Monday, February 24, 2014

Kids Offshore.

As I was getting ready to do this delivery of 35 foot Dulcinea from St Thomas to Galveston, Texas we found out that all she had was a wheel pilot for the auto pilot.  These are really only good enough to go below and grab something, hoping the whole time she can hold the course.  Downwind, which this whole trip would be, a wheel pilot is not even able to hold her on course long enough to do that.  When I discovered that we would be hand steering the whole way I knew that EmilyAnne and I couldn't handle the trip on our own.  We would need another crew person.  It is pretty hard to find a competent crew person who is willing to drop everything at the last minute and hand steer for what could be a 20 day passage.  Even harder to find someone you know you can live with offshore for that long.  I called a couple of people who just couldn't do it and then it occurred to me that, despite their ages, 14,13, 11, all three of my youngest boys had more than enough offshore experience to handle the trip and I certainly knew what I was getting into taking them offshore.  I asked the three of them if any of them wanted to come along and neither Kanyon or Kaleb were interested since they knew that this was our last month in St Thomas and that they would soon be leaving all their friends at Honeymoon Bay.  Benny raised his hand and asked three questions.
"Do I get paid?", "Do I get to ride on an airplane home?" and "Can I bring Big Lion?" (His stuffed lion...)
I answered in the affirmative for all the questions and my crew problem was solved!

We have had to deal with a lot of negative responses about moving our kids on a boat in the past eight years and when I started taking my kids on deliveries, all the way back to Jimmy six years ago when he was 15, I often had to defend my choice to bring them along.  Deliveries, by their very nature, are rougher than a normal cruisers offshore passage.  I move boats even if comfort will be minimum and in weather that is not dangerous, but rougher than what I would want my family to deal with.

When people found out I was taking Benny along at 11- years -old we had outright scorn from a couple of sources.  I have a tough skin and know my children far better than they do and I have been offshore for almost 60,000 miles almost 5,000 just since this summer alone, so I know what I am getting them into as well.  The other thing people don't understand is that Benny has been living on a boat and sailing since he was 3-years old!  He didn't raise his hand in ignorance.  He knew exactly what he was getting into.  Four years ago our auto pilot was out and we all hand steered Wandering Dolphin down island from St Thomas to Trinidad and back with all of us taking turns at the helm.  Benny is one of the best we have at hand steering on our boat.  I knew all this. They didn't.  Frankly I don't think it would have mattered to these folks.

There is a tendency in our world for people to completely underestimate the qualities, determination, ingenuity, and abilities of kids.  They expect little of their children and they are not disappointed, their kids consistently deliver little.

Back when I was still doing yearly backpacking trips to the Grand Canyon, I took, then 6-year-old, Jimmy along on a particularly difficult trip where we had to route find and even use rappelling gear.  When we finished the trip we went to the ranger station so Jimmy could get his special certificate which they gave to kids under 16 who hike from the rim to the river and back, they refused to give him one claiming that we were liars.  "There's no way that kid did that route!"  He actually left without the certificate.

Another time when Jimmy was 12 years old we were anchored in Nassau harbor and a big boat dragged anchor in the night, right down on us.  I was sleeping in the V Berth and as I ran out into the cockpit I noted that Jimmy, without being asked or shaken awake, was already at the helm, starting the engine.  He was motoring us away from the boat, while I ran to the bow and started pulling up our anchor.  As soon as it was up I returned to the cock pit and asked him what he thought we should do now, he said,
"Well Dad, it's pretty dark and crowded out here, lets take her into the marina and grab a slip."

It sounded good to me and he started motoring us through the anchorage toward the marina.  Only then did it occur to me that my son was 12- years- old and motoring us through a busy harbor in the dark at 2:00am.  Why didn't it occur to me before this?  Because he was not acting like what we are conditioned to believe a 12-year-old is supposed to act like.

On this passage when our mainsail blew and then the engine stopped working due to fuel problems, the owners called ahead to Grand Cayman and told them that we were fine but that we would need help getting to the marina for repairs.  We were still sailing under Jib alone but in no danger.  He told them that the crew was a Father and his two kids, 16 and 11.  They immediately decided, on their own, that this was a dangerous situation and they mobilized their Coast Guard who actually came out 100 miles to "Rescue" us.  Fortunately, since we were gybing back and forth we were no where near the rumb line and they never found us.  When we arrived here in Grand Cayman they had to come and assess the situation to determine if we were safe and capable of leaving when the time comes!  Their biggest concern?  My kids ages!
                                                               Emily a few years ago!

