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S/V Osprey Adams 45' Steel sloop - Homeport: Annapolis, USA

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Wendy & John CLARKE + Kaeo (13), Kailani (10) - Pushing through the obstacles in the way of getting started and the challenges of the first year out, this family has endured to find what really counts. Being together. - More about the OSPREY family

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

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

The kids cleaning out the lazarette prepping the boat for work (this was the time that every weekend was dedicated to working on the boat)

The biggest challenge was just going.

My husband used to say that he didn't care if we only went as far as Norfolk, Virginia; he just wanted to get off the dock. He was only half kidding. We had seen so many people talk for years about going, even getting the boat and kitting it out, but always finding a reason to stay.

Remember this:
There will always be a reason not to go.

It's the nature of our culture to not do something like this. Everything is geared to making you conform, and this is pretty non-conformist.

I don't think people realize what a huge emotional, personal commitment this has to be, especially if you are entrenched in a suburban life as we were. You have to become completely single-minded about it. For us, nearly every weekend in the year leading up to leaving was consumed with either working on the boat or preparing in some other way. We didn't do a lot of things our friends did; we said “no” very often, which didn't endear us to some people. But the clock was ticking, and we weren't going to let anyone, or anything, stop us.

Sometimes this hurts people who love you and whom you love and never wanted to hurt. And this, too, is part of the answer to this question.

As a mom, I think another challenge was convincing myself over and over that what I was asking my kids to do was the right thing.

This came up all the time (and still does, when things are difficult for whatever reason).

For instance, it's one thing to look through your house and decide what you can get rid of and what you simply have to keep—an heirloom from your mom's house, say.

It's another to ask an 8-year-old child to do the same thing.

My kids and I spent a full week in their bedrooms and playroom going through every single item. We had three groups: things to store, things to bring, things to give away. It helped them to give things away to friends, rather than just send them to Goodwill or a yard sale. But there were still many tears from our daughter, who is very attached to her “stuff.” Even before we did this, she had a hard time letting things go. This was a huge challenge for her, and for me.

How could it be right to ask her to shove her whole, big life into a space the size of your average walk-in closet, and then share that space with her brother? It was like I was breaking her heart every day based on promises about the future that even I wasn't sure were going to turn out to be true.

So this kind of living in uncertainty was hard.

Finally, saying goodbye became awful.

A frosty, misty morning on the Dismal Swamp Canal, just south of Norfolk. We're finally out of the goodbye zone!

I thought if I said goodbye to one more thing, one more place, one more person, I was going to go crazy. Even sailing out of the Chesapeake Bay, we stopped in a few favorite anchorages on the way, and that was still in what I came to call “the goodbye zone.”

We needed to get out of “the goodbye zone” and into new places, new experiences, new people.

I developed a new mantra that actually has continued to work even now:
"We will work it out".

No matter how much monkey s**t the situation was throwing at us, no matter how discouraged we sometimes became, I would just say that out loud. We will work it out. And we did. So after a while, you start to believe it.

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

Our daughter was 8 and our son was 11. She had just finished second grade and he had finished fifth.

Part of what drove our timing was our son's education. The public middle schools in Annapolis did not have our confidence, and we had never intended for him to attend there. We had always planned to go sailing and home school when he was entering middle school, which is what we did.

Going cruising is like having a baby, in my opinion; if you wait for the perfect time/age, you'll never do it. You just have to go. Our timing was linked around our son's school age, but we would have gone sooner or later, if we'd had to.

Older kids can participate more
in the daily running and operating of the boat.

People say it's easier to go when they're younger, and I can see that. They get more attached to friends and school the older they are. They also have more stuff when they're older, and schooling becomes a major aspect of your life on board, which can sometimes limit your freedom.

But one of the benefits to having older kids is that they can participate more in the daily running and operating of the boat.

They become key crew members, and that responsibility is one of the huge benefits of this kind of life for them. How many 12-year-olds are told, “OK, you've got the watch,” meaning you are basically responsible for the safety of you, your family, and your little floating world? This kind of faith we put in them gives them confidence, power, and strength.

Also, I think older children can truly appreciate the places we go and things we see.

Kaeo and Kailani atop Temple IV at Tikal, Guatemala

For instance, I don't think if my son was, say, 5 years old, he would begin to really understand a place like Tikal in Guatemala the way he can as a 13-year-old.

  • For a 5-year-old, it's a bunch of really cool big stone piles and when can we stop for a snack?

  • For a 13-year-old, climbing a 2,000-year-old Mayan temple is a mysterious, awesome, perhaps even spiritual experience.

And, as they link what they are reading about in schoolbooks to the places we go, these places come alive for them in a way that a younger child I doubt can fully comprehend.

