Family Magazine

Free Range Cruising Kids

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem

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At the moment, we’re with four other kid boats including thirteen kids between our little fleet. All five of us are sharing an anchorage in the Maldives, bound for South Africa by the end of the year. They’re on Totem, Utopia, Ceilydh, Morning Glory, and Evita. The kids range from 9 to 16, and about half of the junior fleet is comprised of teenage cruisers. This is really tremendous!

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Of course, this is fantastic for the kids, who love having a group of compatriots. And while cruising kids are accustomed to making friends across a range of ages and regardless of gender, it’s nice to be able to have friends around who are a little more like you.

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It’s also fantastic for the parents. Number one: we have happier kids. But we also have a chance to share perspective with other cruising parents, to compare notes on what we’re doing and where we’re going with the unique filter of traveling with kids brings. We get to feel a little more normal in our own world, already so different from the conventional path, where families are very much a minority.

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It makes for extra memorable days at play. I have a LOT of pictures from the last few weeks that fit into the theme of “a whole bunch of kids jumping off the boat into the water.” Destination snorkels are more fun with friends to share what you see (even if, as at one of our recent anchorages, the teen set spends more time treading water and talking to each other than actually snorkeling. Whatever makes ‘em happy!).

There’s a term called “Free Range Kids.” I’m a little out of the loop on pop culture but as I understand it, this describes kids who are given extensive freedom to explore the world at their pace, with guidance but a minimum of oversight. That describes us and a lot of other cruising families pretty well. We give them a great deal of independence: it’s typical to drop them off a nearby beach for the afternoon, to make their own fun. We’re in radio range, they have a handheld VHF, and unless someone is bleeding we don’t need to be contacted. And they’re FINE. They exercise ingenuity and imagination.

This particular day, they came back having found delicious little clams buried in the sand at the water’s edge. We got to share a delicious evening snack.

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Or they’ve collected garbage on the beach and used it to build a village. This one comes with a mosque (domed drink lid) and ruins (crushed plastic cup).

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Maybe that’s why every time we have a barbecue on the beach, the kids start their own fire at a comfortable distance. They relish this freedom.

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There was the bay where they spied a sandbar, and claimed it for their own. I’m not sure if a flag was erected on the site, but shelters were built, forts were constructed. Note that boats with teens are prone to losing dinghies to their progeny…it’s good to have more than one way to get ashore.

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It all reminds me how one of the questions we’ve heard from parents who want to go cruising is whether or not there will be enough other kids around for them to play with. I think that generally, it’s not too hard to have other kid boats around, as long as you make it a priority to be around other boats with kids… vs following other priorities, which may or may  not involve proximity to kid boats you’ve met or heard about in the coconut telegraph. It is a choice. But “generally,” boats are in popular cruising grounds or along commonly traveled routes. The Indian Ocean is not exactly a heavily trafficked cruising thoroughfare. Fewer boats, fewer families, make give me a great appreciation for our current situation.

For more about cruising with kids, check out Voyaging With Kids: A Guide to Family Life Afloat, which I’ve co-authored with Sara Dawn Johnson and Michael Robertson. It’s due to be released on September 2015, and is currently available for pre-order.

Families of all shapes and sizes know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.


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