Growing Up a Sailor – Martin’s Story

Lisa and I together are trying to create a slower paced world to raise our kids in.  We both place a lot of value in not cramming our day with a lot of activities and just let the day happen.  We have done a lot of travelling together and even then we would always go at a very slow pace and just do what felt natural that particular day.  When we were getting bogged down with working city life and deciding on what we wanted for our kids we both went back to our childhood for inspiration.  Lisa and I separately spent a lot of time sailing with our parents and this extremely laid back activity had a lot to do with how we see the world today.  Both of us wanted to write a blog about our time spent on a boat and how we want to translate these experiences into our own family life.  Instead combining our thoughts into one blog we have decided to write two separate blogs independently from each other and see how it turns out.  Any similarities in views are just because our experiences were very similar and so are our personalities.

Martin’s Story

It was something to brag about and during the first day of school each year I sure talked proudly about spending the past two months on a sailboat.  Every year (except one spent camping across Canada) until grade 9 my ‘what I did on my summer holidays’ essay was always very similar.  My parents, both being teachers, always had the summer off and as soon as the final school bell rang we would load up the fine sailing vessel ‘Sarita’ full of everything we needed to enjoy the summer.  Sarita was a 28 foot (8.5m) sailboat, bright red, while not spacious by any stretch of the imagination, seemed to fit the three of us perfectly.  For my parents there was always the rush at the end of the year to mark all the papers and do everything that was required at year’s end, followed by the intense packing and getting ready and as soon as we pulled away from the dock they could take one big exhale and things would just slow down.

Vancouver Island is a very large island and nestled between it and the mainland are many smaller islands, countless coves and anchorages, and an endless amount of places to explore.  We always spent two months sailing and we never ventured past the northern tip of Vancouver Island.  The Alaskan bound cruise ships that leave from Seattle or Vancouver pass by the islands that we spent our entire holiday in their first day (and night) of their trip.  The area may seem small when rushing by but if you travel at the speed of a family sailboat you will discover that that two months is not nearly enough to see it all.

Now when I say we went sailing for two months it does not mean that we spent the whole time at sea.  In the west coast of Canada there is no ocean to cross to find paradise.  The largest ‘open water’ crossing all summer only takes less than ½ a day to cross and the Strait of Georgia is still protected by Vancouver Island.  You want to watch the weather reports for sure but most of the time the Straits are pretty tame.  The rest of the time cruising up the island you are never too far from the closest anchorage.  So while we did put the sails up as often as we could we were always comfortably tucked away in a safe cove with lots of time to go exploring, fishing, or have a nap.

For a young boy these summers were a lot more than just fun breaks to the school year.  There are so many things that I learned to appreciate from these days.  When I would brag about my summers on the first day back to school I remember how a lot of kids would not understand how two months stuck in a small boat with parents would be fun.  Now we did sail with other families whenever they could join us, and that was always a blast, but still I spent a lot of time in close quarters with my parents.  You know, it was not too bad.  In fact I grew up appreciating the company of adults.  Quite often I was the only child in the group and there was no room to hide.  On nice sunny days I could go ashore by myself or go off in the dingy (when I was old enough) but there were many hours spent out on the water or trapped inside due to rain when all I had was some books, a deck of cards, and my parents.

I learned very quickly that it did not make sense to be bored.  After the third day of pouring rain, or of constant sailing without much time to rest there would be some boredom but for the most part I knew that being bored would not do me any good.  I made up battle games with playing cards (don’t mess with the jack of spades), drew up plans for the craziest cruise ships imaginable, wrote funny lyrics to my favourite songs of the day (I really appreciated Weird Al Yankovic’s contribution to pop culture), and read quite a few books.  That was all good but there was no stopping me when we were in a nice anchorage and the sun came out.

It is amazing how much fun you can have when you have to entertain yourself.   I was able to survive without TV, computers, or even electricity. What does a child see when arriving at a quiet cove with no other boat in sight?  Does it look dull and empty or does it look like a wonderland to explore?  Does the child notice the beach with enough driftwood to build a great fort?  Does the child notice the rocky point at the entrance covered with kelp which meant there is a good chance we could be eating codfish for dinner?  Does the child notice a grassy meadow to go kick a soccer ball around?  Are there trees or a hill worth climbing to get a view?  Is the water warm enough to go swimming or should I just go for a row?  Who needs an amusement park when you have a rowboat and a sense of adventure?  There were many days spent tearing around the bays and others when you just relaxed.

I never realized how much I really appreciate quiet.  Sometimes you do not realize how much noise you are surrounded by.  When you are in towns you can hear the hum of buildings, traffic, and people.  Even in your home something is usually working in the background.  There is something special about pulling away from the dock or anchor, motoring out into the open, putting up the sails and then shutting off the motor.  The sound of nothing but the water and wind in your sails is incredible and proves why sailing is simply the best way to travel.  In the evening or early morning a quiet anchorage with just the sound of nature is also something I have learned to appreciate.  Special times for sure.

When I tell my sailing stories of my childhood so many people tell me how lucky I was to have been able to spend my summers on our boat.  They are of course correct but many feel like it must have been wealth that led us to such adventures.  While I do consider myself extremely fortunate for having such a rewarding childhood it was not only a bi-product of social status.  My parents worked hard to live the life they did and they were excellent in setting priorities of what to spend their money on.  My parents had the means to live in more luxury and to accumulate more stuff yet they lived well within their means and they chose to allocate a good portion of their resources into leisure.  Sailing each and every summer was a lifestyle choice and they made every effort to make sure we lived that lifestyle.  My parents understood the importance of slowing down and appreciating the little things and sailing was just our way to accomplish that.

Now it is up to Lisa and I to make similar decisions for our family.   We have no immediate plans to buy a sailboat but one is not necessarily required to give our kids the similar appreciation for the world.  We feel that there is an intrinsic value for having our kids be able to keep themselves busy in a simple natural setting.  One way or another we will hopefully give our kids some memories of being in a quiet cove with nothing around them but hours, days & week’s worth of entertainment.

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