All questions

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

OSPREY anchored in our favorite cove on the Wye River, Chesapeake Bay,
for the last time before leaving


We rebuilt most of our boat's major systems after taking a six-week shakedown trip a year and a half before we planned to leave for good. These had mostly to do with things like energy generation (solar panels and wind generators—we wanted more than the boat came with), and electronics stuff, like a new SSB.

But the basic layout of the boat was great for us from the get-go and one of the main selling points. It's a center-cockpit boat, so Johnny and I have our own cabin aft, and the kids share a cabin forward. For parents who want any kind of privacy at all—if even only to talk about stuff you don't want young ears to hear, let alone the other obvious reasons—having a cabin of your own with a door that closes is critical. (There can be such a thing as too much togetherness, you know!)

Our kids love to read, as do we. We bought an early version of the Kindle, thinking we would all love reading on it and it would solve the issue of too little bookshelf space. None of us much like it though. Turns out we are old-fashioned that way and love the feel of a good book in the hands.

But, space is a problem, always.

We came up with a cool idea for book storage after our shakedown cruise.

The hull sides in the kids' cabin were very pretty with the wood interior, but that was a lot of unused space. I had a canvas maker make heavy-duty mesh book bags that Johnny then hung on the hull sides, attaching them to the wood with multiple snaps top and bottom. These oversized bags can accommodate the big picture books my daughter loves, as well as the big books from Calvert School.

Because they're mesh, the books don't get moldy and damp as they would in a canvas bag.

Nearly everybody who comes on the boat and sees those bags comment on them as a great idea. They'd be easy to make yourself, too, if you have a heavy-duty sewing machine and are half decent at sewing, which I'm sad to say I'm not.


A good friend of ours who'd been cruising before us, who did not have kids, gave us a sound parameter for making a decision about whether a boat's layout would work. He said, “Imagine that you are stuck in an anchorage for several days with nothing but pouring rain. Does each member of the family/crew have a place that he or she can go to be alone and do what he or she wants?

I thought that was great advice. And our boat fit that bill. I can go in the aft cabin. Our son can hang in his bunk forward. Our daughter can do artwork in the main cabin. And Johnny can work in the nav station or up in the fully enclosed cockpit.

Each member of the family has a place that he or she can go to be alone and do what he or she wants.
Left: Kaeo in his bunk with his gecko hanging out on his head.
Right: Kailani working on some drawing in the main cabin.

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

Is there anything we wish we had known?

No. I think we had reasonable expectations that it was going to be both wonderful and challenging.

  • Everyone said the first year would be the hardest, and they were absolutely right. You have to be patient with that first year, maybe even longer. You're learning so much, on so many levels, so fast. This is exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time, but not in balance. So when it's more the latter than the former, it can be hard to take. I don't think we truly got our feet under us until a year-and-a-half into it. And I have no illusions that they may slide out from under us again at any time, for who knows what reasons. You learn to be nimble, and that's a great thing.

  • The kids with their best cruising friends from CALYPSO
    One thing I will say about this, though, is that we have not found as many other families out here as we'd hoped and thought we would. I don't know if that's a factor of the economy taking the dive it did right when we left (October 2008), or just weird timing in other ways. Mostly it's older retired couples. We've become great friends with some of them, too, but kids need kids, even kids who get along as well as ours do.

    It is true that we were already a close family, and sailing together makes us even closer. Most of the time we are extremely content to just be us. But sometimes I need another mom to talk to, or dad needs another dad, or the kids need other kids—other cruisers who understand the particular challenges of this life.

  • Also, don't expect that just because there is another kid boat in the anchorage that you'll instantly all get along like peas and carrots. Sometimes you do. Sometimes you don't. Sometimes the kids like each other but the parents don't; sometimes it's the other way around. This can be disappointing, but it's the reality.

Our advice for families

Understand: Living on a boat and sailing full time is still just living.

It comes with all the same issues, daily and long-term, that so-called ordinary life does, and sometimes it piles on quite a few more. Just because you're out here doesn't mean you're in some kind of rarified air where everyone loves each other and everyone is good, and everything is beautiful and simple, and the usual rules of life and how it happens don't apply. Not so. There are good people and not so good people. And life throws curve balls at all of us out here, just as it does if we were living in a suburban split-level.


  1. If you can, start home school before you leave.

    For both students and teachers, this was by far the hardest thing we faced in the first year, harder even than learning how to analyse weather and handle the boat in certain situations. As parents, it's the most important responsibility we have, and that can be a pretty daunting weight to carry for those of us who are not educators by profession. When you first set out you are dealing with so much other stuff that is also brand new and seems equally pressing; with the schooling added, we had so many learning curves going straight up we were starting to pull serious emotional and psychological Gs.

    An unexpected failed engine wiped out our cruising kitty by the end of month 10.
    We heard more than one story about cruisers who never made it through the first year out simply because home school buried them. Home school is one thing that can be tackled ahead of time, making that particular transition easier when it's time to go.

