Go to WomenAndCruising.com

Sailing Families Revisited

S/V Family Circus 47ft Lagoon catamaran - USA

Families Revisited
12 Families

Chris and Heather TSORTZIS + Alina (5), Amaia (7), Alexia (11), Tristan (13), and Mykaela (20)
Their two-year sabbatical began with the Baja Haha rally from California to Mexico. With 5 children aboard ages 5 to 20, they chose a catamaran for their cruise onward through the Pacific.


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

Setting the date of October 2014 helped us to stay on track

I think for us it was finally setting a date and making the commitment.

Family Circus ALMOST ready to leave the dock

Once we did this we told ourselves no going back and we worked really hard to set out to meet our goal of the Baja Ha Ha Rally in 2014.

Without setting this date I can see how we may have kept pushing the departure date farther back. There are so many things to take care of before you push off the dock that it is truly overwhelming.

We had to sell our old boat, rent our house, move out and into the new boat, downsize, get the kids prepared and adjusted to boat living, find homes for our pets, and the list goes on... not to mention preparing our boat for a 2 year passage.

Setting the date of October 2014 helped us to stay on track, push ourselves beyond sanity and use a terabyte of hard drive space to create all of our endless to do lists, training lists, seminar lists, boat lists, etc....

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

We are fortunate that our 4 youngest have a sibling within 2 years

When we left San Francisco our kids were Alina - 5 years, Amaia - 7 years, Alexia - 11 years, Tristan - 13 years, and Mykaela - 20 years. We had to leave our oldest son, Kava who is 26 Yrs., home as he was working

I am not sure if you can say there is a best age. I think any age to take kids cruising is amazing. We enjoy the adventure and seeing their reactions to the discoveries that we come across.

Having the kids at the ages we do has made our cruising life seem as an easy transition, we have been fortunate that they are all really easy to live on a boat with.

We are also fortunate in that our four youngest are “paired” where they have a sibling within 2 years, who tends to be their primary playmate to entertain themselves with.

They are all self-sufficient, helpful and resourceful, most of the time. Each child gets a different life experience out of this and it will shape them all in different ways.

In my opinion, I give a lot of credit to those cruising with babies. I can't imagine how hard that is for them. Every chore is magnified 100 times.

All questions

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

We were fortunate enough to purchase a boat that had been actively cruised for 2 years prior to our purchasing her. We specifically set out to find a boat like this so there were not many mechanical or cosmetic modifications that needed to be done.

We chose a catamaran for a number for reasons, and I think they are an awesome platform for a family. By their nature they give you more space to carve out, or separate (trampoline, on the hardtop, in each cabin, inside salon, large cockpit, back steps, etc).

As far as “Family enabling” our boat?

We put on the lifeline nettings like most families do, LED lights so you don't stress when kids don't turn them off, and then added lifeline and davit racks for the “toys and vehicles” that help make it fun and give our kids more range and independence- kayak, sailing/rowing dinghy, surfboards, paddle boards.

On the interior we let the kids help personalize their rooms, though they were only cosmetic modifications.

Other systems like the watermaker and power generation make it a more comfortable life, and easier to manage.

4. Anything you wish you had known before you got started? Any advice for families?

Is   there   anything   you'd   like   to   tell   other   moms   and   dads   contemplating   this   life   change?  

Chris and I had started researching for this trip about 7 years ahead of time. In the last 3 years we had been following blogs of other cruisers doing the same trip we have been planning. I think that was tremendously helpful and gave us a lot of reassurances in our choice and commitment to “Go” .

In reading others experiences and taking notes from them it has helped us to prepare our boat and get mentally prepared for our journey. They both inspired us and scared us but in the end really helped us to make our lists and check them twice. In many ways this trip so far has been easier than I have expected once we got into a rhythm of living.

After looking at all the other cruisers, young families and young cruisers, I sort of wish I would have done a short cruise (6 mos-1 year) earlier in my life- if you did something coastal, like Mexico from California it really would have been easy to do on a low budget, and gain a lot of experience.

