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Sailing Families revisited

S/V MESSENGER 1982 IOR 1-ton class sloop- Homeport: New York, USA

Families Revisited
12 Families

Jay THOMPSON & Natasha GONZALEZ + Sol (10), Luna (9), Caribe (3), Ártico (1) - The “Coconuts” family began cruising on a racing boat with daughters 2 and 3. Six years later, the family has grown to 6, as they sailed from the Caribbean through the North Atlantic to Europe.

Click on a question or scroll down this page

1. The biggest challenge you faced in getting out there?   7. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?
2. Is there a best age to take children cruising?   8. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES?
3. Any modifications to the boat for the children?   9. What do you like BEST / LEAST about cruising?
4. Anything you wish you had known before you left?   10. Has cruising changed your family?
5. A typical day aboard? Your kids' responsibilities?   11. A recipe for cruising families?
6. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?    

Learn more about the MESSENGER/COCONUTS family


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

Jay altering the cockpit to add an additional foot of head space down below (Panama, 2011)

Our biggest challenge was the labour. Because we had a very small budget we did all the work ourselves and things always took longer than anticipated.

Eventually our desires outweighed what we thought we needed to get done before setting sail.

So we always seemed to leave with half of the “Would like to do” list and nothing done on the “Would like to get done” list.

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

Jay driving up the East River in New York with Natasha and Caribe (5 months old) in the foreground and downtown NYC in the background (2012).

We believe that when children are young it's the best time to go traveling by boat.

Sailing with Ártico, 4 months old, passage from Iceland to Faroe Islands (2014).

Our oldest 2 daughters were 2 and 3 years old when we left land life for a life at sea. The younger 2 have been born onboard, literally.

When children are young their parents are their best friends and whom they want to be with all the time. Children grow up very fast and we wanted to take full advantage of the early years to be with them as much as possible. A nomadic life at sea gives families the opportunity to be together 24/7.

We also believe that when children become teenagers their peers become, in a way, more important. This is the time in their development that they desire to find their identity and being “stuck on a boat” with their parents doesn't sound like something I would want if I was a teenager.

So it was important for us to go while they were young. It's been 6 years now so we only have a couple more years left before our oldest ones might not want to live this way any longer.


All questions

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

Our boat is not your typical cruising vessel, it is a racing boat and it picked us more than we picked it.

It was abandoned and therefore a free boat. With the money we sold our previous boat we fixed up Messenger but always with the intention of selling it one day. We knew this boat was a stepping stone onto our next boat.

During its refit we chose to keep it as close to its original splendor as possible. We changed the galley and the chart table to make them more comfortable adding an extra foot of headroom in each as well, put in a water-tight bulkhead at the front between the anchor locker and V-berth, but other than that, we kept it as was from its original design.

We never made it a “childproof boat”, not sure if that even exists but rather put a lot of care and time into teaching our children how to live on a boat safely.

Sol (5) and Luna (4) inside MESSENGER (2011)

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

Just go!

We have seen people let years go by as they plan and prepare to go sailing but always waiting until everything is perfect or everything from their lists are done. Nothing on a boat is ever totally done, there is always work to do, things to improve, the list will always go on… so just go!

Once people get going they even laugh at the reasons that were keeping them on land, those reasons lose importance once you experience the benefits of a life at sea.

All questions

5. A typical day aboard? What are the kids' responsibilities aboard?

Luna (6) standing on the boom leaning on the main sail,
along the Leeward Islands (Caribbean Sea, 2012).

The children enjoy swinging from the rigging and the boom, climbing up the mast to sit on the spreaders, diving off the boat and swimming around and climbing in and out of the dinghy when it's tied behind the boat, rowing the dinghy around on their own or paddling around on their surf boards with the dinghy's oars as if they had SUPs.

Fishing and foraging are part of their daily lives. They have returned home with buckets full of fish, oysters, clams or periwinkles. In that sense they are like little indian children, helping to provide for their families.

The children help when underway, especially when leaving or entering a harbor, with fenders or dock lines, driving the boat, tailing the lines when raising the main or the jib and releasing them as well, especially when we dump the spinnaker for example.

They pretty much help in every aspect except for maybe cooking underway, though they do cook a lot while at anchor. They help with chores like collecting the garbage to take to shore and washing dishes.

