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Sailing Families Revisited

S/V Datura 40ft Jeanneau Sun Fizz - France

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Families Revisited
12 Families

Julie CARTIGNY & Fred BRU, Louise (11), Romιo (6). This French family of 4 set sail on a 2 year cruise across the Atlantic through the Caribbean and Bahamas with little sailing experience but with lots of joy and good humour.


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

All the administrative details in managing our departure! (School, apartment, etc.).

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

Leaving Europe (Gibraltar, 2013)

Louise was 9 and Roméo 4 when we left.

It seems to me that the best age is between 4 and 10 years old. We have met some teenagers who weren't very happy cruising, feeling "too cut off from everything."

Everything depends on the parents, and the time they give to their children on board and ashore. Regretfully, we have seen too many mothers busy keeping their boats spotless while the fathers are in the engine room.

The little ones for me are those who derive the greatest benefit from such a voyage, nothing better to develop the imagination of a child! Everything is an adventure! One day they are pirates, the next day, adventurers and Master Mariner...

They learn very quickly the essential concepts for their future life : not to waste food, water and electricity, respect for others, open-mindedness, independence, resourcefulness, patience, security... the list is long.

Added to this is of course a knowledge of navigation, weather, even entrance formalities for other countries.

They excel in swimming and always have their heads under water, amazed to encounter a shark, a stingray...

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

DATURA, a 1982 Jeanneau Sun Fizz

None. We chose a boat with 3 cabins.

However, each child personalized his cabin! Colors, stickers, wall coverings... The salon walls were quickly transformed into classrooms : world map, map of the Caribbean, multiplication table, list of syllables...

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

We couldn't have guessed how much happiness was awaiting us!

We felt that it would be wonderful! And it has been! We couldn't have guessed how much happiness was awaiting us!

Our preparation was done exclusively through books and blogs. We were ready for anything … intellectually!

We were also used to traveling long and far with one child as backpackers.

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5. A typical day on board?

What was a "typical day" at anchor?

At anchor in Cayo Largo, Cuba

School 8am/9am to 12pm every day except the weekend. Concerning holidays, we did not follow the French vacation schedule but instead took holidays during visits from friends or family from France.

Louise took the CNED (National Centre for Distance Education - Centre National d'Enseignement à Distance in French) courses for CM1 and CM2 (CNED deserves a chapter to itself! Although it is undeniable that without this service, schooling would have surely been more complicated!)

Roméo worked with us on his kindergarten program. But as he was part of the "morning class," he of course listened to and participated in various subjects Louise studied: visual arts, music, history, geography.

After lunch, we spent the afternoons walking ashore and exploring. We were always moving. We took the time to explore each island, each country... In the Caribbean, we stayed at least one month at each island.

Fred and I each had our own subjects to teach the children, (science for monsieur, literature for madame!) That allowed the children to have two teachers and two teaching methods. As for us, it allowed us to have a morning off for our various activities (Kite surfing, diving... or shopping or tidying up!)

What was a "typical day" on passage?

Catching tuna underway

During our first passages, the children would often spend hours lying around, doing nothing. Roméo got seasick during the first year and then it passed. We took advantage of passages (when calm!) to study history and civics, which are "easy" subjects to explain.

We also listened to many podcasts, like the “Petits Bateaux” ("Small Boats") program on France Inter.

Passages were real moments of discussion and exchange. During stormy weather, we each found a corner and waited patiently! Only rarely would we put on a movie.

Again, we had observed too many children who spent long hours in front of cartoons, or on their tablets. We had our little Friday night ritual of watching a movie, where our salon was transformed into a real movie theater! We took advantage of these evenings to introduce our children to “Les Louis de Funès” (films with a famous comic French actor) and other French classics. One evening we watched " Home ". This documentary made a great impression on the children; we talked about it for months!

Passages are also synonymous with trolling, identifying, cleaning, preparing the fish we caught.


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6. What were your kids'responsibilities aboard?

There was a minimum to do every day, but the priority remained to have a good time.

