Long passages on a family boat are great opportunities for sailors to catch up on their sleep deprivation. Utilizing the wide ranging skills of young sailors catching a free ride across the big blue ocean is one way to mitigate those days and weeks of semi-conscious partially hallucinogenic moments in between your forty-five minute naps. All kidding aside, watch standing schedules and routines vary widely, depending the age and skill of the sailors, type of vessel and equipment, and ultimately personal preference of the captain. On WIDAGO, we experimented with a variety of approaches, but it ultimately came back to a basic four hour schedule.
By the end of our 26,000 miles, our watch schedules evolved from having little participation with the kids, to relying on them heavily. Our boys were 10, 10, and 12 when we started sailing. Their responsibilities at first were to help with line handling in and out of port, watching for whales, dolphins, and turtles, and settling in for companionship on the evening’s first watch. By the time we sailed from Vanuatu to Australia, the boys (then 12, 12, 14), could be relied upon to stand watch alone during daytime for up to two hours, clean the galley after dinner while Cookie hit the rack, act as Officer of the Deck (OOD) while Ahab was sleeping in the catbird seat, actively participate in launching and bringing in the Parasailor – we couldn’t have made it to Australia without them.
Here’s a very general breakdown, starting in the evening:
- Kid 1 as OOD (watching wind speed/angle, AIS, Radar, Radio, Weather – no adjustments without waking an adult)
- Ahab resting behind helm (within inches of Kid OOD)
- Kid 2 on KP duty
- Kid 3 – off (we rotated daily the kids’ schedule)
- Cookie gets to “sleep” (which really means make sure the galley really does get clean, the movie is appropriate, and then not too loud so she can’t sleep).
- Cookie as OOD (watching wind speed/angle, AIS, Radar, Radio, Weather – adjustments to course and sheets as needed. No major maneuvers without Ahab)
- Everybody else sleeping
- Ahab as OOD (all seeing and all-knowing, adjustments and maneuvers as needed. Never on foredeck at night without waking up Cookie)
- Everybody else sleeping
- Cookie as OOD, with kids’ assistance
- Ahab napping – sort of…..
- Ahab OOD, kids’ and Cookie assistance
- Kids & Cookie doing Homeschool, cleaning, and cooking
- Kids rotate OOD every 1-2 hours
- Ahab & Cookie “napping” below decks
The nighttime routine was very regimented for WIDAGO. We tried a six hour watch schedule from Hiva Oa to Rangiroa (Cookie on from 2000 – 0200, Ahab from 0200-0800), and I wanted to kill myself. I was horrible to be around, terribly mean and angry to anyone within 48 feet of me. Less than a four schedule at night is tough as well. I found that the natural 45 minute sleep cycle is real. If you can be unconsciously sound asleep for three solid hours, then you have a bit of transition time at the beginning and end of your shift to shower, make coffee, or poop (if you’re lucky). If you have ever nursed a newborn, it’s essentially the same thing, but without diapers. Three hours of uninterrupted sleep at night seemed to be the magic number to maintain sanity on those 2-3 week passages across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The daytime routine for us tended to be more flexible. After Ahab got a bit of rest/downtime in the morning, he was essentially in charge until the afternoon. Then the kids took over until dinner. All that said, this type of routine worked for reasonable, predictable conditions, where no one is seasick. When weather turns tough (25-30kts), and kids are feeling green, WIDAGO had a very liberal absence policy. Ahab and I would maintain 3-4 hour shifts, and the kids hunkered down. When conditions got really tough (> 30kts), Ahab and I took turns sleeping in foul weather gear tethered to the couch in the aft cockpit in single hour increments.
The more you can delegate to the kids the better. They are probably much more capable than we give them credit for, and will rise to the challenge. If guidelines are explicitly stated (e.g. “if wind speed goes above X, or if closest point of contact on AIS is within Y, wake up an adult”), our tweens were very responsible and felt proud of their contributions. They can cook, clean galleys and heads, change sheets, do brightwork, hang laundry, scrub hulls, catch & clean fish, work the radio, run SSB chats, and swab the decks. They might complain when they have to spend the first few hours in port cleaning the boat, but the alternative is to have freeloading passengers who just want to watch Star Wars over and over and over again.