All In the Family
November 4, 2004
We’ve argued that the cruising community is quite diverse, despite a strong representation of middle aged couples like ourselves. At one end of the spectrum is Barbara Molin, a single handing sailor from the west coast whom we described in last week’s entry. At the opposite end, there’s the Pieczonka family, three generations of cruisers on the same boat.
We met the Pieczonka family last year in George Town, Bahamas. Their introduction to cruising was a crash course in learning as you're doing it. When they left their home town of Kingston, Ontario, in September 2003 on their Hunter 37.5 sailboat "Turtle Moon", only Mark Pieczonka had had any significant sailing experience. But he had an enthusiastic crew: wife Carolyn; kids Sara (twelve years old), Michael (nine), and Emma (five); and Carolyn's father George Thompson. A self-employed systems analyst, Mark told us, "Year after year, we had talked about taking off and cruising; then the opportunity came up last year and suddenly we decided to just do it."
From Lake Ontario, they took the well worn path through the New York State barge canals and Hudson River to New York City; offshore to Norfolk, Virginia; and then down the length of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to Miami. In mid-December, they crossed from Florida to Bimini in the Bahamas and traversed the Great Bahama Bank to Chub Cay.
Mark confessed, "One of my greatest fears was that some of these guys would get sick on one of our open water passages, but the kids have been fine." Their biggest test was crossing to Nassau from Chub when they encountered 35 knot winds and fourteen foot seas on the beam. Carolyn recalled, "We had to keep Michael focussed and talking about sports. He sat on the companionway steps with a bucket and we talked about hockey for hours!"
Last January, "Turtle Moon" and its stalwart crew reached their winter destination, George Town in the Bahama's Exuma island chain. George Town is a popular hangout for cruising families (see our March 13, 2003 entry, "A Family Affair"). "The best thing about George Town is being anchored 30 feet from the beach and being surrounded by friends with other kids," Mark explained. Carolyn also appreciated having a base for a few weeks. "I'm not one for long days and bad weather. I like to get some place and then stay put for a bit."
On a typical day on "Turtle Moon", George was up first to make coffee. After breakfast, from about 0800 until noon, the kids hit the school books under Carolyn's supervision. Sara said, "School on board the boat is fun. You have more freedom and you can take days off." While the children studied, Mark kept busy hauling water and attending to boat maintenance chores and repairs. In the afternoons, children and adults alike got to play. Mark joined the throng of adults on the beach volleyball courts and the kids scattered with their friends to swim, build forts, and collect shells. Michael learned how to make conch shell horns and he and Emma were proficient horn blowers. In fact, Emma won honours at the horn blowing competition at the George Town Cruising Regatta.
Although George modestly claimed, "my initial job on board was ballast", Mark and Carolyn felt he was a great help looking out for the kids and filling in when needed. Mark told the story of when they were in Nassau during a blow and George got up in the middle of the night to check the anchor. "George alerted us that we were coming down on a catamaran only 40 feet away; he saved our bacon that night."
Initially, a big challenge for the kids was making friends with other children. Michael was excited when he met a boy his age on a large catamaran shortly after they arrived in George Town. When he was invited to spend the night on the other boat, his little sister broke into tears. Carolyn tried to console Emma by telling her that she had heard that a cruising family with another five year old girl on board was due to arrive in a few days. Between sobs, Emma asked, "But do they have a fifty foot catamaran?"
The kids said they missed television, but admitted they now liked reading much more than they had before. Michael had brought a lot of his sports equipment with him and was a big hit when they attended school in the small community of Black Point on the way to George Town. Carolyn said, "The Bahamian kids went crazy playing with Michael's lacrosse balls, baseballs, football and tennis balls."
Mark concluded, "The best part of cruising, absolutely the best, is all the friends you meet along the way." Carolyn added, "We wouldn't have met nearly as many people if not for the kids. On the beach, another mother might say, 'Are you Sara's mom?’ And the older cruisers miss THEIR grandchildren so they enjoy being with our kids."
George jokingly complained, "I feel left out. No one has invited ME to a sleep-over."
We recently received an e-mail from the Pieczonkas, who returned to Kingston last summer. Mark explained the children were glad to back with their old friends, but were missing the adventures they had while cruising. When they first left to go cruising, the family had considered their trip to be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now Mark says, "We're working hard to see if we can do it again in another three years."
We're looking forward to seeing them out there.