They helped us with the daily chores: dishes, laundry (often by hand), cleaning the deck, hull, pumping up the dinghy, the cooking...

Everything in moderation! The goal was mostly to enjoy! There was a minimum to do every day, but the priority remained US, and therefore primarily to have a good time! We favored impromptu picnics on the beach to cleaning the deck!

7. How did you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?


Before our departure, we made an appointment at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and a series of dentists, pediatricians, general... each doctor gave us good advice, appropriate medical prescriptions.

We even had a kit with syringes and a scalpel, which fortunately never were taken out of the box!

During the voyage we had no problems, apart from a strong bout of “ turista ” for Roméo in La Paz, where we went to see the doctor at the Embassy.


Underway, when the children were in the cockpit : lifejackets and safety harnesses, no negotiation or discussion allowed! Roméo soon learned to swim.

And we taught the children to use the VHF radio to also make emergency calls. We had a card next to the radio detailing the procedure, as well as a very simple list of things to do in case of man overboard.

When we had new guests aboard, before getting underway, we briefed them on the security features, and the children received regular reminders and refreshers.

8. How did you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?

First day of school

As mentioned above, school every morning, and then as soon as possible, visits to museums, concerts... and of course lots of time spent with other children and adults on our boat or on theirs.

9. How did you handle: TASKS and CHORES?


With joy and good humor, that was part of the trip but without ever being a constraint!

Unlike other boats we met, we had no water maker or freezer, or... anything! So of course we had to lug jerry cans of water, become creative when the nearby grocery store only had chicken wings, and those wings were two weeks old.

But the trip would have been different; we would not have met so many amazing people ashore if we had stayed on our boat letting the water run wastefully while enjoying a Martinique steak!

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

Best: The quality time spent together

The best

  • The quality time spent together. Having time, the ultimate luxury. Talking, observing, interchange.
  • But above all the encounters we had on the water and ashore, which are the real treasures of our voyage.
  • Wonderful times spent snorkeling. To see your child underwater discovering fish is priceless. And afterward, to see him spontaneously pick up a floating plastic bag in fear of having a turtle choke on it!

The worst

  • When the sailing was difficult! When the weather was nasty and didn't correspond to the forecasts!
  • When the crêpe batter ended up in the bilge! Grhhh! Get a grip, keep calm and start again!

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

With just a simple glance, we understand each other.

As I said earlier we used to backpack with Louise in many part of the world.

With the arrival of Roméo, the idea of having a moving home seemed easier to us, we bought a California T4, and then very quickly the urge, once again, to go and show the world to our children led us to a boat!

Life aboard was an incredible learning experience for all 4 of us, at all levels. We are all now even closer than we were before: with just a simple glance, we understand each other.

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

“Bread!" Essential for us French!

  • 500 g of flour
  • 40 cl of lukewarm water
  • 1 packet of yeast
  • 1/2 tablespoon of salt


Let rest 2 hours. Bake 40 minutes.

Bread dough that can also be used to make pizzas.

Ceviche, guacamole … It all depends on the products we would find!


About the DATURA family

DATURA in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Who is aboard?

Fred, Julie, Louise (11), Roméo (6).

What kind of boat do you have?

A 1982 Jeanneau Sun fizz keelboat sloop: DATURA

Where have you sailed? Where did you start out?

We departed from Port Leucate (Perpignan, France) in August 2013, for a great adventure! Especially since none of the four of us knew how to sail! As we are from Paris and the Lot region, the sea was far from our element!

But we believed in ourselves and in our project. All our experiences have made us grow and we have improved our knowledge in navigation, weather, etc.

Our two year voyage:

Port Leucate/ Baleares/ Gibraltar/ Morocco/ Canaries/ Cape Verde Islands/ Atlantic crossing (13 days)/ Guadeloupe/ Dominica/ Martinique/ St Lucia/ St Vincent/ The Grenadines/ Grenada/ 3-4 months break in South America (Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, French Guyana, Surinam)/ Los Roques, Los Aves/ Bonaire/ Curaçao/ Jamaica/ Cuba/ Bahamas (Great Inagua, Exumas, Eleuthera)

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