise.

One year we anchored and sailed for nearly 4 months with 7 children from 3 boats.

Cruising boats from around the world gathered together,
including the kids from s/v OUT OF BOUNDS, s/v KITARRA and s/v NIMANOA and put on a play.


We looked forward to the chance to get together with other cruising families. One year we anchored and sailed for nearly four months with 7 children from three boats with another dozen or more kids from all parts of the world joining our group for several days or weeks at a time.

The kids put on a play - doing everything from acting to making costumes and making a stage on a nearby island. I wasn't invited to the dress rehearsal but as I peeked out the port I saw the young actors performing in front of half a dozen wild horses who happened to be grazing in front of the stage. The play was a big success, watched by 15 or so parents and friends and three dogs.

The kids found a local potter who invited them to try their hand at making pottery over a course of several afternoon sessions. A retired teacher (also living aboard) set up a creative writing class every Tuesday afternoon on one of the boats. As a group we took field trips to area museums. One of the mothers, a talented artist, took the kids for afternoons of sketching on the beach. Another parent, a world-renowned classical guitarist, was delighted with one of our daughters' interest in the guitar and took her under his wing with music lessons.


Our girls have enjoyed holiday celebrations and birthday parties whose memories will last a lifetime. And of course there were plenty of dinghy races, soccer matches, and impromptu games that usually included pirates, treasures and mutinous crews of sailors.

You may need to seek out other cruising families, but once you find them you will discover plenty of opportunities for socializing. When other kids are few and far between, allowing your kids to keep in touch with their friends on the SSB is a great idea.

Don't dismiss the importance of the social benefits to be gained by spending time together as a family. In our society we seem to forget that the family unit should be the most important part of our kids' lives. Their social skills should start at home.

During Kate's first semester at college, she remarked how few of the students initiated or really engaged in conversations with their professors.

It was a natural thing for her to do. “Why wouldn't you want to engage these amazing people in a discussion about a topic that interests both of you,” was her comment.


Reading on the boom was
one of Kate's favorite pastimes

Keeping the kids entertained

I've never felt that we need to keep the kids entertained.

Cruising and its associated activities offer wonderful opportunities for entertainment. Snorkeling is one of our favorite activities. Tom and Kate also enjoy scuba diving.

We love to explore the places we visit: meeting new friends, hiking, visiting museums or historical sites, taking in local celebrations and festivals, trying new food, etc.

We read an amazing amount of books.

Personal space aboard

Cruising families will need to learn to provide for privacy, as it doesn't come easy.

But you will also learn to love the closeness.

Respect your child's occasional desire to be left alone. This may mean simply that you give them some space down below while you enjoy your own private time in the cockpit. If your children are old enough, you might take a dinghy ride or a walk on the beach while they stay aboard. When stuck on the boat, a personal CD player with headphones or an mp3 player can give you a feeling of privacy.

Likewise parents need occasionally alone time - with or without their mate. Try swapping “babysitting” time with other cruising families. We like to invite all the cruising kids in an anchorage over for “movie and popcorn” night once in awhile. Likewise, our kids were invited to other boats for an occasional sleepover or an afternoon outing with friends.

We set aside time every day for silent reading. Even when our kids were small, they would spend a half hour looking at or reading picture books. This has now grown to an hour of reading time. This quiet time gives us all a chance to be “in our own world” even if we're all together.

When it comes to making living aboard a boat comfortable, the important thing to remember is not the size of your boat but the amount of consideration and respect you show to other family members. Laughs and hugs go a long way toward making your floating home a happy home. So the next time your whole family inadvertently converges in one spot, try not to step on too many toes. Instead have a big family hug.

10. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES


Clean laundry dries about OUT OF BOUNDS
as Kate enjoys a quick snorkel around the boat off Lime Cay in Belize (2000).


With four people on board, I find it easiest to keep up with the laundry by doing it on board in small manageable amounts rather than letting it pile up and become such a chore. I wish we had a machine on board, but since we don't, I've tried a number of different methods.

The non-electric “Wonder Clean” pressure washing machine has been my preferred method of doing the laundry for many years.

  • It is simple, quick, and uses the least amount of water and laundry soap. The pressure washer can do a “large load” – consisting of about 8 T-shirts or 2 pairs of jeans and uses about 2 quarts of, preferably, warm or hot water (I often heat my water in a solar shower) and 2 TBLS of detergent. Once the water, soap and clothes are in the machine, you tighten the gasketed lid, and crank the handle for about 2 minutes. Pressure builds up in the machine which drives the soap and water into the clothing.

  • Combine this with the agitation from your hand spinning the machine and you get clean clothes. Next you dump out the dirty wash water and add clean water for the rinse. Crank the handle for about one minute, then wring (I use the shrouds to wring everything but delicates).

  • A nice breeze has our clean laundry dry in no time.

  • I can do a couple small loads of laundry quicker than I can bag it up, dinghy to shore and find a laundromat.