EmilyAnne is 16, has lived on the boat since she was 8-years-old, and has been crewing for me for the past three years.  She is my very best crew person and there is NO ONE I would rather sail offshore with than her.  She is completely competent, intelligent, and a great sailor.  She even keeps me on my toes, reminding me to put on my harness etc...

Benny amazed me on this trip.  He hand steered full watches, just like Emily and myself.  He never complained even one time.  He called me to check ships and is willing to wake me if he even has a hint of a question.  I will bring him on every delivery from this point on.

I remember a few years ago when Abby Sunderland made her around-the-world-non-stop record attempt at 16-years-old.  Her parents were ripped by the press.  When her boat was dismasted in the Indian Ocean there was even talk about criminal charges!  That girl is a WORLD CLASS sailor.  In the world of sailing she is the equivalent of a 16 year old Olympic skater or Professional tennis player.  Her skill had been proven long before her boat was dismasted.  At that point she had already handled competently a rounding of Cape Horn and weather conditions that are far out of my own experience, she was, and remains, one of my personal heroes!

In March Wandering Dolphin will be pulling up the anchor in Honeymoon Bay and setting sail on a ten-thousand-mile passage.  All of our kids will be standing watches.  They will do one day watch and one night watch every day.  They will help with sail changes, maintenance and repairs along the way, cooking, and they will also be doing their school work.  I am sure we will get some negative emails about all of this but that's OK, I have one message for those detractors,

"You keep your kids chained to the couch and TV and I'll take mine on the adventure of a lifetime!"

Keep posted For our coming departure date.  Also follow us on the second half of the Dulcinea Delivery.  We leave tomorrow morning bound from Grand Cayman to Galveston, Texas!

Captain Tofer, EmilyAnne, and Big Ben


  1. Keep on sailing Kris

  2. Well said you keep it up those are the kinds of kids that grow up to change the world for the better dont let anyone tell you otherwise

  3. I'm proud of my nieces and nephews and I haven't even met 3 of them. The discipline they are learning as your crew will last them their entire life.

  4. Absolutely well said; It's sad that the hardest part of what you're doing is overcoming the ignorance of others.

  5. Love you guys - you rock and are a huge inspiration!! Keep on being awesome and making your lives AMAZING. Fair winds!!

  6. Super appreciative of this inspirational post as we begin our adventure aboard, with our 15 month old. She's learning valuable walk/life balancing skills every day! ;) Thanks to windtraveler for turning us on to your site!

  7. I notice that you mentioned Abby Sunderland's attempted circumnavigation, and wondered if you are also aware of Aussie sailor, Jessica Watson, also 16 years old during her successful, solo, non-stop, unassisted circumnavigation!! Jessica arrived back at the Sydney Opera House dock, after 210 days alone at sea . . . also facing gale force winds, high seas, and multiple knock-downs, just after passing under Cape Horn!! And even more dramatic weather as she was nearing the end of her circumnavigation!! If you haven't yet read it, you should read her book "True Spirit" and watch for the upcoming film of her courageous adventure!! If Abby is one of your heroes . . . than Jesse Watson should also be in that category for all sailors, seamen, and mariners, who can appreciate what all these young people have been brave enough to even attempt! I realize that the Dutch teen-ager, Laura Dekker, was even younger, however Laura's circumnavigation was not a non-stop circumnavigation, and she was able to stop for repairs, provisions, and short vacation times with her father!! But, I still give Laura (who was 14 at the time) a lot of credit for her own seamanship skills, and courage!! Looks like EmilyAnne is already an accomplished seaman, and mature far beyond her years . . . I wish her great success in her own future!!

  8. "There is a tendency in our world for people to completely underestimate the qualities, determination, ingenuity, and abilities of kids." --couldn't agree more. One of the reasons we're out cruising, for sure!

  9. I hope, one day in my life, to be surrounded by people as competent as your kids. If I had my way, I'd have kids just like yours. Very inspirational, and very very exciting to hear a story from someone who gets it. Thank you for showing us how well it can be done!