The Bracarazzi

Sitting cross-legged in the sand next to a Russian Evangelist who was doing missionary work in Sumatra, I was enjoying some time with another traveler to chat about her experiences:

Her: I feel so dreadfully sorry for these poor local women.
Me: Oh? I didn’t quite understand.
Her: Yes, the women, the poor souls. Mothers have no babysitters, absolutely no support. They have to do it all on their own. I just don’t understand how the women can manage.
I smile at the innocence and ignorance of the comment.
Me: Ah, but they don’t. They have more readymade support in a small local village than an entire American city will offer.
She looked at me, puzzled, and added: And you, too. All on your own as well. How do you handle it?
Seeing that she hadn’t grasped my first statement, I gathered things weren’t sinking in. I just smiled.

See, it is impossible to travel through the islands and claim exemption from local custom. You do not own your children; they are the responsibility of the entire community. With a white-skinned towhead, you present a magnet irresistible to the local villagers. The cruising community came to call our local fan club the “Bracarazzi.” as other cruisers traveling behind us would be asked in awe if they knew Braca, opening their phones to proudly show a small Caucasian boy swamped in a crowd of grinning faces. I once had to chase down a woman who had swooped in on Braca, then eleven-months old, and ran as fast as she could into the bush with a screaming baby. When I heard my child’s cries and realized what had happened, I quickly took chase. There she was, clinging onto a child in full-fit, clicking off Selfies at fifty a second with a cheek-splitting grin and a red-faced toddler clearly in distress. When I approached she proudly looked up at me, clearly quite pleased with her efforts.

Finding your child is no problem; they are either trailing a long line of enthusiastic playmates or they are at the epicenter of a thick crowd of curious observers. It is reclaiming them than can provide some tricky negotiation. I’ve often had to clamber through a crowd five deep and watched the faces of disappointment when I’ve pulled my children away. Childcare is by no means difficult to procure as a local; nor by extension is it difficult to obtain as a guest to the community.

While I am not a mother willing to drop my child in the arms of strangers in my own neighborhood, vanuatu womanI am more than willing to do so on a small remote island hundreds of miles from home. Indeed, we have done so on many occasions and have returned to find them fully entrenched in local activity – dragging a cardboard car across the sand or playing naked in the shallows surrounded by a dozen kids. Doted on and adored, the villagers take your child into the fold with no hesitation or reservation. If you want the key to the door of local acceptance, travel with children. I left my Russian friend on the beach with her pity and her misconception. Perhaps she will come back one day as a mother herself and gain a totally different insight into the local culture.

Anak Afloat


TRANSLATION: Indonesian Bhasa to English
ANAK (n.): Child; a boy or a girl.
ANAK ANAK (n. pl.): Children.

The Indonesian language is a simple one, with no use of complicated plurals, gender identification, or multiple sound enunciations for a single letter. Take the word child for instance. Child in Bhasa is ANAK. If you have more than one, it is ANAK ANAK. Just repeat the word and you have a plural. As for gender identification, there is no added complication of separate words to identify female or male. Simple.

This simplicity is completely unlike English. In English, the word for child in the singular sounds completely different than it does in the plural, where the strong “i” in child randomly changes to an elongated sounding “i” in children. Make sense of that. Furthermore, why the addition of –ren? Why not add an “s” as you would to multiply a buoy to two buoys, for simplicity? And what’s up with the creepy silent ‘h?’ Can someone please explain why is it even there, with no purpose other than to complicate and confuse?

ba-swimmingFive years and two ANAK ANAK later, we’ve learned the value of simplicity and the importance of urgency as cruisers. I’ve seen too many prospective cruisers delay ad infinitum, “next year” being the one that dreams would be realized. Each year the same boat sat in the same slip, and the same bum sat behind the same desk. I’ve seen too many boat owners delay because they’ve overcomplicated their end goal – to cast lines and set sail. “Just one more [X], and then we’ll be off…” played over again and again. This is further compounded with additional family members, each having their own ties that need to be severed before starting to plot the chart. When it comes to cruising with kids, we try to follow two simple concepts: do it now, and do it simply.


As the saying goes, there is no time like the present. John and I took this phrase to heart when we met, and six months after our first introduction we found out we were pregnant. At the same time, we were looking at boats. On my first consultation with the gynecologist, I asked her opinion about boats and babies and she told me under no uncertain terms that the two were incompatible. We walked from that meeting and John looked at me wistfully and said, “Well, there goes our cruising plans.” I looked him dead in the eye and said, “We’re not doing babies if we’re not doing boats!” See, a pregnancy was not in my plan. I didn’t want my freedom of adventure stripped from me, or my options to travel restricted. Exploring the globe was something I found a passion for in early in life and it clung to my soul, defining many key decisions throughout my life. Now I was pregnant, a hidden blessing, and I was determined that a baby wouldn’t cancel my dreams.

vanuatu-womanAnd we did it. We brought both baby and boat together. We bought a sailboat the same week we found out we were pregnant, moved onboard and three months later we were started our first cruising season. We departed New Zealand bound for Tonga at sixteen weeks pregnant. We have now sailed through two pregnancies and have two children onboard and I couldn’t have planned it any better. To be a mother and father cruising with kids is the best of both worlds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen it comes to the topic of cruising with children, there is debate about the appropriate age to take a child to sea. I’ve often held the gaze of a parent in disbelief at mention of the long ocean passages we’ve taken with our children onboard or the length of time we’ve been away. Our son was six months old when we took him to sea for the first time, his first voyage being a ten-day passage from New Zealand to Vanuatu. Our daughter started cruising at nine months off the coasts of Thailand and Malaysia. Yeah, we’ve spent some time cruising with children onboard and I have to say, it is a pretty fantastic way to raise kids.

