Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Bundaberg - Yeppoon | Cyclone Ita | Rebel Heart | Sailing with babies

If I believed in such things I might have started thinking that the universe was trying to tell us something...

The same week that we set sail for the first time with almost-five-month old Jack the internet was losing its collective mind over just how irresponsible it is to travel and raise children on boats. And as if to drive home the point, Mother Nature decided to test our resolve by throwing a cyclone our way.

By now it's old news in the sailing community, but the week we left Bundaberg the crew of sailing vessel Rebel Heart made international news when they were rescued 900 miles off the coast of Mexico after their one year old daughter Lyra fell ill. After years of preparation and 2 weeks at sea they were left with no choice but to call for help and scuttle their boat. Rebel Heart was their home of 7 years and it's heartbreaking to think of her at the bottom of the ocean somewhere.

Almost as heartbreaking is the judgement, vitriol and ignorant responses leveled at Charlotte and Eric by the media and by armchair commentators who seem to think it is their right to judge and spit hate at people they don't even know.

I only know Charlotte a little bit, and we've never met in person. We're friends on Facebook and she's been a terrific support to me through my pregnancy and the early months of being a mum. I know with certainty that she and Eric have been unfairly branded in the most hurtful way a mom and dad could be – as BAD PARENTS!

I'm sure there are people that think we are crazy to be travelling with a baby on board. Apart from the occasional passive-agressive "wow, that's a VERY young baby to have on a boat!", we have had only positive responses to our little sailor and our choice of "alternate" lifestyle. Most people are either supportive or subscribe to the "if you dont have anything nice to say, dont say anything" school of thought.

It does start to weigh on you a bit though when (stupidly) reading about the public reaction to the Rebel Heart saga.

Are we crazy, irresponsible - even criminal! - to consider raising our son aboard? HAVE WE MADE THE RIGHT DECISION???

A few weeks ago I would have scoffed - YES... DUH! - but when Cyclone Ita began to make its way down the east coast towards our safe-but-fairly-isolated anchorage at Pancake Creek on the Queensland coast, the doubts started to set in for the first time.

Having a young baby on board changes your perspective on everything. Pancake Creek, while considered a good choice in extreme conditions, has no town, no roads, no immediate escape route. It's edged by swampy mangroves, so even getting off the boat would not have improved our situation much, should we have found ourselves in the middle of cyclonic conditions.

As Ita closed in on us Michael and I sat down and worked out a plan for the worse case scenario. If the morning's forecast had the cyclone warning extended to our position we would move the boat further up in to the creek on the high tide and "spiderweb" her to the dense mangroves. We would call the volunteer marine rescue to come and get me and Jack off the boat. Michael would stay with Minke and see out the storm.

We packed a ditch bag with nappies, baby formula, towels, changes of clothes, bug repellant, Jack's favourite toys, water, and flares for attracting attention. We talked over the details of how we would safely get off the boat and on to "dry" land if something catastrophic happened and it was no longer safe to be on board. It was all very sobering to go through the motions and plan for the "what ifs?".

I looked at my sweet, sleeping baby that night and thought ... wow, what the hell am I doing???

As Ita raced past us as a tropical low, just far enough offshore that we were in no danger, we cooked pancakes and sat on the floor of our saloon singing "raindrops keep falling on my head", playing with toys and having a pretty great day! We saw a maximum of just over 30 knots of wind - nothing compared to what we've sat through on anchor before - and within 24 hours the rain cleared, the sun came out and it was all over.

And to mark the occasion Jack cut his first tooth.

We're very comfortable with our decision to sail with Jack. We have no big ocean passages planned for the immediate future (although I have nothing but admiration for the fleet of cruising families crossing the Pacific this season.) We are well prepared with all the safety equipment we would need in an emergency. We log all our movements with the network of volunteer marine rescue stations along the coast, and we have enough seamanship between us to give ourselves the best change of keeping ourselves and the boat safe. There are risks of course, but wow - it's SO worth it!

And here are some photographs to demonstrate that. This is why we sail and why we want to share it with Jack - a summary of the last two weeks as we travelled from the Port of Bundaberg to the town of Yeppoon, near Great Keppel Island.

Hanging out at the Port of Bundaberg Marina

Imortalising the moment before setting sail on our new boat Minke II for the first time.

Anchored at the lovely Town of 1770, named for the year that Cook anchored there. (Minke in the middle).

Junk rigged boat at 1770

Silvery sunset over 1770

Taking the helm for the first time

Sunset at Pancake Creek

Practicing our safety drills

Beetle Bum. Being away from land has led us to new adventures in cloth nappies - and its going well!

Jack absolutely loves being in his baby carrier. Its perfect for walks and getting to and from shore safely, and he often has naps in it.

The day after the storm at Pancake Creek. Perfect.

No risking sun exposure!

From Pancake Creek we headed towards Gladstone intending to head through "The Narrows"  - a very shallow inland waterway that cuts behind Curtis Island. We had heard about the coal port development in the area but were really shocked by just how huge the expansion project was.

Transiting the flooded Narrows at high tide. We would have struggled to do this in Bass Voyager with her 2 metre draft.

Multi-tasking through The Narrows - passage making and doing the washing.

Cattle crossing in the Narrows

Kitty loves the spacious (and stable!) decks on Minke.

On exiting the Narrows we had a spectacular sail across Keppel Bay to Great Keppel Island. There was literally no swell and very light winds, which allowed us to anchor on the southern side of the island which we've never done before. This is our anchorage at beautiful Long Beach, Minke furthest to the right.

We also spent a night at beautiful Fisherman's Beach, another first for us. It was incredibly crowded because of Easter and the weather which was so damn good! It was a lot of fun though, and we swam and spent $47 on a pizza and two beers (ouch!) from the island's pizza bar.

Beach day at Svendsen's Beach, GKI.

Just a final note about Rebel Heart. Thankfully the outpouring of support from the sailing community has gone someway to counter the ignorance and negativity surrounding Charlotte and Eric, and some of the responses and tributes to Rebel Heart are truly inspiring. Ive listed a couple below that I really like, but if you look at nothing else, check out this gorgeous tribute to the thousands of boat kids out there right now.

A fabulous article by a Women Who Sail friend of mine Diane on s/v Ceilydh:
The 'Rebel Heart' Parents Want To Show Their Daughters The World. The Risks Are Worth It.

And another by fellow Women Who Sail member Tamiko who has been living aboard with her teenaged son since he was born: Rebel Heart - A Reality Check.


  1. When your child hits puberty, and is freaking awesome, instead of a disconnected, surly monster, you'll be vindicated in your decision to have a boat kid. Thanks for supporting Rebel Heart, and also, for sharing with the world what it's like to raise a boat offers hope to others, an alternative to living life in dull, grey boxes, and the more kids who get raised outside of those boxes, the better off the entire world will be. You're awesome and we've added you to the blogroll :-)

    1. Thanks so much Tamiko! I love your blog so that means a lot. I just want to give my boy the best chance at having an open mind and the understanding that you can make your life what you want it to be. Hope we cross paths out here in the real world some time :)

  2. Oh Caitlin, thank you. I have missed so many of these posts. I'm so happy to read your words of support and hear that you are happy with your decision to live aboard with your darling baby. Sail on!!