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12 Questions to 12 Sailing Families

S/V Shangri La 36' Devilliers steel sloop - Homeport: Corinth, USA

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Tania AEBI + Nicholas (16) & Sam (13) - Between the ages of 18 and 21, Tania AEBI circumnavigated the globe alone, on her 26' sloop Varuna. 22 years later, she undertakes a "school year" voyage with her 2 teenage sons. Shangri La is captained for 5 months by Mom, 5 months by Dad! - More about the SHANGRI LA family

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1. The biggest challenge you faced in getting out there?   7. How did you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?
2. Is there a best age to take children cruising?   8. How did you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?
3. Any modifications to the boat for your children?   9. How did you handle: TASKS and CHORES?
4. Any advice for would-be sailing families?   10. What did 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: Deciding to go for it, then making it happen.

Just getting going was the biggie—deciding to go for it, then making it happen, especially since we were in a divorced situation trying to take joint custody to sea.

How did you deal with it?

By agreeing to do absolutely everything, from finding and purchasing a boat, to outfitting it, to taking care of every last organizational detail, to introducing the boys to this whole new way of life.

All Dad had to do was show up in Tahiti, step aboard with his two broken-in boys, do his half of the trip with them, come home again, and let me clean up.

Silly, or unbalanced, maybe, but me taking on the lion’s share of the work was the only way the boys could have this experience.

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

They were 16 and 13 when we started, 17 and 14 when they came home.

Those were the best ages for us because it is all we know.

They were big enough to help, learn quickly, really participate, from anchoring and navigating to cooking and cleaning.

The “teenage” thing was the biggest problem, but that parental challenge could have taken place anywhere on the planet.

The good thing about being cooped up in small quarters with the sneering disdain is that it has become good material for funny anecdotes in the years since. Intolerable in the moment, hysterical in hindsight, just so clichéd and stereotypical behavior in unusual circumstances.

All questions

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

Make sure there are a couple of good and comfortable places to flop


Not really, other than to make sure there were a couple of good and comfortable places to flop.


Always make room for games and books and flopping.

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

Anything I wish I had known

No. It was expected the learning curve would be steep, that it was impossible to anticipate everything beforehand.

We'd do what we could to prepare, then adapting, being flexible, resourceful, and addressing whatever came up moment by moment, would be part of the whole underway experience.

Advice for families

Just do it!

Speaking for myself (mom—‘cause getting either of the boys to answer these questions—without generous remuneration—over summer vacation won't happen), if you're thinking about doing it in any serious way, then just do it.

Don't dwell overmuch on the fears, what the kids think, what neighbors say. You can never anticipate or plan for every eventuality. At some point you just have to make the decision to plunge in and keep going. Take that scary leap and go.

And trust that you will be joining the world of people/families who've dared to pursue this worthy dream for all the good reasons you will eventually learn for yourself.

All questions

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

Rolling out
some Indian flat bread. 
Jumping from the spreaders into the turquoise waters of the lagoon thrills the boys for hours.
Nicholas raises the main.

A “typical” day at anchor.

For us, the mornings were for schoolwork, the afternoons for exploring, snorkeling, playing games, reading, preparing meals.

In Tahiti, the boys dove under the boat and changed the zinc. Finally, they were full crewmates, doing chores and helping with the maintenance.
I was proud.

A “typical” day on passage

Very similar as at anchor, though a bit more flexible in terms of schoolwork to allow for queasiness and fatigue from nighttime watches. I like routine, establishing one, keeping to it as much as possible.

What are the kids' responsibilities aboard?

My boys learned fast and within a couple of months, they were going forward to take in reefs, let out and haul in the anchor, inflate, deflate and stow the dinghy, clean the waterline, make minor repairs, cook, navigate, do dishes and clean—all within the parameters of how much one can order around a teenager until he or she rebels.

6. A great moment?

One of my sharpest and most pleasant memories is of an evening spent with some other sailor-type characters we met in Tahiti.

One was a very funny guy with whom we shared dinners and stories. On this particular evening, we were all sitting in the salon after a spaghetti dinner while he regaled us with more of his opinions and anecdotes.

I've never, or very rarely, seen my boys laugh so hard, so much their mouths hurt in the morning, and it was a seventy-something older man who was responsible for bringing them such pleasure, a man who'd sailed and lived a way of life they were just beginning to understand and appreciate, to the point they could get the points of irony and absurdity in a very side-splitting way.

I just loved finally seeing them become familiar enough with what we were doing to “get” this man's stories, to see their sense of humor about it all kick in, to know that we'd have stories to talk and laugh about for ourselves in years to come.

7. How did you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?

Nicholas cools off on SHANGRI LA ’s stern scoop.

Keeping the kids safe aboard

Made them wear harnesses on night watches, and constantly reminded them to really think about what it would feel like to fall overboard and see their boat sail off without them—trying to transform these warnings into visceral and graphic images felt like an effective way for all of us to not settle into complacency. 

Caring for the kids offshore

Same as at home—make sure they are entertained, fed, rested and comfortable.