  2. To the best of your ability, stop buying stuff that won't fit on the boat long before you move aboard and leave. Start thinking in cruising terms: Do I really need this, and will it work on the boat? Start paring your life and all of its accoutrements early. It doesn't matter if your favorite store is having the best sale ever. If it won't be useful on the boat, don't buy it.

  3. Nobody wants to think that money is a limiting factor, but it is. To the best of your ability, have twice as much stashed in your cruising kitty than you think you will need. Our first year, even though we thought we had sussed everything out on the boat well beforehand, things happened. An unexpected tax bill and an unexpected failed engine wiped out our cruising kitty by the end of month 10. We applied the mantra: We will work this out, and we did. But it was still a lesson learned. Save as much as you can. You will probably need it.

  4. If you're lucky, like me, you will marry a man who knows boats inside and out and can fix anything, and solve anything. If not, do your best to know your boat as well as you can. It's no fun to feel out of control, because that leads to fear. Knowledge really is power in this context.

Kaeo (13)

Be patient, because there are times you will have to go
without some things, in my case, Goldfish crackers.
(Kaeo hoarding a surprise bag of Goldfish)

You have to learn to keep your temper, to be patient, calm, and basically get a lot of emotional control.

In scary places you have to keep calm, because if you panic people can get hurt.

You have to keep your temper if you're frustrated and you have to be patient, because there are times you will have to go without some things, in my case, Goldfish crackers.

My advice would be when you're still on land, to try and go without as many books or games as long as you can, and then you can figure out which ones you really want to take.

Kailani (10)

Brace yourself: It isn't easy getting used to another environment, and especially a moving one.

You have to find out what you really want to keep, what you have to take with you, and make sure there's enough space to have it, and that you're going to have it close to you.

All questions

5. A typical day aboard?

A typical day at anchor


A typical day at anchor starts with the weather. Because we are in the Caribbean right now we tune into Chris Parker's 0630 SSB broadcast to get his take on the weather, and sometimes to check in with friends who are also listening in beforehand (we do this wearing headphones so as not to wake up the kids).

Then coffee for Johnny and me, when we will hang out on deck and take in the morning, talk about what we have to do that day. If we're about to make a passage we talk about how the weather may change our plans in some way.

The biggest part of our day is school, because our kids are now in fifth and seventh grades which require a lot of work in many subjects. We try to have everyone up and moving by 0830 for breakfast, then school starts by 0900. We will do school until anywhere between 1 and 3 p.m., depending on the day, everyone's mood, and what else might be going on.

Flexibility is the key. For example, if we have to make a big grocery run, we might set out the kids' subjects to complete in school and then Johnny and I will go to the store instead of hands-on teach that day.

But generally, school dominates this early portion of the day. This is also the time when I'll bake bread or start a soup for dinner or throw together cookies or dessert. Since the classroom is right next to the galley, it's easy enough to teach and cook at the same time.

They never met a hike they did not like.
(Long Island, eastern shore, Bahamas)

After school and lunch we might go swimming, hiking, snorkeling, or exploring in some other way. Depends on where we are. We all want to get some exercise at that point, so whatever is available to do, we try and do it.

If I have a writing assignment I have to get done, or Johnny has some boat work that has to be accomplished, one of us might stay back and do whatever it is we have to do, and the other three take off.

But generally, afternoons are for getting out and doing stuff, whether with each other or friends.

By late afternoon (5:30 or so) we try and stop whatever work we are doing and grab showers and relax.

Kailani usually likes to take this time to paint or read, Kaeo likes to get his computer time playing his favorite game, Spore. Johnny and I will have a cocktail and talk about whatever's on our minds.

If there's some social gathering going on, we may or may not participate. Sometimes these can become overwhelming, there can be so many of them.

Most nights we will have this downtime, and then we'll start dinner. I'd like to adopt the Latin tradition of having the larger meal at lunchtime and a lighter one at dinner, but so far I haven't made the transition with any kind of consistency. So we have a good sit-down dinner as family, which has always been important to me. We usually have a lively debate about who does the dishes.

Afterward we often read aloud to each other, unless we decide we want to have a movie night, when we all watch a movie together on the computer. Reading is far more the norm than a movie.

By 8:30 or 9 p.m. we're getting ready to crash. I might steal a little time when everyone else hits the hay to write in the quiet. Or the kids and I might go up and stargaze for a little while.

The days are very full for us, and we are very comfortable just being homebodies. I find I am far busier in some ways than I was on land.

A typical day on passage

I don't think there is one.

All depends on the weather, the passage itself. If it's calm enough, we will do a shortened school day, incorporated into the watch system. Food and sleep seem to dominate on passages. That and chocolate… Johnny and I stand the night watches and let the kids take over part of the daytime, weather permitting. We all share galley duties, although I am usually responsible for the meal planning and prep.

All questions

6. What are the kids' responsibilities aboard?


When we are passage making, the kids are responsible for standing some day watches, which includes making log entries, plotting positions on the paper chart, and generally, well, keeping watch.

