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S/V Momo Mason 43 Cutter - Homeport: Newport, USA

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Michelle Elvy & Bernard Heise + Lola (8), Jana (6) - Building a family while cruising, including pregnancy aboard and childbirth abroad, was no whim for this couple, but a determined way-of-life decision, embracing the belief that a boat is a perfect environment for growing minds. - More about the MOMO family

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1. The biggest challenge you faced in getting out there?   7. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?
2. Is there a best age to take children cruising?   8. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?
3. Any modifications to the boat for your children?   9. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES?
4. Any advice for would-be sailing families?   10. What do you like BEST / LEAST about cruising?
5. A typical day on board? The kids' responsibilities?   11. Has cruising changed your family?
6. A great moment?   12. A recipe for cruising families?

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

The biggest challenge for us was convincing our families we weren't crazy.

How could your life be safe on board?


We moved onto our 1961 Pearson Triton when we were in our mid-thirties – with our firstborn, then 7 months old.

Chucking the house, car, career and sensible future seemed outright foolish to most around us. And truth is, we didn't combat it -- we just carried out our plan and waited for time to take care of it.

But this is a long process that takes patience and a subtle kind of endurance. Eight years later, most have come around to realizing this was not a seat-of-our-pants whim, but a way of life which we wholly embraced then and now. They see by now that the choices we've made fit into our fundamental philosophy on life, love, commitment, adventure, child-raising, education, partnership, environmentalism, politics -- on everything we ever stood for in the first place.

But getting treated like a foolish teen when you are a respectable working professional was tough. Only advice I can give is to stick to what you believe.

Grandma visits from Vancouver

On a more practical note, the hardest thing for anyone who is not a sailor to understand is how your life could be safe on board.

Our boat was old and small – that did not evoke a lot of confidence in our landlubber friends and family.

So ensuring them that we'd thought things through was important -- with safety gear, beefed-up rigging (whatever you'd do to keep yourselves and your family safe), courses (we took an infant CPR/rescue course -- only to discover that the entire course was geared toward knowing what to do until 911 gets there, not exactly helpful in our case!), etc.

When we moved to a bigger boat, we noticed that our families were all relieved; they perceived our Mason 43 as more substantial and therefore better for our tiny babies, and the tensions eased.

Starting out small is the best thing we could have done. (Boatyard kid, Lola, and our first boat SIMPLICISSIMUS).

Understanding that their fears were about the unknown, the uncertainties of a wholly unfamiliar world and life (not being able to picture a daughter or a son at the kitchen table talking on the phone only a couple hundred miles away in a dry, unmoving house on shore) was hard on them, psychologically.

So inviting family on board, sharing our space and our lives with them, has made this much easier. Allowing them to see how we actually live has made the unimaginable more imaginable and thus slightly more comfortable. That and seeing that our children are not freaks.

Having said that, on an even more practical note, we are firm believers that starting out small is the best thing we could have done.

As a family, starting on the Triton (which we'd sailed all over the Chesapeake over a series of summer seasons prior to moving aboard) was the best way to get used to living aboard. We could sail that boat in and out of any harbor, which made maneuvering the Mason 43 seem easier and more luxurious all at once.

And it was good for us psychologically, too: we started out with modest goals and needs and learned to sail first; then we got a more proper ’family boat' and went further afield.

When we moved aboard Momo in 2003, our then- two-year-old ran up and down the center aisle inside and said: “Big boat! I like it!” That cozy cabin seemed downright luxurious to us after living aboard the Triton.

2. Is there a best age to take children cruising?

There is no “best” age: take them when you are ready!

Baby Jana underway!


But I reckon taking babies is about the most natural thing in the world. It was for us, anyway.

We'd both sailed before we met, then we learned to sail together, then we learned to sail as a family – which included going offshore for the first time when I was pregnant for the first time. A lot of firsts on that little Triton…

Babies are small, adaptable, and flexible -- as flexible as their parents, that is. For us, rigid schedules are not part of the plan, not even when it came to feeding and taking watch. Nursing moms need their sleep, and offshore watch schedules worked into our natural rhythm of the day and night. I always got plenty of sleep. Some prefer schedules, and that works well too -- I'm only writing about what worked for us.

Babies sleep in all weather!

I think most anxieties arise around trying to figure out what to expect when offshore with babies as in “What to Expect When…”. Those books, while very useful, have done a disservice for some in that they've created a set of rigid parameters about expectations and perceived needs, and the same carries over to sailing with babies.

When it comes down to it, babies (babies in the range of ‘normal, healthy, functioning') need very little – sleep, nourishment, love. We slept with our babies and wore them in slings. We carried them everywhere. We let them crawl, climb, swing, and toddle all over the boat, and their sealegs and seasense developed naturally.

Now, we can hardly get them off the boat. We recently agreed to house-sit for a few weeks for acquaintances in New Zealand, and our daughters, ages 6 and 8, complained every day: “When are we going home?!”

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


A boat is naturally well equipped for kids, but in general, lifeline netting, leecloths, and lots of pillows for cushions have served us well.

We used a carseat for both kids when they were babies. Also, we installed a booster seat on a track for Lola on our Triton; she happily sat in that seat many hours, eating, playing, and being generally social.

