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12 Questions to 12 Sailing Families

S/V New Life Caroff 34' steel sloop - Homeport: Basel, Switzerland

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

1st challenge: build NEW LIFE (the boat)
2nd challenge: Marvin (a new life)

Our biggest challenge was to build New Life, a 34-foot steel boat in our back yard in Switzerland, halfway between mountain and lake. It took us 13 years to do it, with the same passion and the same idea every day: to go sailing and discover the world, new cultures, others sailors and to get the freedom that this life can offer.

That was the first challenge -- plus running our business and working to realize our dream in the time left over (evenings and weekends).

It was a nice dream for my husband and me, of course, but also we were thinking of having children on board to complete our happiness.

A few years later, it was time for the second challenge (and not the easiest one): having children. When Marvin was born in August 2002, our dream was complete and we were able to start our “new life” with a new life on board.

We named our boat New Life...

  • First for the boat that 13 years before was going to a scrap yard just for the price of the steel, and now she would be sailing again.

  • Second because we started a new life when my husband and I met.

  • Third for the new life on board our boat: our lovely little boy.

  • And also for our new life together as we sold everything we had in Switzerland and moved on board for this adventure.

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



It was fun the first time we went back home, and Marvin discovered the tap for the water: Turn a tap, and water comes out. “What about the foot pump?” he asked.

When his grandmothers forgot to turn off the light behind them, he would tell them, “Switch it off, so the batteries don't go flat too quickly.”

When the doorbell or the telephone rang, he confused the bells, so he opened the door and came back and said, “There is nobody behind the door.” Then he suddenly realized that someone was talking on the phone and said, “Is Grandpa talking to himself?”. When we use Skype, the webcam is on, so he can see the person he is talking to.

When we moved aboard in Switzerland in October of 2002, our son Marvin was 2 months old. We spent the first winter on Lake Léman (Lake Geneva) as a trial period for the boat which we had just launched and to see how we could manage with a baby on board. Things came as naturally as they do in a house.

So in the spring of 2003 we transported New Life to Port Camargue in the south of France and started our trip in the Mediterranean with our 7-month old boy and a plan to sail to Northern Europe.

As I write this, Marvin is nearly 8 years old.

Regarding the question of the best age for children to cruise, we think that it depends on the project and the family’s plans: to make a complete life change or just to sail for a sabbatical year to discover something else as a new experience, new perspective of the world; to take a long or short break, etc. With teenagers, they can easily participate and be a full part of the project. With babies, they just follow parents as they will do in any life.

Of course we think also, as parents, we have to keep a good watch on the happiness of everybody, and if one of us isn’t having fun anymore, we will talk about it, change our idea, project and life.

Marvin doesn't know another life, except when we go back home for a month every year or two to visit our families. For him life on board is his life. He is with his parents, and he's happy about it.

All questions

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

With a baby on board you have to adapt things as you would in a house.

Under sail: Marvin in his car seat

First, we secured his bed; a bench seat became Marvin’s bed. We fixed a barrier all around, and I fixed cushions on it to protect the little fellow when the boat is heeled and to keep him from falling off. Also, when you are maneuvering or in a difficult situation with the boat, you know your baby will be secure there, even if he’s crying. You can concentrate on what you have to do on deck.

Later, when Marvin could crawl around, we fixed a net across the open front cabin, so he could have his toys to play with without falling out of his bunk.

Outside in the cockpit we fixed a car seat that could be moved from one side to the other depending on our point of sail. The nice thing about a car seat is that your child can be with you outside and follow all the maneuvering, participate in the fishing activities, etc.

We always explain to Marvin what will happen next (change a sail, drop anchor, start the engine, etc.), so he is never surprised by a loud noise on board.

We rigged lifeline netting all around the boat

We rigged lifeline netting all around the boat too. We did try to use a harness to secure Marvin on deck, but we quickly found that was unbalancing him, so we gave up on that. We preferred fixed netting all around and made him wear a life jacket. And of course we keep an eye on him! Under sail he’s not allowed to go on deck, unless he is with one of his parents and the sea is calm.

For the afternoon nap, when possible, he slept in a hammock hanging from the boom.

For baths, the kitchen sink is a good idea when children are small. Later on a normal bucket will do the job. Why have a special one? On a boat you will learn quickly that space/storage is a problem, so use the same bucket you do your laundry in.