We so far have not had them on night watches, mainly because I have a hard time with the concept of them being alone in the cockpit at night, safety harnesses notwithstanding. Kaeo is getting old enough now, though, to start taking on that responsibility, so he will probably start taking some night watches in the coming year. Kailani is still too young to stand a night watch alone, although she does like to stand some with either Johnny or me.

Kaeo is in charge of monitoring the boat's electrical status.

As for daily life, the kids take turns with chores like dishwashing. Sometimes they're in charge of sweeping up, and daily they tidy up their bunks.

  • If there is boat work to be done, they get in on that too. (Polishing metal is probably the least favorite job.)

  • Any work up the mast falls to Kaeo, who seems to be the family aerialist.

  • If there are errands to be run to other boats or whatnot, that job often falls to Kaeo too, since he loves running the dinghy.

  • Kaeo is in charge of monitoring the boat's electrical status, always checking on the batteries and the charging system to make sure we are good on juice.

Whenever the boat is getting underway we all have specific jobs and depending on the situation, all of us share duties driving the boat, sail handling, navigating, that sort of thing.

The fishing partners land a nice one.
(Kailani and Johnny are the big fishermen.)

Kailani and Johnny are the big fishermen. If we get a fish on, I'm at the helm (if the weather is tricky), and Kaeo helps me with sail handling. Kailani frequently clears one rod while her dad reels in the other, but if we have two fish on, she's on one while he's on the other.

She prepares the gaff and reminds her dad to keep everything clear of the whirring blades of the wind generators on the arch above.

She likes to help him clean and bag the fish, also, and while she hates killing anything, she can't help but be fascinated at dissecting a fish.

Kailani is a huge help in the galley. She loves to cook and bake, and she has even, on special occasions, surprised her parents with breakfast in bed, including toast and scrambled eggs. Her biscuits are beyond compare, and she makes a delicious cup of Earl Grey tea. If we're offshore and need to do laundry, she also helps me with this job.

All in all, the kids are as fundamental a part of the running of OSPREY as the parents. And as they get older they continue to take on more responsibility in their own ways, which is great to witness.

Kaeo (13)

My responsibilities are helping with the dinghy, launching and running it. Sometimes I help guide Osprey into tight places by leading with the dinghy. I help Daddy wherever I can. And doing dishes. And trying my hardest in school.

I like doing the dishes the least, although it is nice to have my mom's iPod to listen to while I do them.

Helping Daddy is my favorite thing.

Kailani (10)

My favorite job is helping Daddy with fishing. I like cleaning my crab's habitat (the crabitat) and giving them fresh water and food. I like cooking and making biscuits, especially, to go with Mommy's beef barley stew. The job I like the least is probably vacuuming. If you don't think you have to do too much of that on a boat, think again. The floors get so dirty. I'm sort of neutral about washing the dishes.


7. A great moment?


Watching the kids snorkeling in turquoise waters, perfectly at home there.


There are so many, more like snapshot images. The kids racing to the bow to play with dolphins, who are leaping and jumping for hours alongside us as we sail down the East Coast. Watching them snorkeling in turquoise water, perfectly at home there. Watching them be awed. Having a really lovely, quiet dinner in the cockpit on the anchor when we all tell stories and laugh and laugh. One night in the Exumas we all went up on deck just to look at stars and ended up watching a meteor shower that we hadn't even known was going on. Incredible. Watching the sun come up on the morning of a successful passage, exchanging that look with Johnny when we both are saying to each other, “Nice job.


We had some friends come and visit us, and one of them asked my daughter what she liked best about cruising. She said, “Seeing my Daddy every day.” That sums it up for me.

Kaeo (13)

Motoring up the Rio Dulce

Going up the Rio Dulce. It was flat calm, easy to steer, there wasn't anything in the boat that was flying around. We were all sitting up there cruising along, talking about the trip to get there, soaking each with the hose, having fun.

It was that sense of accomplishment that says, “We just did something. And we came through and learned about it and now we can do it again.

Kailani (10)

I like it a lot when we all sit down in the cockpit and it's just the four of us and we have deep philosophical conversations about religion and politics sometimes.

I love it when Daddy and I play backgammon and Kaeo plays the winner.

And I love searching for shells at the tide line.

8. How do you handle: HEALTH and SAFETY?

Keeping the kids safe aboard

We staple their feet to the deck…no, really… Harnesses and life jackets when it's rough and anytime after twilight when underway. If they are alone on deck for any reason while we are passage making, the same rules apply. They are not to leave the cockpit at night, ever, without an adult present.

Caring for the kids offshore

Our kids are old enough to care for themselves day to day offshore, for the most part.

Caring for the kids in rough weather


Kaeo and I are both susceptible to seasickness, Kailani less so, and Johnny, never (so far, the lucky dog).