Also, there is one piece of equipment we consider necessary for offshore sailing with kids, and that is our windvane.

Ours is a Sail-o-mat; other people are loyal to Monitor or other brands. With kids, it’s especially important that your passages go as smoothly as possible, because even if you are ‘off-watch' you are still required to be ‘on’ -- and having the servo-pendulum gear is like having a reliable adult steer the boat.

In heavy weather, we swear ‘Jerome’ steers a better course than we could. Our self-steering gear has essentially guided Momo over thousands of ocean miles and allows us necessary rest and peace of mind.

I've written this before, and I'll say it again: ‘Jerome' is the one thing, besides our children, that we would not leave shore without.



A well-prepared cruising sailboat is generally a secure environment for children.

In addition to any usual considerations, we installed lifeline netting – but this is something we would do now in any case because it prevents an awful lot of things from disappearing overboard, not only children. You'd be surprised -- I swear that the chance of a dropped screw being rescued by netting is about 40%.

When the kids were small we incorporated commercial car-seats and baby seats.

We also took great care to set up the boat so that it could be sailed single-handed. This is critical if you need to sail and take care of kids at the same time. But it is also a good idea for any short-handed crew.

More generally, our boat has become simpler and more reliable the longer we've owned it.

And the longer we've lived on it, the less concerned we've become about preserving “resale” value and more interested in creating a warm and comfortable home.

4. Any advice for would-be sailing families?

Anything you wish you had known before you got started?

No, things evolved over a long period of time, with incremental steps for us. We were not planning a well-defined trip, with a clear destination or itinerary, so the details of our ‘plan’ were vague, even if the purpose was clear.

I can't think of anything I've regretted, or discovered as a surprise along the way, or felt uneasy about.

Except that if you have a baby in a foreign country, it's best to get all the paperwork organized as soon as possible. We spent months awaiting proper papers for our second daughter Jana before we could leave Mexico!

Yes, lots. Of course. Anyone who has fallen in love with the idea of sailing with their family is full of stories and reasons why it's the best thing in the world. So I could go on and on about why this works for us, and all the reasons it's a great way to raise a family.

But the best advice is to do what works for you, and I'll try to be brief here by categorizing what I perceive as the most important things to consider before you go:

1) Consider the boat.

It must be safe, not flashy. You don't need a lot of money to set sail, even with a family.

2) Consider your kids.

Take them when they are young, if you can: the younger the better. Teens require more -- more space, more stuff, more friends. Smaller kids are still primarily attached to the parents and are flexible in mind and body (they can fit anywhere!)

3) Consider your attitude.

Yours wears off on your kids. If you have a ‘can-do’ approach to the challenges, so will your kids. If you are tentative, fearful or negative, your kids will sense this and follow suit. Similarly, if you are cautious, your kids will also pick up excellent seafaring skills. They observe everything, and they participate largely by taking cues from their parents. This matters even more in the small space of a boat, where you are together all the time, than in a house with a larger yard and community.

Also, you do not have to have a large budget to set sail!

I cannot emphasize that enough. There are so many inspirational families sailing around out here in varying boat sizes and budgets. Be inventive, be courageous, and GO! It is not as hard as you might think…

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

A “typical” day at anchor


Early morning wake-up, Bernie and the kids. Coffee for Michelle, sometimes even in bed.

Early morning in the cockpit
Off to visit friends on Eelyos
Other boats are fun, too!

Reading, writing, exchanging news stories (if we are online) and projects. Kids play inside in their rooms, draw at the table (with both parents with both laptops), write and read, go outside to swing and play up on the foredeck. Swinging on halyards, building tents on the foredeck. Kids in and out – snacks, drinks, calling a friend on the radio if there are any close by. Usually on board all morning – it takes us a while to get going.

  • If there is a morning market, Michelle will go ashore early, sometimes with kids sometimes without, depending on their moods and other activity.

  • If it's an anchorage with spearfishing, Bernie or Michelle will go searching for dinner.

    If it's a sharky area, we go as a family, with one adult in the water with the speargun and the other trailing close behind in the dinghy, Lola and Jana offering commentary all along the way. This is one of our favorite things to do – either snorkeling or fishing, trailing the dinghy behind. Kids will play in the water on boogie boards or swim with fins and snorkels, and we'll explore all together.

    One adult might go off alone fishing; one adult always stays with the kids.

  • If we catch a fish in the morning, we eat it for lunch, and that is our main meal of the day. If it is a large one, we may smoke it – either on shore or on our handy back-rail smoker that Bernie designed. We discovered the joys of smoked fish and the fun of spearfishing in the Sea of Cortez with our friend Bill on MoonHunter, and we've been loving that part of our onboard life ever since.


After lunch, an afternoon of swimming, snorkeling, playing at the beach (if we've not been swimming and fishing all morning), exploring on shore, or visiting friends if they are in the anchorage.

Collecting local fruit, visiting people, walking, spearfishing if we didn't do it in the morning.

Evenings are back at home, almost always.

With small kids we don't go out a lot, but hanging out with friends is something we do quite often, if we are sharing anchorages. Either on their boat or ours. Kids love to explore other boats, so any excuse to go to another is always greeted with shouts of joy.