After 6 years of living a nomadic life at sea, everything becomes normal and land life becomes abnormal.

We realized this when for example one of our children would ask our hosts when visiting a house which of the faucet handles was salt water and which was fresh water, rather than hot or cold water.


6. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY

Keeping the kids safe aboard

Sol (10), Caribe (3) and Luna (8) sailing in Ísafjordur, Westfjords, Iceland wearing their harnesses (2015).

The children will always wear a harness with a long rope while underway especially in rough weather.

There is a rule when underway that they cannot go beyond the weather cloths and should remain in the cockpit, unless it is dead calm or there are dolphins to be seen, then they are allowed to go to the bow with their harnesses.

We have taught our children to swim since a very young age, this is of utmost importance and we believe it should be a priority if you live on a boat.

We do not have them wear life jackets because they are cumbersome and impede them to get around a moving boat with ease.

Caring for the kids offshore

Passage from Bonaire to Martinique, Natasha pregnant with Caribe(2011)

We are more nervous with the kids around streets than around docks and water, for obvious reasons, they have grown up on boats.

Keeping the kids healthy, eg getting medical care

Our kids have always been very healthy. Not going to school full time and being around so many kids has spared them getting sick often.

I use homeopathy drops during their once-a-year cold which never lasts more than a day or two. Their immune systems are very strong due to the lifestyle and healthy eating. We do not worry about medical insurance nor vaccination or regular checkups.

We are fortunate that our children are incredibly healthy, perhaps things would be different and harder if any of them had any problems or issues with health.

7. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?


Living aboard in Reykjavik harbor, winter 2014-2015.
Sol and Luna went to school and learned to speak Islandic.

Our family motto is “life is the lesson”, our children learn from their travels and lifestyle more than from books. Their schooling comes from real-life experiences, we take every experience and turn it into a learning lesson.

During periods when we have stopped in a place for a while they have gone to school in four different countries but only to learn the languages.

We have taught them the love for reading and how to research anything that interests them so they can learn all about it.

Friendships and social interactions

In San Blas islands with friends (Panama, 2011)

Cruising children find and make friends everywhere they go. This is something our children have become masters in. They are not at all shy and make friends quickly, they even make adult friends and invite people of all ages over for a visit on the boat.

Our children are very social and outgoing, they are the ones who keep our social life active.

Keeping the kids entertained

Sol (7) looking for a treasure, ashore with our dinghy Swiss Miss (Barbuda, 2012).

We have taught our kids to entertain themselves, they are entrepreneurs who make and sell their own art crafts, buy their own movies and candy (which we never buy for them).

Arts and crafts are what they spend most of their time doing, they love collecting things from nature to use in their art making such as sea glass and sea shells.

Personal space aboard

On an open design boat there is no personal space but this has made our particular family a very close-knit one.

Sol in her “aft pipe berth” at age 5 with her keyboard (2010).

Family back home and their concerns

Our extended family have found ways to come and visit us at different ports. One grandma is a flight attendant on a major airline so we see her a lot, she's a real sport and stays on the boat and has also sailed on a few passages with us.

We believe that because of our lifestyle we, in a way, have inspired our friends and family to leave the comfort of their daily lives to come and visit us in perhaps places around the world they would have never gone to if it weren't for us being there.

Especially because we have chosen to sail “off the beaten path” and gone to places where few boats venture out to.

8. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES


Drying laundry in Dominica (2012)

Dirty laundry has been the biggest hurdle for life aboard. We try to get as little clothes dirty as possible, so for example the kids have painting bibs they use when doing messy art stuff.

And at every port there is a day set aside for finding a washer/dryer, we go together as a family and get it done. We have experienced countries where people have opened up their homes for us to do our laundry in, we have found marinas with great facilities and places where we have had to wash in buckets and hang to dry on the boat -- we have experienced the “full-spectrum”.

Clean-up and daily maintenance of the boat

Every once in a while we do a deep cleaning of the boat, everyone helps and we clean the entire boat inside and out -- even the bilge gets washed. Everyone helps and we get it done in one day.

Captain “Papi” Jay does all the boat maintenance himself but the kids like to help as much as is possible, either being gofers or tool handlers.

Luna (8) up the mast surveying the sheave-box with a photo of it for Captain “Papi” Jay.
(Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, 2014).

