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Raft-UP: Staying Sane in a Floating Closet

Best friends, 99% of the time.

I’ve just joined in with the Raft-UP writing group; each month a group of sailing bloggers muses about a specified topic which is a great way for readers to get a whole bunch of different perspectives on aspects of the sailing life. This month we’re writing about maintaining relationships onboard our boats, which amounts to getting along in a space the size of a large walk-in closet, oftentimes with nothing around but miles-deep water.

This is not easy.

I’m not going to lie to you and say things like “we love living so close together each and every day” and “our girls never fight, they are always the best of friends.” That is just silly. We all fight on certain days, we all need our space at times. Michael and I have lived aboard sailboats together for the better part of the past 14 years and have become pretty adept at giving each other space (whether that means physical or mental) for a few hours when either of us needs it. Even though we need a break from each other at times, after only a few hours apart we miss each other terribly and reunite with a freshness that causes us each to spill over with all the news that the other has missed out on.

But sailing with two young kids has added a whole other complexity to the “getting along in tight quarters” conundrum. The problem is that kids need their space too and coordinating the needs of four separate people’s space and time to recharge has proven to be the most challenging aspect of sailing as a family.

Like any family ashore, it can be difficult to find the balance, as well as the timing, of having family time together as well as personal space and time for our own interests. We recognize that we are a family of introverts (although time is proving that Holly might be the first extrovert in generations!) and it is essential that each of us takes the alone time necessary to recharge our spirits.

Unlike a lot of families ashore we find that we have ample time together as a family but have trouble getting the necessary time in to ourselves. The biggest difficulty is proving to be the actual timing of each of us getting some recharging time. Just because I really need a few hours to myself doesn’t mean that the rest of the family does (more often than not it seems these are the times they need my attention the most!) The girls might be working happily on a project or reading on their own but sometimes that has to be interrupted to make an appointment or get to a shop or office before it closes. What happens is the time we need by ourselves gets pushed into the future until it gets to a critical point and tempers explode.

Leah and Michael spend a memorable day hiking together (Kitekite Falls, Waitakere Ranges, NZ)

Leah and Michael spend a memorable day hiking together (Kitekite Falls, Waitakere Ranges, NZ)

Over the past 18 months, here’s what we’ve been working on to make sure our family/alone time is balanced:

We take the time to recharge on our own rather than putting it off. As I mentioned before, it’s all too easy to put off alone time when there are so many amazing things to do and see together as a family while cruising. But we’ve learned that you can’t do it all; I hate missing out on beach explorations or snorkeling expeditions with the girls but find that I’m a much happier mom if every now and then I let Michael take them exploring for a few hours while I read or write or just putter around the boat on my own for a bit. We even have code words for this now: I tell everyone I need to “clean” and Michael says he needs to do “engine maintenance” and the rest of the family is happy to get out of the way for the afternoon.

Ditto with dates. Michael and I usually get out on a “date” about once a year and frankly, this is just not good enough. We need time with just the two of us to connect to each other and recharge our relationship as a couple, not only as parents. It’s difficult though to find people we trust with the kids since our neighbors are always changing as we travel. We’ve found that if we are presented with the opportunity to leave the girls with trusted friends for an evening to jump on it as we may not have the chance next week. As the girls get older too they are having more opportunities for slumber parties away and time with their own friends. Ahhhh!

Michael and I each need to spend time with Holly/Leah on their own. Recently we’ve been seeing the value of spending “alone time together” which means that Michael spends time with just Leah and I spend time with Holly and vice versa. The girls (and their parents) truly treasure this time to connect individually without the rambunctiousness that can happen when the four of us are all together. The girls don’t have to compete for anyone’s attention – she gets it 100% for a few hours and we all treasure these special times.

Helping the girls respect that her sister needs time on her own. With the girls getting older, this seems to be coming up more and more. For example, Leah is now an avid reader and enjoys spending quiet time in her bunk looking at books. Of course, Holly loves to hang out with Leah in her bed and look at books too but we’ve had to explain to her that Leah just needs some quiet time on her own. The corollary of this is that the girls have learned to state “I need some alone time!” which usually is only a few minutes in which to recharge while we respect her wishes.

Acknowledging that we are all going to have disagreements/tempers/heated emotions, but we need to deal with these respectfully. When we don’t get the time we need to recharge/connect/relax/be heard tempers can get pretty ugly around here. All four of us are working on respectful signals to use whether it’s time by ourselves we need, time with a parent or just pure-fun time with all four of us.

Of course, now that we are back in working/school mode we are finding plenty of time for ourselves and have joined the rest of society in missing our time together as a family.


Mom's Night Out, Carnaval de La Paz, Mexico (OK, the kids were around somewhere; the dads were in charge)

Mom’s Night Out with Windy of Del Viento, Carnaval de La Paz, Mexico (OK, to be truthful the kids were running around somewhere nearby on the dark & crowded streets; the dads were in charge)


Check out what other Raft-UP writers have to say this month:


  1. LateSail says:

    This is wonderful info you’ve provided. Of course it’s not always going to be perfect, but one can’t help notice what mature, well-rounded little people you are creating by having your children respect each other’s alone time, etc. while in close quarters. And spending quality time with mom or dad doing things like hiking in New Zealand… every family should spend time sailing for a while- it probably helps a lot with your relationships on land as well.

  2. I agree. You seem to have this perfected and I do believe that taking time out to sail as a family, when you are all living together in a confined area can benefit your relationships as a whole. It could swing the other way, of course however it seems to be working for you guys and I wish you all the best!