Boating Adventures | "Sailing with Cats and Kids" | Article and Photos by Vicki Totten

Creative packing is called for when traveling with six humans, one cat, and everyone's gear.

What is the best age to introduce children and small animals to sailing? Based on my experiences over the past few months in doing both, my response is "as soon as possible." We first introduced our six week old kitten "Skipper" to our boat in September, and from the looks of it, he seems to have fully embraced boat life.

Preparing for lookout duties.

As soon as we step aboard with him, he seems very much at home. Whether it is sitting on the cockpit watching birds dive for fish, playing with a random piece of rope, performing the role of lookout from the canvas bimini top, or taking one of his four hour naps, he is a happy cat whenever he is on the boat.

But you just never know.  Since our eight and nine year old granddaughters have lived in Europe their entire lives, we had not had the luxury of introducing them to boat life.  And since when you love something, you usually want the people you love to also love it, we were ready to find out whether the girls would take to it or not. So when they came for a three week visit over the Christmas holidays, we finally got our chance. 

Are We There Yet?
Please, please, please let us be there soon.
The ride to the boat didn't exactly fill me with confidence that it was going to go well.  The car was filled to the brim with my husband, me, our daughter Stacy, her boyfriend Daniel, our two granddaughters, and Skipper.  After about 30 minutes, we heard the usual "are we there yet" at regular intervals until our arrival time.  In between that, we were all juggling where the cat was, since the girls always wanted him in their laps, we wanted him in his carrier, and he wanted to roam free.  So in between the "are we there yets" there also was the fairly constant "meow, meow" coming from Skipper, confused and not at all happy that his usual quiet ride had been hijacked by so many extra people and noises. 

A foggy day calls for some tough games of Skipbo.
Izabella trying out her Pirate look.
Once we arrived, however, things began to look up, even though the first day was fogged in so much that any hope of actually getting out of our slip was quickly dashed. The girls slept with us on the boat for two nights, and by the second day they were seemingly as comfortable on the boat as Skipper had become. It wasn't until the fog finally lifted enough for us to take the boat out, however, that we would know for sure whether we had missed that golden age for introducing them to the life we love. And, of course, we also knew that just introducing them to sailing, didn't mean they were going to love it.

One indication that we might have at least one budding sailor among us was the genuine desire of our eight year old granddaughter Nadia to have her Opa teach her all the parts of the boat. I came back to the boat one day to see the two of them at the bow of the boat in deep discussion. When I climbed up to see what they were up to, Opa turned to Nadia and asked her to tell me about the different parts of the boat she had learned. She quickly pointed out the parts of the standing rigging including the boom, mast, the topping lift, forestay, backstay, and shrouds as well as other parts of the boat such as the cockpit, bow and stern. She then pulled out a folded up piece of paper from her jeans pocket to show me. She had asked her Opa to write down the different parts so she could study them. After we had returned home she was dismayed to discover those jeans had gotten washed with the piece of paper in the pocket, so the information had to be recreated for her. I have to confess, her interest in learning about the parts of the boat surpassed even mine.

Stacy watching as the fog was lifting.
Once the fog lifted, we were finally able to launch the boat and the "are we there yet" refrain from the car trip turned into "when can I steer the boat?" - primarily from Nadia. While nine year old Izabella was not indifferent to sailing, she was much more interested in finding and playing with Skipper, where ever he happened to be.

Confident Sailor
Already Looking Like a Natural

Once the sails were up and we were out of the ship channel, it was finally time to let Nadia take over the helm. Her eight year old face was frozen in concentration as she knelt on the Captain's seat in order to reach the oversized steering wheel on our 33' sailboat. We were in the middle of Aransas Bay and it was her first time on a sailboat and her first time at the wheel. It didn't take long for both her Mom Stacy and her Opa to let go of the helm and let her take it by herself, since she obviously didn't need any help from them. When her big sister saw her at the wheel, she decided she needed a turn. However, it quickly became clear that she was distracted and only halfheartedly interested in the task - and so she relinquished her turn back to Nadia, who was more than happy to take it back.

Luckily it was a very light wind day, so both girls were able to have a positive sailing experience that first time out, one I am sure they will remember for the rest of their lives. The experience was further heightened by the frequent appearance of dolphins that day, which helped the girls discover yet another reason to love being out on the water.

Kayaking on a foggy day.

Before they left the U.S., we had a few more opportunities for them to be on the water - first on our kayaks in the harbor and then again on Lady Bird Lake in Austin. Sadly, however, we won't get another chance to have them on the boat for another year or two, so it may be awhile before we know for sure whether sailing is in their future. However, we do have one indication that it may be at least be in Nadia's. Before they left, Nadia was excited to share with us that they had located a sailing school in Frankfurt that she would be attending next summer.

I think our work is done here.

Vicki and husband, ceramic artist Stan Irvin, are both retired professors who have discovered the joys of Rockport and living part-time on their 33' sailboat, while exploring new sailing destinations and adventures.

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