Sailing the World (Pregnant)
On the first leg of their journey, the Kaufman family never expected such a bumpy ride (with one bump being particularly surprising). A chronicle in three parts. Hold on tight!
My daughter Cora is our official engine starter and dolphin spotter. She loves living on a boat and likes it even more when we go sailing. But on Day One of our journey, as we left Point Loma and turned toward open water, the ocean swells intensified, and so did the sour look on Cora’s chubby, two-year-old face. I had spent all morning fluttering around the inside of the cabin, stowing away last-minute provisions and happily snapping photos of our well-prepared vessel for our blog. I felt like a domestic boat goddess as I handed out small bowls filled with a simple breakfast of blueberries, cheese, and almonds to Cora and my husband, Eric. This is what it’s all about, I thought.
Shakedown cruises are a way to get ready for longer passages onboard. They let you try out truly pushing your boat and using it the way it was meant to, out in the open ocean, with sails unfurled, and under the full power and force of wind and waves. Our shakedown cruise would take us from San Diego Bay to Catalina and then on to Santa Cruz and, we hoped, the San Miguel Islands.
We had planned to motor up to Catalina rather than sail, because we were fighting a strong current and were all tired from the previous days’ prep work. We had given Cora a dose of children’s Bonine before we left, so I wasn’t worried about her getting seasick. But then things got rolly.
The Kaufman family
The swells started and Eric put up the staysail to try to make things a bit more stable, but Cora wasn’t saying a word. Our chipper dolphin spotter was more like a moping jellyfish.
I knew what was coming. I tried to turn her away from me and toward the cockpit. “Get a bucket,” I said to Eric, who just scoffed, saying she wouldn’t get the concept.
But oh, she got it. And she threw up a lot. I tried to soothe her but had a hard time not puking myself, as she emptied her breakfast onto my leg and shoes. My first thought was, She just got vomit all over my only clean skirt! Eric jumped into action and got her wiped up. I said we were both going to go lie down in the v-berth, because I didn’t feel well either.
That was a bad, bad idea.
The v-berth is forward on a boat and an extremely bouncy place to be, especially when seasick. I had hoped that once Cora threw up she would feel better and be over her seasickness, but no such luck. She got sick multiple times before I finally got sick myself, into a plastic bin that had been holding our brightly colored courtesy flags. Cora looked up for a brief moment to watch me. You can tell a kid isn’t feeling well when she watches a grown-up hurl and doesn’t laugh. Kids typically think anything barf-related is hilarious. But Cora just buried her face back in my legs.
I sat there for what seemed like ages, trying desperately not to look down at the reconstituted blueberries. Trying
not to smell them. Finally I heard Eric on the steps and yelled for him. He yelled back that he was almost done
cleaning up, but I hollered louder, and when he came to see, I just handed him the bucket and said, “We gotta get out of here.”
And so it went... for hours and hours.
Two-year-old Cora and mom Charlotte battle seasickness on a shakedown cruise from San Diego to Catalina in preparation for a trip around the world.
On our second date, Eric told me he wanted to sail around the world. He was tall, dark, and handsome with striking green eyes and an all-American smile that promised a world of adventure ahead of me should I dare to join him. Ten months after that date we bought our boat together, the Rebel Heart. Two years later we got married, and in another two years, our first daughter was born. We moved aboard the boat as a family of three, and announced to our friends and family how we’d been saving and preparing to sail around the world. They smiled indulgently and disbelievingly. At each stage of this journey, most people did not believe we were going to go.
Our trajectory for a circumnavigation would take us from Mexico to the South Pacific, and then on a circuitous route from New Zealand, through the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, and the canals of Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal, and then back up the coast of Mexico to return to San Diego.
We only had one small problem. Six weeks after setting our departure date for this shakedown cruise, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. When I told Eric, the first words out of my mouth were, “I’m pregnant.” And, staring into his dumbfounded eyes, the next words were, “And we’re still going sailing.”
Fast-forward to August 16, 2012, our boat pulled away from the marina and motored out of America’s Cup Harbor for our shakedown cruise to Catalina. I had just entered my second trimester of pregnancy, and nausea was just the beginning.
On that first day, Cora and I tried lying out in the cockpit, but we both continued to be sick even in the fresh air. We have no sun cover when we are out sailing, and eventually I just got too hot to be outside. I hobbled down to the salon cushion and made camp there. Eric came by periodically to pick up my puke bucket and dump it out for me.