Cooking is a big deal – we share recipes with friends, try out new things, experiment.

Papaya goes with everything!

I put papaya in just about anything, sweet or savory. Pizza, pasta, curry, fishcakes, bread… you name it.

Even in hot climates, we bake year round. With two young daughters, I bake a lot of bread, cookies, etc. Christmas, even in the southern hemisphere, always includes my mother's long list of baked goods.

We put a fan in the kitchen window, blowing all that oven air OUT. It is hot but delicious.

Baking is a regular part of life -- at anchor we have time, and time is what you need for a good recipe.


A “typical” day on passage

Much of the same, without exiting the boat!

Underway on a calm day -- bathtime!

We do not keep a ‘watch schedule’ as such.

One adult sleeps when tired, and the other keeps watch. The way it works for us is that usually one adult goes to bed with the kids, around 9pm and sleeps as long as the watcher can stay awake.

Our nights are usually broken up into two shifts: one person on watch from 9 til 2 or 3, the other on watch from 2/3 til 8-9. Kids sleep all through the night, so they get up going strong by 7 no matter what.

What's nice about this night schedule is that it gets us all together in the morning, at least for a couple hours, until one of us needs a nap (and it provides each adult one long segment of sleep, and one long segment of quiet writing time -- something we both enjoy.)

So our day begins thus, with coffee/tea/cocoa for everyone. Cheerios or porridge for the kids.

Most days go by seamlessly.

It's hard to say what we really do. We are a fairly self-contained group, so we have no trouble entertaining ourselves. Our lives have never included television or video games, so we do not find ourselves missing those things.

  • We watch a lot of movies, however. We love movies and entertainment, but we hate advertising. So we have a large collection of movies on our hard drive, collected along the way, and we don't have to watch ads for Dodge Rams or Baby Einstein or any other must-haves.

    Some of our movies in the collections we get from friends are not fit for children, some are not fit for anyone. We laugh when we come across a title we've never heard of and accidentally stumble into porn at 10am. We find age-appropriate films for our children. As a family, we watched the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on our first big ocean crossing, from Mexico to Hawaii back in 2004. We have tried to make our kids watch The Office, but they outright reject it. We watch The Wire when the kids are sound asleep.

  • We read, we write, we play games. The kids make up games, they draw, they color, they make poorly designed origami animals, they rig up swings, they argue, they get separated and sent to their rooms (unless it's rough, in which case Lola does not go to the forepeak, because even when she's naughty that is a punishment no one should have to endure). We cook, bake and eat. We never drink alcohol while underway. Ever.

  • Mahi-mahi for dinner!
    We throw a line off the stern and see who comes for dinner. Mahi-mahis are very popular in our family.

    We celebrate every single time we bring dinner aboard -- it is a huge family affair. Line whirs out, someone yells “Fish on!” and we all rush to see. Someone brings the line in -- usually Bernie or Michelle but sometimes Lola too, if it's not too big. Jana grabs the camera and brings it out. We bring the catch on board as efficiently as we can, bleed it in the bottom of the cockpit, and set to cleaning it. Usually a few thoughts are exchanged about ecology and balance of nature, about man and his carnivorous nature and where we all fit into the food chain.

    Sometimes it's a biology lesson, with the kids asking lots of questions, investigating the stomach contents, poking into the eyes and brain (see video here).

    Then, when the fish is cleaned and bagged for storage, we feast. No matter what time of day: we eat the fish fresh -- breakfast, lunch and dinner. We eat fish for days and days, and when the supply is running low, we throw the line out again. We do not have a huge freezer, so we cannot store too much – we catch it as we can eat it.

    And though our kids are relatively picky eaters, we all agree that there's not much better than fresh fish, so it is a celebration every single time.

  • Every few days, we go out into the cockpit (weather permitting) and have a salt-water bath. The sea water is invigorating and clean. We rinse our hair down with a cup of fresh.

  • We send emails every few days but do not generally keep a schedule, because we do not like for our families to set up expectations which, if unmet, would cause alarm. They know that no news is good news, and we send email updates every few days via winlink.


In short, our lives are much like they are when we are anchored, except that we pack a year's worth of movie pleasure into a short timespan, we fish off the back of the boat, and we never ever leave the safety of Momo.

(Some people get a kick out of swimming offshore, but this is a point we both agree on: we are just too chicken and do not feel the need to swim with whatever's lurking under our keel in mid-ocean.)

Kids can relax
almost anywhere...

If it is calm, we tend to boat chores during the day. During two weeks lingering at the equator a couple years back, Bernie spent days replacing bungs on our deck. We've tended to the rig, repaired the toilet, mended sails.

We take pictures of wondrous blue.

If it is rough, we hunker down in the couch with the leecloth or in the aft cabin and read if possible, or watch movies, or sleep. We huddle and cuddle. (It seems to be comfortable there -- the girls love it, spend hours in there sleeping or with their portable DVD player on rough days.)

More than anything else, a passage is for us not an event to be endured but something to be experienced, one moment at a time. No one loves the rough days, but they go with the territory, and being at sea is something quite special.

