Who said that the sailboat is not the right place for a vacation with children, even at an early age? Debunking this myth is Andrea Cestari (a daddy-medic, not a crazy gypsy of the seas), who in his book “Kids on Board” shows us how the sailboat can be the ideal habitat for a vacation with children, with no age limits.
With good organization of space on board, a carefully thought-out galley, games, sunscreen, and a careful choice of clothes and medicines to take on board, the boat cruise becomes an ideal vacation for the whole family. Last but not least, one must choose the right boat and equip it against possible dangers and plan a suitable itinerary with safe and comfortable Mediterranean routes. Taking toddlers on a cruise is common practice all over the world; therefore, it is time that even Italian moms, who have historically been more apprehensive and protective, get brave and dare more. Rest assured moms, children on the boat are fine and if involved in shipboard life they have fun. The smaller the better: in the first few months of life the boat will appear to them as a natural place and they will quickly get used to it.
CHOOSING AND PREPARING THE BOAT: SPACE, PROTECTION, AND COMFORT
Essential characteristics of the boat you are going to choose is that it has adequate space and equipment to accommodate the little ones. Given the same budget, it is better to prefer a comfortable hull with ample storage compartments where you can stow what you need (stroller, tube-canvas seat to be attached with the appropriate hooks to the dinette table, toys, diapers). Of course, the boat will have less performance, but what matters is to sail smoothly and safely: with one child you need a hull of at least 9 meters, with two children one of 11-12 meters while for larger families it is better to go for 13-14 meters. Proper space must be considered to allow children to move around, and dedicating a bunk to them makes them feel at home. Certainly one of the most important aspects in preparing the boat is securing the rooms: the advice is to put nets at the stanchions to prevent falls into the water and to mount “anti-roll sheets” in the bunks to have at the same time practical playpens and safe cribs (an ideal solution for children under one year old, who alternatively can also be placed in comfortable hammocks hanging from the bunks to simulate cradle movement). Another measure to avoid painful blows and falls is to protect the side walls with cushions. The cockpit should be large, free of fixed tables, and covered with a shady awning, as it is the place where children spend most of their time, especially when sailing. For this reason, it is also good to free it from halyards and sheets by gathering them all in special pockets on the sides of the deckhouse. It is best if the deck does not have too many differences in height and if the hull has a transom with a swim platform that facilitates bathing and descent to port. Also remember to always check that all skylights are closed, which is probably one of the most insidious problems.
Taking children on a boat also means carefully planning the various stages of the cruise, giving up some of the “living by the day” philosophy. In fact, equipped landings with easy, all-weather landings are recommended: roadsteads where children can play and short stages related by the famous “Plan B“, that is, in case of need, to always have a viable alternative berth to the planned destination. It can also be fun to sail in a flotilla with other couples with children-the children will then have someone to socialize and play with. In his volume, Andrea Cestari suggests five summer itineraries suitable for a family with children on board: the first is the French Riviera and the Porquerolles Islands for favorable weather in the warmer months and well-equipped harbors everywhere; the second is the Tuscan Archipelago to be cruised around following the direction of the summer mistral; the third itinerary involves Corsica, to be circumnavigated counterclockwise ( the eastern part of the island is recommended because of its sandy beaches) and northern Sardinia for its variety of landings; the fourth recommendation takes us to the Kornati Islands in Croatia for perfect weather conditions and the possibility of having children experience direct contact with nature, and finally the Aeolian Islands, when the children are already older, however.
FAMILY LIFE ON A CRUISE
The magic word is one: organization. Prepare meals in the morning before docking and store them in thermos flasks so that they are always ready. The galley will need to include their favorite foods in quantities, depending on the destination, that are not always easy to come by (cookies, cheese and freeze-dried soups are a must). And of course, no milk at breakfast, because it promotes the onset of seasickness. Better tea and dry cookies. Boarding toys is another highlight: plastic ones are ideal because they float. A few storybooks for the evening, a small pool to be installed in the bow during breaks in port, and a shovel and bucket for the beach will be enough to quell even the most lively. And in the suitcase what should not be missing? Wool sweaters, oilskins, rubber boots to make sure you always have a way to keep them warm, and don’t forget to stock up on full-screen, water-resistant sunscreen (babies’ skin is very sensitive to sun, wind and salt). While sailing, especially during the most hectic moments (entering and leaving port, hoisting and lowering sails) the advice is to always explain to the children what is happening, calmly and trying to convey to them a feeling of calmness and safety. An interesting solution for very young children is to attach a high chair to the tambour: this allows for maneuvering, especially during mooring operations, without having to constantly keep an eye on the toddler. When sailing, it is a good idea to try to carry them in the cockpit, and seat belts should be used if weather conditions or excessive exuberance require it. No point in sailing with the boat too heeled or standing still planted in becalmed conditions with the sails flapping due to no wind, this situation would create unnecessary jitters.