Traveling Traditions

There are several family traditions that have developed over the last couple of years as we’ve begun to travel. They are things that make us feel that tingle of anticipation for getting underway the way that Mom’s famous cinnamon rolls do for Christmas morning, or the smell of turkey and stuffing do for Thanksgiving. Traditions give us mountain-peak vistas—we can look back at happy memories while simultaneously enjoying the moment and looking forward to some future time. Whether it is a special food, kind of music, or a ritual, a tradition can also help us through big or small changes.

At best, making a passage is somewhat boring, and at worst, it can be uncomfortable and even frightening. Traditions have helped us and the children to prepare for the unknown and to look forward to something that might not otherwise be a pleasant part of the journey. And they give family memories a strong foothold.

Food usually plays a big part in tradition. For example, Chex Mix, a snack food I never buy normally, has become a hallmark “underway food.” Typically, I make everything from scratch and never buy anything with an ingredient on my black list (corn syrup, MSG and its ilk, soy, hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, etc.) which pretty much means you can’t buy anything in a box or bag. But when we’re sailing, convenience is the name of the game, and I buy things that I know will be easy and make everyone happy.


I also bake a big batch of cookies before we go. My original intent was to make gingersnaps, since ginger settles the stomach, but any cookie will do. Our newest tradition has us each taking two cookies at the beginning of the trip, one to eat and one to toss into the sea, a sort of offering to Poseidon to ensure calm weather, with hopes that these will be the last cookies we toss on the journey.  The other cookies I bake we’ve come to call “Category Four Cookies.” If a big storm is coming, I bake like a fool. (Don’t ask me why—maybe it’s left over from when we lived in a house and a storm meant power outages. On our boat, we make our own power, so running out of bread isn’t a risk.) The recipe gets better with each storm upgrade—the tropical storm oatmeal cookies are rather boring, but by Category Three they’ve got chocolate chips, coconut and almonds!

Usually, we listen to certain music when we’re traveling. It puts us in the mood, so to speak. It’s good to start off with Tom Petty’s “Time to Get Going” and move on to Styx’ “Come Sail Away”  and then play Boston’s “Peace of Mind.” Our “Best of the 70s Super Groups” album, the Beach Boys, and Bob Marley seem to get a lot of play time during a sail, but we usually save Jimmy Buffet for arrival at an anchorage and pour a beverage of choice with which to toast a successful trip.

All-night passages have their own special rituals. We all gather on deck to watch the sun set or the moon rise (or both) and then get ready for watches. Usually, bedtime is at 8:30, no matter what. But on the first night of a long voyage the kids are allowed to stay up as late as they want. They watch a movie and snack and each take a turn at the helm, preparing for a time when they will be ready to take a night watch of their own. For whatever reason, the movie of choice has come to be Swiss Family Robinson—a movie about a family who shipwrecks and encounters pirates! When it is their turn at the helm, we might share a cup of hot tea or cocoa and a cookie, talk about what the instruments read, look at the stars, or use the navigation instruments to figure out how long it will take to get to our destination. Hopefully, we’ll have crewmembers who look forward to, instead of dread, the night watch.

While we’re underway, there’s not much to do. Depending on the sea state, there might not be much we can do. So we eat. While we nibble, we play dominoes in the cockpit (cards blow away), read, or listen to audiobooks. If it’s a very long trip, there’s usually a lot of napping. Unless there’s bad weather, passages can be somewhat boring, so you have to figure out how to entertain yourself. One fun thing we do is sit on the transom and dangle our feet in the swirling water of our wake. It’s a little like a dog hanging his head out the car window and letting his tongue taste the wind. The kids will also spend hours lying face-down on the trampolines staring into the water, watching for dolphins or flying fish or counting jellyfish. Sitting on the boom when the main is up is another favorite past-time in calm weather.

Boom Sitters

Once we anchor safely at the end of a trip, there are the arrival traditions. If the water is nice and the season is right, we all jump in and go for a swim right away.  Actually, the kids don’t care about the water or season—once Eli and Aaron donned wetsuits and jumped in in November!  Usually an explore by dinghy is a must, either to check the anchor set with a glass-bottom bucket or to familiarize ourselves with our new surroundings. As the day ends, we all creep forward with blankets and pillows to lie on the trampolines and star-gaze. We use the green laser pointer, binoculars and star charts to identify constellations. This usually dissolves into story-telling of the “tell us about when you were little” variety.

All of these rituals and traditions have helped us to carve out some consistency within our unpredictable traveling existence. The hard parts of traveling—specifically long passages—become things we look forward to instead of dread, simply because we have tried to make them fun.