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12 Questions to 12 Sailing Families

S/V Del Viento 40ft Fuji Sloop - USA

Families Revisited
12 Families

Michael & Windy ROBERTSON + Eleanor (12), Frances (10) Michael and Windy cruised in their 20's before having children. Twenty years later, they cast off to show their two girls some of this big world and the way others are living in it.

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1. The biggest challenge you faced in getting out there?   6. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?
2. Is there a best age to take children cruising?   7. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?
3. Any modifications to the boat for your children?   8. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES?
4. Any advice for would-be sailing families?   9. What do you like BEST / LEAST about cruising?
5. A typical day on board? Your kids' responsibilities?   10. Why did you go cruising as a family?


Learn more about the DEL VIENTO family

About Michael Robertson's book


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

I think the biggest challenge for everyone is just deciding to do it, making the commitment and setting a date.

Every part of dropping out for a period of time to travel with your kids runs against the grain of societal norms. It isn't what we're supposed to do in our late 30s to early 50s. It doesn't make financial sense. It leaves people wondering about our kids' education. It even causes some to think that you're putting your kids' lives at risk.

If you share any of these common fears, you shouldn't go. But if you don't, if you're eager to cast off and show your kids some of this big world and the way others are living in it, if you're willing to make the personal sacrifices (mostly financial) to go, then you shouldn't feel challenged in making the decision to go.

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

Our kids were 5 and 7 when we left. I think these were perfect ages.

I think going cruising is like taking your kids to the grocery store or out to eat.

  • As infants, it's a piece of cake.
  • As toddlers, it's a challenge, but you do it.
  • After age five, it can be a real pleasure.
  • At 13, you may have trouble convincing them to go.


But I think in that latter age group, we tend to cite stereotypes (there's a reason for them), but it's really kid- and family-specific. There are 15-year-olds eager to go. My advice is to go when you can.

In interviewing dozens of current and former cruising teens, two trends emerged.
First, teens who started cruising long before that age, still love it.
Second, teens who were dragged kicking and screaming aboard came to love it after about six months.
But in the successful cases, the parents were accommodating.

Our kids were 5 and 7 when we left. I think these were perfect ages.

All questions

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

The girls messing about in Eleanor's half of their cozy cabin

We did not, but we did buy a boat that had independent spaces for each of our girls. In retrospect, and for our family in particular, I don't know how important this actually is.

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

No. But we cruised in our twenties, before kids. I think our expectations were accurate.

All questions

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

What is a "typical day" at anchor?

Frances looking at anchorage, Marquesas

It totally depends.

If we're near a population center, we are doing a lot of things we did at home (albeit very differently and at a much different pace).

If we're someplace for a while, we will sign up for classes or activities and even develop a bit of a schedule.

If we're anchored in a remote spot, we hike, read, eat, sleep, play, and work on the boat.

If we have guests it's different too.

If we're planning a passage, it's different too. There is no typical day.

What is a "typical day" on passage?

We set out on every passage with a list of little things we're going to get done en route.

Nothing ever gets done on passage. The girls play or read. We read or tend to the boat. There is also cleaning and eating and sleeping.

Birthday underway


What are your kids' responsibilities aboard?

In the galley

Our 12-year-old has chores, just like land kids. She does the dishes.

Our just-turned-10-year-old does vacuuming and helps with laundry.

Neither girl is yet interested in sailing the boat, but they love seeing wildlife. They do like helping me with projects and routine maintenance, like changing the oil.

6. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?

The girls getting vaccinated for Typhoid in Papeete, Tahiti

Our girls are at the age where they care for themselves underway, in rough weather or calm.

Our only role is to make sure they've got their vest or harness on when they come topsides.

We feed them healthy food and have the materials and know-how to deal with medical emergencies. It's worth noting that in four years, we've not had any significant accidents or medical trauma.

7. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?

We (mostly my wife) school the girls in a pretty lax way. We don't have a schedule and will drop school at the first sign of something more interesting ashore or in the water. We lead the girls through math and other studies they're not inclined to tackle on their own using a group of materials we've put together that we think are best.

No more than two hours a day, on average, is spent on school work.

That said, we have two girls who can't get enough of reading. We are challenged to keep an adequate supply of fresh reading material aboard.

