A Family Affair -March 13, 2003
Three generations of cruisers on the 25 foot sailboat "Summum"
George Town is the cruising centre for the southern Bahamas. Last week, during its annual cruising regatta, the number of visiting boats peaked at over 400. People seeking solitude may be horrified by this statistic, but it's not as bad as it sounds. Elizabeth Harbour is four miles long and features several protected anchorages. Although many boats gravitate towards a handful of popular spots - notably where there are shore facilities - it's still possible to pick a place to anchor that's reasonably far from the maddening crowd.
The George Town cruising community is probably about as diverse in terms of age and family status as you're likely to encounter anywhere. In most cruising locations, middle age and retirement age couples dominate the scene. There are always a few single handers (mostly male) and the odd adventuresome young couple voyaging on a shoestring, but families with children on board are relatively rare. Not so in George Town. Comparatively speaking, the place is overflowing with boat kids.
There are a number of reasons for the family phenomenon in George Town. It's not too difficult to reach from mainland North America. Other than an overnight crossing of the Gulf Stream from Florida, all that's required is a series of relatively short daytime hops down the island chain. Mom and Dad can avoid sleep deprivation and the kids won't get too bored. George Town is well serviced - pending mutinies can be quickly quelled with a trip to town for ice cream or a hot dog. But the most important factor is the critical mass of other families. There are enough kids around for parents collectively to organize group activities or for the kids to find playmates on their own.
One of the best examples of family cruising we've encountered is a Quebec family comprising not two, but three generations of sailors. We first met Sylvie Paquette and Luc Sevigny when they anchored their little Jeanneau 25 sloop "Summum" next to us off the beach at Stocking Island. The anchor was hardly down before five year old Samuel and his three year old sister Alizanne were out of the cockpit and scrambling all over the boom and standing rigging. A while later we were introduced to grandparents Jeanne D'Arc Lebel and Jean-Guy Belanger, who are cruising on "Folido", their equally small Catalina 25.
Just before Christmas, the extended family left Montreal in two cars, trailering their respective boats to Florida. They've been buddy boating ever since, crossing the Gulf Stream together and island hopping down to George Town. Jean-Guy quipped, "End to end, we're a 50 foot yacht; rafted together we're a catamaran!"
We asked Sylvie and Luc how the children liked sailing. Sylvie answered, "The day we crossed the Gulf Stream the kids earned gold medals. They stayed outside all day because we thought they might get seasick down below. We sang, told stories and watched for fish. The weather wasn't too bad except for a brief period in the middle of the Stream when the seas rapidly began to build. Suddenly we were surfing down ten foot waves. The kids sat at the rail in their harnesses, holding on to the lifelines. They thought they were on a roller coaster - the higher the waves got, the more they laughed and screamed!"
Back home in Montreal, Samuel and Alizanne used to be a bit shy around other kids. George Town has provided them with great socializing opportunities. Now they'll spend hours on the beach playing with children their own age. Sylvie remarked, "They only speak French, but it's made absolutely no difference in terms of meeting other kids. They play all day long and seem to have a language of their own."
What the adults value most about cruising is living simply. While many of us on much bigger boats lament that we don't have enough space for all the things we think we need, Sylvie is convinced they have too much. She said, "We've got a big bag of crafts that I've only opened once or twice. Samuel and Alizanne will go to the beach with only a spoon and a bucket between them and be perfectly happy." Jean-Guy added, "Samuel loves collecting things - shells, bits of wood, little rocks, just about anything. At the end of the day his bathing suit will be around his ankles because of all the treasures in his pockets!"
Both children love the water and Samuel is a keen snorkeller. They're learning new things all the time such as the names of different fish and shells. We asked them in French what they liked better, living in Montreal in a house or living down here on a boat. Without hesitation, they beamed and cried in unison, "Ici!"