  • But more important, I can keep up with the laundry when we're far from civilization. The pressure washer on its stand is 19” H x 17 ½” W x 12” D with the handle. It is made of molded plastic which won't rust but you wouldn't want to drop it from any height. There are no moving parts and no maintenance needed. The Pressure Washer is available from Lehman's Non –Electric Catalog for about $50 (www.lehmans.com).

We usually make doing the laundry a family event. We do it early in the morning, before it gets too hot.

Clean-up and daily maintenance of the boat

Again, the whole family pitches in.

The girls have always helped with dishes, cooking, sweeping, laundry, etc. As youngsters they would help Tom with engine maintenance or outboard maintenance, for example, by handing him tools or a rag. As they got older they learned to do many of these maintenance chores. Something as easy as coiling lines when they were toddlers helped make them feel that they were contributing.

Feeding the family, nutrition and cooking

The girls have always loved to help cook.

When they were young they might help measure ingredients (a great math skill) or help stir something. As they got older they loved to bake bread or make special treats.

There are a lot of great math skills that you can learn in the kitchen (halving a recipe, for example) and so we did quite a bit of homeschooling while in the galley.

I have the unique perspective of asking my now grown children what they liked and disliked about cruising. I find out that they did not look forward to grinding the whole wheat berries into flour for making whole wheat bread. It was hard, monotonous work they tell me now (we didn't have an electric grinder)! But they never did much complaining.

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



Spending time together and being able to travel as a family.


The best thing about cruising is being with my family.


I love going to George Town. I play dominoes with my friends at Volleyball Beach




I still have some fears (mostly encountering bad weather, although we rarely have). I must say that everyone has always been very supportive of me.


Having to stop and go back to work, again.


Getting seasick sometimes in big waves

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

Why did we go cruising as a family

We were living in Vail, Colorado and working as ski instructors when Tom read an article about cruising while he was recuperating from knee surgery. He asked me if I wanted to go cruising. I said, sure. We knew nothing about sailing, but started reading about the cruising adventures of other sailors who were "living their dream."

When I discovered that some of these cruisers were families, it all came together for me. This was how I wanted to raise our future kids. Our dream of “sailing off for a year or so” suddenly became a dream to live the cruising lifestyle – a lifestyle that would let us live life on our own terms and spend time together traveling together as a family.

How has it panned out? We've been doing it for over 20 years and still love it, so I think it's working out pretty good for us!

Has cruising changed our family

I'm sure that it has. It's hard to say since we've been doing this for our kids' entire life.

As parents, we all want to do what's best for our kids. And even when we're pretty darn sure that we're doing the right thing, it isn't unusual for us to second guess ourselves. Maybe it's just part of being a parent. Maybe it's just part of human nature. It's probably not a bad thing because it makes us stop and reevaluate our choices. Helps to keeps us true to our values. Homeschooling and cruising with kids—it can be kind of scary wondering if you're doing the right thing sometimes.

Our oldest daughter, Kate just turned 24, so I can look back now and see what a wonderful experience both cruising and homeschooling have been for her and for all of us. But still, sometimes—well you wonder if they missed out on anything.

Kate never played baseball...

Here's an experience I had a couple of years ago.

Kate had turned down CalTech's offer of a full scholarship but none the less, she was spending her second summer as a CalTech intern doing research under her mentor Dr. Mike Brown. She called to tell me that she and Mike were going up to Palomar Observatory to check out a telescope. For those of you who don't know Dr. Brown, he discovered the 10th planet in our solar system (now known as Eris, a dwarf planet). For those of you who aren't familiar with Palomar, well it's not every astronomer who gets to use the facilities there.

So Kate goes on to tell me that last night the GPS department (no, not that GPS, it stands for Geological and Planetary Sciences) needed her to play on their baseball team. She says that it was great fun – she had never played baseball before.

Yikes! NEVER played baseball!

My first thought is, what a horrible mom I've been. My daughter has never played baseball! OMG – what else did she miss while we were homeschooling and cruising? She says (in all innocence) "yea, I remember playing some wiffle ball at the beach but I've never really played before." So I'm suddenly feeling really guilty and I say so to her. And of course, thankfully, she puts it all in perspective for me.

She reminded me where she was going that day and what she was gonna be doing – astronomy really is her passion.

And then she reminded me that she had recently been selected as part of the Morning Light Team (Roy Disney chose 15 young adults and took them to Hawaii for 6 months to train as the youngest team to compete in the TransPac race. It was made into a movie called Morning Light - More below).

She says that these things are better than playing baseball. And she has no doubt that cruising and homeschooling helped get her here. Thanks Kate, for setting me straight!

...but she was one of 15 people chosen to be part of the Morning Light Team

In the summer of 2006, Kate applied to be part of Roy Disney's Morning Light Project. Mr. Disney was putting together a diverse team of young people to train for and then race in the Transpacific (TRANSPAC) Yacht Race, a 2,225 nautical mile offshore sailboat race between Los Angeles and Hawaii. Kate was chosen as one of 30 young hopefuls to attend the Morning Light Selection Trials from the 538 applications that were received. The 30 sailors gathered in Long Beach, CA in early August 2006 for the trials, which included team building skills in the mornings and sailing aboard Cal 37's in the afternoon. At the end of the week, Kate was one of 15 people chosen to be part of the Morning Light Team.