When it's rough, I care for them as I care for myself, meaning, if I think I need some medication or Saltines and Coke or ginger beer to get through it, I'll ask them if they would like some too.

We use Stugeron, which is over-the-counter in countries like the Bahamas and Bermuda. Can't find it in the U.S., though. It seems to have very few side effects. I also use trans-dermal Scopalamine if we are on a long, rough passage, but I haven't had to try this on the kids yet.

It's their decision whether to take medication, unless they were to become dangerously ill, which has not happened. In general, they don't want the meds and manage well without it. Kaeo has learned how to handle it pretty well, though it may take him 24 hours or so to get his sea legs. Kailani usually just has to go lie down for a little while and drink a ginger beer to overcome her queasiness. They like to snuggle together in our cabin and listen to the iPod, or if their stomachs can take it, watch a DVD. I think just being close to one another when it's rough is really helpful for them both.

As a mom, it's a hard thing for me to knowingly put my kids in a situation that will very likely make them sick. Neither one has jumped ship yet, though, so I guess we are managing this OK.

Keeping the kids healthy, eg getting medical care

Before we left we bought a Medical SeaPak for long-distance offshore sailing.

We also met with our general practitioner who went through the whole thing with us, explaining how everything works and filling in what she saw as gaps. She wrote us prescriptions for potential problems, including everything from ear infections to Valium, and we took notes on dosages for everyone. So far the only things we have had to use are the drops for swimmer's era and pink eye, knock wood. Although whenever the kids get a cut Johnny looks hopeful and says he can get the surgical stapler out…

Our general practitioner also gave us her email address, and there have been three times now when I have had to email her with questions about a problem we were having. Every time she has returned our emails within hours with specific suggestions and recommendations. This is more wonderful than I can say, to know she will be there when I “call.” We go back to the States once a year and I have the kids meet with her for an annual checkup, when we discuss any issues or questions.

While in Guatemala we have all been on anti-malarial drugs, which we thought was wise since we would be there a limited amount of time (most people who live there don't go on a lifetime dose, they just deal with malaria if it gets them).

Drugs are so much cheaper and easier to get in many of these countries that I wish I had waited to fill all those prescriptions our general practitioner wrote.

So far we have been very lucky in terms of health.

And there are always people to reach out to in the cruising community who are willing to help, too. When my son got swimmer's ear this summer, a fellow cruiser who was a nurse was more than willing to help me diagnose it and showed me how to make a wick of gauze to get the medication into the swollen ear. It's always easier being close to other cruisers and some sort of community when it comes to feeling safe about health care.

When we're offshore, we know we are counting on some luck, too, and there's really no way around that. If we let fears of what could happen out there stop us from going, though, we'd never get off the front porch.

9. How do you handle: EDUCATION and FULFILLMENT?


Math class



I've alluded to school a few times already, which just goes to show how big a part of our lives it is.

We have always felt that our success at cruising depends first and foremost on the kids' success in school. If home schooling is not working, then we have to come up with another way, and if that means quitting cruising, so be it. Bluntly put, the kids' education has to come first.

We want our kids to have a strong enough home school education that they can return seamlessly (academically at least) into a traditional classroom at or above grade level, if we were to choose that option. There's no question that by simply being out here, the kids are getting an education like no other. But they still have to be able to read, write, and do arithmetic (and algebra, and geometry, and geography, and history, and science) to be able to attend college and be successful in the world. That's just our philosophy; everyone does it differently.

We use the Calvert School system.

The first year, we used their ATS program, which assigns a teacher to assess the kids' tests and papers every 20 lessons (180 lessons constitutes the school year). This was useful for us as teacher/parents who were not professional educators. It helped us have a benchmark for both kids and make sure they were on track and that we, as teachers, were doing what we needed to do.

But we began to feel like the tests were running our lives, and everyone was stressing out too much about them. So this year we are going with the same Calvert Academic curriculum but no ATS; we oversee all the tests and papers ourselves. This gives us more flexibility, which we all needed. It's a lot smoother and everyone is a lot happier.

Calvert is a rigorous curriculum and we like that. It's very structured, and we like that too. That takes some of the burden off us as teachers to say, “You have to do this.” If the school says it has to be done, it has to be done, and there's no arguing with it.

I had another parent ask me, “How do you get them to do school every day?” as if this were some great mystery. I said, “We tell them, it's time for school.” It has to get done.


Kailani works on a test.

Our kids are great students. They're disciplined and work hard, but this also comes from the top down. As teachers, we have to be disciplined too.

Sometimes it's frustrating as an adult, to not be able to just have the day to yourself or do what other people are doing.

But not often. Usually, it's incredibly fulfilling to watch your child learn, and to connect with him or her in that way. It's a real privilege, honestly. And you get to know each other and learn to communicate in ways that can only help as they grow older, and life gets more complex.