The big OCEAN as an unknown was probably the biggest barrier for us, and while it can be fearful, most of the time it's really quite tame and uneventful, and with weather data available today- you can generally avoid really bad weather issues.

Do you have any advice for families that are considering going cruising ?

Kids' advice to kids

Try to learn the language(s) of the countries you are going to.

Don't go without a kindle.

You don't need a lot of clothes and make sure they are quick drying and loose fitting.

You think on the boat that you will have all the time to do some hobbies or play games but you don't. So don't bring a lot of games, hobby and personal stuff.

Mom and Dad's advice:


Make sure to meet as many other boats as possible. Talk to them to see what equipment they are using, charts, and any other information they can help you with. Especially in today's age with large capacity USB sticks it's amazing what is available and easily shared - we have tons of charts, cruising guides, movies, music exchanged from others.

Everyone is extremely helpful and more than willing to share information, parts, advice, etc... It is amazing how wonderful the cruising community is. We are all in the same boat, so to speak, and love to help each other.

I'd second the kids on learning the languages. I really wish I had developed greater proficiency in certain languages before we left, as I think it's the best way to meet the locals and learn about their culture. Many people do speak English, but often not to a degree where you can have a very developed conversation.

It was a scary and exciting move for us to make this decision and actually untie the dock lines. There have been many times when you ask yourself, “What the heck am I doing” and other times when you can't imagine your life any other way.

It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done and I can't think of any regrets for this decision.

All questions

5. A typical day on board? Your kids' responsibilities aboard?

What is a "typical day" at anchor?

Amaia and sharks

It is different depending on where you are anchored.

When we are anchored in Mexico we found that we woke up to listen to the cruisers net. Then we would try to get some schooling done. Even though the kids started school as late as 8:30 or 9am, they generally were done by noon or earlier.

Once the schooling is done we usually ate lunch and then went to explore the beach, town or just swimming.

If we were at a location with a “feature” like a waterfall or special cultural site, we'd often bail on school for the “field trip”.

The diving and snorkeling have by far been the most rewarding and educational for the kids.

Bring along some great books to help you identify all of the sea life that you will find from shells, fish, birds, coral reefs, mammals it is the most fun our kids have had to go and explore then come back to the boat to identify what they have seen.

Then depending on where we were we would have dinner on the boat and then you typically go to bed early.

Living on the boat we seemed to have kept time with the sun. We got up with the sun and went to bed with the sun. Even though you are living on a boat and the space is small, I found that I get exhausted very easily and by the time evening comes around I am very ready for bed.

The girls began to love the black tip reef sharks here in the Tuamotus and Society Islands. It was one of all of our fears swimming with these sharks and now I hear the girls scream, “Look sharks, Cannonball!” They love them.

What is a "typical day" on passage?

We are not very good with routines on passage. Because most of us get sick we are often just lying around and looking out at the horizon.

Often school is set aside unless we can read history or science to the kids and have discussions.

The kids usually read, watch movies, listen to music, play an instrument, play with toys or just come outside and watch for sea life.

I often make many dinners prior to leaving so I don't have to cook in the kitchen.

The fishing has been a lot of fun for us and gives us some excitement during the day and something to look forward to. The anticipation of the big catch is something that we all talk about.


All questions

6. What are your kid's responsibilities aboard?

Tristan and Alexia food chores

The kids don't have any set chores but share in many duties.

They all help in washing the boat, doing laundry, washing dishes, cleaning their rooms, helping to fix things, running errands, and just day to day duties.

When you live on a boat there is always something to be done.

It is hard for me to assign chores among the kids we just ask for help and they are always there and willing.

In terms of actually sailing the kids are all on deck helping to raise and lower sails, and taking late evening watch shifts.

None of the kids like to wash the dishes. Sometimes you get little funny animals that come through the salt water hoses for the sink and that is never fun to have in your dishwater.

7. A great moment?

I think it is all the little stories that add up to our big adventure story as a family and the little moments are the ones that make it all worth it.

One special moment was swimming with the giant manta rays in Nuka Hiva, Marquesas. Nuku Hiva is a fairly large town in the Marquesas and its bay is quite big, with a very large concrete dock for the supply ships and refueling, so aside from the shore activities we didn't expect much “nature activity” .