Writing about what we actually ‘do' sounds quite boring, but it's not the doing but more the state of mind.

And I don't mean it in the typical “the meaning is in the journey” sort of philosophical musing, but in that being at sea is just one way we happen to spend our lives, so we do at sea what we generally do when not at sea.

It helps that no one in our family is prone to mal de mer. Bernie is the only one who might require a patch behind the ear every now and again, and that seems to set things straight.

We depart an anchorage not with the destination in the front of our minds but in the back of our minds. We'll get there soon enough, but we are never in any rush.

We depart an anchorage thinking “we are going to sea!” and we usually smile all the way there.


Naturally, it's a good idea to be well-prepared for any passage. But for the most part, passage-making is profoundly uneventful.

Our approach to passage-making is to think about the voyage as something that happens when we're doing other things. Those things vary, of course, from watching movies, to reading books, baking cakes, “improving” the boat, etc.

The voyage recedes into the background, and we get on with our everyday lives. Eventually we get where we're going, but since the trip itself and counting miles isn't a major focus, we rarely feel an urgency to get off the boat.

Kids, what are your responsibilities aboard?

LOLA (8):

  • We keep things tidy (we try to, sometimes we don't succeed).
  • I check for traffic when we are sailing.
  • I watch everything -- pulling up the anchor, setting anchor, all the work on the boat.
  • At anchor, I watch Dad work on the boat, like building the dodger, working with fiberglass -- sometimes I help.
  • We help Mom with cooking and baking.
  • When Mom and Dad are working together, we look out for each other.
  • When they go out to reef or change sails or do something else, we stay in the couch or go into our parents' bed and take care of each other.
  • Occasionally, Jana and I like to clean up as a surprise for Mom when she is off the boat for a few hours.


JANA (6)


My jobs:

  • When we are sailing, I steer the boat, I check for traffic, I throw the trash overboard (Mom's note: perishable rubbish, not plastic).

  • When we are at anchor, we go to shore to help with groceries. I always help with hanging up laundry!


We know the rules.

  • We don't go outside without a parent when we are offshore.
  • We don't climb the lifelines (when we are underway).

6. A great moment?

Offshore there's nothing but this.

One of my favorite moments was arriving in Fatu Hiva in March 2008.

We arrived with a steadily increasing wind -- by the time we could see the island at dawn, it was howling, and waves were short and sharp and crashing into the cockpit.

It's always an abrupt change to come to shore after being at sea for an extended period of time -- especially because you've got to be more alert.

So this was some contrast -- after a predominantly relaxing and uneventful passage (the very best kind!), I had to hand-steer us in with driving sideways rain and breaking waves and about 35 knots of wind. And I loved it!

It was exhilarating and fun, to be steering Momo into French Polynesia, to be active and alert, to be warm and wet. And to smell the frangipani only a few miles off my port side.

Our wind died in the lee of the island, and we puttered with our Perkins the last mile or so into Baie des Vierges. A little anti-climactic after the rush of the previous several hours, but we were pleased to be anchored.

So pleased, in fact, that we proceeded to... do... nothing!

We did not blow up the dinghy, make plans to go ashore, scope out the small village, or climb the tallest nearby peak. Nope: all four of us settled into yet another day of pretty much nothing on board. Of course, it was still, so that was different, and there was no watch any more. Lola and Jana set up their halyard swing -- the one thing they sorely miss when we are at sea. Bernie and I drank a beer. We made a huge meal, played on the foredeck, and just enjoyed ourselves for another day before we even left the boat.

The reason I love this moment is because it illustrates a family at peace.

No one was rushing to jump ship -- no one even wondered about getting to shore. Neither kid whined, neither adult felt particularly anxious about needing more space.

44 days at sea, and we were still at home -- in love with Momo, with each other, with this life.

(We did finally get off the ship next day and experienced another perfect day, this one filled with pamplemousse and breadfruit and bananas and friendly smiles of the residents of Fatu Hiva.)

7. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?

Keeping the kids safe aboard

We maintain only a few rules, but they are huge and non-negotiable:

1) Do not go outside without a parent while offshore;

2) Do not climb on the lifelines when underway;

3) Wear a harness when outside and offshore in rough weather;

4) Keep clear communication about where we are at all times, even at anchor
-- so that the kids always tell us when they are going out of the cabin, even if they are just going up foredeck to look for something.

They always say, “I'm going to the cockpit” or “I'm going up foredeck” when they leave the companionway steps. Even on a small boat, it's important to know where the children are – the step between the safety of indoors and the potential dangers outside is huge.

Underway romp in leecloth

Caring for the kids offshore

See above. They do well generally and do not require much more care than when we are at anchor.

One thing we have to do sometimes is to tone them down if they are too wild. In waves, they like to swing and jump -- and believe it or not, it can get a little crazy. They are nuts sometimes - the bigger the waves, the better. Puts grey hairs on their parents' heads. So we occasionally have to say, “NO MORE JUMPING” and get them to stop.

Caring for the kids in rough weather

We tuck them into a cozy couch with the leecloth, give them lots of water to drink, make sure they eat enough, and read them a story, or if it's very rough, tell them a story or sing or play ‘I Spy’ or a guessing game....

