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Chartering with Children

Reprinted with permission of Yachting® Magazine.
Copyright © 1997, Times Mirror Magazines, Inc.

DURING A NORMAL WEEK, MY SONS GO TO SCHOOL and I go to work. Like a lot families run by a single working mother, the boys and I see each other through a haze on most weekday mornings and again in the evening, tired and getting ready for the next day. Weekends are for soccer or other activities, household projects, and if we're lucky, a movie together. Most often, it's a video and a pizza on Friday night. Enough of this – we needed a change. I also had to consider that as my boys grow older and become heavily involved with things that boys do - sports, going out with friends, girls - they'll be less willing to join me for a family vacation.

When school vacation rolled around in March, more than anything I wanted a relaxing time for myself, fun for the boys and a way for us to regroup and renew our familiness. In other words, I wanted this vacation to be about as far removed from a Disney World vacation as we could get, so I chartered a 60' Gulfstar in the British Virgin Islands. Our lives were about to change - reduced to 60' LOA in the tropics.

My friend, Laura, and her son, Zack, (Dad stayed home) joined my sons, Josh (11) and Taylor (8) and me for a week aboard Journey. Also on board were a baby sitter, Chris, Capt. Lucien Pickering, and chef/mate Tammy Manning. Journey is a big, comfortable 60-footer, which is exactly what I wanted. As the only sailor in the charter group and the instigator of the whole scheme, I felt obligated to find a stable and comfortable yacht skippered by a flexible easy going person. Laura and Zack took the master cabin, which had its own head aft. Josh and Chris took the cabin with the upper/lower bunks. Taylor and I shared the roomy forward cabin. The four of us shared the forward head.

The first morning I knew I had selected the right boat and crew for this group. Capt. Lucien handed me a cup of coffee and said, "Wi dese kids, we always have a plan." True to his word, Lucien each day set out a fishing pole for Josh and Zack to troll as we traversed Sir Francis Drake Channel. In the evening, he taught them how to fish with a hand line, using leftovers as bait. His endless commentary on boats, people and places kept us amused. He usu­ally started a dialog with "I give you a joke about dat." Then he'd go off on a tale of adventure in his lilting West Indian accent. Josh and Zack gained a great deal of respect for Lucien when he was able to get a video store opened after hours in Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. We were halfway through our charter and the boys had watched every video on board at least twice. We arrived after the store closed, but Capt. Lucien was not to be denied. He found the owner, and the boys selected a video for the evening.

In addition to his ability to open video stores, Lucien was a willing and able snorkeling teacher, historian and barbecue chef. Zack was a reluctant student, but Lucien knew not to push him and very gently led him through the steps. Lucien's ability to accommodate each of us at our own level proved to be his most valuable skill. About the third day out the batteries died on the boys' Game Gear. Laura and I saw this as the opportune time to invite Josh and Zack to participate more in the operating of Journey. While the boys didn't respond to their moms, they did respond to Lucien. "Take the wheel while I check something," he'd say, or "Can you take a turn around the winch with that line?" Reverse psychology worked, too. When they weren't asked to help, Josh and Zack offered quite a lot. Having Lucien take control left Laura and me free to read, chat, swim, sail, and play with our children in a relaxed way that's nearly impossible at home. We never had to leave our children to do a chore, and we never worried about where the boys were.

We also didn't have to worry about meals - every mother's nightmare. Each of us filled out a preference sheet for food and beverages, so Tammy was able to provision well ahead of our boarding. We selected simple food to please the children's palates. Somehow, Tammy managed to provide "simple food" in an exquisite presentation. Her pork roast in no way resembled mine. Of course, she had the distinctly unfair advantage of starry Caribbean nights and soft breezes to lend atmosphere to her presentation.

Our focal destination for this charter was Anegada - the drowned island. I remember Anegada for three things: 4-lb. lobsters, pink flamingos and Loblolly Beach-the largest deserted beach I've ever seen. The lobsters were served for dinner each night at the Anegada Reef Hotel. Pink flamingos were repopulating on Anegada and made startling color statements throughout the island. We walked Loblolly Beach for hours, spreading out for a while as we needed space amongst ourselves. The boys ran in and out of the surf, collected shells, snorkeled and chased hermit crabs - enormous (as large as my fist) hermit crabs!

crew photo

Each anchorage was a new adventure for the boys.  On one short hop between islands, we encountered unusually high winds and very lumpy seas, so Lucien anchored ahead of schedule to keep the non-sea­faring among us from getting sick. To entertain the boys during our extended stay, Lucien acquiesced to dinghy driving lessons for Taylor. Taylor was also the lead shopper of the group. He duti­fully checked out every T-shirt shop and island boutique in every port. In remote areas, he walked around looking for anything that resembled a shop. On our final day, Lucien ran Taylor and Laura ashore to peruse the shops on Cooper Island. Much to their astonishment, the shop­keeper was the same person they had met at the beginning of the week in a shop in Road Town. She greeted Taylor with a friendly, "Are you still shopping?" Taylor actually bought very little, he just liked inspecting other peoples' collections and exhibits.

I loved sharing the forepeak with my 8-year-old son. He went to bed ahead of me each night with his yellow teddy bear. I would usually climb into the bunk and doze off to sleep while watching him sleep. There is something very soporific about watching a sleeping child. We became buddies as well as bunkmates that week, as we stole covers from each other, rolled over each other and pushed each other's clothes aside. One night, my older son, Josh, wasn't feeling well, so he came to join us in the forepeak. He climbed up and arranged his skinny legs across ours. I looked over to see three pairs of legs, small, medium and large, going in different directions. I chuck­led as I wondered if we'd ever do this at home - probably not. The confined vacation residence provided us the opportunity to reconnect as a family physically and emo­tionally. Several times during the week I'd spend a little extra time with one son or the other. Taylor and I had our bunk time, and we had a great time collecting shells on the expansive Loblolly Beach in Anegada. Josh and I would often take off together snorkeling to look for lob­sters, starfish and barracuda. These are the times that make lasting memories.

When our week aboard Journey drew to a close, I felt that we had actually relaxed as a family while we learned some things along the way. Those of us who didn't sail began to understand the fundamentals. Those who had never snorkeled in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean were impressed beyond their wildest dreams. The last night aboard we all stayed up way too late exclaiming what a wonderful time we'd had together. While it looked a bit shaky in the beginning, everything worked out. -- Sandy Carney
Reprinted with permission of Yachting® Magazine. Copyright © 1997, Times Mirror Magazines, Inc.

The author, Sandy Carney, with her boys, Josh and Taylor, discovered that chartering with children can renew family ties while everyone has fun.