Sailing With Family – Learn From Our Mistakes

Sailing With Family – Learn From Our Mistakes

As soon as we purchased our sailboat Curiosity we had family and friends lining up to visit.  Considering we hadn’t completed sailing school and we had months of service work to be done we pushed everyone’s visit to the holidays, which was a great and horrible idea at the same time.

Our thinking was we’d be done with sailing school, have some sailing under our belts and be in the Bahamas settling into sailboat life by that time.  All correct but there was no way our newbie selves could possibly have any idea what we had just committed to.

The holidays have come and gone, as has our first big group of guests as live aboard sailors. We learned heaps through the experience about our comfort level as hosts, sailors and what we should do differently in the future.  If you have any intentions of bringing guests on board for the first time or just curious how our first big visit went, this one is for you.

Sure, we made a lot of rookie mistakes but having everyone together for the holidays was a blast and such a rare occasion.  To be able to share a slice of our new lifestyle with family was a big deal for us and for them.  It is well worth the effort…and lessons learned.  Plus, the gourmet gifts from everyone totally made our Christmas! We’re still enjoying the stash.

We Have Commitment Issues

Schedules put sailors in a pickle and it’s a big deal.  Committing to a schedule is like choosing to set your hair on fire.  It’s just not a good idea.

We’ve mentioned many times before that as travelers, we are not fans of schedules.  They snuff the opportunity for spontaneity and serendipity and we avoid them like the plague.  This still applies as sailors but there is a new factor in play.

Mother Nature.  Our comings and goings are all dictated by weather and mother nature is on no one’s schedule but her own.

We realize that under certain circumstances schedules are a necessary evil.  As a 9 to 5er, life is all about planning and schedules.  If you want a vacation, especially a Christmas vacation it must be scheduled months in advance. This is a challenge for us as it’s incredibly hard to say months in advance where we will be.

I remember this summer’s conversation clearly between Jason, his mom and aunt: “I can get a condo pretty cheap in Freeport and there’s a major airport for us to fly into.”  It sounded simple enough.  And just like that, they were off to the races booking lodging, flights and planning the tropical family holiday.

This is where things started to go wrong…we made a commitment for six months into our very undetermined future. As travelers and especially now as sailors, we have major commitment issues.  Planning to a visit to us requires flexibility.  One month advance is about as much notice as we can give.

Hindsight is 20/20

Don’t get us wrong we were excited about having family on board, however we made a lot of mistakes that made for a more challenging experience than needed.  Since hindsight is 20/20 we thought it’d be good to share our experience.  Perhaps it will help a fellow newbie sailor and we’ll gain a few pearls of wisdom from the old salts following along.

Know Your Personal Sailboat Max Capacity

There is a saying in the RV world when it comes to guests that people love to say, “Drinks for six, dinner for four, sleeps two”.  I think we’ve learned our boat version.  Drinks for ten, dinner for eight, sleeps six.

A quick look at the numbers and we knew we were in for a little chaos.  In total, we had nine different family members coming in and out over a 3-week period (12/15 – 1/6).  With everyone coming and going at different times and overlapping some days…it was going to be a lot of coordinating and obvious we couldn’t accommodate everyone.

  • Our boat is best suited for five but can comfortably accommodate six. A day sail with our boat quoted max passengers of ten is doable if we prepare well with snacks, drinks and so on.
  • Dinghy holds 5 people max (another reason for the “best suited for five” comment).
  • To save money we planned on cooking in as much as possible. Cooking in small spaces for lots of people daily becomes challenging. Even when people help with the meals it’s still chaos and more time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning than anyone wants.  We probably should have eaten out a few more times to keep things simple.
  • We Have No Desire to Run a Charter – At times it almost felt like we were running a charter business since there was so many people on board that had never been on a sailboat. It’s a lot of responsibility to keep up with the boat, give everyone an orientation (because they all arrived at different times), cook, clean and still find time to hang out.

The big takeaway – The perfect guest sailing trip would be a minimum of 7-10 days with 5 people on board.  Everyone provisions together, spend a day or two on land, enjoy the town, then go sail and anchor out the rest of the trip to share the sailboat life.

Choose The Destination Carefully

Being the super green sailors at the time the trip was planned, we made the mistake of not properly looking at the charts for acceptable anchorages and marina options.  To be perfectly honest, we didn’t know how to at the time (we hadn’t gone through sailing school yet).  Vetting the location should have been our priority before anyone booked anything.

Long story short, there are very few anchorages around Grand Bahama and they are fair weather only.  Marinas were slim pickings and even more so because of Hurricane Matthew.  We found only one marina that could accommodate us.  The marina was a 45-min drive from the condo my aunt booked.  Which means we all spent less time together and more time driving expensive rental cars.

The Big Takeaway – We were so eager to say “yes” and make things easy and accommodating that our lack of understanding of how to properly vet the location accomplished neither in the end.  In the future, the planning will will start with where we can park the boat.  We will all need to stay together in the same area, near stuff to do.  Somewhere like Hope Town would have made for an overall better experience.  The boat could have been anchored out close by, public dinghy docks are plentiful and everything is within walking distance.

guests on sailboat

Flights to Small Airports

Flight pricing is all over the map so everyone arrived on different days and departed on different days.  This all means multiple days of taxi rides and rental cars which is less than ideal.

More than half the people flying in had issues with their flights either being changed or cancelled the day of.  Let’s just say it made the start of people’s vacation less relaxing than they’d prefer.  I guess when it’s a small island airline they will fly when they want and cancel or move flights without explanation.

Guests Cost Money

We’ve been living gloriously cheap…as in the least amount we’ve ever spent in our seven years as full time travelers.  We have been sipping on fuel because we’ve sailed 90% of our nautical miles traveled since leaving Florida.  All our days have been anchored out which has saved us literally thousands of dollars.  Having guests and schedules with various plans changed all that.  We needed to be at a marina and had to motor much of our day trips (because we were on a schedule).  Luckily, they are a very thoughtful bunch who graciously chipped in on expenses and helped with the boat any chance they had.  I can see how less thoughtful guests could leave a sailor feeling dried out.

What we did right

  • Setting expectations – We sent a sort of pre-boarding email to everyone with information on the boat, what to expect, what to pack and so on. This helped set the tone for the trip.  We never once had to ask for help, they were always ready and asking, “what can I do”.
  • Arrival orientation – Giving everyone a quick orientation on the boat and safety protocol, like what you experience boarding a plane or a cruise ship, ensures everyone stays safe and if something were to go awry, they all have an idea of what to do.
  • Experienced Crew – Having my brother on board for nearly a week before everyone else arrived was awesome. We taught him the ropes (literally) and he could take the helm and raise sails when we had the larger groups on board.
  • Book A Nice Marina – Because we were at a nice marina/hotel the people staying on board could use the showers and bathrooms at the marina instead of on the boat. If people wanted to lounge at the beach, use the hotel amenities or have a walkabout it was easy for them to escape the boat.
  • Go Sailing – Getting out of the marina, snorkeling shipwrecks, spearing lobster, harvesting coconuts, raising sails, waves crashing over the bow…it was all the stuff long lasting memories are made of. It was an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.

Stay tuned for more on pre-boarding and guest orientation checklists and a rundown of what to do on the island of Grand Bahama.

I am sure there are some points we’ve missed.  If you have pro tips for having guests on board, please share!