Food still happens as we need it – noodles or rice or fish or whatever we can prepare quickly and easily. Sometimes it's just crackers and bread.

They manage to sleep a lot if it's rough, and they don't mind too much. It's usually harder on Bernie and me with sail changes, reefing, cooking, etc.

Keeping the kids healthy / getting medical care

Offshore there is no medical care, so you are as prepared as you can be and hope that chance is on your side. On Day Four of our Mexico-Marquesas crossing, Jana, then 3, choked on a hard candy. Freaked us all out – enough that I now forbid hard candy offshore. It's superstitious, but it's just one of those things. We have plenty of girls and bananas on board; but no hard candy, and we hope luck stays with us...

In new anchorages, we've found good care in many strange places. From childbirth in Mexico to getting a tooth pulled in Niue, we've knocked on several doors seeking aid and managed to find good people and enjoy positive experiences most everywhere we've gone.

There are risks to remote travel, of course; the best thing you can do is be as prepared as possible, and make sure you are physically and mentally fit before you leave for remote places.

Pay close attention to local knowledge; in French Polynesia, we came across ciguatera in some anchorages and not in others – and only the locals know where it is, so it's important to make contact and learn what fish you can eat and which ones you cannot.

What was it like being pregnant out cruising and having your baby while cruising in a foreign country?

Sailing in Mexico, a couple weeks before Jana's birth

Being pregnant and sailing was never a problem for me, but that's not to say it is always easy.

My pregnancies were both fairly healthy: no morning sickness in either case, so already I was ahead of the game.

Having said that, I should add that
1) I did not sail much while I was pregnant (either time),
2) things can be awkward and even messy while pregnant on board.

  • During my first pregnancy, we made a circumnavigation of the DelMarVa peninsula when I was 7 months along – amidst typical late-summer mid-Atlantic coastal thunder and lightning squalls. It was harrowing at times. But our worries on that trip had more to do with the fickle weather conditions and our own lack of finesse when it came to handling the squalls than with the pregnancy.

  • During my second pregnancy, I tore my placenta three months into it, most likely while doing some everyday task like lifting jerry cans with water.

    I speak from experience when I say that being pregnant on board can be a real joy, but it also demands extra care. Perhaps precisely because I felt so healthy, I did not pay enough attention during that second pregnancy. Knowing when to stop doing the things you normally do -- from lifting to reefing to climbing -- is paramount. Just like with pregnancy on land, one must tune into one's own body and recognize limits.


But sailing pregnant can be superb, and both my babies rocked in my belly, one in the Atlantic, and one in the Pacific, shortly before their births. In neither case, however, did we cross oceans while pregnant – we sailed coastally. (I wanted to sail to Hawaii after I was released from bedrest, but I reckon I was just itching to get moving after all that time at anchor. Bernie put his foot down, however, and we stayed put.)

I should also point out that we've had very good experiences finding care in foreign ports.

Jana says goodbye to her pediatrician, Mexico

When my placenta tore, we were in Ensenada, Mexico, and we were immediately pointed to a small clinic by both American sailors and local Mexicans.

I was put on bedrest and could only leave our anchored boat for my weekly check-ups -- which included routine examinations with state-of-the-art equipment (we never had so many in utero photos or videos of our first-born!).

We were so pleased with the care we received, in fact, that by the time I was taken off bedrest (months later) and hurricane season was upon us, we opted to stay until the baby arrived.

Jana's birth was problematic, and the emergency care she received saved her life.

Needless to say, we are forever grateful for the obstetric and pediatric care we found in Mexico, and we firmly believe that you should go where your heart takes you – because help and expert care can be found in many places outside the US.

8. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?


Biology Lessons (How many fish fit in the stomach?)

Easy so far: our kids have been young.

They read because we read. They do math when we play games – Yahtzee and marbles, for example, or any board games. They make up games, make graphs, they sing counting songs, etc.

At a young age, this kind of schooling is freeformed and fun.

Besides that, they know more about environmental responsibility than I knew when I was twenty. They are alert and curious and aware; they ask questions wherever they go.

This is not because we've drilled some kind of structure into their lives but because of the lives they lead.

Their knowledge grows every single day whether it's through communicating in a new language or watching iceberg bits melt on deck or learning about reef fish.

Friendships and social interactions

Making friends in Koro Is, Fiji

Again, this is easier because our kids are quite young. They have each other. They are not old enough yet to really crave a social group or peers on a regular basis. They enjoy friends, but they make them quickly from anchorage to anchorage, and though they are sad when we leave (as are we), they handle it well. They aren't even old enough to desire email contact – they live very much in the moment and enjoy the friends they have, one group at a time.

They are easily adaptable too, in that they can play with kids of all ages -- this is something you hear over and over about sailing kids, and it is true: I've witnessed teens and toddlers all engaged on the same beach.

It's a marvelous thing -- social barriers and expectations are broken down and kids of all ages enjoy being kids. Our children enjoy healthy interactions with all ages -- even adults.

Another great thing about sailing kids: they are usually able to engage adults as well as other children. It's a real kick hearing a kid talk about oil changes or religion or science and then seeing her skip off down the beach, sand kicking up under her heels and blonde hair flying.

