Toe Straps and Shark Attacks

Four lessons children can teach you about sailing, from the unexpected importance of toe straps to the imminent danger of shark attacks.

My wife and I took our children sailing for the first time a couple of weeks ago. They are two and four, or, more accurately, two-and-a-half and four-and-a-half. These small differences apparently matter quite a bit.

Joe and Isabel ready for sailing

It was, of course, wonderful. And, I'm delighted to add, they both loved it.

My son, Joe (he's the four and a half year old), has talked about it a lot since, and he's itching to go sailing again. But there are some provisos:

  • Next time it should be just me and him. We're to lose the ladies (his mum and sister). This is because next time he wants to win. I am sad to report that in the family race we came a sorry second, losing out to a family in a catamaran. The fact that we still got a prize for second is no comfort to him. In fact, he couldn't believe that they were giving out prizes to second place. As far as he's concerned you're either first or you're nowhere. Quite how dropping the girls would help us win has never been accurately established, but that's his opinion and, apparently, he's sticking to it.
  • The second proviso is that we should race in a RIB. I made the mistake of taking him for a spin in a RIB after the sailing. Whizzing around in a motor boat is a lot faster than sailing in a GP14, so he reckons our days of second places will be behind us if we use the an engine. He's right, of course, but I happen to know that some sailors would consider this cheating. I suspect that Joe wouldn't care.

The other plus side of this day was that sailing with my kids taught me some things that I hadn't learned about sailing before:

  1. Pulling on the toe-strap elastic can make you go faster. Now, I do have to confess that I don't have any actual evidence that this works, but the seriousness and commitment that Isabel gave to this activity every time we tacked makes me believe that she must know something that I don't.
  2. I need to be more aware of the possibility of shark attacks. I have been lax in this area, as I believed that sailing on an estuary in Ireland meant that the risk of shark attacks was, at worst, remote. However, on the day in question, 50% of the crew were pretty convinced we were in imminent danger, but were also brave enough to laugh in the face of such danger. Even to the point of dangling their hands in the water and shouting things like "Here shark! Come and get me", etc.
  3. Sailing for the sake of sailing is actually fun. A lot of fun. Not that long ago I described in a post that I very rarely just go sailing. I'm normally racing or practising, never just cruising around. But sailing with children really is just fun. I could definitely do that a lot more.
  4. One hour in a boat is (apparently) not enough time to learn how to sail single handed. When we came in to shore, Joe and I got straight into the RIB to go for our spin. My wife hopped out of the GP14 to pull it up the slip (with the help of others, I hasten to add) with Isabel sitting in the boat. As soon as Isabel realised she was the only person left in the boat she immediately looked at her mum with a panicked expression, as if to say "Wait - I wasn't concentrating properly. You can't expect me to sail this thing on my own". She was a lot happier when she realised that she was being pulled into the dinghy park, riding on the boat like a royal being pulled in a carriage. I have to say I don't blame her - I've often wished someone could lug my Laser up that hill with me sitting pretty, being admired by all around me. I'm not holding my breath, though.

It was lovely to sail as a family for the first time. Hopefully we get to squeeze a few more family sails in before they both get too big or too cool to sail with their parents all the time. I've only done it once, but I already know that I'll miss it when it stops.

7 thoughts on “Toe Straps and Shark Attacks

  1. Welcome to the world of non Competative sailing, floating gently up the river under mainsail, towing a fish lure and spotting lions and tigers in the wooded shore

    • Whoah! Lions and tigers as well as sharks. This is all getting a bit dangerous – I need to check our club’s health and safety policy before my next venture into non-competitive sailing.

    • Wow damien .. such a good article and can so imagine joe being you said. Will show garry when he.comes in .

  2. Thanks Alva. Say hi to Garry and the kids, hope you guys are over this way soon.

    Cheers Biddy. Well done at the F18 Worlds – that was some quality of fleet. I followed the twitter feed when I could – the coverage was fantastic.

  3. Brilliant post. I can recommend a couple of additions.
    1. A terrier in a boat, wearing a lifejacket, obviously always adds a random element to any manoeuvre and nearly always guarantees a shot at the first dog prize.
    2. A stick. Can be used to control or distract the terrier or just trailed in the water, possibly to attract sharks.

    Finally, I think sailing being integrated with swimming, i.e. swimming to the boat, capsizing, swimming round the boat – kind of removes or reduces that fear of the capsize – Needs a warm day and a shallow beach, Obvs.

  4. Love it – excellent recommendations. Although at the moment we only have a cat, and I don’t think he’d appreciate being taken out on a boat – he’s pretty contrary about trying things like that.

    As for integrating swimming with sailing – I’m fairly sure that must have been my dad’s policy too. I certainly remember that any time I went to crew for him I could be fairly certain that I would spend at least some of the time swimming.

    I’m definitely going to make sure we do some nice, safe capsizes and swimming around the boat this summer, at least with Joe. As you say, the sooner they get comfortable with a capsize situation, the easier they’ll handle it when the real thing happens.

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