We all had a hard time at first, and there were days when we truly struggled and I left the boat crying my eyes out in frustration.

The lessons we have learned have been many when it comes to school.

  • Be patient.
  • Remember that you're the teacher, not the mom or dad. There's a huge difference.
  • As the student, remember that you're the student, not the son or daughter. There's a huge difference there too.
  • Don't let emotions and expectations get involved.
  • If your kid is having a bad day, give him a break. If you are having a bad day, give both of you a break.

But we have all learned, and as we've learned it's been gratifying to watch our kids take off.

Although Calvert is very structured, we often go off on tangents with one or both of them if something really catches their interest.

A basic history lesson may turn into an hour-long diversion into the differing theologies of the world's major religions, and then to whether building a mosque close to Ground Zero in New York City is a good thing or not. Which leads into a discussion of the Bill of Rights, and the idea of freedom of religion, and how the ideas of the founding fathers are in practice (or not) today. Usually when one of these conversations takes off, both kids get in on it. And often we end up talking about it later, over dinner.

And of course, the field trips are awesome.


As the Army used to say: It's the toughest job you'll ever love. Teaching my kids has been the hardest thing I have ever done, yet one of the most satisfying things I have ever done.

It teaches you patience. There are days when as opposed to getting angry with my students, I say, that is enough, because I know the next day they will be on the top of their game and will rip through two lessons. But it took a long time to learn that. And our best friends say we're getting smarter every day!

Also, be creative. Look at your boat. It is an awesome teaching platform.

Friendships and social interactions

This is complicated.

Our kids are very close, but as they grow older I can see that they need more of their own kind, so to speak. We actively seek out other cruising families to try to meet those needs.

Kailani fishing with her friends in Magdalena, Guatemala

But the fact is, sometimes your schedules and itineraries just don't jibe. There are long periods when they don't have any other kids but each other. Our son is more philosophical about this. Our daughter, though, gets very lonely at times for other girls near her age.

That said, she is unafraid to go and make friends with local kids. Fishing is a great way to start a friendship, she has found, even if they don't speak the same language.

Both kids are very outgoing and always happy to play with kids of almost any age, even much younger ones.

They use Skype whenever we have strong enough internet to call their friends in the States. Same with email. We go back once a year and during the time we are there I work hard to get them as much time as possible with their best buddies.

I'm not worried about their ability to socially interact with other cruising kids. My bigger concern is that if and when they do return to a “normal” land life, they will have had such experiences and be so much more mature than other kids their age they may have a hard time connecting.

Kailani with her best cruising buddy,
Maddie Waters
  The kids with a bunch of cruising kid buddies
in Warderick Wells, Exumas

Keeping the kids entertained


First of all, they are excellent at entertaining themselves.

Kaeo reading in the cockpit underway

They read everything they can lay their mitts on, and our daughter loves all kinds of artwork—sculpting, painting, drawing, writing, sewing. She's always up to something like this. The hard part is finding places to put it all!

Our son enjoys building LEGOs and has a fairly good collection on the boat, though he had to leave a lot behind. We update his LEGO collection annually so he can constantly build new stuff. He enjoys two computer games, but that's about it for that.

He loves listening to the iPod, and we also have audio books and thousands of podcasts, from science shows to Sherlock Holmes mysteries. They have a portable DVD player for watching movies and favorite TV series out on DVD like Mythbusters and Deadliest Catch, and they share a laptop computer for that as well (that laptop is also the backup in case my husband's laptop, used for onboard navigation and communication, crashes).

They love swimming, snorkeling, hiking, playing on the beach, hanging out in the hammocks. My son loves sailing small dinghy-type boats, so anytime we can find one of those, he's in heaven

Personal space aboard

Everybody needs their own safe haven onboard.

  • The aft cabin is mine and Johnny's (although we certainly share it with the kids sometimes).

  • The kids share a cabin forward, but they each have their own bunk, one above and one below, This gives them some privacy.

Kailani in the "blue room"

Last spring our daughter wanted curtains, so we picked out the material, a pretty turquoise batik, and I sewed them for her; she calls her bunk “the blue room” now. This fall we plan to brighten up the blue room even more by adding LED light strings.

We also let her paint and decorate her bunk any way she likes. She loves to paint, so I buy her small canvases, and when she paints something she really likes, we put it up in her bunk with Velcro. This way she can also change the paintings around, so she's not always seeing the same thing. She also has permission to just paint right on the wood if she wants.

We have met families whose kids share a V-berth, which I think would be really hard, especially for a boy and girl, and absolutely for kids who are entering their teens as our kids are.

In a perfect world, each kid would have his and her own cabin, but we couldn't find a boat we could afford that offered that. So this shared cabin with separate bunks was a good compromise.

The basic layout is good, but finding enough personal space is always a challenge, and for that I would love to own a multihull.