Jana on halyard

Keeping the kids entertained

Underlying the parental concern about keeping the kids entertained is our cultural assumption that our children need to be entertained -- and that we need to ‘keep’ them busy.

Kids coming from mainstream culture are so accustomed to being scheduled -- from school hours to afterschool soccer, ballet, drama, piano, and karate -- that it is perhaps daunting to consider hours and hours of doing nothing -- but the truth is, most kids find plenty to do even when they seem to be doing nothing.

It's perhaps a dramatic change of pace to replace broadband and Xbox and endless "txtng" with blue oceans and sandy beaches, but most kids adapt pretty well.

Different ages require different strategies, of course, but here I come back to my initial and most pragmatic advice: take them sailing while they are young!

We do not feel the need to keep our kids entertained. And the longer you live aboard, the more this will become true.

Again, ours are young and therefore fairly adaptable. Here I can only say what we've experienced: if your kids are young enough when they start out on this adventure, they will find wonder all around them.

Homeschooling in the kitchen
Alaskan icicle -- no end of fun

You will not have to put much thought into it.

  • Tupperware, wooden spoons, blankets, scraps of material, pillows, tools - these are all transformed on a daily basis into a science project, a pirate ship, a farm with exotic animals, a workshop.

  • Give a kid a length of line, and she will invent plenty of games, even tie her sister to the mast.

  • Let her try out some tools, and next thing you know she'll be asking about epoxy and paint.

  • Put a large chunk from an iceberg on deck, and your kids will be happy for hours (how many licks does it take...?)

  • Lay out a recipe and see what comes out of the oven (or, on hot days, even Jell-o is an adventure for small kids).

  • Arm them with a bucket and a net and a thin line and they will spend hours fishing for dinner or creating some kind of science experiment in the cockpit.

The point is, you don't have to plan entertainment -- if you let your kids' imaginations take them as far as you go, mile for mile. All kids are naturally curious and inventive; the boat is the perfect environment for growing minds!

Having said that, we are pragmatic to the core, and sometimes there's no substitution for a cuddle on the couch and Finding Nemo.

Personal space aboard

Not nearly the issue with young kids as with teens, but even our kids need their separate space every now and then.

On Momo, we have enough space to give them each their own bunk, and we find this excellent for long-term living aboard.

Even better: one bunk is forward and one is aft, so separating them is convenient and easy. Sometimes they need to play on their own; sometimes even their parents have been known to send them their separate ways: “One forward and one aft!

A child's space does not have to be big.

  • Our six year old sleeps in a quarterberth which, up until recently, she shared with plastic containers filled with material and other items taking up the bottom half of her bunk. Still, there was enough room for her tiny person, and even when we were recently housesitting for several weeks, she longed for her ‘room. It's filled with her books, stuffed animals, odds and ends she's collected along the way, and a featherbed from her Oma (which Bernie's mom made some forty-five years back for him and which moved in with us when Lola was born). In short, it's her space where she feels safe and happy.

  • Similarly for Lola: the forepeak has her books (her self-made ‘library’ -- if you visit, you'll be issued a card and will be granted lending privileges), her animals, her games, and her special leecloth/curtain (custom designed, with buttons and scenes she chose) that holds it all in.


Each of our children can spend hours in their own ‘rooms’ -- and we encourage them to do so. We live and work and play intensely together, but finding a ‘room of one's own is important -- not just for the girls, but for each of us.

Family back home and their concerns

Ah, this is a big one! See first answer.

Cousin Steven comes to visit

Mostly, we include them by sending emails and photos, by staying in touch as best we can (we discovered Facebook in the last year), and inviting them all to partake in our lives whenever time and money allow.

Cousins, friends and parents have all been to various ports to visit, and we get back there when we can (not often enough).

The further we sail, the harder it is to connect physically, but including them in the details of our lives helps allay their fears in that they at least see we are healthy and happy -- what any parent wants to know.

9. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES


Laundry day, Fiji 2009


Hand-wash when necessary (usually when offshore or in remote places); we have found places all over coastal North America, Mexico, Hawaii, and across the Pacific with running water for laundry. So we schlepp our buckets and soap and children ashore and make it a day.

The thing to remember about a chore like laundry is not to let it ruin your day – and it will usually take a day. There is usually no convenient coin-op around, with industrial-sized dryers to make your blankets hot and dry. So you just gotta get used to the idea of washing and wringing by strong and ruddy hand (or with a nifty rail-mounted wringer -- which I've admired on other boats from afar.)

And you have to approach it as a full-day task. We usually incorporate it into shore time for the kids -- they play nearby or help (appropriating one of the buckets), and we just don't rush. Laundry is not something you do on the way to something else, not something you squeeze into other activities. On board, it's a bit easier, because you can wash in buckets in the cockpit and get right to hanging it on the rail without the dinghy trip in between, but it's still an all-day affair. Of course, you could do it more frequently, but that's not in our nature...