We had befriended a cruising family and had agreed to sail around the island to a new spot. They left early, and we noticed them still in the bay 45 minutes later-just up from the fuel dock. They called us excitedly on the radio and told us they were swimming with a large group of manta rays that were feeding on plankton and didn't seem bothered by their presence.

We sped over and started searching for the mantas with Heather steering the boat, and I jumped in with our oldest three kids. Heather pointed to where the groups were, and we swam around trying to intersect them.

Finally we joined a group of 11 mantas that were 8-12 feet wide, going in circles and feeding, which was absolutely stunning. They were completely mesmerizing, our 21 year old was able to touch one, and after 30 minutes I got out so Heather could jump in, and take our 7 year old who loved seeing them, which left our 6 year old on the boat. I finally jumped back in with her and she clung tightly to me, quite afraid. Only later did I learn that she thought they were Giant Sting Rays!

Apparently Mantas aren't always that tolerant of you swimming with them, so our one hour with them was a very unique experience, a complete shared family experience, and one we can't easily replicate, and won't easily forget.

8. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?

When you are cruising on a boat you don't get sick as often. You just are not near as many people to get the germs passed down. We had consulted many doctors before we left so we had a complete pharmacy on board.

You go through the cruising books and make sure to have a complete first aid kit for EVERYTHING … and then we took some wilderness survival classes that helped us in emergency first aid.

We have had only one accident with our 7 year old getting a split in her skin next to her eye on a cruise in Mexico. We were 8 hours from any medical office so all we could do was butterfly it and watch her. As it turned out the wound healed perfectly and now she has a story to be told.

We have found that there are many medical offices all around us if you need attention but we have found that we just aren't in need.

We try to be extra aware of our surroundings and make sure the kids don't take the unnecessary risks but with that said we are still having a great time jumping into waterfalls, hiking through rivers, wake boarding, surfing, and just enjoying all that life on a boat can offer.

When we are offshore the kids are typically just sitting around and they learn to hang on when they move around the boat.

We are always harnessed when we are outside and in rough weather the kids hunker down and just sit and watch a movie or wait it out. Fortunately we have only seen rough weather twice on our trip and they were both short lived and completely manageable.

9. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?


A pleasantly surprising good morning of focused homeschooling
The kids are so excited to get all of their school supplies delivered... We received 5 boxes of supplies from Calvert Charter School.

We use the Calvert system for our 4 school age kids.

Homeschooling has some great joint learning moments, and a closeness to our kids'education that we didn't have before. However, it's probably also been the greatest source of frustration in our cruise so far.

We don't know if it's the number of kids we are trying to school, or just the nature of it, but it's been a bit of a grind to get the kids up, motivated, going on school and staying engaged.

We've spoken to many cruising parents, and childhood educators, and so we are not really worried, but it is frustrating. We know that worst case, we focus on writing, math and reading, and the kids are generally doing well there, especially the reading!

The science, geography and history don't necessarily follow the textbooks all the time, but the kids are getting immeasurable real world experiences and examples that we talk about and put in context every day.

With all of the cultures and histories of the locations we are in the kids are getting more history by taking with all the older generations of the islands than they ever would in a text book.

Being in French Polynesia especially has shown them how respectful and legendary their history is. It is represented in every mountain, ocean, island, dance, tattoo and song they have. Every generation speaks of passing down their family history so the younger generations never forget where their people came from.

Friendships   and   social   interactions  

Boat kids, "hanging out" having fun

Like other cruising families, we are always on the lookout for other cruising families and quickly determine the ages of their kids and the languages they speak.

Our younger kids don't really care about the language, while it's a more gating factor for the older ones.

Our kids are quick to invite others over and they have also gotten good at creating games and interaction the spot.

The biggest bonus for us is when we meet families that we all genuinely connect with, including the adults! It's a great shared experience and we have met some fantastic families with like-minded spirits and ideals.

When that occurs, we often will jointly massage the cruising plan to spend more time together, and although the eventual goodbyes are always hard, we do think they will remain lifelong friends we can visit with in the future!

