Offshore Sailing with a Baby

Date: July 18, 2016, 4 a.m. Position: 12 10.00 S, 126 15.00 E

Kelsey and I just found out through the modern marvel of the DeLorme InReach that a few of our friends just had babies! I thought I’d share an essay I wrote awhile back, after Taz was born but before we really started covering the ocean miles with him. –Peter Babies vs. Offshore Sailing

Offshore sailing and caring for the needs of a newborn baby are very close cousins. I’m a new father now, and the captain of our ship. My wife Kelsey is now the captain of our baby (and the Captain of the captain, I might add). Our blue-water sailing adventures have prepared us well for raising a baby. We both perform our respective duties knowing full well the critical role each of us plays toward our ultimate goal-a loving unit, safely sailing together, as a family. The changing of the diapers– to state an obvious similarity–is exactly like making sail changes: it can happen during any one of the 24 hours in the day (worse yet every hour of the day) and it’s usually after you’ve just tucked into your berth, exhausted, for the precious off-watch. You’re liable to get a little wet too. The boat’s now sailing on a more even keel with the new sail plan, which is her way of thanking you for your attention to her needs. Baby’s got a smile with a crisp new nappy, too. You can smile about it all, despite the one odd wave that just soaked your last fresh clean t-shirt while you were wrestling canvas up there on the foredeck. At sea it’s difficult to keep from soiling even yourself, to be honest (and I am talking about #2 here). The marine head is a specially engineered demon, designed to sling your waste right back at you, through any number of devilish ways that only a sailor -or parent with an unruly baby!– can truly understand. A sea captain can never fully relax. Even on a quiet night, every subtle creak of the ship and flutter of the sails keeps them awake and fretting. As your crew-mate snores their way through a deep refreshing slumber, you are left worrying about the tensioning of the rigging or the trim of your sails. A new mother can never fully relax either. She is attuned to her child’s every breath, and will snap to attention at the slightest irregularity. The baby is cold and needs another layer on, or he’s trying to poop. Mama casts a jealous eye at her partner who sleeps through all the crying, all the late-night breast-feeds. That bastard is getting the sleep that I need–how can they sleep through that?! The more carefree attitude of being 2nd in command is not lost on either of us, for we know we are in good hands. The periodic crushing responsibility of being captain of child, or a ship, is recognized by the other as well. Life hangs in the balance of good decision-making after all. The 2nd in command works heartily and seriously in times of stress, placing complete trust and confidence in the captain. We all rely on each other to keep one another safe and comfortable. Every mother’s child is the most perfect, beautiful child in the world. She sees all the love and magic within for what that baby truly is. A sailor will cast a similar eye toward their boat–the beauty of the anchorage. An age-old feeling among mariners is that a ship is so much more than an assembly of fiberglass and wood. The ship has a soul, a memory, she’s a living thing… “Privateer” is a very real member of our family, too. Babies of course have all of these qualities and so much more. Cooking in the galley at sea is often a messy business. Onions fly off counter-tops and silverware flings itself into the bilge because you took your finger off them for 1/8th of a second as you lurch crosswise in the swell. Even when we’re cooking on land (meaning: not weightless-one-second-and-5g-force-the-next-second) a baby can make a pretty good mess of his galley. The physics of an ocean wave and a baby’s exploratory gestures are two separate laws of nature that achieve the same end-they both chuck food across the boat, unpredictably.

Sailing safely on the high seas requires: Love, constant maintenance, 24-hr a day attention, large monetary investments, to have her bottom cleaned often, ability to handle stress, recognizing dangers before they develop, and not least the ability to laugh heartily when suddenly doused with [Circle all answers that apply] salt water, dinner, urine, feces, diesel fuel.

There’s a saying that sailing is 99% boredom punctuated by 1% terror. It doesn’t quite work for us, though, and the poor sap who coined the phrase had a dim imagination. We’re not the type that gets bored. Especially when there’s the endless magic of silently barreling along with the trade-winds week after week, stars above and swirling galaxies of phosphorescence below. I won’t deny the 1% terror part, though– it does happen. But at the end of each voyage, we gold-plate the terror (it always makes for a good story) and fixate instead on the joys of sailing! We happily drink up the bitter moments– it’s all part of the package-because sailing’s got a real smooth aftertaste=85 Substitute “caring for a baby” with “sailing” in the above two paragraphs. Ditto. Were we ready to be parents? Definitely not-even though we thought we were! But I’d say we had a pretty good inkling of what was to come, though. Offshore sailing unwittingly helped us adjust to this new tack, offering a unique portal into the joys and rigors of bringing a new Pirate into this world before it even happened. I like to entertain the idea that Mothering is something close to being in command of a ship. Kelsey certainly knows deep-down what it truly means to be a captain now. She gets to live both sides of the lucky coin. To all mothers: you are all sea captains. And to all prospective parents: go offshore!

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