The school holidays are upon us soon, and parents have all started racking their brains about ways to entertain their children in a meaningful manner. Apart from the usual kids’ camps and activities available, parents can also sign up their children for something more adventurous.
I decided to bring my 8-year-old daughter, Camellia, onboard Grommet!, an introductory sailing program for children 7 and up. A mother-daughter yacht trip could be a great bonding experience and I was curious to see what she could learn from a sailing course. As there was an afternoon slot for the experience, 3 pm to 7 pm, it was possible for me to bring her after school to the sail even on a school day.
Boarding the yacht
Setting off on our adventure!
We started our adventure at the swanky Marina at Keppel Bay, where the crew led us to the yacht. This was only Camellia’s second time on a boat, the first being the short boat ride to Pulau Ubin. As a child, Camellia is definitely more at home with indoor activities and her demeanour was a bit timid overall. A sailing trip was something to get her out of her comfort zone while I was also assured that I could be present and spend some quality bonding time with her, away from the bustle of work.
Our destination was Lazarus Island, which is off the south coast of Singapore. Before we set off, the crew gave a quick lesson about the parts of the boat and the history of sailing. I was concerned that it was too technical and boring for Camellia, but she surprised me when she could recite all the parts of the boat after a bit of coaching.
The crew were patient and clearly had a lot of experience with teaching children and wouldn’t look out of place as sun-baked kindergarten teachers. I appreciate their gentle manner that helped her to warm up to them quickly. (There was also water and snacks on board the yacht, and a little Honey Stars bribe didn’t hurt.)
The Art of Sailing
Most of the time, if you charter a yacht for events or sailcations, the yacht is driven like a car: the engine is used to propel the yacht for a smoother, faster ride. Indeed, I wasn’t expecting anything different on this yacht trip.
However, once we left the marina, the engine was cut, and we were to make the rest of the journey by our own sailing skills – adjusting the sails of the boat to catch the sea wind to propel the boat forwards without any use of the engine.
The crew explained to us clueless landlubbers how to identify the direction of the wind and determined the direction in which the boat should sail in order to utilize the wind. But first, we needed to put the sail up, which entails a lot of tugging on ropes and operating a winch.
Of course, I had to provide some additional manpower and assist Camellia.
Camellia helping to put the sail up
Some extra manpower needed
Operating the winch for the sail
Afterward, Camellia was quickly put in charge of the giant steering wheel, under the guidance of the crew. The crew let her take control the steering wheel by herself and only stepped in when the sea conditions were rougher (meanwhile I secretly prayed not to die). I also tried my hand at it and it was much harder than it looks – the yacht’s direction was affected by the wind and currents, unlike driving a car, and it was very difficult to keep the yacht on a straight path. I was very surprised at how well Camellia managed at steering.
Camellia somehow doing a better job than I of steering the yacht
The crew also taught us about tacking and gybing – sailing techniques to move the yacht even when the wind was against you. Camellia managed to guess the technique on her first try intuitively while I was still trying to puzzle out the technical aspects of it. Tacking and gybing required teamwork and coordination and it was fun to work together with Camellia to execute instructions at the correct timing.
A Real Adventure
Of course, any outdoor adventure is heavily dependent on the weather. For us, the wind that day was extremely strong with some relatively strong currents too. The boat was tilting at 45 degrees and our things were sliding around which made the boat feel like a real-life version of the Viking Ship ride at amusement parks. Being the landlubber I am, I constantly asked the crew if the boat would capsize and they reassured me that this 45 degree tilt was ‘normal’. (In case you were wondering, the boat had a very heavy keel and other safety features to ensure that capsizing is extremely unlikely.) Camellia, on the other hand, was nonplussed and even told me to be brave.
A little tilt never hurt anybody, apparently. Check out how tilted the yacht is compared to the horizon!
Camellia even decided to sit at the edge of the boat for some splashes of the sea, of course under the watchful eyes of all the adults to ensure she didn’t go overboard. (The crew also assured me that people falling overboard was very rare.) Clearly, I didn’t need to do any helicopter parenting, and I learnt to sometimes just let children do their thing.
No need to worry here
The crew also ensured that when the winds got too strong, they handled the sailing so that safety was not compromised, but always allowed Camellia to perform simple tasks within her skill and physical capabilities.
Finally, we set anchor near Lazarus Island. It took nearly 2 hours to reach the destination, which varies day to day depending on the weather and wind conditions. Camellia was in charge of controlling the anchor and I could see her enjoying this agency. She evidently felt very important and independent doing such a big task.
Operating the anchor like a pro
After anchoring, Camellia explored the boat further, climbing up the mast. The mast definitely wasn’t built for children and it was rather challenging to climb. It took a little encouragement from me to conquer her fear of heights and persevere even though it was challenging and a little scary.
Climbing up the mast like a real sailor and conquering fear of heights
Knots were still important in sailing today, and the crew explained to us the usage of each type of knot while teaching us how to tie them. Tying knots is one of those things that looks super easy but somehow never turns out right when you actually do it. Camellia and I attempted to differentiate left from right and over from under to mixed results, but we had a laugh figuring it out together. (The crew had all sorts of funny ways to remember how to tie the knots – the rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree and goes back into the hole, etc etc.)
Tying the Figure of 8 knot
There was some free and easy time of 30-45min. We could go onshore if we wanted, or swim in the shallow surrounding waters in the open sea. This option is excellent for more active children – I can imagine them cannonballing off the yacht. Camellia, perhaps discovering her inner sailor, preferred to continue sailing, and we set off on the return trip.
The return trip
The winds were very strong and the waves choppier on the way back. For those who are not used to being on the sea, constantly being blasted with strong wind and rocky motions can feel fatiguing even for adults. I could see that Camellia was getting a little tired and grouchy. Luckily, the cabin was outfitted comfortably with comfortable sofas for resting and respite from the wind, and I put her down for a nap. Within a few minutes, Camellia was asleep, until we reached back to the marina.
Comfortable cabins for tired little adventurers
To help Camellia better remember her experience and what she (and I) had learnt, there was also a cute activity and information book prepared for us to bring home. Although the program was developed for kids, the content was not dumbed down and the technical terms of sailing were explained well in simple language for children to understand.
Feeling accomplished at our first sail!
Although I’ve been on a yacht before, only through this experience did I realise I’ve never actually sailed. It was the opposite of a smooth, comfortable leisure trip, with the excitement of rocky seas making for a great sense of adventure and accomplishment. I also got to witness Camellia in action and I was surprised at how capable she was at such a young age. I’m glad that this experience brought both of us out of our comfort zone to experience and learn in an unfamiliar setting.
For DollarsAndSense readers, they are offering a special promotion:
DASGROM1F1 for 1-for-1 discount on “Grommet! Kids Sailing Course” and DASTA1F1 for 1-for-1 discount on “4-Hour Sailing Taster”. This promotion is valid from 14 March 2022 to 27 March 2022 for travel dates between 14 March 2022 to 31 May 2022.
Disclaimer: This taster experience was provided by Discover Sailing Asia for editorial review. DollarsAndSense did not receive any monetary compensation for this article.
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