Feeding the family, nutrition and cooking

We fish and forage a lot, we don't store a lot of food which makes us go grocery shopping more often but this means we eat more fresh food. Captain “Papi” Jay is a great cook, he's in charge of dinner at anchor, “Mami” Natasha makes breakfast and the older 2 girls are in charge of lunch, they love cooking and have learned to be little chefs along the way.

9. What do you like BEST / LEAST about cruising


Sol (10)

All the new places you get to see, the sea life you see and the amount of time we get to spend together as a family.

Luna (9)

That you get to experience all sorts of different things, like different countries, cities, and schools.

Caribe (3)

I love going fishing in the dinghy and exploring on land.


I love the destinations more than the passages. The real-life learning experiences for the children.


I like the sailing part.



Sol (10)

I don't like getting seasick which I do in rough weather.

Luna (9)

That you can't keep very delicate things such as ceramic figures because they will break or get to work on large puzzles, anything under 500 pieces is too easy for me and I don't have space to work on a puzzle for an extended period of time.

Caribe (3)

I love Messenger!


I miss the comforts that a house can provide but the pros of a nomadic life at sea outweigh the cons, so I have never complained.


The need to constantly be thinking about finding work when money is about to run out.

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

Jay at the helm with Luna (8), Caribe (3), Sol (10) and Ártico (5 months) in the cockpit
(Norway's coast, North Sea, 2015).
Natasha, Sol (3) and Luna (2)
on a “trial as crew-mates”(2009).

Why did we go cruising as a family

Jay was already a cruiser when I met him and it was a lifelong dream for me so it was natural for myself to become a “permanent stow away”.

We gave it a trial run with Sol and Luna who were only 2 and 3. We lived with Jay in San Diego harbor aboard his boat Carrizalilla for 2 months at anchor and we all fell in love, with each other and with the life style.

Has cruising changed our family

It has made us a tight knit family, given us quantity as well as quality time, “best of both worlds”!


All questions

11. One of your favorite quick, handy recipes for cruising families?

Caramel popcorn

  • Make regular popcorn with added salt
  • Melt white sugar, add butter when it's all melted and hot pour it slowly over the popcorn while mixing it.


As a family we are known as the Coconuts, because we are like a coconut, part white and part brown. Also because we sailed around the Caribbean for a few years and had a growing coconut on our tiller: we would say this was our compass, wherever the coconut “pointed to” we would go. The name stuck and for the past 6 years we have been collectively known as the Coconut family and as Grandma “Baba” says we are “more nuts than coco”.

We are

  • Jay: father and true sailor;
  • Natasha: mother and media-person onboard;
  • Sol (girl) born in 2005 and living aboard since age 3;
  • Luna (girl) born in 2006 and living aboard since age 2;
  • Caribe (girl) born in 2012 onboard in Martinique;
  • Ártico (boy) born in 2015 in Iceland.


Messenger has been our home for the past 6 years, it is not your average cruising boat: it's a race boat. A one-of-a-kind custom built by designer German Frers, it's a 1982 IOR 1-ton class sloop.

We kept it as a race boat, so it is simple and light and its interior is like a studio loft style, open with 4 aft racing cots for the children. They can winch themselves up while laying in them which is great for when underway. Messenger is an engineless boat so we have been sailing 100% green, our dinghy is also green, it's a rowing and sailing dinghy.

Captain “Papi” Jay started 10 years ago in San Francisco. He sailed down the Pacific coast to Costa Rica where he met Natasha who jumped aboard with her 2 daughters Sol and Luna. In 2010 they sold Jay's boat on the Pacific coast and rescued Messenger which was abandoned in Florida.

Since then, they have lived aboard and sailed throughout the Caribbean, North Atlantic, Arctic Circle, North Sea and most currently through northern Europe. They are in south Brittany for this winter where they plan to sell Messenger and get a bigger boat for their growing family.

In 2015 they found a company who was interested in sponsoring their lifestyle. It's ".is" the top-level-domain.

They have a website (www.coconuts.is) and write a blog, as well as keep up with social media on Facebook (www.facebook.com/coconuts.is) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/coconuts.is). They have a new and very exciting sailing proposal for 2016. Subscribe to their blog on their website to find out more and get updates on their adventures.

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