chagos-beach-sundownersTo many who are removed from the reality of cruising it may seem an implausible concept: big seas, confined spaces, young children and no external escape. I have to confess I prefer raising children at sea to raising them on land. With one full time parent caretaking home and child, and the other absent parent entrenched in the corporate grind, shore life brings a significant separation in time, routine and responsibilities. Research points to the importance of parental engagement in the first years of life and there is nothing that amplifies that time together better than a family afloat. We wake together and remain together every hour of the day, seven days a week. The children get equal time with both parents and the parents get the support of a true partnership in parenting. We get to travel, explore, and discover and at the same time appreciate the full experience of family and parenthood. What shore-based environment can beat that?

vanuatu-warriorsWhile there are great opportunities given to children that go cruising, there is also an inherent risk that is often overlooked. As would-be sailors start to scheme their ocean travel and plan their exit strategy, they may look at their children and contemplate the much-debated topic of age. The question they ask shouldn’t be “Are they too young?” The question they should ask themselves is “If we wait, will they be too old?” There have been many cruising plans foiled by teens that cannot adjust to the shift in lifestyle; either the teens resist so much that the parents never pull out of port or the family makes all the sacrifices and get away only to be thwarted by teenage sabotage. My recommendation for those who don’t want to wait for retirement and want their family to go with them, the sooner you cast off lines the better.

So when a stranger gapes at the notion of cruising with children, I always say, “if you have the opportunity, how could you not?” Kids on boats are a treat. If they are infants you’d be home anyway, or wishing you were, so isn’t a traveling abode better than a stationary one? As toddlers your child is the gateway into society like no other, pined for and doted upon by every villager you meet. In this ever-changing environment, you watch as they test their wings in uncertain circumstances and fly. As young children, you offer them both your soul and the world. Together you get an adventure of a lifetime and you share an intimacy born on shared experience. So when your time comes and you ponder the viability of cruising with kids, don’t wait. Do it now.


If you are choosing to travel with children, perhaps the Indonesian to English translation of the world child is a good reminder of the value of simplicity. One word for singular: ANAK. Repeat it for plural: ANAK ANAK. Easy. A complicated language makes me think of a complicated society and complicated arrangements. Take one cruiser’s complex dissertation on cleaning and caring for cloth nappies, for instance. There were three stages of purification and sanitation, a store of chemicals and a never-ending procedure for flushing, scrubbing, triple soaking, rinsing and drying. I was under no uncertain terms going to weave that kind of complex relationship with Braca’s soiled garments. Bring me simplicity.

nappies-on-railI We opted to travel with an ANAK onboard: simple plans, simple structure. I hung a netted bag from the aft rail and towed all things soiled behind the boat for a few miles. Afterward, I would plonk the solid-free garments in a bucket with some laundry detergent, rinse with fresh water and hang in the sunshine to dry. Presto! However you go about managing routine, the point is this: there is complication, and there is simplicity. When traveling with kids I can immediately think of my winning choice.

Of course, kids by their very nature provide examples of how simplistic things can be. Take my son and daughter’s preferred toys for example. We have an assortment of store purchased items yet their longest-standing favorites are the clothes pegs, rope ends and a bucket of water. When it comes to entertainment, the kids pull trumps when it comes to imagination and creativity: they read more books than watch TV, they create toys rather than acquire them, they pull games out of their imagination rather than from a box. Every time I return to visit friends or family I forget the simplicity of life onboard the yacht, and I stockpile the current trend in child entertainment and education; I can’t strip my child of all these opportunities to learn and grow, for goodness sake. A few weeks back onboard, however, and the buzz of the new glitter has worn off. The ropes reemerge and out come the pegs. We are once again laughing, splashing and playing in buckets full of water.

ba-hand-in-handOn a yacht, things slow down. Time that may be taken up in play dates, technology, outside obligations and internal preoccupations ashore becomes less fragmented and more focused. You experience a tunnel vision of sorts, where the outside clutter filters out and you hone in on the important things: Your family, unfiltered. Now, when I talk about keeping things simple, I am familiar with how complicated life can be regardless of design. With a two-year old born with a congenital hand condition and a four-year old T1 diabetic, we aren’t cruising on a silver cloud. We have had a number of crises thrown at us that could have crushed our dreams had we succumbed to the pressure. However, we value this lifestyle for its purity and beauty, its intensity and its simplicity and have held onto the bigger picture through life’s sharper edges.

There is a saying that there is no employee who has ever wanted more working hours in exchange for less time with their child and this is the crux of cruising with kids. Whilst cruising, there is no hamster wheel that spins your days away like the quick click of the second-hand on a clock. Each day is a fresh, clean slate. There is no routine of sameness to bleach each month the same muted color of the last. Each time you pull anchor it is for an unknown destination full of expectation and promise, and as a result a week afloat can hold the intensity and variety that would take many a year to amass ashore. So if you are facing the dilemma of when to cruise and how, remember two simple rules and let the detail get sorted out in situ. When it comes to cruising with kids: do it now, and keep it simple. I promise you one thing, neither you nor your children will ever regret it.

For the published article: anak-afloat