Keeping   the   kids   entertained  



We have a pile of stuff we have brought with us and some has been more successful than others. We do try to get the kids off the boat and “doing stuff” frequently, but when we're on the boat by ourselves the top activities are

•  Kindle / Reading - by a long shot. There are ebooks that can be shared and downloaded for free, which is helpful.

•  Movies - we have accumulated a massive collection from other cruisers and the kids individually watch movies/tv shows, and we watch some as a family (including oldies like Footloose and Grease!). The movies aren't the greatest development activity but for things like passages they are invaluable.

•  Art “Stuff” - we have lots of pens and pencils and paint and paper and it gets used - by almost all ages

•  Music- it's actually astounding how music is an all age activity and how all our kids are now well tuned in to 70's easy listening, ABBA as well as modern stuff.

•  Our younger girls do well with Legos, Lalaloopsies, etc and we have a pile of each. Then of course all the shells, beach critters and rocks they bring back to the boat.

•  Playing with nature and the toys on the boat. We are always in the water swimming, snorkeling, beach combing, collecting shells, having hermit crab races, and then finding ways to add more speed. Surfing, Boogie Boarding, the kids love being pulled in the kayak, other boats of toys like wake boards.

Personal space

Everyone piled in a cabin for Alexia's birthday

Our 6 and 7 year old share a cabin and our 12 and 13 year old share a cabin, and it hasn't been bad at all. There are occasional spats but they are very limited, and they have been very accepting of our environment.

Hanging out on the bow.

They also know that many cruising families get by with a lot less space, which helps them get more perspective.

The boat is large enough where people can go to different places to get away, which they tend to do at the right time.

Even Mom and Dad will sometimes take a rum drink and banish ourselves to the stern steps in our “timeout room” (although the kids usually find us).

The other thing to remember is kids will find all sorts of places to hang out in- on the bow, on top of or inside the sail cover, in a hammock …

Family   back   home   and   their   concerns  

Oma comes to visit

We had to educate folks before we left, including sharing other blog sites with them to show that we weren't crazy.

Now our blog is a regular update for family and friends, and we do use a cell phone when we are close to land to occasionally call, and in passage we do rarely use the satellite phone, just to check in.

When on passage, we have used the SPOT device to show our location when it is in range, and we also used the SSB email daily on our Pacific Crossing to keep everyone up to speed on where we were and the progress we were making.

At first everyone was very concerned for our safety but now that we have been out cruising for a while they have become more comfortable with our adventure and are now more excited to get the next story and hear about what we have been doing.

10. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES

This is my favorite part of cruising, NOT!

Clean-up and daily maintenance of the boat

Chris repairing the generator

It is exponentially harder to maintain a boat than it was for our house. Everything takes longer and it is very difficult for us to keep our mess in order.

With such a small boat and all of our stuff piled around it is hard to keep it organized.

We were hoping that during this cruise the kids would learn to put their toys away, wet clothes off the floor, clean up their dishes, etc. All I can say is that they now help out a little more when I ask them to pick up.

Kids are kids and they will slowly learn over time and hopefully change habits but I am not sure our trip will be long enough to achieve this.

Me doing the wash as one of my chores

The kids do enjoy helping clean the outside of the boat and scrub the stuff off the waterline. It's a lot like washing a car when they all want to help and get to play in the bubbles.


Laundry for me is another issue. I have been surprised at how expensive it is to get laundry done off the boat.

When we are at a location that I can pay to get our sheets and towels washed I will do that to get the boat smell out of them for a short time.

Everything always gets a boat smell and I have tried really hard in many different ways to keep this at bay.

I was definitely against getting a washing machine for our boat since we are out for only a few years but now I am regretting that decision.

Washing clothes for 7 people has been a chore that I never imagined. I always thought how dirty can we get on a boat. Trust me the clothes get dirty and smelly.

So I had my mother bring down with her to Mexico a Wonder Wash washing machine to help me with my hand washing. I love it!