But we all talk about and have learned how to respect one another's need for space and quiet sometimes, and this is an important lesson a lot of people don't ever learn. The rules are based in one concept, and Aretha put it best: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You treat everyone else's space as you would want your own treated.

Family back home and their concerns

Some of my family members are very concerned about where we are sailing. They read the Internet and see reports of pirates and drug busts and all kinds of corruption and violence, as well as things like earthquakes, volcanoes, malaria, and dengue fever. True, all of those things exist where we are sailing presently (Central America). But many of them also exist in every neighborhood in the good old U.S. of A.

The best I can do to allay their fears is to tell them that we do our research, we are extremely careful in every choice we make, and we would never knowingly go into danger, either on land or at sea.

The hard part is how they define danger. Some people think hurtling down the Jersey Turnpike at 70 mph in a 2,000-pound automobile at rush hour surrounded by people who are doing the same is safe, while sailing peacefully alone in the middle of the ocean is dangerous.

10. How do you handle: TASKS and CHORES


So far we have had access most of the time to coin-op type laundromats or a hire-out service.

When we do it onboard, it's pretty fun really. We get into being human agitators. The hard part is the wringing out.

Clean-up and daily maintenance of the boat

We all pitch in on all of this. We don't “assign” chores, we just do them, and then if someone feels like one job is landing on them too much, we can change it up. In general, Johnny is in charge of boat maintenance since he is the expert. I am in charge of provisioning, meal-planning, administration, stuff like that. It's not unlike how we worked on land. The kids pitch in whenever and wherever we ask them to.

Feeding the family, nutrition and cooking

Well, our son in just this last year grew nearly four inches taller and gained 18 pounds, so I think we're doing OK on this one!

Kaeo lends a hand provisioning

I am seriously worried I soon won't be able to keep enough food on the boat! We lay in a lot of peanut butter and cheese to keep him happy.

We have become far more flexible in our meals and eating habits, as well as food choices.

At times food is more complicated, just because you may not be able to find whatever ingredient you are looking for, where you are.

But in other ways, it becomes simpler. Instead of a big meal, a nice pot of soup and fresh bread and a chunk of chocolate for dessert taste like heaven. We love to fish and eat fish; a dinner of fresh caught fish and seasoned rice is great.

Kailani making mango jam

Now that we are in Central America, the veggies and produce is incredible, inexpensive and diverse. We love that and eat piles of both. And they even have great ice-cream!

In countries like the Bahamas, where produce is expensive and frequently hard to find, eating a balanced diet was sometimes difficult. But so far, everywhere else we have been it's been easy. And, I like knowing that what we are eating is locally grown.

We have all noticed how much more flavorful the veggies are in Guatemala, for example. And the meats and eggs are also locally grown, without growth hormones and antibiotics that are so prevalent in store-bought American meats.

We enjoy having the need, desire, and time to make our own foods, like breads, rolls, soups, stews, jams, cookies, muffins, and even waffles (our cruising friends on the boat Calypso just bought us a stove-top waffle iron!).

We have had to get used to using a lot of powdered milk, which isn't a huge hit with the kids, but we can improve the flavor with long-life milk too. I keep a stash of multivitamins for daily use, as well as Emergenc-C, which is good for anyone who's feeling a little low on energy.

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



Being connected to the larger world


  • Watching my kids grow up and being close to them while they do so. Love being able to show them that it's a big world out there, and having them respond to that.

  • Working well as a team, whether it's landing a big fish or changing the sail configuration. Watching my husband become a happier person because he is doing what he loves, after many years of working so hard to get here.

  • Being connected to the larger world. I don't know how I will ever be comfortable living in a house again, really. I love hearing the rain and wind, seeing the stars and the sea, being a part of it and not just an observer. I am happy that we are living more lightly on the planet by making most of our own energy, keeping our trash to a minimum, not being just another burden on the grid.

  • Making new friends. This is not usually the case, if you really think about it, when you are living a standard “land” life. There never seems to be the time or the connection, or the logistics don't work out. In two years of sailing we have gotten to know some remarkable people and become lifelong friends with many.

  • Feeling like I am learning something new every day and always pushing the edges of my personal envelope.

  • Embracing and living within the concept that change is constant, and that to change is a natural and necessary evolution.

  • Watching shooting stars, and seeing the full moon rise over the sea. Living in unparalleled beauty.


To have the opportunity to be a positive,
active influence in my kids' lives


To have the opportunity to be a positive, active influence in my kids' lives as opposed to being a hopeful watcher who left each morning for work and came home each night, always on the fringes of their lives.

Kaeo (13)

  • You get to go to new places, meet new people, make new friends.

  • And you also get to learn a pretty neat skill that a lot of other people don't know—learning to be on the water. You can also learn a lot of interesting history.

  • And, you get to spend a lot of good time with your family.

  • If you're going to remote places there's hardly any pollution, and you can almost always see the stars at night. I like that a lot. When you're out in the middle of the ocean, there are so many you can't copy it, you can't fathom it. You can only take it in, file it in your memories.