Clean-up and daily maintenance of the boat

Well, we try to get everyone to pitch in, and we'd love to claim that we are a tidy bunch, but the truth is we get busy with our days (whether it's fishing and playing or reading and working) and we all have a natural tendency toward entropy, so the usual rhythm for us is that we go several days with things leaning toward chaos, and finally one of us reaches the point when we say, “Enough! I can't find my ______!” and then we clean up, all four of us together.

We are much tidier when offshore: the floor is always kept clear (at least we clear it at the end of every day so that we have a clean, safe space at night with no Legos to trip on). We keep things ship-shape while sailing because safety demands it. We do not leave coffee cups lying around; we tuck books behind the boards that hold them in place. Unfortunately, friends do not come calling when we are offshore, so most of our friends see the chaotic side of Momo -- and, usually, they fit right in.

Feeding the family, nutrition and cooking

We are fortunate in that we all love fish. We could eat fish every single day. We could eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- and sometimes we do. And then we eat whatever else is on hand – papaya, coconut, lemons, bananas, pineapple. Kassava and breadfruit.

Nutrition has never been a problem for us. In some places the food and supplies are leaner than others, but we adapt to what is locally available.

Bounty from strangers, Fiji 2009
  • In French Polynesia, we could not afford the $45 watermelons, but we gorged on 40-cent baguettes and small tins of pâté– and usually had plenty of Nature's bounty falling from trees.

  • In Mexico, we became connoisseurs of mole, salsa verde, and beans and rice.

  • I also switched from being lettuce-lover to cabbage-chomper in Mexico, as the lettuce was usually more expensive and harder to find (especially in good condition). Cabbage keeps for weeks on end (even unrefrigerated), so it is a mainstay in my kitchen now.

  • I learned how to make tortillas fresh along the way, and those are a mainstay of our cooking these days. Kids love them, and they are simple and fast, with only five ingredients which are easy enough to keep in supply.

In short, the best way to approach food when traveling is to eat what the locals eat, to try new things, and to be open-minded. But the great thing about traveling with your own kitchen intact is that you can ensure you have a serious supply of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, New Zealand tinned butter, and rum to accompany the fresh catch.

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



  • The freedom, the isolation, the remote places, the great big blue.
  • The extraordinary variety of people we meet along the way.
  • Plus the connection we have as a family. This is the only environment we've known for raising our children, and it is perfect. When we are offshore together, we are contained and satisfied. It's not hard to meet our desires and needs. Wherever we are, we are home – this is very important to me, because at heart, despite my need to move, I am also a home-body.


  • Real, tangible, personal freedom. It's close to life, not abstract but real.


  • Sailing, fishing, swimming! I really really love swimming! And my boogie board.
  • I like having the water right outside my door. I feel like without water, what would life be?
  • Play this game called “Jungle Animals” where Jana and I pretend to be wild animals like panthers and tigers.
  • I like being offshore! Except feeling a bit woozy here and there.
  • I like helping Dad with his work.


  • The waves! Offshore, we like seeing the high, high waves!
  • The beaches, collecting shells.
  • I like steering the boat! I love swimming! I love fishing! I like driving the dinghy!
  • And making videos and pictures with Lola.
  • I like cleaning up sometimes for Mom for a surprise – and we have to do it before she gets back. If she comes back too soon, we have to tell her ‘Don't come in! and then we finish it.
  • When you explore an island, you have many more islands to explore after that. (Big Smile!)




The distances from friends and family back home.

We do not get to see them nearly often enough, and that is heartbreaking. Our parents are now getting older; I wish they could see their grandchildren more. Everyone has made peace with our decision to leave North America, but our lives had always been Euro-centric before then, so now we find ourselves in the South Pacific in a place that is about as far away from Europe as we could be. We just can't hop on a plane and visit friends. It's been years since we've been back… But on the other hand, being in a place that is so new is extraordinary, inspiring... and generally warm! Right now it's winter in New Zealand, and it just doesn't compare to the extreme winter North America experienced this year.


  • The fact that you're always on the outside.  
  • And lack of community -- while the cruising community is real enough, it is very transient by nature.

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

Why did we go cruising as a family?


We decided long before we had kids that we'd like to set off when we started a family. We had both traveled a lot before we met, and then continued to live abroad as a couple. It was a given that we'd want to keep traveling even after we started a family, and we both wanted to sail more and more, so early on we decided to set sail as we started a family.

We had never lived anywhere longer than two years (separately then together), all through our twenties and into our thirties -- the longest we've ever stayed in one ‘home is on Momo -- coming up on eight years now.

Has cruising changed our family?

Hard to say, since it's the way we've always operated as a family. But we're aware of more distractions when we are near shore or on shore.

Certainly life is more complicated as soon as we stop somewhere, such as our present situation in New Zealand. But we're coping OK, always with one eye on the next departure day... And we are a very closely knit unit. Maybe we'd be that way anyway. I can only say that I'm deeply satisfied with the way our life is going.

I don't think it's changed Bernie or me in any fundamental way – it has probably intensified the tendencies already inherent in our personalities. We've become more committed to this way of life as we've sailed longer -- it suits us entirely.

All questions

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


Ceviche, Mom, please!
Ceviche fixin's -- whatever you find at the market and in your supplies

Well you can't go wrong with simple ceviche.

