North Sails NEWS

FAMILY CRUISING: LONG TERM SAILING WITH LITTLES

How to Make that Family Cruising Dream Work

Wazza and Kilian in the Hammock on board their Family Cruising Boat

In the fall of 2019, Katrin (“Kat”) German and Warwick (“Wazza”) Kerr left Mallorca, Spain, and sailed to the Caribbean with their three year old son, Kilian. The plan for the family was to spend the winter in the islands and then continue west, eventually circling the globe. Both parents grew up cruising in their native countries (Germany and Australia respectively), and in the pre-pandemic world Wazza could commute to the next pro sailing job from wherever they dropped anchor. 

Like so many plans though, theirs had to adapt in the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 shut down the Caribbean regatta circuit and all casual island-hopping. They spent the first several months locked down on St. Maarten, then moved down the chain as individual islands opened up to liveaboards. They were able to ride out hurricane season on Grenada, and by the time they sailed back up to St. Maarten Kat was pregnant again. So instead of heading west to the Pacific, they returned to Europe to settle down in Kat’s childhood home of Kiel, Germany. 

With the family of three (soon to be four plus a dog) back in Europe and gearing up for a Bay of Biscay crossing, we were able to catch up with the lively pair. With nearly two years of family cruising experience, we knew they’ve had some great advice for families who haven’t yet made the cruising leap. We also learned about their future sailing plans, which will of course include Kilian and his new sibling. 

Kilian with Family reading while anchored

Family Cruising: Casting off

“You just have to do it,” Wazza insists. “Don’t be afraid. The worst thing that happens is you end up back where you were, which is not that bad.”

Nodding, Kat agrees. “Kids are so adaptable! On our first offshore trip Kilian got seasick, but after that it was never a problem. We always try to keep him busy with arts and crafts, and there’s always sea life to look at, like dolphins and flying fish. And we read a lot of books.” Then she laughs, remembering the final days of their 18-day Transatlantic in 2019. “We really ran out of ideas, and we had only downloaded two kids’ movies before we left! So we just let him watch the same movie, Madagascar, twice a day. He called it the bird movie.” 

The only special boat modifications they made to keep a three year old safe and happy was to add netting all around the deck, Wazza says. Kat adds that they put up a leeboard in the salon to wall off a play area. “But that really depends on the boat. And other than that, we really didn’t prepare anything special.”

As for their 3Di sails, Wazza says they’ve been even better than expected. “The original plan was for me to go old school and build some cross cuts by hand, like I did when I was an apprentice. Instead we ended up with 3Di. Now we’re 10,000 miles in, and except for adding a little bit of chafe protection on the spreaders, we haven’t done anything to the sails.

“The staysail is our go-to sail when it is really windy or really rough. Even the genoa shape has barely changed, and it gets a bit of a beating. Much as you try and look after it, you always get into a situation where it’s not a perfect furl. I’d have to go look at a picture and measure it all properly to really see any change in shape.” Chuckling, he adds, “It’s a bit disappointing, in a way; I was hoping to build my own sails! But these are so good, I might never sail with another paneled sail.”

Grenada Getaway

Grenada was the perfect place to ride out hurricane season, Kat says, because they met so many other cruising families. “We spent four and a half months there, because it was the only Island open. And we hadn’t seen any other kids for four months before that.” There was even a Facebook page dedicated to Grenada cruising kids. “They organize so much, like Friday night movie and popcorn night and arts and crafts days. And there’s so many waterfalls and other cool stuff to explore as well.”

And even though they had to constantly modify their plans to stay within CoVID rules, she’s happy that the past year forced them to slow down. “Otherwise our life would have been as crazy as always, with work and cruising…”

“And we were so lucky to experience the Caribbean with so few boats,” Wazza adds. “We were in an anchorage where there’s normally 30 or 40 boats, all crammed in. And now there were only three.”

Family at Anchorage in the Caribbean with few boats due to Covid

Return to Europe

With another baby on the way and Wazza’s pro sailing starting up again, life was suddenly too complicated to continue pandemic cruising. They decided to sail the boat back to Europe—but this time without Kat and Killian. “I was super, super stoked for the crossing,” says Kat, who has more ocean miles than Wazza. “But I think flying back was absolutely the right decision.” 

Going offshore pregnant, Wazza explains, “is just a step too far. If something did happen, you’re so far away.” He found some crew to replace his family, and sailed the boat back across the Atlantic via the Azores. But he says it wasn’t nearly as much fun as their previous Transatlantic. 

“We’d never sailed the boat without each other,” he explains. “Having Kat on board is a lot more stress-free, and it was a bit weird not being with the family. I felt like I was delivering the boat.”

“I tell you, it’s so much more stressful to be on the shore than on the boat,” Kat adds. “I would have much rather been onboard than watching on the web. And we were missing each other! For the past two years, it has been 24/7. And then all of a sudden we didn’t see each other for six weeks, which was a long time for us.”

Learning from Other Cruising Families

Kat says they recently met another couple new to the cruising life who are “like us, half Australian and half German. It was really interesting to talk to them.” Unlike Kat, the woman didn’t grow up sailing, so she’d been learning from other cruising moms via social media. “They were giving each other tips and tricks,” Kat says. “A lot of people post realistic things (not just the ‘social media’ version). And you can also then get in contact with these people.” This other couple plans to join the 2021 Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, which Kat thinks will include about 35 family boats. “With the ability to work remotely, there are many more cruising families than there were ten years ago.” 

Even though Kat and Wazza don’t participate in cruising rallies (because they prefer to pick their own departure times to adjust for weather), she understands how people might gain confidence from traveling with a group. And then she repeats a variation of what Wazza has already said about getting started: “Of course, you just have to take the leap at some stage. As soon as you start, you’ll start meeting other families quickly. And that’s such a boost of morale.”

Making Friends Cruising in the Tropics

Future Family Sailing Plans

Kat and Wazza are already looking forward to cruising the coastlines of Denmark and Sweden next summer. “I grew up sailing around the Baltic on a Nordic folk boat,” Kat says. “It’s so beautiful when the weather’s nice, and I’m really excited to show that to Wazza. We thought it would be really cool to take a couple of months. Even if he has to go off for a week here or there, I can be on the boat with the kids.”

“It will be nice to see something different,” Wazza adds. ”A lot of people just do the barefoot route, but we’ve got plenty of friends up in Sweden and Denmark and Germany.”

They are also looking forward to kiting, even though Wazza knows he will have to wear a thicker wetsuit than the better acclimated Kat. “The house that we live in is a three minute walk from an amazing place to go kitesurfing,” he says. “And as soon as number two is out, Kat will be back out there too.” 

Making fun sailing plans again is what has kept Kat going through this latest life transition: from “the supercool cruising lifestyle” to moving back to her childhood coastline. “I haven’t lived here in so long! We’re gonna give it one winter. See how it goes without seeing sunshine for a few months…” 

For anyone still uncertain about taking the cruising leap, Wazza puts it into perspective: “We’re actually more afraid of getting ourselves back into the system and the grind. I’ve said it before, but the worst thing that happens is you end up back where you were, doing what you were doing before, and that’s not that bad.”

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