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

Anything we wish we had known

No, I believe it's nice to discover things by yourself and adapt as you feel. For sure your choice will be the good one; mom and dad know best what works for their children. This feeling comes naturally.

Our advice for families

Cook with fresh food.
Language is not a problem.

Maybe about food...

Ladies, if you are able and, of course, if it’s your choice, your bosom is there. The meal is hot and ready quickly, in any type of weather. The baby doesn’t need to wait, and everybody is happy.

Later I enjoyed preparing food with diverse and fresh produce from the countries we were in, using the catch of the day, and making varied foods for Marvin who eats quickly like us. I never used the petits pots (prepared baby food).

Don’t hesitate to go sailing with a baby or kids.

It’s such fun. The most important thing for us is to spend time together -- no crèche (day care!) -- and to have the opportunity to see our child awakening to the world, playing with other children and having many friends of different nationalities. Just enjoy any kind of life you choose, because life is too short to spoil it.

Language and communication: it’s not a problem.

Marvin is bilingual (French/English), but children don’t need to speak the same language to play together.

All questions

5. A typical day aboard

A typical day at anchor

Helping Dad with boat maintenance
(soldering a solar panel)

It depends where we are, of course.

But now, every morning (except Sunday) we start with school, and when it’s over, life is open to snorkeling, diving, learning about sea life, hunting, visiting around or meeting fisherman, local friends, plus maintenance, repairs, baking bread, laundry, normal maintenance of the boat. We also sail the Optimist or wakeboard with Marvin, etc.

— Marvin (8): When arriving in an anchorage it’s so nice to go snorkeling and discover sea life. I also go hunting fish, crab, and lobster with my father, when it’s allowed of course. We bring the catch of the day to Mom, who’s the cook on board. I don’t need to go to a seaquarium or a zoo to observe animals. It’s nice to see them free.

A funny story:

When Marvin was a baby still and took his afternoon nap, we were reading in the cockpit, and I saw a diaper floating by. Immediately I thought that some people have no respect for Mother Nature. A few seconds later another diaper and another, etc. So I took the dinghy and started to collect them.

Passing alongside New Life, I saw a hand through the hatch: it was our little fellow awake throwing his diapers away!


A typical day on passage

Dinner depends on the catch of
the day (not much food today!)

We always have a fishing line out, so dinner depends on the catch of the day: barracuda, dolphin, tuna, dorado.

On passage (depending on the sea state) we read, play games and eat earlier than usual, so the galley's tidy by sunset. We are together for lunch and the evening meal. Our normal routines change a bit depending on who is taking the first watch.

For us changing watch every 2 or 3 hours doesn't work very well.

Usually I stay awake after the evening meal, put Marvin in bed, and do the navigation until midnight or one o'clock. Then I wake up the captain who is in charge for the rest of the night.

Around 6 am I take over again. I just love to see the sun rise and read a bit, before Marvin is up having breakfast. We still do school, but only the oral part.

All questions

6. What are your kid's responsibilities aboard?

Little hands are always helpful in the yard

I think when the children are old enough, it’s good to give them responsibilities -- appropriate for their age of course, and trust them. That’s very important.

  • Before leaving a place Marvin has to tidy his toys, check and close all the doors and cupboard locks, and fix the wooden rails across them to secure everything.

  • When the time comes to lift or drop the anchor, it’s Marvin’s job to switch on or off the different buttons.

  • We also let him steer the boat when he wants with Daddy next to him.

  • Approaching a shallow place, he’s in charge of reading the depthsounder or even going on the bow (when the sea’s calm) and pointing with his hand port/starboard, so Daddy knows where to pass and avoid the coral head.

  • I also taught him to use the VHF radio and to read the GPS. He can now give our position, but of course he cannot record it on the chart yet; this time will come.

  • In the galley, when I’m cooking, if he wants to help me, great! I let him cut things or knead the bread. Sometimes he decides to prepare our apéritifs ( “happy hour” drinks). So we let him do that.


We believe it’s important for everybody to have responsibilities. Even if things are not done the way you want, or it is messier, the child has to be a part of it.

7. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?

My first lifejacket
  My second lifejacket

Keeping the kids safe aboard

  • Children should always wear lifejackets on deck.

  • When the kids are little, attach lifeline netting around the boat.

  • Teach them early how to swim.

  • Explain that things like electric plugs and switches mustn’t be touched or removed just as you would do in a house.

  • Do not allow kids to go on deck under sail, except with an adult if the sea’s calm.


