Thursday, June 8, 2017

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall...

...or how to entertain three kids under 8 on a 42 foot sailboat in the middle of 9 days of rain in Florida.

My granddaughter has mastered accessorized playdough play time
A lot of people have stared at us with disbelief when we've said that our eldest daughter and husband and three kids would be joining us for the summer while we're parked on the dock to work. Forty-two feet of narrow-beam boat works out to be a little less than 400 square feet, a smallish apartment by anyone's standards. Most of the naysayers have been people who have either had bad experiences in close proximity on a boat, or who simply don't like their relatives well enough to think about spending three months with them in 400 square feet. Always, the question is, “How do you do it?” So I thought I'd talk a little bit about that.

First of all, my daughter and family are boaters. They have lived on a small sailboat for an extended time and they understand the constraints of space, power, and water. They have very few possesions, even now that they are (temporarily) living back on land. They live a simple, uncluttered life. That being said, it still takes a lot of space to house seven people's things, so one of the first things we did was to buy a large deck box from Lowe's and transferred into it all the things that were in the aft cabin. We set the aft berth up as a space for the boys, aged 5 and 8, with enough space for their boxes of Legos and bookbags with books and cars. It's their space to retreat to which helps reduce the mayhem to a reasonable level. The aft cabin still houses the pantry and the workshop, so a path to each is cleared for my access at all times. No work is being done on the boat while they're here so access to the workbench has been limited by boxes of food that won't fit in the pantry. Food storage is the biggest problem we've encountered. We also use the back of their van to cycle things through. They keep a couple days' worth of clothes on the boat but the rest goes in the van.

Next to deal with was the sleeping arrangements. Since Tim needed to leave for work 5 days a week before 8:00 in the morning, we gave the V-berth to our daughter, her husband and the 2-year-old. It's a large V-berth and completely adequate for the three of them. What we didn't know at the time was that our son-in-law, Brian, was going to be working at the marina as well, and would be getting up just as early. Tim and I took the salon settees, where he could sleep directly under the air conditioner vent, something he likes after working in the heat all day. Not ideal for us, but doable for a short stint and manageable since the reward is having giggles and kisses on the boat all day.

Food is the biggest difficulty for us because all three kids have severe food allergies. I'm dealing with some of them on my cooking blog, Cruising Comforts, so if you happen to have issues with wheat, dairy, preservatives, colors, or GMO foods, you can check it out. The result is that I'm cooking separate food for Tim and I and going to the store every two days to buy food since we can't store that much food on the boat. Finding special foods in Palmetto, FL is challenging at the very least, and if it wasn't for the arrival of Aldi late last year we would be sunk. Our tiny little galley is doing yoeman's duty these days.

Most of the time, 400 square feet isn't an issue because they spend a good bit of time in the cockpit and running around outside. They climb trees, look through the shells lining the dock, collect fresh mangoes from the tree on site, play pirates, and ride bikes. This past week, though, it has rained every day and some days the entire day. Finding things for them to do inside is difficult. They are great with Legos, often building and playing with them for hours at a time. If you know you have a rainy week coming up, my opinion is that it's worth a new $12 Lego set from Amazon or Wal-mart to spark a renewed interest. We also spend a tremendous amount of time playing Uno, 500, Scrabble, Go Fish, Dominoes, and solitaire. A deck of cards goes a long way to pass hours in a small space. I bought a set of card holders for the little ones so they can hold them easier, and even the 2-year-old has an old deck of cards that she plays with alongside of us, lining them up in the holder and clapping while shouting, “I winned! I winned!” The rain this past week was so prolonged that it demanded that I pull out all the stops and dig out my playdough recipe. The toddler had just received a set of kitchen tools from the dollar store for her birthday, and they turned out to be just the ticket for playing with the playdough. Playdough is cheap, quick to make, and lasts forever.

Always a very, very last resort for us, there are videos. My daughter's family, like us, doesn't own a TV. Videos are a rare treat for super rainy days, and this week I lucked out at a local thrift shop with a set of Fred Levine's Little Hardhats series, just in time. The boys watched Road Construction Ahead and Fire and Rescue for a while one afternoon and immediately set out afterward to build some construction and fire truck Legos. Score.

Normally I would use an afternoon to bake some chocolate chip cookies together but since they can't have them we opted for some dairy-free chocolate pudding. They love helping in the galley and when they can't help with a particular thing they love hanging out on the companionway steps talking to me while I cook.

When it's not raining, we try to involve them in boat projects. We're getting ready to sand the teak to refinish it, and the caulking had to be removed. Tim got the boys working on it and they had it done in just a couple hours. There are almost always things they can do on the boat, even the littlest ones. My oldest grandson is in charge of changing water tanks on the manifold when we empty one, and logging it in the log book.

After over a month here, we've come to some conclusions:

We couldn't do this on this size boat unless we were parked on a dock. Our food storage is too limited and our holding tank too small.
Teaching manners and kindness is the most important lesson you can grace your children with. The smaller the space you live in, the more it's a necessity. Besides, what's cuter than a 2-year-old saying thank you when you give them another cup of cinnamon applesauce?
While Tim and I can get by using 5 gallons of water a day, it takes 20 per day for the seven of us.
Aldi is a godsend when it comes to organic food.
Good, open communication is paramount when living in a small space together. Be clear about what the rules and your expectations are. This is your home and guests are guests.

Sharing what's good about this lifestyle with family you love is a privilege that very few get to have. Sunsets and the memories of them are so fleeting that it's just wonderful to have the opportunity to grab someone and say, “Come look!” before it fades. Yes, there are challenging moments, a lack of privacy, endless amounts of work, but the rewards are not measurable.