I’ve recently been reading old blog posts and diary entries and they’ve made me realise how much easier our lives have become since we first embarked on our live-aboard odyssey in 2012. I came across a diary entry recounting a meeting with a woman and her ten-year old son at Plymouth Yacht Haven. I remember feeling very frustrated and harried that day, as Lily and Katie pulled and tugged at me, and I tried to concentrate on an adult conversation while simultaneously making sure neither of the girls fell off the pontoon into the water. The other woman was a vision of calm and composure. ‘It gets easier’, she told me, and I longed to believe her. She too had sailed with her children since they were babies, but I couldn’t believe that this cool and relaxed woman had ever been tormented by toddlers on a boat, or that her ten-year old son – a delightful, polite and confident lad – had ever been a terror to his younger sister.
When I read that old diary entry from early summer 2012 the stranger was myself. The woman was right – things do get easier. Let’s face it, small children are hard work, having them in close succession more than doubles the work, and many of the difficulties faced by boating families are the same as those faced by landlubbers. When we first moved on board there was so much that Lily and Katie simply couldn’t do. They were both too small to climb into their bed and had to be lifted up and down every time. Katie was still in nappies, and Lily couldn’t lift the lid of the toilet, or wash her hands, or do any of the things that she had already mastered in a house. Getting on and off Carina required superior people-management skills, as two wobbly life-jacket wearing toddlers were precariously hoisted over the guard rail one at a time, to be either placed in the dinghy to get to shore, or slowly walked or carried up a long and unstable pontoon to get to land.
When we sailed they clung to me, only happy if one was sitting on either knee in the cockpit. As a result, the only opportunities I had to sail in 2012 were when both girls were asleep. Back then, Katie had a nasty habit of throwing up when she woke up from a sailing nap. I lost count of the number of projectile vomits I had to clean up while the boat leaned.
Some people reading this might think that we should have waited until the girls were older before we moved aboard. But I disagree. Things are easier now partly because Lily and Katie are growing older. They are not toddlers any more, but little girls, who are very capable and confident. But things have also grown easier because all four of us have grown accustomed to living aboard together. We have learned through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. We have let go of unnecessary rituals and live life simply.
The paraphernalia of babyhood is gone, making Carina more spacious. The baby carriers, the nappies, the oversized baby life jackets, the toddler toothpaste and more besides are dim and distant memories. Simply by growing taller the girls are now able to climb into and out of bed, onto and off pontoons, into and out of our dinghy. They can reach taps and open cupboards, and they are confident as they move about Carina’s quirky spaces as she rocks and sways. A child raised in a house, or on a different boat might quickly bash a toe or bump a head, but Lily and Katie have the sensory awareness of their boat that means they rarely come a-cropper.
They have grown in independence too. No longer do they cling to me when we sail. In fact, Julian and I hardly see them, and they are generally disinterested in being in the cockpit when we sail (except when we see dolphins – then they come racing up the companionway). On sailing days, the entire boat below deck is their domain, where they draw, play with dolls or Lego or read books, completely immune to seasickness. I think they enjoy the freedom of having the boat all to themselves, as Julian and I stay above deck to ward off seasickness.
These days they balk at the thoughts of Julian or I choosing their clothes or dressing them, and I have learned to bite my tongue when I see some of the bizarre fashion combinations that emerge from their bedroom each morning. They brush their own hair and teeth, shower and wash their own hair, and if I could just get them to cut and clean their own fingernails then my life’s work would be done!
Of course, as they grow older, their powers of reasoning grow and they have more experiences to reflect on, making it easier for them to understand why they mustn’t run on the pontoon, or lean over the guard rail, or pester mum and dad when we’re executing a tricky boat manoeuvre. While we still keep a close eye on them, we trust them in ways that we couldn’t have only a year ago.
Like all siblings, they fall out on occasion. But they are each others’ best friend, wanting to be together far more often than they want time apart. Keeping each other entertained and occupied takes the burden off us to keep them entertained.
The woman in Plymouth was right. It does get easier. But perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate the funny, chatty, independent and, even sometimes, helpful, little girls who now inhabit Carina, if I hadn’t experienced live-aboard life with them as toddlers.