Caring for the kids in rough weather

Ditto, inasmuch as entertainment, feeding, resting and comfort are possible.

In the end, learning that all these things aren't always givens, and that rough weather never lasts forever, are fine lessons about not taking things for granted and “this, too, shall pass”.

Keeping the kids healthy / getting medical care

We didn’t really have any health issues, but for the few questions (one son got worms in the Marquesas) I just consulted with a pharmacist and got the appropriate medication.

8. How did you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?

Sam keeps up with his home
schooling duties.


Purchased a fully accredited home schooling curriculum with all textbooks and materials from Oak Meadow (so they wouldn't be penalized for missing a year of regular school) and worked out a schedule with their teachers that allowed for irregular mailings based on when we'd be near post offices.

Mornings were reserved for work, and they applied themselves hard, finished the whole program by the beginning of February (which gave them the longest summer vacation ever), and got A's.

They probably learned as much, if not more, from this method (away from all peer group distractions).

Friendships and social interactions

As this trip only lasted for one school year, it was actually a welcome break from over-active social lives, a time for us to spend together just as a family, without always having to zip here and there for this and that.

It was excellent for the boys to be together as brothers.

It was also excellent for them to be together as brothers. They got along really well, found they liked each other more than they could have known, and they never really missed their friends who, they knew, would be waiting upon our return.

Instead, outside of our little world, they also met and spent time with new people of all ages from all walks of life, from other sailors to people ashore.

Keeping the kids entertained

Books. Lots of books. And, I'm less than proud to report, computer games served the entertainment purpose as well.

Personal space aboard

They did each have their own cabin,
but they never shut the doors.

At home, they never wanted/needed separate bedrooms, even as they got older. Neither boy has been the kind who lives in his bedroom—for them, this room was just for sleeping and storing clothes.

They always hung out in the living room next to the kitchen, or the kitchen itself—most importantly, never far from the fridge. They've always been comfortable out in the open and so, private space wasn't a huge concern on the boat, especially since the fridge was never more than fifteen feet away.

They did each have their own cabin, but they never shut the doors.


Family back home and their concerns

Given my history, my family at home was nothing but supportive, concerns were centered around when and where they could fit in a visit.

Friends here in the hills where people don't go away often, much less to be on boats in the middle of big oceans, were a little more perplexed about why we'd do this.

I said what I could to explain, then we just had to it, whether they ever got it, or not.

9. How did you handle: TASKS and CHORES

As the boys had to do their own laundry, they learned how to not be frivolous with changes!


Sometimes, laundry machines ashore were available.

Other times, we found faucets to visit with a bucket. Drying happened on the lifelines and laundry lines strung between the stays.

As we were always in the tropics, most of our time was spent in bathing suits and we didn't go through piles of clothing. And, as the boys had to do their own laundry, they learned how to not be frivolous with changes!

Clean-up and daily maintenance of the boat

As an extension of the way we live ashore, the boat was always kept clean — as a rule, everything had a place — both boys know how Mom gets when messes are left behind, and the arguments about who was a bigger neat freak or slob arose as frequently out there as anywhere else.

Feeding the family, nutrition and cooking

Seafood for dinner

Again, as with life ashore, the kids love their food, love being creative about what to make with what we have, to the point of pitching in themselves.

None of us is very picky, but we like food to taste good, so with good provisioning, we were able to eat really well—maybe not as many green salads or fresh meats, but cabbage, carrots, corned beef and beans are all good, too.

Then, we got to argue about who'd do the dishes, and who did or didn't also wipe down the counters.

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


Me: The time we spent together
Nicholas: Reading books
Sam: Fishing


  • Hands down for me (mom): the time we got to spend together was priceless.

  • For Nicholas: hours and hours just for reading books was all a boy could ever want.

  • For Sam: all the fishing made up for every other hardship and privation.


  • For me (mom): pumping heads—I hate that, always miss flush toilets;

  • For Nicholas: sometimes not being able to lounge about in absolute comfort;

  • For Sam: never feeling totally dry.

11. Why did you go cruising as a family? Has cruising changed your family? How about the transition back to land?

Why did we go cruising as a family?

Because I HAD to show my kids a little bit of what so much of my (and their dad's) life and learning was about.

How has that panned out so far?

Great. Everything went well, we did exactly what we set out to do, and we've all moved on with an excellent memory.

This sailing adventure with our kids, each on our own watches, somehow brought us a little closer together as a divorced family with a shared experience, which was really nice for the boys.

Has cruising changed our family?

Hmmm. Hard to say in the short term.

The most immediate answer I can give is to say that even though the boys' father and I didn't spend time on the boat together, having had this sailing adventure with our kids, each on our own watches, somehow brought us a little closer together as a divorced family with a shared experience, which was really nice for the boys. 

Instead of going back and forth between our houses, the boat was their constant, their world for a year, captained for five months by mom, five months by dad.

How was the transition back to land?


Everyone missed certain aspects of living at sea while really appreciating things they'd missed from land, and the next chapters of life just keep rolling on and we all just keep on keeping up.

All questions

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

“Lentil Stew”

The boys LOVED lentil stew.


