Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fun With Flotation

Silas’ new PFD is a sort of floating straightjacket, serving the dual purpose of keeping his head above water and restraining him as though he were a dangerous lunatic. This is a necessary design feature, because toddlers share many key characteristics with the criminally insane: they babble nonsensically, have regular shrieking tantrums, and if permitted to do so, they will happily eat paint.

And so, as parents, it is our responsibility to keep Silas safe at sea. As we have never sailed with a baby ex-utero, we plan to fulfill this task with equal parts research and improvisation. I began this process months ago, by Googling such useful keywords as BABY SAFETY AT SEA and CRUISING WITH TODDLERS. Some of the advice I found was diplomatic: “Sailing with Toddlers is almost always challenging. Once they start crawling around, there is no stopping them.” Some, on the other hand, resembled a bumper sticker from hell: “KIDS DO FALL OVERBOARD.” But my favorite bit of wisdom came from a man who had clearly been there, weathered the storm , and barely escaped with his life. He wrote, simply: “It is toddlers that are the real stuff of nightmares.” Then his post ended abruptly, as though he had to go mix himself a stiff drink and lie down.

I also found this curious piece of advice, which made me wonder if any of these people had actually taken a baby to sea, or whether all of these websites were just a big practical joke on reckless idiots like me:

the simple hammocks they make for hanging food stuffs and such in the saloon area is great for them, providing they are not too heavy.”

The simple hammocks to which this person refers are an excellent way to turn fruit into jam. They also work nicely for tenderizing an old leg of mutton. They are not, however, a practical place to stow things, unless you are deliberately trying to liquefy them. Stowing things in hammocks is a typical mistake for new cruisers, right up there with flushing tampons down the head and allowing a swarming metropolis of cockroaches to make babies in your V-berth.

Hammocks are picturesque, and they make people think of Treasure Island, and how cute Johnny Depp looked in Pirates of the Caribbean, parts 1, 2 and 3. People who have never been to sea imagine their hammocks swaying gently in the bosom of Mother Ocean, rocking their babies to sleep in a primordial flow. These people have never been close-hauled in a steep, short chop, or found themselves sailing downwind in a rolling swell. Sometimes the ocean’s rhythm is gentle and sweet. Other times, it’s like being in a car crash.

And so, Silas will not be sleeping in a hammock at sea. We will need to come up with our own solution. I am considering, for example, placing him in a safety helmet and an armored car seat, then through-bolting him to the bulkhead, then encasing the whole package in fifty feet of water-resistant foam. I realize, however, that this may make it difficult for him to play with his toys.

Has anyone taken a toddler to sea? Do you have any wisdom to share?


  1. Well since Peter has already singlehanded, you should be fine. We always had one grown up for the boat and one for the kid. Nothing more complicated than that. If need be, bring an extra boat savvy grown up to help with the boat.
    As for toddlers - boat or not they are a true test of your inner Zen. It was the toddler stage that made me decide I only wanted one child. Age 1.5 to 3.5 was, uh, challenging. And I had an "easy" one.
    Now at almost age 5 I love sitting in the cockpit and barking, "Swabbie, go fetch mama a cold one from the galley." And he does it with glee, not yet realizing he's being taken advantage of.
    Can't wait to read how it goes!

  2. Your insanity is always so ....refreshing. The sprout will be fine as long as the food holds out. Remember trolling with a child is reletively easy but you have to pay attention you wouldn't want to lose your "bait". All giggling aside, pay attention, show him the world, teach him to read and above all else ENJOY the little snot slinger while he's young enough to corrupt properly. Once they can tell tales your screwed.........martin

  3. I just thought of a book you could look up. "Just Cruising" and "Still Cruising" both by Liza Copeland. Not a "how to" on sailing with toddlers, but she went around the world with her 3 little boys, so there is good real info in there.
    also track down these folks
    they went from the USA to NZ when their youngest was 2 I think. They can offer some good scoop.

  4. Copeland's books are fine journal/travelogues, I really enjoyed them as an armchair sailor before we left. But practical help for kids aboard, and wee ones in particular? Nada mucho. And what is out there... IMHO the current lit on cruising with kids is very dated. I think you have a great opportunity to fill the gap. :-)

  5. Just keep him on a leash. I have done some sailing in the PNW with 3 little son, and my brothers 2 girls. We just locked them down below.
    Now my bro is willing to let them take the new garvey out by themselves...I shudder to think of the possibilities of DANGER.. Although,,, my son and the oldest neice just finished their first year of college and are still alive.. SO. I am not too worried about them drowning in Lake Union.. (very different than the open sea.. but still)..Love your writing Antonia and your dark dark humor. My boy will be 20 this summer.. you will survive..but it gets worse when they can actually converse with you..coherently and argue and all that. BTW.. I know some people that knew Peter's dad.. (I live in NYC) Small world.. Safe boating to you both and keep the kid away from the booze..(or not)

  6. Wife says "He does look a proper New Zealand Baby"
    I think it's the roses in his cheeks. We have two
    toddler "double action" vests we never got to use
    cause the kids grew up before we got in the water
    They float the kid but also have a CO2 cartridge
    in case you are in for a long swim. Sospenders made them I think.
    Email and address and I will send you one.
    You could ease your burden while underway; merely attach a line to the kid and trail him over the side until his drawers are clean.
    While he's out there you can let that hussy out of the forepeak!