Our son fell overboard when he was 18 months old!

Let me explain.

It happened in England on the Darth River. It was 13° C (55° F), and we had 4 knots of current.

We were preparing to go ashore, so my husband Thierry launched the dinghy and opened the aft barrier. Marvin was quiet in the cockpit. Thierry closed the barrier quickly and came below to ask me to bring something.

In that short time our son crawled to the back of the boat and managed somehow to open the barrier and fall in.

Thierry jumped in and caught him straight away, grabbing the dinghy. I pulled them back in, and they came aboard. Marvin didn’t have time to realize what had happened but was crying. We made a joke of it (although our stomachs were twisted) clapping hands, laughing about Daddy jumping in with all his clothes on. Yachties around did the same and asked if everything was alright.

We think it’s good to de-dramatize the situation even if you feel bad about it, so the child will not panic or keep a bad memory about it. That remark is good for every situation. Don’t panic, just do what you think is right.

After that experience we decided to teach Marvin to swim earlier than usual. Since then, he has fallen in a few times from the dock while playing with other kids, but he always had his lifejacket on. Now of course he can swim, so it’s more relaxed.

Caring for the kids in rough weather

If they are outside, they must wear lifejackets and mustn't leave the cockpit; otherwise they must play inside. When we arrive and are maneuvering the boat, they shouldn't interfere. If you have made the rules earlier, they know and things are easier.

— Marvin (8): When the sea is stormy, it’s nice to have a DVD player, a game boy, books, IPod or toys to play with and forget about this hard time.

Keeping the kids healthy / getting medical care

  • Before moving onto New Life, my husband and I took a medical first-aid course made for sailors (that’s part of the Swiss captain’s license). But we also contacted a friend (a doctor/sailor) who helped us prepare the medical kit on board and gave us advice. We spent nice evenings talking about safety and security on board.

  • Half of the time, we have to replenish our medicines before we have used them. Or we use them to help local kids, fishermen or people we meet along the way. You will see that in this type of life you are rarely sick.

  • For the vaccinations, we gave Marvin the usual ones when he was a baby. Some of the vaccinations have to be given in monthly intervals. We kept the injection in our fridge, so we were sure he received the same one. If you are not able to do the injection yourself, you can always take your medicine to any medical dispensary and ask a nurse or a doctor to do it for you.

  • In general kids on board are healthy. They are not growing up in a crèche (day care center) where one after the other spreads germs. Life on the sea is healthy.

  • Of course when an accident happened, such as hitting a finger with a hammer, falling down the steps, burning a finger with a bulb, opening a toe on deck, you have to deal with it (the same as in a house). So you should have a good pharmacy on board to be ready to take care of things. Sometimes a hospital is not close, so there may be no other options.


Caring for the kids ashore

We notice that sailors’ kids don’t have the same knowledge about traffic in a city as children who go alone to school every day. So keep an eye on them.

8. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?


We home school Marvin with the CNED (Centre National d’Education à Distance). It’s a French institution with a teacher assigned to us who follows the child.

How does that work?

After registering your child with this institution, you will receive books for the whole year: books for the teacher (you) and books for the child. The subjects are: French, math, science, geography, history, art, music and song plus a language of your choice when the child is 7 years old.

Our books are parents’ guides to help the child and give us some guidance in how to teach the material. Every 6 weeks, the child has to do evaluations, small exams (both written and oral recorded on cassette) and send them to the CNED. Teachers will correct and send the results back.

We found it easier to give them a fixed address. Otherwise, when a nice weather window appears, you can’t leave if you have to wait for those results. So my husband’s sister collects the results and scans and emails them to us.

The teacher will add comments for Marvin (to help him improve in a subject or with his writing) and also comments for us (to give us ideas how to tackle a subject). This program should take about 25 hours per week, depending on the child of course.

We adapt the program when we are underway, focusing more on the oral, and we wait until we are at anchor or in port to do the writing part.

I have heard that other schools (in English) have approximately the same idea of schooling, but I have no info about those.

— Marvin (8): We have to do school only in the morning, not all day. That’s great! I have friends in Switzerland who go to school morning and afternoon... that’s too bad! I don’t really like school, so I try to do it quickly, and my afternoon is free. Then I can play with my friends, snorkel, do the wakeboard or sail my Optimist. (My parents gave me a course in Curaçao, and now, when the wind isn’t blowing too much, I sail my little boat around.)

