12 Secrets to Ocean Sailing with Kids
Repeat customers are a joy because they were obviously pleased the adventure the first time. This time, two teachers from Central Virginia went sailing with a vengeance because he’s about to go to sea. And today was his birthday.
Robert and Elizabeth Hale-MacKinnon teach eighth and fourth grade respectively at the Charlottesville Waldorf School, in the Montessori tradition. Their related passion is the Heartmoor Farm Education Centre.
12 Secrets to Ocean Sailing with KidsRobert is heading up a week-long educational cruise from Charleston to St. Augustine and back with 10 students on the Spirit of South Carolina. “It’s a 140-foot tall ship schooner, so it’s a bit intimidating. We’ll have a captain and crew. If you have any tips on sailing it, let me know.”
I had no tips on the boat, but a few on the cruise itself.
  1. Ask everyone about any history of seasickness and provision items on board such as wrist bands.
  2. Take Dramamine the night before instead of the day of a sail.
  3. Observe for any vertigo issues, such as falling down or tipping to one side.
  4. Keep everyone hydrated to discourage fatigue and seasickness.
  5. Discourage horseplay and punish if it breaks out. That’s how people fall overboard and fall down onto sharp edges.
  6. Watch out for complacency and fatigue among the crew once they get the hang of it.
  7. Advise the ship’s captain to be a stern Capt. Queeg from the start with all the kids.
  8. Watch the river and inlet currents to maneuver accordingly.
  9. Keep everyone topside instead of below, because below is where people get seasick.
  10. Discourage reading books for long periods because it can induce motion-sickness.
  11. Keep the crew away from the rail.
  • Expect the unexpected, including the likelihood that some slackers may surprise you with their newfound enthusiasm.
“These are 14-year-olds whom I’ve had as students for nine years. Many of them have been together that long, so I think their teamwork will be good. They’ll get to run the helm and pull the lines of the sails.”
I hoped the sails were 19th century types that hoist up, as opposed to 18th century sails that drop down from the yardarm. The latter requires climbing rickety rope ladders. Elizabeth and I cringed at the thought. As the photo above attests, fear not the yardarms.
Robert got close enough to the Yorktown docks to take a measure of the river current, which is much worse in Charleston on the Cooper and Ashley rivers. “We’re going outside on the ocean, and we may be out of sight of land,” he said, where current is the least of his problems.
12 Secrets to Ocean Sailing with KidsThe captain was hard to find but quite familiar with the rigor of the Waldorf School. “I searched up and down the East Coast to find a ship that could take ten kids. Someone at Mystic Seaport led me to Charleston. I was hoping for the schooner Virginia in Norfolk, but it went bankrupt.” That shocked me since the Virginia is a state icon.
“We leave Monday the 17th and should reach St. Augustine by Thursday before we turn around to come back. I told the kids they can’t bring any electronic gear – no cell phones or tablets or iPods. Most of them took it okay. One mother asked that I text her when we arrive at St. Augustine, but we don’t go into port so I said no.” The no-tech rule is consistent with the Waldorf School motif of preferring blackboards to computer screens.
We sailed past Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, where a patrol boat lingered near the pier all day long. That puzzled us because no ship was in port to commend the patrol. I used binoculars to scan for a submarine in dock, but nothing doing.
12 Secrets to Ocean Sailing with KidsRobert learned a lot about tacking and gybing on this cruise. We heard three distinct radio calls from the US Coast Guard. One was about a 20-foot log in the Elizabeth River. The second was about a small boat that capsized. The third was “a report of a possible person in the water near the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge.” We pondered the phrasing “possible person” as a misplaced modifier, but I thought better than to make that point over marine radio. I surmised the Coast Guard station was using “possible person” as short for “possibly a person” has fallen in the water.
While the kids won’t take their technology, I assured Robert that the Spirit of South Carolina will likely be fully equipped with GPS, Chart Plotter, Marine Radio, flares, etc. – and two of everything for redundancy. He wanted a quick rundown on how Marine Radio works, so we talked about the different channels. We start on the hub Channel 16 and switch to other channels to avoid tying up the hub with chitchat. Channel 9 is used by marinas. 13 by tugboats, 22 by the Coast Guard, 68-69 by commercial fishermen, aka the Bubba channel.
As if on cue, a commercial fisherman announced on Channel 16 that someone was cutting off his bow and gave him holy hell for doing it. Elizabeth wondered if he shouldn’t use another channel, and of course she was right. Then he started cussing out the miscreant, again on Channel 16 and highly inappropriate for the couple’s daughter to hear. To lighten the mood, I turned to them and said, “He’s a possible person, but not a very nice one.”
Later I recalled what Robert said about achieving teaching students a better balance in life by enjoying the great outdoors. “A scholar wrote about it in the context of Attention Deficit Disorder. Too many children suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder. They need more Vitamin N.”

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 12 Secrets to Ocean Sailing with Kids

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