Forget the California beach house or the winter ski lodge in Colorado. Mom, dad and the kids are embracing a more adventurous recess at sea these days.
Whether they sail on the Chesapeake Bay for a week or spend months in the Florida Keys or the Caribbean, more people are choosing coastal cruises with their families rather than languishing in long lines at Walt Disney World.
Their motto: The family that sails together stays together.
"It's truly a test of how strong a family bond is because everyone has to pitch in to make it work," said Ralph J. Naranjo, a technical editor of Cruising World magazine, whose family has sailed on a 41-foot sloop for 20 years. "If you can get along in such a small confine at sea, you can get along anywhere."
Naranjo and Tom Neale, who has lived aboard a 47 1/2 -foot sailboat with his wife and two daughters for 17 years, are among the coastal cruising experts who will speak during the 27th annual United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, which opens to the public today.
Thousands of boat owners and would-be sailors are expected to tour hundreds of new sailboats on display at City Dock throughout the weekend.
Neale, 52, a former trial lawyer, said he took to the sea because he wanted his children to "grow up in a real world where you are dealing with nature, mechanical breakdowns that you have to fix yourself, and living on a small income."
"Out here, worrying about the weather means more than just whether the air conditioner works or not," said Neale, 52, a Cruising World columnist who has encountered "nitty-gritty survival issues," such as dodging waterspouts, weathering hurricanes and being chased by sharks.
Travel agents say they have seen an increase in families who want to vacation together in nontraditional ways.
"I think as we've gone from the 'me decade' to the 'us decade,' cruising along the coast is a perfect way to do that," said Carol S. Goldsmith, president of Roots and Wings Excursions, a Virginia-based company that deals in family vacations.
Just ask Mary Gilmer, who has cruised with her husband for more than 15 years while raising a daughter on board.
"You can't jump in the car when you're really angry," said Gilmer, who owns a marine towing company based in Neavitt, on the Choptank River. "I suppose you could sit in the dinghy, but that's no fun."
But those attracted to such a trips had better be experienced sailors or take sailing courses, experts say. And they should make sure their craft is seaworthy.
Just as important, they should make sure they can afford it.
A weeklong cruise can cost as much as a beach house rental, and longer trips can drain a wallet.
Cost depends on whether the sailing is to be "Yugo-style or Mercedes Benz-style," Naranjo said.
Pub Date: 10/11/96