I tried unsuccessfully three times to take a Zofran to prevent the vomiting, and threw up three of the precious pills (I only had 10). Finally, on the fourth attempt, I was able to keep it down and that began the slow process of getting un-seasick. Once I was stable enough to be lying on my side in the cockpit again, we moved Cora to a cushion beside me. Eric, who had been blissfully seasick-free, was exhausted from caring for both of us, and he went down to get some sleep while I feebly stood watch. I set a timer that went off every 15 minutes, so I could stand up and look in a complete circle around our boat to make sure we weren’t going to hit any vessels.
Cora acts as chief dolphin spotter while at sea. Dad Eric is skipper and is responsible for all things topside on the Rebel Heart.
It is impossible to really know how to provision your boat for a long trip until you have just gone ahead and done it. I highly recommend reading Lin Pardey’s book The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew as a place to start. But no amount of practical advice or how-to books prepared me for 12 hours of morning sickness at sea with a hurling toddler.
Eric and I don’t have faith in Mother Nature; we respect her. Any sailor worth his salt knows you can’t trust the ocean, but you can study it and understand what you are getting into before you leave for a destination. We read weather reports, we research when to avoid areas because of storms and bad weather, and we never have a strict schedule.
And both Eric and I have a huge amount of trust in each other. We divide our roles on the boat into “pink” and “blue” jobs. My domain is the interior of the cabin. I take care of provisioning, cooking, and making sure the kids are safe and cared for under passage. Eric’s domain is topside, navigating, trimming the sails, and anchoring. I have absolute trust that Eric will get us there safely. Likewise, Eric trusts that the crew (me and the kids) are out of harm’s way and that every once in a while a cup of hot coffee and a homemade meal will be handed to him so he can keep the boat moving. It might sound old-fashioned, but it works for us.
Cora has chores on the boat, too. She helps set and clear the table, she brings us paper towels and canned goods that are stored in lockers at her level, and she helps clean when we are cleaning, working alongside us with a spray bottle and a rag. Keeping things ship-shape is very important on a boat. There is a place for everything, and Cora has quickly learned that she can’t move on from one game or activity until the other is put away. She knows how to stow her rack or clean up her berth. Down below, what she likes most is to help me cook, and especially bake. Topside, she likes to work alongside her daddy. She has a set of toy tools and happily bangs away on winches and lines whenever she gets the chance.
She is a tough little kid with a sweet spirit. We hope one day she will recognize the incredible opportunity of being raised on a boat and sailing around the world. How many two-year-olds can step from a bouncing dinghy onto an outboard ladder, climb up it, and get themselves over the gunwale of a sailboat unassisted? How many toddlers are aware of the lines on a boat and how dangerous they can be? Or how many kids get to wake up each morning to wildlife on their doorstep? Swimming with dolphins, or seeing the spouts of whales from their backyard? Not many.
Charlotte is responsible for all things below deck, including stocking the galley.
We got to Catalina approximately 20 hours after leaving San Diego. Eric yelled from the foredeck that we were securely moored in Two Harbors, and I melted into the cockpit cushions in total relief. The happy hum of summertime sounds seemed to instantly calm the sickness. A woman in a neon bikini breezed past us on a paddleboard, and I smiled at the little kid tucked in between her legs enjoying the bumpy ride to the beach. A Beach Boys song blared from a café near the end of the main pier. Cora popped her head up into the cockpit, grinned, and waved her swimsuit around like little cheerleader celebrating our victory over the sea. Our dolphin spotter was ready to look for fins. And I knew for the first time in a long time, we were going to be able to use our boat the way we had always wanted: to have adventures.
The fateful breakfast of berries and almonds that resurfaced soon after the Kaufmans set sail.
It was one hell of a learning curve for both me and Eric. Neither one of us thought I would get as seasick as I did. And as much as we respect Mother Nature, we realized we didn’t have as much respect for Bonine, considering how sick Cora got as well. Pregnancy had changed the disposition of my sea legs, and it meant we had to completely re-evaluate our plans for the next leg of the six-week-long shakedown, and eventually the first leg of our world tour, with a stop in Mexico to have our baby. But for now, we were happily ensconced in Catalina, and the beach was calling our names.
Stand watch for Parts 2 and 3 of this series in the coming months. Follow the Kaufmans’ journey on their blog at therebelheart.com and see a video clip of the family and map of their route around the world.