I’ve been sailing for about 55 years and I am presently Commodore of TMCC. I began sailing dinghies on inland lakes and eventually moved to ocean sailing with about 130,000 nautical miles completed, including a circumnavigation of the world, high latitudes from the Arctic Circle to and around Cape Horn.
One of my favourite things about sailing is that every sailing day is different and it’s always challenging you to get the best from the boat. To date, my fondest sailing memory is having completed a five-year circumnavigation of the world with our two young children, helping them to learn about the world and its peoples.
My wife, Fiona McCall, and I had done a sailing trip from 1975 to 1977 and had met a few families with young children on board and we decided we wanted to sail with young children, too. Fiona was pregnant with our first child when we returned to Toronto from that trip. Among the sailing community in the late 70’s, there was a common dream of building a boat in your back yard and sailing around the world. Rather than beginning from scratch, I bought a bare steel hull, had it trucked to the back yard and began putting the boat together. At that time a 30ft sailboat was considered to be minimal, but large enough for a family of four. Our second child was born in June 1979, when the boat building was well underway. The boat was officially launched in summer 1981. When the children were 4 & 6, we decided we were ready to depart. Both children were given a small carry bag for their toys, they could take whatever would fit into the bag – and no more. Soft toys were preferred, ones we could use to tuck them in with, in their quarter berths.
We sailed out the St. Lawrence to Newfoundland, St. John’s to the Azores was our first ocean passage with the children. Our daughter got seasick for the first couple of days, but our son was always hungry! We established a routine of doing school work with our daughter in the morning while our son, the younger, played with his toys or drew pictures. Evening routine while at sea including an early dinner and then story time. We had stocked children’s books that had a sea-going theme: Arthur Ransom’s Swallows and Amazons series, Treasure Island, Blue Dolphin, and the like. They would cuddle up with Fiona in the corner of the cockpit as she read to them and then they were put to bed. Penny liked to get up at the dawn watch with me to see the sunrise. That first passage from St. John’s to Flores Island took 14 days.
There were fewer marinas then and we mostly anchored out and took the dinghy to shore. The children would be at the bow coming into any anchorage scanning the travelling boats for signs of other children – small clothing drying on the lifelines or children playing on deck. We would often circle those boats, introducing ourselves and asking for a playdate with their children. It mattered little if the children were the same ages or not, or even if they spoke English, as all children on boats were glad to meet other children on boats.
During the five year circumnavigation (1983 to 1988) we made several passages of more than 20 days, the longest being 30 days direct from Fortaleza, Brazil, across the equator to Bermuda. We would prepare a special package of treats and new books and magazines or toys for a mid-passage celebration. It seemed to keep the spirits of the kids up on the longer passages. When at sea for ten days or more, we would ask the kids how long they thought it had been since leaving the last port. “Oh, three or four days,” they would say, not seeming to be bothered by the passing days at sea.
Best piece of sailing advice: Reef early and when something goes wrong, look to the simple solutions first.
By: Paul Howard
Toronto Multihull Cruising Club
Paul and Fiona also published two books about their trip around the world – All in the Same Boat and Still in the Same Boat, Fiona McCall and Paul Howard, McLelland and Stewart, 1988 and 1990, as well as two series in the Toronto Star. “Family Adventure on the High Seas,” which they would write up and mail back to Toronto from ports around the world, and “Horn to Horn” from 2001 to 2005, about their trip from Toronto, around the point of land at the Arctic Circle in Iceland on the Northwestern Fjords (Hornbjarg) and down and around Cape Horn, Chile, and back to Toronto.