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A taste of the good life

We were fortunate for Michael to get two weeks off of work in August so we could take a little sailing vacation. This was our longest break since 2003. It was time. We headed north to the San Juan Islands, Wondertime stuffed full with two little girls, two ancient cats, two excited parents, two topped off water tanks, and enough food to get us to Hawaii.

This was to be our first real shakedown cruise, both in terms of narrowing down The List of what we need to get done before we head down the coast next summer, and also to get some serious practice sailing with two young children. And after two marvelous, but incredibly short, weeks we can say with certainty that cruising with children is absolutely nothing like cruising without children.

It’s much more fantastic.

It is also much slower. Olympia is quite a long way from the San Juan Islands, traveling at walking speed. Actually, crawling speed, if you are as bad as timing the currents as we were this trip. We were more interested in timing our travel time for afternoon naptime. Almost 2-year old Holly is at the stage where she is very good at getting around now, wants to explore everything and has to be watched every second, at least when out in the cockpit. Which leaves one person to tend the boat and the other to tend to the toddler. Leah is great at fending for herself — at 4-1/2 she does just fantastic on the boat; she has a definite sense of safety and helps us out quite a bit.

So on our trek northward, we would leave just before or after lunchtime and arrive at our destination four or five hours later. This would leave the morning for exploring and the afternoon for naps or rest and travel. What this also meant was it took us nearly a week to reach the islands and a few days to return (sailing down with the current thankfully!)

No matter. On our first lengthy sailing trip with our two girls it quickly became clear that being anywhere on the boat was all that mattered. Each and every stop contained something new, something magical, something to savor and study.

When you sail with children you have to look; they discover things about the places we visit that we’d never notice or even think to look for. The years Michael and I spent sailing together were filled with many anchorages where we’d never even go ashore; we’d happily spend days on the boat just reading and lounging around. No chance of that now! Every anchorage is filled with a dinghy expedition to shore, or at least along the shore just to see what there is to see. Kids are certainly like puppies this way.

These days, when we look at the guidebook we keep an eye out for things that the girls would really love, like a museum or nice beach. But the truth is the best things we find are completely unexpected, like meeting “Popeye” the one-eyed plump seal in Friday Harbor or watching the phosphorescence up close in a bucket of fresh seawater at night.

A hike now might mean a one-mile meander down a wooded trail with frequent — very frequent — stops to pluck bugs, flowers, pinecones, or berries. All the while searching for the perfect hiking stick. Cruising with children is slow, but maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Despite all the wonderful moments, the first week of our trip truthfully was hectic and a little draining. I wondered if we were crazy for taking these two tiny busy children sailing. The alternator was alarming, the kids were bickering, the refrigerator box was too full and what I needed was unfailingly at the bottom of it all. It rained. The adults bickered. But we reached Stuart Island, the most northwestern point of the continental United States. We hiked to Turn Point Light again. We went exploring in the dinghy to deserted islands. We hunted jellyfish. We cooked and ate many meals together. We picnicked. We were bone tired at the end of each day. As soon as the children were asleep in bed the adults soon followed. But were were happy and content. We fell into the rhythm of weighing anchor, traveling to the next port, dropping the hook, setting up the dinghy and setting off to discover what was new there. And the frazzled edges of this new way of living seemed to weave together until we began to dread heading back to our hectic 9-5 lives again.

By the time our bow was heading south late in our second week on our little moving island, we thought longingly: yes, we could keep going indeed.

(Hover over photos for a description, click for full-size.)


  1. Beth says:

    Oops– Posted that comment in the wrong place… *This* looks magical!

  2. Mike & Jessica Doyle says:

    Great pictures and accompanying articles. You guys are inspiring!

    Mike & Jessica