Training began in Hawaii in January of 2007 aboard the TP 52, Morning Light. Kate had the thrill of training with people such as Stan Honey; Robbie Haines, an Olympic gold medalist; and Dave Tank, an America's Cup veteran. The race took place in July 2007. Roy Disney made a theatrical release of the selection, training and the race from Los Angeles to Hawaii and the movie, Morning Light, was released in theaters in the fall of 2008.

Kate has been forever transformed by this wonderful opportunity. She also raced in the 2009 Transpac race aboard the tall ship Lynx .


Yes, we all second guess our choices from time to time. But I believe that cruising and homeschooling can be such a positive part of a child's life. One that will open doors in the future because of the experiences your child will have, not close them because of anything that they might have missed.

I hope that the next time you wonder what your child might miss out on by cruising and homeschooling, you'll instead consider what they might miss out on if they don't.

Kate: "Cruisers have their own culture"

I'm currently in my senior year of college and one of the electives I'm taking is a cultural anthropology class. 

Just my first day of this class made me realize something about growing up on a sailboat that I'd never realized before; I had the unique experience of growing up, not just with a different lifestyle than most kids, but in an entirely different culture. 

Kate gets ready for the start of the Blind Rowing Race, which is part of the small boat events
at the annual George Town Cruising Regatta in the Bahamas.


Of course, because we sailed to different countries in the Caribbean and Central America, I was exposed to other cultures. 

But cruisers have their own culture too. 
  • Something people notice right away is that cruisers wear shoes a lot less than most Americans.  I grew up being barefoot almost all the time.  I still get some funny looks when I absent mindedly slip off my shoes somewhere and end up walking around barefoot without realizing it! 

  • Cruisers also have a cuisine that most land-people would find odd. Things like unrefrigerated, boxed milk, canned butter, and unrefrigerated eggs are all things that seemed common-place to me when I was growing up. 

  • The best thing about cruising culture, though, is the freely given help

    If you have car engine trouble these days, it's unlikely that someone will just stop and help you fix your car.  They almost certainly won't take a day out of their lives to root around in your engine, teaching you how to fix it. 

    But if you have trouble with your sailboat's engine all you have to do is make an announcement on the VHF, ask around the potluck, or dinghy over to your neighbors.  Almost certainly they'll help however they can, or at least get you in touch with someone who happens to know about your specific problem.  And chances are, whoever helps you out is even going to donate the gasket, or whatever, that you happen to need! 

The culture is the best part of cruising; it's a huge part of why I'd like to go cruising again someday and it's one of the greatest factors in who I am as a person.


About the OUT OF BOUNDS family

Who was aboard?


Barb is the editor of the Seven Seas Cruising Association Commodore's Bulletin.

She has written for a variety of boating magazines including Cruising World, Sail, Good Old Boat, Mad Mariner, Latitudes & Attitudes and more.

She was a contributing editor at Northern Breezes for many years and was a columnist at Coastal Cruising and Coastal Boating magazines. She also wrote a column called It's Only Natural for Home Education Magazine for many years.


Tom is currently working as a project manager for an engineering firm in the Florida Keys while we build up the cruising kitty again.

He is also the administrator of Seven Seas U, which offers webinars for cruisers. This unique way of learning allows people to engage in interactive, live seminars from the comfort of their boat or home (anywhere that they have Internet).

Tom loves to scuba dive and spearfish. He also enjoys traveling off the beaten path.

Kate, now 24

Kate just finished a year of volunteer work with AmeriCorps. She started her last semester of college and will graduate from New Mexico Institute of Technology in Dec. 2010.

Kenna, now 23

Kenna enjoys swimming, reading, hiking, listening to music and watching movies.

She loves to play dominoes in George Town, Bahamas. She is an excellent cook!

Kai and Lani

Kai and Lani are the best boat dogs in the world.

At 11 and 12 pounds each, these two Havana Silk Dogs are the perfect size and temperament for cruising. Originally from Cuba, they're bred for the tropics and they don't shed!

They're our on board entertainment system.

What kind of boat do you have?

We lived aboard a Gulfstar 41 for more than 15 years and have lived aboard our 39 Privilege catamaran for the past 5 years.

Where have you sailed?

We've sailed the Great Lakes, the eastern seaboard, the Bahamas, the northwest Caribbean and the Eastern Caribbean.

Where did you start out?

We were living in Vail, Colorado when we started our dream of cruising. We moved aboard in Wisconsin in 1990 and left from Sturgeon Bay, WI.

How long have you been cruising?

20 plus years. How old were the kids when you started? 3 years old

Where are you now? What's next?

We're in the Florida Keys. We'll take off again in Feb. 2011 and head to Grenada. Kenna will continue to cruise with us. Kate is already making plans to visit.

Your blog or website(s)?


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To leave a comment, email it to Kathy Parsons: kathy@forcruisers.com