The Island Hopping Baby
A quick trip down island with one of these? Don't do it! You're crazy! Turn back now while you still can, for the love of God!
You know what? Where there's a will, there's a way.
Cruising with a small child can be difficult for a few obvious reasons,
and several others that don’t become apparent until you’ve
actually taken on this feat. Here are a few thoughts we can offer
to our fellow sailors contemplating a cruise with a baby, gleaned from
our trip down island from St. Thomas to Grenada for the hurricane
season of 2011 with our infant son. The overall lesson we learned
from that trip? A baby aboard makes this lifestyle’s highs
higher and the lows lower. To help make your family’s
cruise a golden time you’ll want to remember forever, instead of
a nightmare you’d rather forget, read on!
Sanity-Saving Tips for the Sleep-Deprived Sailing Parent
1) Have a
morning checklist and delegate tasks. Every boat and crew is
different, but there are bound to be cyclical chores and items that
need completion after a night at anchor before you get underway for the
day. Divy them up, no matter how simple each task is, amoungst
the adult faction of the crew. Maybe this sounds obvious, but
your brain will likely be fried after a few days of sailing with a
child, and you will need all the help you can give yourself to stay on
top of things. If necessary, take turns watching the baby while
the other person completes his or her assigned tasks. And a
last-minute “idiot check” is a always a great idea.
2) DO NOT make the mistake of thinking you’ll be able to complete
any tasks beyond keeping the baby happy and the boat sailing once
you’re underway. Take the extra few minutes and get them done
before you get going! Apply that sunscreen, brush your teeth, put
away the dishes and stow the last-minute items before you haul up
anchor, lest you find yourself pulling into the next anchorage sunburnt
and foul-breathed, with big mess to clean up down below and a tired,
cranky child to contend with. Makes for a long, crappy evening,
take it from us!
3) Keep your diaper bag stocked and within easy reach of the
cockpit. Prepare for a day of sailing the way you’d prepare
for a day on the go with your kid. You wouldn’t leave home
(hopefully) without stuffing a bunch of clean diapers, wipes, snacks
and toys into your bag, would you? Do the same when you’re
going for a sail. Even if you live aboard your boat, don’t
assume you’ll be able to use your usual play areas and diaper
changing station. Bumpy conditions can make moving around the
cabin carrying your child unsafe, and even if you’re in smooth
conditions, it’s so much easier to have everything right next to
you, ready to go.
By being better organized, you have more time to milk those moments of peace and quiet for all they're worth!
Maintaining a Healthy, Happy Squirt Underway
one might be a bit obvious, but even if you don’t have a car, buy
an infant car seat to use underway on your boat. Tie it securely
to some fixed point in your cockpit, and orient it in a way that keeps
the baby comfortable (shaded, protected from spray, close to you, and
wedged in somewhere it won’t move around). Having a secure
place at hand to put the baby during times when you need to take care
of something, or during those blessed moments when he or she is
sleeping, is essential.
James getting sleepy in his chair on the way to Guadeloupe.
2) Hide that baby from the sun! As the parent of a sailing tot,
the sun is your nemesis. In the southerly latitudes, the sun hits
the earth at a much more direct angle and tender new baby skin can
sustain a burn in a matter of minutes unless heroic efforts are
undertaken. All the books say that dark clothing with a tight
weave is the best protection, but outdoors in the tropics for hours on
end, clothes like that are also an invitation to heatstroke.
Diapers and infant life vests add a lot of insulation, trapping body
heat and sweat, and adding long pants and sleeves to the equation, even
lightweight cotton, made our baby much too hot.
We compromised with copious amounts of sunscreen with a high SPF,
re-applied every couple of hours, a lightweight brimmed hat, and a
short sleeved onesie under the life vest, and we always kept the
munchkin in the shade of the bimini. Whenever it was calm enough
underway, we sat with him in the deckhouse for complete
protection. By the time we reached Grenada, the boy was most
certainly tanned, but he never burned (unlike us - we were so concerned
with protecting James that we often forgot to reapply ourselves.
We need to work on that before we look like a couple of old baseball
A good hat will be lightweight, brimmed, have a chin strap (hidden here), and help accentuate your baby's adorableness.
3) Water the baby often. And, if you’re nursing, water
yourself. Sailing can be decieving when it comes to staying
hydrated, because in a good breeze, sweat evaporates quickly and you
may not realize how much water your body is losing, or how quickly
you’re losing it. If your baby is old enough to use a sippy
cup or a straw, offer water or diluted juice or Gatorade often.
If your baby is nursing, offer the boob twice as often, and be vigilant
about keeping yourself hydrated so you can still make plenty of
To be able to monitor how things are going, get a feel for how many
diapers your baby wets on a normal day before you leave on your cruise,
then count the number he or she wets when you’re underway.
If fewer diapers are getting soaked, redouble your efforts and keep an
eye out for symptoms of dehydration: a dry mouth, groggyness,
tearless crying, constipation and (duh) thirstiness. If you
notice any of these, it’s probaby a good idea to take a break in
a peaceful anchorage for a couple of days to let your baby rest and
catch up. If things don’t improve quickly, seek
medical help. No sailing trip is worth risking your child’s
4) Remember "arrive by five"? Think more “in the lee by
three”! If you’ve read Bruce Van Sant’s
excellent guidebook, The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South,
you’re no doubt familiar with his strident advice to be anchored
and put away well before sunset, and to plan your departure time in the
morning accordingly. This is a prudent policy for a whole range
of reasons, and we’ve always made it our practice when
Everyone needs time to unwind.
When you’re traveling with a baby, we found it’s much
better to arrive even earlier. Leaving super-early in the morning
means you’ll have a couple of hours before the heat of the day
builds. Also, you'll have a couple of extra hours of daylight after you’ve
anchored to let your child (and you) relax and play for a while.
Chances are your poor baby spent most of the day packed into a life
vest, or strapped into a car seat, unable to move around much or do
anything he or she finds interesting. Give him or her some
downtime to be a normal baby for a while, crawling around and playing
with toys, splashing in a pan of water (supervised, of course), or
whatever else your baby likes to do. It’s only fair, since
your baby isn’t the one who decided to go sailing, and it could
save you a nuclear meltdown later on.
5) Keep that booty healthy! We saw the beginnings of James’
first diaper rash starting to take hold when we sailed south from St.
Thomas. It’s quite tropical under a cruising baby’s
diaper, and conditions are perfect for skin problems with all that
sweating under there. Luckily, we adopted a simple policy that
quickly returned his buns to pristine condition! It’s
elegantly simple and doesn’t cost a thing: bare that rump!
When you get to your destination for the evening (in the mid- to late
afternoon, as described above), let your baby play around in the
cockpit naked for a while. A cooling trade wind breeze will feel
marvelous on your little nudists’ backside and keep it
rash free. Naked Time coupled with prompt
diaper changes should keep your kid’s butt trouble free.
Air that derriere! Naked Time on SARABANDE.