  • fry up some onions,
  • add some carrots, potatoes, (and any other vegetable you might have that sounds good)
  • and ideally, if you can find it (the best is sold in French supermarkets), some canned duck (or bacon, or sausage).



  • red or white wine (whichever is open),
  • a little bit of curry paste or powder (again, whatever you have open), garlic, salt/pepper,
  • however much water is recommended on the lentil package for more or less liquid stew (again, depending on if you like it better thick or thin)


And then, let it simmer for about 20 minutes in a regular pot, or for about 8 minutes in a pressure cooker.

The nicest thing about cooking with a pressure cooker is dealing with leftovers. When the meal is done, you just bring the pot back up to pressure, turn off the flame. Do not take off the lid until you are ready to eat again because until then, you have effectively canned the leftovers and so, they do not need to be transferred to another container and refrigerated.


About the SHANGRI LA family

Tania AEBI

Tania, at 19, in Varuna’s cockpit.
Tania, at 19, playing with the children on a remote South Pacific island.
Tania in 1987, the youngest woman to have sailed solo around the world.

In May 1985, when Tania Aebi was only 18 years old, she cast off from the docks of South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan and sailed 27,000 miles around the world, alone, on her 26-foot sloop, Varuna. Concerned about her lack of ambition, her father offered her this opportunity as an alternative to a college education, and she took him up on it. For the next two and a half years, with only a cat for company, she crossed the Caribbean, the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and the North Atlantic, stopping in 23 countries along the way.

She sailed through storms and calms, gathering stories, friendships, inspirational examples, and maturity along the way. She also learned a lot about setting a larger-than-life goal and being committed to following it through despite mechanical breakdowns, the death of her mother, loneliness, doubt, and fear.

In November 1987, just barely 21, Tania Aebi stepped back onto the cement shores of New York City, a solo-circumnavigator.

She spent the year after her return reliving the trip in words, writing her bestselling book, Maiden Voyage, the personal account that synthesized her modern day odyssey and the dramatic childhood leading up to it.

Tania now lives and participates in a small town rural life, where she is mother to two boys (Nicholas and Sam), caretaker of a house and 32 acres, gardens, six chickens and the memory of the cat who sailed with her and died in 2007, at the age of 21.

Their father and her ex-husband, the man she met on her circumnavigation, lives two miles up the road and they are raising the two boys together.

Our trip

Tania, Olivier, and the boys, in Tahiti, ready for the hand-off.

Our trip took place from September of 2007 to July of 2008 in order to coincide perfectly with one full school year and so as to not miss some summer on either end, our favorite season where we live.

It wasn't meant to become a whole new lifestyle, but just an adventure we could all live together for a predetermined amount of time with some fixed parameters as to where we'd go, and for how long the boys would be sailing with each parent.

The boys started out at 16 and 13, and while underway, turned 17 and 14.

We sailed Shangri La, a 36-foot-long steel boat designed by David Devilliers, built in South Africa.

Why did I choose this boat? Because she was right, a relatively new, well-equipped, perfectly-sized boat for the right price in the right place at the right time—in St Maarten, the March before we started the trip, which gave me plenty of time to get her up and running and to do a shakedown cruise to Curacao, where I left her for the summer (and hurricane season), while I came home to attack all the lists for the boat and closing up the homefront shop for a prolonged absence.

Together, the boys and I sailed from Curacao to Columbia, the San Blas Islands, Panama and the Panama Canal, across the Pacific to the Marquesas, to the Tuamotus, to Tahiti. With their father, they sailed from Tahiti to the Cook Islands, to Samoa, to Wallis, to Fiji and New Caledonia, where the trip ended.

They came home in July, and mission accomplished, I sold Shangri La in September.

What is the family doing now?

Now, we are all back home in Vermont, or at least, based here.

  • Nicholas, the eldest, graduated from high school the year following our trip, then took off for a year to teach English in Kyrgyzstan, and this year, will begin his studies in marine engineering at Maine Maritime Academy — a decision that was directly inspired by our trip and all the people he met who knew how to fix things, how they worked, and the self reliance and autonomy those skills can give us. He wanted the same ability for himself.

  • Sam, the younger, decided after a year back at the local school, that he wanted better, and on his own, he applied to a bunch of the top prep schools and got accepted to Andover with a full scholarship.

What's next?

Using the computer to write
and check in with people back home

So, what's next for Mom? First, finish writing a book about this trip now that nest is empty.


We'll see. The boys are moving on, and I am so happy that I saw this day coming before it was too late to grab a few precious last months of closeness and adventure with them at sea.

Your blog or website(s)?

  • I do not have a blog (although, the series of “blog” postings I wrote while underway have been archived at: www.boatus.com/cruising/shangrila)

  • My website is: www.taniaaebi.com

  • I run 7-14 day learn-to-sail flotilla vacations, casual combinations of fun and instruction, usually for just women, a couple of times a year in different countries around the world (more here). To be put on the mailing list to find out about future trips, email: tania@sover.net.


Tania's books

  I've Been Around


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