North Sails NEWS
3 TIPS FOR FUN FAMILY CRUISING
Two Fast-Growing Kids Required a Leap of Faith to a Larger Boat, and Now it’s a Lot More Fun for the Whole Smith Family.
It was Memorial Day weekend of 2020 when Tracy and Ezra Smith suddenly realized: their family of four had outgrown the Marshall catboat they’d owned for eight years.
“We did a lot of overnights on that boat when the kids were young,” Tracy remembers. “But Mailie Rose grew five inches in a year, and suddenly she was as tall as I was. It was obvious that the four of us didn’t fit in that boat anymore.”
Tracy and Ezra had both grown up sailing; Tracy finished third in the 1996 470 Olympic Trials, and together they campaigned an International 14 at a world level. Once they started a family, though, their priorities shifted from racing to family cruising with their two daughters, Mailie Rose (13) and Amelia (9).
The catboat was perfect for small kids with short attention spans, Tracy says. But their cruising range was only about five miles from their home port of Wickford, RI. She points to a picture of the boat; she’s steering, with a backpack full of baby Amelia and a toddling Mailie Rose pulling on her shirt.
Both parents have full-time jobs, so most of their cruising has to fit into summer weekends. Once they decided to buy a bigger boat, Ezra admits he thought about a powerboat first. “I figured with our lifestyle, it would be way more practical. We don’t have to take weeks off to go here, and then go there–”
“And I said, we’re not getting a motorboat,” Tracy jumps in. “I grew up sailing around Miami, and I want to sail.”
Ezra was fine with that too: “Hello, sailboat.”
Going farther afield
They were also both keen to extend their cruising territory, so Ezra began sending Tracy boat listings he’d found for sailboats in the 30-35 foot range. Then one afternoon, Onne van der Wal stopped by their house and made a surprise announcement: he was ready to sell his Pearson 36. Within weeks, Snoek moved onto her new mooring in Wickford Harbor.
“We both felt pretty honored that Onne wanted us to have the boat,” Ezra says. “He and Tenley spent five seasons cruising with their own kids, and they know we’re going to take care of it. We went for our first sail last August, and then hauled out in October. It’s worked out really well.”
Onne had done almost all of the updating needed for 21st century cruising, but he hadn’t replaced the head and holding tank. Ezra (who’s a marine designer) took on that job over the winter. And last spring, he and Tracy decided to sign up for the Wickford Yacht Club’s 2021 midsummer cruise, a full week’s commitment.
“I was very nervous,” Tracy admits. “That we were going to be on this boat for eight days, and the kids weren’t going to like it.”
Ezra says he was also hesitant at first about their summer plans. “I’m pretty risk-averse, especially with the family, because I know what can happen. You don’t want to get in over your head.”
But the kids loved it, Tracy says with a proud smile. “In pretty much every harbor we went into, we instantly found friends to hang out with.” Many of their fellow cruisers were her former college sailing competitors, now cruising with their own kids. “People we only see once a year, but who are on the same page about what we’re doing in life. It was just amazing—the kids had a great time, and we had a great time. Every day got progressively more fun, because sailing is not a sport where you get burned out; it’s something you can do for the rest of your life.”
Their eight day cruise took them to Cuttyhunk and several anchorages around Buzzards Bay. On the last day, they set out for the final cruise rendezvous off Third Beach (Middletown, RI), when their kids came up with a better idea. “It was a real stormy day, so we’re bashing upwind hugging the islands,” Ezra remembers. “We’re going along, and Mailie Rose says ‘hey, our friends are in Cuttyhunk. Can we go meet up with them?’” She’s on a chat group with all the other cruising kids, Tracy explains. The entire family happily stopped bashing upwind and instead joined a raft-up in a protected harbor—and best of all, it had been the girls’ idea.
Taking the kids’ input is an important part of learning to cruise as a family, Tracy says. “You don’t want to bore them and ruin it; one bad experience, and they’re never going to want to go back out.”
For both parents, the best part of the cruise was watching Mailie Rose take on more responsibility. Before they left, she’d gotten her boater’s license, so she was in charge of running the dinghy. She also helped with sails and boathandling on Snoek, thanks to the sailing lessons she’d taken at Wickford Yacht Club.
“A big part of us being happy on the boat is that we have a thirteen year old who is a significant contributor,” Tracy says. “A thirty-six foot boat can be super-stressful for two people to handle. Going into docks and anchorages, we needed three people who were competent on the boat. And that third was Mailie Rose. She can steer the boat. She was playing the main, coiling lines, putting fenders away. And she really enjoyed finding out that she has the skills.”
Junior sailing is not about your kids going to the Olympics, Tracy continues. “And that’s a hard thing for me to say, because I was so competitive. The purpose of junior sailing is for us to comfortably cruise on our boat for eight days. Doing a passage with young kids can be scary, especially when the breeze is full on. She and Amelia both passed that test.”
Nine year old Amelia says her favorite part of the weeklong cruise was visiting a candy shop in Woods Hole on a rainy day ashore. But she likes the sailing, too. “Downwind’s probably my favorite, just because there’s less tipping.” Mailie Rose enjoyed the candy store visit as well, and she also remembers the joy and freedom of swinging from a halyard before dropping into the water.
Each one of them has climbed a cruising learning curve this year, Tracy admits. Ezra adds,
“The pleasant surprise is that now we’ve really grown into a boat that size. And it’s been really, really fun.”
3 Cruising Tips from the Smiths
1. Plan, plan, plan
Plan out both provisioning and packing ahead of time. Tracy made lists of everything they might need well before the start of their cruise. This allows you to really enjoy the process, rather than running around at the last minute looking for AAA batteries.
2. It’s not about how far you go
Don’t try to make too many miles each day, especially at first, and adjust plans to fit wind and weather. Sticking to a tight schedule will burn out the kids (and maybe the adults too).
3. Keep it simple
The right family cruiser isn’t too complicated. “We kept it very small and very simple before jumping up to Snoek,” Ezra says. “That way, we were ready for it.”