Friendships and social interactions

We think it's important for a child to also have a social life, to compete and learn from others kids

So we are careful about that, and every time we see a boat with kids on board we meet them whatever the nationality. They will do the same, so children pass easily from one boat to the other or play around together.

Sometimes we make them do school together also, so they can compete (even cheat) as they would do in school.

Keeping the kids entertained

Books, toys, Gameboy, Nintendo DS, IPod, and more if you can, so kids can exchange, talk about it, share, etc.

If you stay long enough in one place, you will find activities for them: Optimist sailing, sailboard, courses they can take, or the chance to be a part of football or other training.

— Marvin (8): It’s great to play with others kids and learn new games.

I have a lot of toys on board, but it’s nice to build a cabane, play on the beach with hermit crabs, make a track and make them race from one point to the other, learn to play with nothing. Some children I met don’t have much to play with, so I gave them some of my toys, and they gave me some, like a seashell, or carved wood, a wooden boat, etc. I will keep them for sure. Every time I play with them I imagine my friends over there.

Personal space aboard

Marvin doesn’t have his own cabin. He sleeps in the single berth in the passageway but has all of the forward area of the boat (double berth) to play.

We have an aft cabin, none of them are closed, the boat is open all the way through. There are no doors except for the head/toilet.

Family back home and their concerns

On Skype with Grandma

That may be a worry. They miss us all, but especially their grandson.

Our decision to have this type of life is not easy for them.

  • We try to fly home every year and a half, depending on the cost of the trip and if we can leave the boat safely somewhere. It all hinges on hurricane season, our work, and the price of a marina for New Life.

  • Now these days, there is Internet, so we can keep in touch with them, and we can also phone with Skype and see each other via a webcam. Internet makes it easier, but of course it’s not the same as having us home or close by.

  • When we leave for a long passage, we are not specific about when we are leaving, so they will not be worried. As soon we arrive somewhere, we phone them and talk about it.

  • Family are always welcome to visit us, to stay in a hotel and come for a day sail with us. They are not sailors, so that is a good compromise. My mum comes sometimes and stays on board with us, and we do daysails with her also.

    The best way to do it is when you are in the spot, contact your family and wait for them.

    Otherwise, if you set a date in advance, you will be under pressure (dependent on the weather) to arrive in time to pick them up where they are meeting you. We experimented with a “rendezvous” at a set time of the year, but it’s always difficult because of our sailing schedule and the weather of course. If you give them in advance a destination and a time, for us to keep that date can be difficult.

9. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES?


Filling water jugs

It depends, as you will find various options along the way: laundromats or locals who will do it for you, a river with fresh water, a well in the middle of an island.

Most of the time, we collect rain water, and I do it by hand. I have experimented with a few systems:

  • a bucket with a vacuum lid that you put out in the sun and shake;
  • with different soaps and washing powders, but that uses a lot of water to rinse;
  • so I tried ammonia in the water to reduce the water needed for rinsing. Ammonia is safe to rinse clothes in. When you hang your laundry, the ammonia will evaporate and leave no smell.

Clean-up and daily maintenance of the boat

Some boats are easier to maintain. With a steel one, like ours, you never stop: rust, paint, varnish, but that is part of the game.

Inside is like home.

Feeding the family, nutrition and cooking

Personally, it’s not a chore. I like cooking, discovering new fresh things throughout our voyage, and learning new recipes for baking bread, cakes, cookies, etc. We also have a barbecue on board, but that’s the captain’s corner (lighting it and grilling meat or the catch of the day).

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

Marvin (8)


I like
meeting new friends all the time.
  • Meeting new friends all the time and discovering new games.

  • Doing school only in the morning time.

  • Having my parents around me all the time.

  • And I can see the animals in their natural environment, no need to go to a zoo or a seaquarium.


    I don't like

To do school and to leave my friends, even if I know I will meet other ones.

I don’t really like school, I would rather play, do the wakeboard or Optimist, snorkel, etc.

But I know it’s necessary, and I’m happy it’s only in the morning, so in the afternoon I can do something I like.

Patricia & Thierry


  • First, cruising as a family, being together and seeing our child grow. We have such fun together!

  • Discovering new communities and new countries.

  • The freedom you can have with a boat; if one area or neighbor doesn’t suit you, move along or change place.

