Why We're Not Cruising with Baby

We were supposed to set sail in September. By November, we would be exploring historic St. Augustine. January, oh January in the Bahamas! Instead, we will remain in Baltimore. The cruise had been five years in the making with some serious Larry and Lin Pardy style “dreaming and scheming.” 1 We wanted to cruise to spend quality time together; our lives were such a race. We wanted to expose our daughter to nature and both be available to her. We wanted adventure. We wanted a space to figure out the best way to live our lives. We traded in our beautiful Lippincott for a sea worthy (and equally beautiful) larger Beneteau meant for cruising. My husband, Bryan, outfitted her, working diligently every weekend. We sailed her relentlessly last season learning her secrets, gaining her confidence. Adventurous plans The plan was simple. I was due in February. I wrangled a 15-month leave from work so we had until May 2016 to sail. We would leave the Chesapeake in September, meander down the ICW, and explore quirky towns. Once in Florida, we would bask in the warmth. The big decision at that point would be Florida Keys or Bahamas? My husband started expressing doubts in June. He was concerned that the hard parts would outweigh the joyful ones. The heavy lifting always fell on him. He was the sailor, boating since he was six weeks old. He introduced me to it when I was 30. I tried my best to learn, but there were always other endeavors taking precedent. I became an adequate sailor, but navigation eluded me and I wasn’t strong enough to lift the anchor. 4 What I lacked in skill, I made up for in enthusiasm. Unlike many couples, the cruising dream was mine. At some point, I started compulsively reading cruising memoirs and blogs. I was hooked. The weekend gunkholing and midweek racing were fun, but I wanted adventure. Big Adventure. In my early 20s I lived and worked aboard commercial fishing vessels in Alaska. I loved it. I loved the way the sky looked from the ocean. I loved being cut off from the world. I needed the simplicity one is reduced to living afloat. I could have done it forever, except I also wanted a family. I remember telling a friend from a pay phone in Dutch Harbor one fevered night that my ideal life involved living nomadically with a husband and kids. She laughed and said, “That’s not possible!” You can imagine my joy when it all came together for us. After years of trying to conceive, I was pregnant, and we were on our way cruising! In April, we did our first sail with the baby. We anchored in Rock Creek. She slept like a champ. Next stop, Annapolis, equally successful. We did a few other weekends, and they all went well. However, around the time my husband expressed his doubts, I started to feel overwhelmed. I needed to pack up the house, provision the boat, finish a book project, cram in a dozen medical appointments as we would not have access to regular health care for eight months, and re-home our cat. This may have been feasible in my pre-baby life, but at the rate I was going, a banner day involved showering and making dinner. 6 Shakedown cruise Our fast pace also meant that we had little time for family and friends. Every weekend was spent preparing for the trip. We didn’t even have time for each other, switching off baby duty so the other could get some work done. We did our shakedown cruise early July. One week on the Chesapeake; first stop in Rock Creek so we could have our mast checked at Oak Harbor. With a clean bill of mast health, we headed out to Swan Creek but had to turn around as the weather was worsening. We returned to Rock Creek, set anchor, and settled in for the night. Around 1 a.m. we felt the boat moving. We ran up to the deck, I started the engine as my husband pulled up the anchor that was no longer holding. It was like something out of a movie: pitch black until the lightning struck. When it struck I saw that we were a second away from hitting the fuel dock at Maryland Yacht Club. I drove us away and circled until my husband retuRned to the cockpit. I was praying the whole time that he didn’t go over. We had done man overboard drills, but they were always in daylight. 3 Apropos, the baby started crying once the anchor was up. I went below and nursed her while Bryan took the helm. We were able to re-anchor once Mallory was back to bed. We later concluded that the wind must have switched directions too quickly for the boat to readjust. We lost our solar panels, and the American flag pole split off. The next day, my mother-in-law called to see how we fared in the near derecho. It was validating to know the severity of this storm wasn’t our imagination. I felt empowered; we handled the emergency well, working together. Bryan was doubtful but willing to soldier on. We set out again, thankfully with no emergencies. There was a lot of motoring, as there is never the wind you need in July on the Chesapeake. We took turns below with the baby as, at that point, we weren’t bringing her on deck unless we are at anchor or docked. I know many people do, but we’re cautious first-time parents. It was a challenge getting her to nap. We assumed the engine would be like white noise, but it wasn’t calming her. Maybe it was the heat or the diesel fumes or that we could never get her cabin dark enough. Regardless, she wasn’t napping. We were all getting exhausted. We converted the salon table to a queen-size bed that became her playpen. She seemed happy enough there. However, I felt claustrophobic, and Bryan couldn’t stand the roar of the diesel engine. A realization and alternate plans This part is a little bit embarrassing: Neither one of us considered what it is like in the cabin while motoring or sailing. We have always both stayed topside, going below only for the head or meal prep. During our weekend getaways, Mallory had slept in her car seat secured below; she’d been a much younger baby then and our trips short enough that it worked. Now she was five months old and expected our undivided attention. We started spending more time below, and it was unbearable. While motoring, the motion was choppy, the noise and smell toxic. While sailing, it was slightly better, but the cabin was sweltering. We realized that even if we could stand it, the decibel level and fumes were unhealthy for a baby. With more than 200 hours of mandated motoring, the ICW was out of the question. 2 We brain-stormed alternate plans such as the Salty Dawg Rally or a delivery captain and settled on a professional delivery to the Abacos. I felt sad about missing the ICW, but this alternative was looking good. Then we started to think through daily life in the Bahamas with a baby. At first it sounded great. We would take her ashore, explore the towns, and play on the beach. I then started to think about six months of this. Most people say that’s their dream; what’s not to like? For my extroverted little girl, it would probably be incredibly boring. I then turned my attention to our snorkeling gear and realized (admittedly a little late) how un-fun and potentially dangerous it would be to go snorkeling by myself. If we were to swim or snorkel off of the boat, one adult would have to stay on it with the baby. Once in a while that seemed okay, but for six months? We wouldn’t have grandparents at our beck and call for babysitting duty. Sure, they would fly out for a visit, but not the weekly reprieve I enjoyed now. The truth is: I needed those respites. Could I parent without them? Yes, but I am a better mother with them. It is so joyful to see Mallory interact with her grandparents. Cruising would not only be the end to that, but also to all of the friendships I’ve been more attentive to now that I’m not working. I know we would make friends cruising, and Mallory would probably have tons of surrogate grandparents, but it seemed silly to leave such a good thing. I’m sure that there are work arounds for all of the above, but when we really started to think about why we wanted to cruise, we realized that all of our goals were better met on land. 7 A Chesapeake solution My husband took September and October off. This gave us time together. Truly together, not in different parts of the boat. Not having to worry about where to do laundry or how to buy pampers in Exuma for a reasonable price. We got our sailing fix from a three-week cruise in September on the Chesapeake. I’ll continue my weekly hikes with Mallory in the woods, and we’ll take her to the mountains in the winter. She will have ample nature and parent time. We will revisit cruising when Mallory is older. I’m sure the process will feel overwhelming regardless of when we go, but that is bearable when the goal feels right. This was a terribly difficult decision to make. It was a huge mental shift filled with grief and relief. Although we know it’s a “one-percenter” problem, I was heart-broken. There is no guarantee that we will be able to go in the future. Mallory may hate sailing; the grandparents may get sick. I focus on the present and how blessed we are to have this dilemma. I am full of gratitude. I am grateful for our health, freedom, and the family and friends we don’t want to leave. I am grateful to be living my dream. by Sharon Praissman