In Mexico, we found triggerfish to be a nice fish for this purpose (and they are relatively dumb so easy to spear) -- but any firm white fish will do. In the South Pacific, we've used grouper, jobfish, even mahi mahi.


- Firm white fish, fresh from the sea

- Fresh lemon or lime juice

- Crispy fresh veggies, such as onion (spring onions are nice if you have them!), celery, peppers, cucumbers, even carrots – whatever is on hand

- Fresh cilantro

- Fresh peppers – I use serranos or poblanos or dried red chilis if I don't have any fresh on hand, depending on the desired intensity of the heat


> Dice the fish; squeeze the lemon or lime juice over it enough to cover it.

> Let stand an hour or so.

> Dice veggies and cilantro and finely chop peppers.

> Add to marinated fish and let sit a while, to absorb flavor. Sometimes we skip the ‘let it sit’ step and dive right in -- it is delicious as soon as you make it!

> Eat on crackers, tortillas, etc.






About the MOMO family

•  Who is aboard?

Michelle Elvy, 44

Keeper of the Keys - Storyteller - Chief Enthusiast - Sole Member of Momo's Ondaatje Fanclub - Germanophile - Devotee of Barth & the Chesapeake

Bernie Heise, 46

Erstwhile Specialist in 18th-Century Cartography - Devotee of the ‘it's really not that hard’ approach to any project - Believer in Heinrich Heine - Founder of Momo's Helge Schneider Fan Club - Wheat Beer Enthusiast

Lola Elvy, 8

Peter Pan - Writer of Songs & Jokes - Singer of her own Tune - Fearless Sailor - Lover of Whales - Philosopher - Inventer of Languages - Papaya Girl - Compsaugnathus Specialist - Wind Enthusiast - Diver - Queen of Hearts - Inventer of Swings

Jana Heise, 6

Mexicana-turned Kiwi - Barefoot Girl - Teller of Tales - Purplicious - Spiral Artist - Twirler - Rabelaisian - Gentle Spirit - Mad Swimmer - Helmsgirl - HokeyPokey Girl - Cookie Cutter Specialist

Samson Willy

Aviator - holds no particular philosophical positions

What kind of boat do you have?

Mason 43, built in 1981

Where have you sailed? Where did you start out?

Chesapeake Bay (all of it, love every nook and cranny – Michelle's home waters) to New England; LA to Mexico to Hawaii to British Columbia to Alaska to Mexico again; across the South Pacific – French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji.

How long have you been cruising?

8 years. Lola was a pre-crawling baby when we moved onto our first boat, Simplicissimus.

Where are you now?

New Zealand

What's next?

Here in this area for several years -- there is so much to explore around New Zealand!

The Plan is to work here seasonally and sail seasonally -- New Zealand to Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, New Caledonia… and also sail around New Zealand as much as we can. Kids have started school for the first time (but we are not opposed to taking them out again -- and neither are they!) and we are in the process of working out our residency (fingers crossed). Land-based work keeps us happy in New Zealand and web-based work (freelance writing, editing, translating) keeps our freedom to move.

So we hope to make this a ‘base of sorts – living and sailing here for years to come.

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

  • S/V MOMO
    An Incomplete and Biased Guide to Life, Love, and Maintenance on a Cruising Sailboat.

Recent Articles & Stories

  • Debunking the Baby MythBlue Water Sailing, August 2010
    From the already rounded corners and baby-proofed drawers of your boat to breast-feeding and watch schedules, an article about how sailing with babies can be the most natural thing in the world.

  • Hot Stuff: Up Close and Personal with Chilis Latitudes & Attitudes, August 2010
    Cooking with local produce is always an adventure; this time the chef writes about some of her favorite peppers and her number one tip for women when it comes to chilis.

  • Almost ThereBlue Print Review, Summer Issue 2010

    A creative non-fiction reflection written on Day 43 of a 44-day crossing, featured in an online literary journal. “Because out here you are alone with the rhythm of your thoughts and the ghosts of your past.”

  • Making the Shift from Land to SeaLiving Aboard Magazine, forthcoming September/October 2010

    From the physical downsizing to a space that is much smaller in every way to the idea that one bucket has to fill many needs and desires – this article explores the psychological shift that occurs when you move from shore to sea.

  • Sailing Safely with Small Children: Modifications and Equipment Latitudes & Attitudes, forthcoming November 2010
    An article that draws on the experience of several sailing families, this is a how-to look at baby-proofing the boat and setting sail.

  • Think Small, Dream Big” Latitudes & Attitudes, forthcoming December 2010
    No budget limitations will stop those who really wanna go. A look at inspirational sailors and how they think outside the box and live the way they desire.

  • Brighten Your Life: Paint Your BoatCruising World, forthcoming February 2011
    A how-to article about painting your topsides and waterline. The typical Do-It-Yourself Momo way (with a little cursing and a lot of love).

  • Clear Communication and Good HabitsCruising World, forthcoming November 2011
    Sailing families discuss what's most important about safety, and the routines they've developed to maintain a shipshape boat and a healthy happy crew.

  • Passagemaking: On Being Prepared for Nothing at All Latitudes & Attitudes, later this year

    A look at how preparing for passage-making also includes getting ready to do not much of anything.

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