Feeding the family, nutrition and cooking

On the boat it is difficult to get a well balance of fresh goods and to keep cooking with them. They often don't last long so you can only replenish when you get to a store (if they even have any).

I have found that Mexico by far had wonderful fresh food supplies and then French Polynesia has very limited supplies unless you are in Tahiti.

There were many wonderful times in the Marquesas that we ventured up a road and found local people who would offer a trade for some of their fresh food from their land. Often this was a highlight and a new friendship was treasured.

I try to cook with the foods that they have to offer but with my cooking experience it is very limited. I am still trying and it is always a challenge for me.

Fortunately it is for a short time period, so we do the best that we can and we have actually never been healthier.

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


BEST: I like the manta rays and seeing all the sea life outside my door.

LEAST: The Jelly Fish!


BEST: The fact that I can read my kindle all the time.

LEAST: The trips that go overnight.


BEST: The infinite amount of stars at night.

LEAST: Not speaking the same language.


BEST: All the places we get to see.

LEAST: Being isolated from your friends and the passages.


BEST: Getting to a new place to explore.

LEAST: Feeling so isolated, lack of communication from the world. Everything is always so different, and constantly being out of your comfort zone.


BEST: I love the destinations. I love setting the hook and enjoying and discovering all the new locations. It is fun to see all the difference and meet so many new people along the way. Everyone has been so friendly, and welcoming and the places we have seen so far have been so memorable.

LEAST: I miss my friends and family a ton! I also get really sea sick so I don't enjoy the passages. I have a load of sea sick medicines that help but I think it is more of my anxiety that plays the factor in getting sick.


BEST: Enjoying adventures and new places with the whole family. Getting to places that few people will ever go to.

LEAST: Nothing, and when “Fixing things” gets too extreme and too long, where you can't enjoy the reason you are out here.

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

Why did we go cruising as a family

To slow down, and spend more time with our kids in their formative years, and to build a joint sense of adventure and discovery.

In our former, typically suburban active lives, things were going by very quickly with work, soccer practices, games, scouts, school, and kids having individual birthday parties and sleepovers. Our memorable family time seemed like it was most often oriented around a few special weekends or holidays- we wanted to invert that.

So far, it's been awesome. Sometimes it's almost too many awesome events, and you get jaded from how amazing it really is! I often think it may sink in more when we are back in the real world, in school and the office, listening to some mind numbing voicemail or lecture!

Has cruising changed you/your family? How?

  • As a family we are spending more time together and really enjoying each other's company.
  • We laugh more often.
  • We appreciate the small things in life.
  • We are eating healthier because we have to cook everything ourselves and not be able to go to fast food.
  • We are more comfortable meeting new people and spending time with new families and learning about each other.
  • All the kids have so much confidence now it really shows.
  • They are able to think outside of the box to solve the problems and have become very creative in their imaginations.
  • They all seem more flexible and in their ideas and accepting of others and love to learn from other cruisers they come across.

About the FAMILY CIRCUS family

Who is aboard?

We're a family of 8 with 7 of us going on this cruise. Kids were 20, 13, 11, 7 and 5 when we started, and we've been underway for 9 months now.

What kind of boat do you have?

We are sailing on a 47 foot catamaran, 2004 Lagoon 470, with 4 cabins and 3 heads. We had done 5 bareboat charters before (BVI's, Greece) and had spent three weeks in the Sea of Cortez when we bought our prior catamaran (our practice boat).

Where have you sailed? Where did you start out?

We took the kids out of school for two years, and Chris has two years from work - so that is our time window.

We did the Baja HaHa Rally from San Diego to Mexico and spent 4 more months in Mexico before our big “Puddle Jump” across the Pacific to the Marquesas, and then we left the Tuamotu Atolls and headed for the “Big City” of Papeete and the Society Islands.

What's next?

Our plans are to continue through the Pacific, leaving Fiji in the fall to spend the cyclone season in New Zealand.

We will return to the Pacific for Vanuatu, New Caledonia and then end our cruise in Australia where we hope to sell the boat.

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


Top of page

Sailing Families Revisited

12 questions to 12 sailing Families (2010)

All Feature Articles