Sailing Family: Fun, Learning, Sharing

Sailing Family: Fun, Learning, Sharing

In 2009, Nicholas D. Hayes of Milwaukee, a researchist, wrote a book called “Saving Sailing.”  He brought numbers to the table, which doesn’t really occur normally.  Without needing a spoiler alert, one of the strongest points is that sailing is a family activity.  I recommend everyone considering sailing, or in sailing, should read this book.

It brings the whole family together when done right.  Each member contributing based on their own strengths.  When children are young, it is the best time to get them involved.  One friend of mine sailed around the world with her husband, and 5 and 8 year old children.  Each having to stand watches on their own to steer and maintain a course to far-away lands.

Children will rise to the level of responsibility you give them.  Be sure to have the children perform all duties on board your boat from making sandwiches, to scrubbing the deck, to steering a course.  They will achieve.

As a lad at 13, I spent a winter of weekends sanding down the bottom of a 25-year old 23′ 2-person wood boat with my dad.  We had it in Frank Raymond’s (a sailing friend) garage nearby.  We put a layer of fiberglass over the wood, then sanded it smooth and at last putting a coat of white paint on her.  Over that winter I turned 14 and we came out that spring and won the first regatta of the year.  Later that year we won the Great Lakes District Championship.  It made it worth it.

At 15, my dad and his partner bought a bigger sailboat that took 8 to sail.  It had 8 berths, a galley, engine, head, and dining table.  The entire family sailed together.  We took this boat from Chicago, over to Port Huron, MI for the first ever non-stop race between Port Huron and Chicago, raced the Mackinac Race, and a number of other races that took us up and down Lake Michigan.

My mom, brother, sister and father all sailed together on this boat.  Again, over the winter, we worked on an assortment of changes to the boat.  We made the aluminum mast taller, which required making the sails taller.

The 4 burner stove with oven was bolted to a platform.  We could never figure out what they were thinking when they installed it.  Real sailors cook at sea when the boat is healing / tilting.  So we reconfigured the area around the stove to allow the stove to gimbal (swing side to side) in order to keep the pots level on the stove.

We’d come to the boat in Grebe’s shipyard (Belmont and the Chicago River), commonly having to sweep the snow off the deck on weekends.  We toss 8 charcoal briquet in this heater, wore our coats for 30 minutes and were down to t-shirts in 45 minutes for the rest of the day.

The next boat was smaller and carried 6.  This boat needed very little change, was very simple to maintain, and allowed us to sail more, and to work on it less.  I was becoming of age where I could take this boat out on my own, and would have Friday night beer cruises.  One night the weather was perfect and we sailed to Michigan City and back from Chicago.

Through he years, we fished, caught crayfish along the docks, dropped anchor and swam great distance from shore (your feet will never touch the bottom), we did a lot of racing, we went through storms, even huge ones, sailed in monster 40′ seas in the north end of the Lake where the water is much deeper.

We learned the ports, harbors and towns up and down the lake, each having its own personality.  My personal favorite is Leland, MI.  The town is small and quaint, there are fish smoke houses in the harbor, the view from the docks overlook the Manitou Islands which the sun sets behind.

There are so many harbors, that annual trips up and down the Lake allows you to try new ports each year.  In general, the Michigan side of the Lake has more sandy beaches and the water in summer is normally warmer on that side.  In general, the Wisconsin side is more rocky and the water a bit cooler.

At the north end of the Lake are a number of Islands, some have harbors, other you anchor off and row to shore in your dinghy.

Some towns decided that marinas are economic engines and have built very accommodating facilities.  Other marinas are still quaint.  Almost all are in “good neighborhoods” with restaurants, bars, and shopping within walking distance.  You can always go with your kids to a nearby beach.

It is always best to call ahead and reserve space in a marina, you pay a daily fee for the dock which normally includes a water spigot, electrical outlet, and Wi-Fi.  Some might include a cable TV hook-up.

The coal fired car ferry “SS Badger” travels between Manitowoc, WI and Ludington, MI and we always gave her room to maneuver in and out of those ports.  We’ve crossed her path many years going up and down the Lake with her 4 Lake crossings daily.

While I describe these memories, all of them include family.  It was fresh air, sharing stories, walks at night in harbors, up early in the morning to travel to the next destination, meeting each town’s people, meeting other boaters in each harbor.  The experiences, learning the lake, harbors, lighthouses, navigation, hands-on remodeling and repairs, and important to our family was to have our boats look Yar, Bristol, or Ship-Shape.  We spent a lot of time washing, polishing and toweling down or shammying the boat to remove the water spots.

Were our experiences different than other kids?  They sure were.  We were outdoors a lot, stayed out of trouble more than the others, got regular exercise, shared our lives together, and the question you might have, did it work?

My mother sailed with us until she passed, my father at 85 just completed his 60th Chicago Mackinac race, my sister and I sailed 37 and 38 Chicago Mackinac races respectively together with our father.  My brother?  The sailing bug didn’t bite him.  We have our theories why.  He’ll come down once a year to watch the air show or fireworks show, but that’s about it.

My sister still sails, as well as her son and daughter.  She married a man who grew up on a farm, the sailing bug didn’t bite him.

Now that I have children of my own, my wife (7 Chicago Mackinacs) and daughter (age 20 has completed 5 Chicago Mackinac races) sails with us, both having experienced major storms now (it’s a bit of a rite of passage), as well as having done many of the same experiences I had growing up.  My son?  He’d rather go on a boat that you can press a button, push a lever down and go 50mph immediately.

But sailing did keep our family together.  Nicholas Hayes research is spot on, and get his book “Saving Sailing”.  Get a sailboat, involve your family, and go seek your own adventures.  Your kids will have to “unplug” from the internet, but somehow they will survive it, just like we all did as kids before Al Gore invented the internet.  😉

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