Cruising with Grandparents is the best gift of all

cruising with grandparents

Grandparents discover the best Christmas gift
gives memories that last a lifetime.

With Christmas just around the corner, most grandparents’ thoughts happily turn to family gatherings, parties and presents piled under the Christmas tree. Topping the gift list are the grandchildren and what to buy for them. As they grew older, it became increasingly challenging to sort through all the commercialization and “stuff” clogging store shelves and littering the Internet. Do they really need another electronic device, game, doll, or cute dress? Is there such a gift we can give our grandchildren that is meaningful and will stand the test of time, is for all ages and limited only by one’s imagination, and keeps on giving?

Those were the questions we asked ourselves eight years ago and also posed to several of our friends and fellow yacht club members. We suggested that, instead of giving meaningless games or toys that end up in the back of our grandchildren’s closets, we organize a group cruising itinerary exclusively for and with our grandchildren. There would be only one rule: no parents allowed. The idea was a hit, the “Grandkid Cruise” was launched the next summer after the end of the school term and it’s been going on ever since.

Like swallows to Capistrano, the grandkids fly in from Atlanta, San Francisco, Hampton Bays, Roxbury, and Memphis. Casting off from our respective docks in Stuart, Florida, the “Grandkid Cruise” heads to open waters for a two-week summer adventure. The itinerary includes many ports of call from which to choose: Fort Lauderdale, Coconut Grove, Miami Beach, the Florida Keys, and The Bahamas. After selecting a destination, we collectively plan throughout the year tailoring our cruise to provide entertainment, education, new skills, and a good dose of social and mannerly instructions. (One of the most important duties of grandparents, after all, is to aid in the civilization of their grandchildren since parents aren’t always consistent in this department.) The cruise offers an opportunity to form stronger bonds away from home turf where parental input can confuse and aggravate familial dynamics. Our boats—Check Six, Cats in the Hatt, Final Approach, Tartan, and Mad Hatter—provide a neutral zone where mom and dad’s input is off the grid.

The number of participating boats is limited because of scarce marina space and restaurant capacity. Many restaurants cannot handle a group of approximately 15 people, especially in The Bahamas. Restaurants are an important component of these cruises as the stage for reinforcing table manners and social skills—how to properly sit at the table, napkins in lap, no running around, and absolutely no chewing with mouths open. Cell phones are strictly prohibited, allowing for the flow of conversation in uninterrupted rhythms.

The favorite destination of all is Old Bahama Bay at West End, a small marina that most boats stop over when crossing the Gulf Stream from Florida before pressing on to other ports. It is especially wellappointed for water sports, beach and sun. All day the kids jump in the pool, race to the beach, paddleboard, sail, snorkel, and jump back in the pool again. They never tire of this itinerary. In the evening, we gather at a host boat for cocktails and dinner, then visit with the other cruisers lining the docks, exchanging pleasantries and sometimes running into them again at another port. It’s a small but very friendly world among cruisers.

In the early cruise years, the grandkids’ ages ranged from 5 to 12. Amazingly, they all got along with the eldest watching out for the youngest and organizing the flow of activities from docks to beaches. They became a mob of laughing, sun-kissed children.

One of our first destinations was Bimini Bay where we anchored up in Honeymoon Hole and taught the kids to snorkel. The fish were numerous and bold brushing against their legs, with screams of surprise and delight erupting from the girls. There was a nearby sunken wreck calling for exploration. And there was always a visit to the Hemingway Bar to tell about Ernest Hemingway and his love of fishing and the islands. I bought The Old Man and the Sea for my girls that summer.

We let them drive our boats and explain how the instruments and gauges work. When the weather turns foul, there are lessons on that as well. They learn how to throw lines—not ropes—to the dockhands and about following seas and currents. We instill a healthy respect for the ocean and its capabilities—delightful one day and unforgiving the next. After the cruise, I download all the pictures and professionally print a glossy memory album capturing their favorite moments and poses.

Our grandkids are older now, and they’re moving on to college and life’s challenges. Our small fleet has winnowed and we know the end of the “Grandkid Cruise” is not far off, but we don’t despair. We know that we have fulfilled our roles and helped to instill knowledge and an awareness of the world around them. Best of all, we have cemented the strongest of bonds and the creation of wonderful memories that will last all of our lives.

Cher Foth is a member of the Florida Writers Association and author of The Kidnapping of Inda Jackson available in print and digital. 

— Words and photos by Cher Foth, Southern Boating Magazine December 2016