  • Travelling with children can sometimes open doors and opportunities you would otherwise have no access to.
    People don’t look at you as a rich owner of a boat, but just as a family having a floating life.


  • When we have to stop and refill the cruising kitty.

    Sometimes we stay longer in one place to earn some money, so we can keep going. My husband is a boat builder and can fix nearly everything on a boat, and I have a sail sewing machine on board, so I can do some repairs for other cruisers. We can also do underwater work as divers.

    So this a chore, but it’s necessary if we want to keep going. We are not retired yet and don’t have income every month, so we have to stop sometimes and work. That is the choice of life we made a few years ago, and it’s part of the game.

  • I’m not complaining, but to be a mum, a teacher, a nurse, a crew and a wife ….sometimes it’s not easy.

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

Why did we go cruising as a family

First we wanted to spend time together -- we are both lovers of the sea and traveling.

In Switzerland we were busy, both with businesses to run, and not much time to spend together. So when I got pregnant at the age of 40, the plan or life we were dreaming about came true. There was no way I would give my child to a crèche (day care center) or to somebody to look after because we had to work.

So we quit everything, rushed to finish the boat and moved onto New Life. We have less money but so much happiness and a real life.

Has cruising changed our family

Oh, yes!

We are more relaxed, no more stress illness.

We have learned anew to value, appreciate and respect life. We have learned to listen to others and not be so materialistic. Also we are more aware of our real needs and are not just consumers who do not appreciate what they get.

When we meet with other cruisers or visit other communities, we have time to spend with them without having just half an hour to drink a coffee.

We are
more relaxed
We have time to spend
with other cruisers or other communities

All questions

12. How about the transition back to land?

That will not be easy for sure after all these years of freedom. But we are aware of it, especially concerning our son. If this nomadic life becomes a problem for one of us, I think it will be time to change life again. Why continue something if you do not enjoy it anymore or are not happy with it?

We have a small ruin in the North of France, a ruin we bought for very cheap. In the meantime we built the boat. So if one day we have to go back on land, we think that will be a good transition. We can finish repairing it, grow our own vegetables, and still have time to observe nature and have a natural life. Maybe we will have a small B&B later on to welcome travelers in the country part of Brittany.

We’ll see.


About the NEW LIFE family

Who is aboard?

  • Thierry, the captain, 49 years old
  • Marvin, our son, nearly 8 years old (in August 2010)
  • And me, Patricia, 48 years old

What kind of boat do you have?

A 34-foot steel boat, designed by French architect Gilbert Caroff, but homemade. We spent 13 years building her in our yard in Switzerland. It has an aft cabin with a double berth, a single berth to starboard, a galley, a head, and an open front cabin that is Marvin's playground.

Where have you sailed? Where did you start out?

  • We launched New Life in 2002 in Lake Léman (Lake Geneva), Switzerland. We moved aboard with our two-month old baby and spent the first winter on board, trying out the boat. In April of 2003 we hauled her by truck to Port Carmargue (South of France) in the Mediterranean. We started our trip from there, sailed the Med; the French and Spanish coasts, through the Baléares islands, and Gibraltar. Then we started our way up north through Spain, Portugal, France (Atlantic coast), and England. In 2004 we turned back to Puerto Santo, Madera, Canary Islands, Cape Verde.

  • We crossed the Atlantic in 2005. It took us 20 days (with only our little family) from Cape Verde to Guadeloupe, and then we worked our way down the Caribbean islands. We spent 8 months in Venezuela, sailing the coast and islands, and hiking in the Andes. We sailed the Tortugas, Roques, Aves, ABC islands, Colombian coast to Cartagena, and the San Blas islands where we spent nearly 4 months discovering, learning and living with the Kuna Indians.

  • From there we went up to Isla Providencia, Honduras, Isla Mujeres (Mexico), and the east coast of the US as far as the Chesapeake Bay. We spent all summer discovering the east coast of the US. We then sailed through the Bahamas, USVIs and BVIs, St. Martin, and back here to Curaçao.


How long have you been cruising? How old was your child when you started?

Nearly 8 years (October 2010). Marvin was 2 months old when we moved on board for the first winter in Switzerland, and 7 months when we start sailing the Med.

Where are you now?

ABC islands, Curaçao.

What's next?

Jamaica, Cuba, Bahamas, Bermuda, Halifax, Canada, St-Pierre et Miquelon, up North, until….?

Your blog or website(s)?

http://www.svnewlife.blogspot.com (in French)

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