Kailani (10)

  • I like waking up to the water lapping against the hull and sometimes, if Daddy forgot to tie off the bracing lines, the halyards tapping the mast.

  • I love it when the light comes in a certain way and lights up my entire bunk, and everything becomes blue because of the blue of my curtains.

  • I love fishing with Daddy. I love cooking with Mommy.

  • And I love having tickle fights and exploring with my brother.




  • Worrying about getting seasick.

  • Fears that something bad will happen to my kids (although these are mostly unfounded, and would exist on land too).

  • Storms at sea, especially lightning.

  • Night watches alone, although I am getting better about this.

  • Not being able to have a spontaneous, private conversation/argument/romantic moment with my husband because young ears are nearly always listening.

  • Not being able to have every book I want next to me at all times.

  • Not being able to buy every great piece of pottery I see because there's not enough room to carry it. Missing snowy winters and sleeping in front of a wood stove.

  • Missing driving my car alone and singing at the top of my lungs.

  • Not being able to call my brothers and sisters and best friends whenever I want to. Loneliness for them sometimes is a biggie for me.

  • And sometimes I deeply long for more quiet time to myself, uninterrupted.



Kaeo (13)

  • Limited space. You can want to bring lots of stuff but you can only bring as much as the boat can hold. Having to find a place for it all the time becomes really old, really quick.

  • Also, missing your friends and relatives, because you can't see them and if you don't have the internet or a cell phone you can't call them and say hi.

Kailani (10)

  • I don't like having limited space either because I love to collect stuff and keep miscellaneous things. It's hard not being able find places for that miscellaneous stuff, and also not having much space to myself.

  • I don't like worrying at night, Is the dinghy locked, are the motors locked, is everything secure? Also, when we're on passages, like my mom, I worry about being run down by a ship (everyone does).

  • I was really disappointed when my herb garden died; I was raising oregano, thyme, and two basil plants. I miss having a garden.

  • I miss seeing friends.

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

Why did we go cruising as a family

Johnny and I have wanted to go sailing full time since we met. It was one of the first things we knew about each other.

Kids weren't actually in the plan, but when they arrived, we knew we wanted them with us when we did this. It goes to what I said above about introducing them to the larger world, giving them a chance to see that there are so many different ways of living and being than what they would be exposed to in a “normal” American life.

Would it have been easier if we'd waited till they graduated college and we just went as a couple, like most people? Probably. But that would have been only half the fun. Seeing the world through a kid's eyes—that's a gift that grows a hundredfold out here.

Has cruising changed our family

I don't know that it has changed our family. It has changed us individually in some ways. But we have always been a very close family, we have always loved each other's company and being together on a boat.

About the OSPREY family

Who is aboard?

Wendy Mitman Clarke, 48

Chief of navigation, communications, audio books(reading aloud) and musical trivia, cook, teacher of writing and lots of other stuff, keeper of the logs, mistress of the poetry,columnist for Cruising World magazine.

John Clarke, 50

El Capitan, sailor extraordinaire and BMW (Boat Maintenance Worker) nonpareil, the man who can fix anything, science and math teacher, fisherman, technical expert, the Tigger who likes offshore the best.

Kaeo Clarke, 13

First mate and go-to guy for everything, mass consumer of peanut butter and Goldfish crackers (when we can get them), eternal sunshine in his smile and attitude, photographer, master of the gecko.

Kailani Clarke, 10

Artist-in-residence, whose latest T-shirt design can be found at: http://www.cafepress.com/Edgars. Creator of the original Hermit Crab Comics. Old-soul, lover of all creatures but most especially sea turtles, quite possibly the world's next-generation Sylvia Earle.


A Leopard gecko who has been Kaeo's muse and adored pet for four years, keeper of the Zen, devourer of crickets and worms.

Whopper and Pip

Kailani's two fabulous hermit crabs who live in a converted Tupperware drawer and love to hang upside-down, eat sea grape leaves, spill their water dish, and maybe share El Capitan's Lay's potato chips. Maybe.

What kind of boat do you have?

Adams 45 center cockpit, Solent rig

Where have you sailed?

We started from Annapolis, Md., in October 2008. Spent a winter in the Bahamas, sailed back to the States, spent a month doing boat work, sailed to Maine and back, then back to the Bahamas, then to the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. On to Panama in winter 2010-2011.

How long have you been cruising?

Two years by Oct. 2010. Kids were 8 and 11 when we started.

Where are you now?

Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

What's next?

San Blas, Panama, and then possibly west through the canal to the Galapagos, or possibly north and then east to the Azores. Decision pending.

Your blog or website(s)?

We don't have a blog, but if you want to catch up with us you can find my columns at the CRUISING WORLD website.

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To leave a comment, email it to Kathy Parsons: kathy@forcruisers.com