We have two girls who can't get enough of reading

They also do lots of imaginary play on their own. At this point in time, we are comfortable that both girls would slip seamlessly into a regular school, probably above grade level (for their age) in most subjects. We'll make any adjustments we need to as we head into the future.

We are lucky to come from two families that completely support our decision to raise the girls this way. We have zero contrary influences from family.

Homeschooling is as much about mindset as practicalities. It's about integrating learning into every facet of daily life, even when it slows things down or is not easy. Here the girls are filling out their own customs forms, requiring we wait and wait and answer about 25 questions.


Our girls meet new kids occasionally and maintain friendships from afar with some. We aren't at this point too worried about the socialization thing. I think a huge bonus is that they are close in age and have each other. They are absolutely each other's best friends.

A huge bonus is that our girls are close in age and have each other.

8. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES

Windy doing laundry at a fish camp, Tuamotus

I think one of the popular galley cookbooks asserts right up front that cooking on a boat is absolutely different than in a home kitchen. I've always disagreed with this assessment. (I do most of the cooking aboard Del Viento.)

Sure, provisioning is more difficult and getting anything out of the fridge is often a pain and there is not a whole lot of counter space to work with and the oven is tiny, etc.

But cooking is cooking. I don't feel limited on the boatI think there's nothing I used to cook in the house that I don't cook aboard. I use the same recipe books. We make just as many Christmas cookies.

Laundry is another matter. In places where the locals all pay to have it done, it's dirt cheap and you will be pleased to have someone take your dirty clothes and send them back clean and folded much better than you've ever been able to do on your own. It's one of the perks of cruising.

But in other places, we've done laundry on the foredeck in a bucket, rung it by hand, and hung it on the lifelines to dry. It is what it is. I'd rather be doing that on a Monday morning than heading to a cubicle.

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

The girls and I cooling off - Suwarrow, Cooks Islands


Being a real part of my kids' lives.


The physical distance from family and close friends and the usual absence of high-speed internet.

10. Why did you go cruising as a family?

To experience a different kind of family life. It's exceeded our expectations.

Now the money is running out and we are scrambling to find any way we can to stay out here.

About the DEL VIENTO family

Who is aboard,ages of children?

Michael (47), Windy (45), Eleanor (12), Frances (10)

What kind of boat do you have?

1978 Fuji 40.
It is an S&S-designed sloop that was built in Japan (not a lot of boats built in Japan)

Where have you sailed? Where did you start out?

We started in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (where we bought the boat). After 9 months in Mexico, we headed north and settled in Victoria, BC for an 8-month winter. When summer dawned, we continued north to Alaska and were back in Mexico by fall.

After 16 months in Mexico, we sailed for French Polynesia and spent the southern hemisphere cyclone season in the Kingdom of Tonga.

How long have you been cruising? 
How old were the kids when you started?

Since May 2011 (5 and 7)

Where are you now?


What's next?

Who knows? Our plan is to head slowly for Japan, maybe arriving a year from now (spring 2017).

Your blog or website(s)?


VOYAGING WITH KIDS - A Guide to Family Life Afloat
by Behan Gifford, Sara Dawn Johnson, Michael Robertson

Voyaging with Kids is the book we three authors all wish existed before we cast off to explore the world with our kids.

It provides the tangible information and recommendations a reader would expect, but also myriad perspectives on every topic, many of which we solicited from other families, and many of which are presented in the words of other parents.

The print version of the book features dozens of color photos and the ebook version features links to videos and other multimedia content.

It all began on a passage in Mexico, on a solo night watch powered by dark chocolate-covered espresso beans. It dawned on me that there was no current guide that dealt with family cruising. I couldn't stop thinking about what that book could be.

Right off the bat I realized this wasn't a book I could write alone, because I lacked perspective. I'd never sailed with an infant and my kids were not yet teens. I'd never cruised on a catamaran or yet completed a long passage with my family.

The next day, I asked Behan Gifford (TOTEM) and Sara Johnson (Wondertime) to join me on the project. They were gung-ho and we dove in. In the interest of even more diverse perspective, we included the voices of many, many other families--and even those of adults who were raised as cruising kids.

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