Our experience as an “Asian American cruising family”

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not white.
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And what is the significance of that, you say?

Well…it’s because 99% of the cruisers we meet on the eastern seaboard *appear* to be white. (Do I know that for sure? No. Why? Because feels kind of rude to ask unless you know someone pretty well.)

And because we had one commenter (who was Asian American) remark, “It’s such an un-Asian American thing to do,” I thought a post about our experience might be worthwhile.

Our very limited experience
We cruised from Boston down to Florida, across to the Bahamas. We tooled around the Bahamas (not all the islands, but quite a few) before jumping back to Florida and up to Jacksonville. We did this in 11 months. So world cruisers we are not. Long-term cruisers, we are not. In the grand scheme of things, we’ve seen only a tiny sliver of the cruising world.

Of all the people we met, two were Asian-American sailors who were not cruising at the moment, except locally.

In the Bahamas, we met a group of four Asian-Canadian couples who chartered a monohull from Nassau. My understanding is that they had a hired captain aboard for a week or two.

We’ve met many couples and families from the U.S. who appeared Caucasian. Many Europeans, a South African family (they appeared Caucasian). We haven’t met an African American or Latin American couple or family so far. There was a couple in Georgetown where the woman was from Colombia but our paths didn’t cross.

I’ve talked about it with a few friends, one of them is a sailing writer. “No one talks about that in the sailing world, especially not the publications. Bad for business.” I could go on pontificating about the lack of perceived diversity and what it could mean, but in the interest of staying on task, I’ll focus on our own experience.

The cruisers
All the cruisers we met have been open, receptive and friendly. They treated us no different, in my mind, than any other cruiser. In fact, many were just as helpful if not more so because we have young children.

People also tend to remember us because we stand out. There have been many times where people came up to us and said, “Wildest Dream! We met you in —-”

When people ask where are you from, they usually mean our home port (though it may be a veiled way of inquiring about our ethnicity. That I will never know.) We say Boston, and that usually settles the question. No cruisers have followed up with, “No, where are you really from.” Yes, that still happens on land, though much less frequently now. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this video.

We get extra credit for having young kids.

We’re friendly, but not super social, so we may have missed the chance to meet a more people. Maybe we’re on the wrong coast…haven’t ventured far enough. If we are not in on the parties, it’s probably because neither of us enjoy drinking much and go to bed early. So if we’ve missed you out there, sorry. We were sleeping.

The Bahamas

Our experience in the Bahamas was pretty low key. Almost all Bahamian adults didn’t seem to care or were not curious. One man wanted to practice his Mandarin. And we obliged. In contrast to our land travels to places like France, New Zealand, Peru, Brazil and Mexico, we encountered a bit more curiosity about our ethnicity.

A few Bahamian children are curious about where we are from, ethnically. Most didn’t care.

Some can’t believe we’re from the U.S. “You don’t look like an American,” one said. I try not to get drawn into those types of conversations.

So that’s the quick summary of our experience. If you are an Asian / Asian American cruising family, we’d love to hear from you. (If you’re Asian, we would have a hard time communicating in your written language unless it was English–sorry). If you’re an Asian-American family considering cruising for a year, we’d be happy to talk to you. The water is beautiful.

PS-As I write this, it occurred to me that I would also be interested in meeting Asian-American families who are out-of-the-box in other ways. If you are one such family that is unschooling, homeschooling, road-schooling, vagabonding, homebirthing, attachment parenting, or just doing something different enough to make a Tiger Mother screech, we’d love get to know you.

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22 Replies to “Our experience as an “Asian American cruising family”

    1. Irena – Unschooling was termed by John Holt, a former BPS teacher who left the public system after deciding it was not helpful to learning.

      Unschooling is a form of homeschooling. It differs from many homeschooling approaches in that it rejects the concept of a curriculum because “it requires each child to learn a specific subject matter in a particular manner, at a particular pace, and at a specific time regardless of that individual’s present or future needs, interests, goals, or any pre-existing knowledge he or she might have about the topic.” (from Wikipedia)

  1. I love that you open this conversation. It’s true, and it’s not just the eastern seaboard. Based on our experience- west coast, Mexico –> lotsa Pacific stuff –> Australia –> PNG/Indonesia… it is 99% (99.9%?) whitebread in the cruising community. From hundreds of cruisers we have met in the last few years, I can count non-Caucasians on my fingers (and maybe a couple of toes). Which sucks: hello- not representative? What is this impressing on our children?

    One of my besties on our 2010 crossing is a Korean-Canadian woman. We met a couple from S. Korea on their Beneteau when we were in Fiji, and she was somewhere between stunned and ecstatic. It was just so unusual, right? They were the exception that shows the rule.

    Wish I could watch that video…we have bandwidth/data issues in Indonesia…soon hopefully. Thanks for this Serena. I’m looking forward to following along with your writing in Maine & beyond.

    1. Thanks Behan. It’s sad to hear that it is the case where you are traveling. I know there are Olympic sailors who are asian, just not so many cruisers, I guess.

  2. When will you guys be back in Boston? Hil and I bought a new boat and are in the process of getting it commissioned. Would love to have you and the chitlins out.

  3. Even though I found your cruising life very interesting, I have to admit that I have followed your blog partly because you are an Asian American family. I am Chinese American (originally from Hong Kong and came to the U.S. when I was 15 years old) and my husband is a Sansei (third-generation Japanese American). We have one son (who is 8 years old). Our son goes to a Montessori school because we are not comfortable with the way our education system works. When our son was young, we chose to parent him differently not because we thought one parenting style was more superior than the other. It was due to the needs expressed by our son. So we practiced co-sleeping and I breastfed our son for more than three years. We don’t overschedule his life because we want him to have plenty of free time to do whatever he enjoys.

    1. Hi May. I agree that a lot of our parenting is driven by the needs expressed by our children. Some of it much different than I had imagined before kids. It’s an organic process where we grow and learn from each other.

  4. I have been following your adventures too and you are a big influence for us to go now, go small. I love that you have small children, my daughter Cadence is 3, but it also hasnt missed my attention that you are Asian American. I am Mutt American White but Matt is half Korean born in Seoul and adopted to America. He is always the only Asain around the docks. So far anyway. I must add that we have only been aboard for a month, just moving from Colorado to N.Myrtle Beach to our new-to-us 39 foot Allied Mistress center cockpit ketch. We are blogging at http://www.hemhounds.com. oh, and there are no Asians whatsoever in N.Myrtle Beach! Its weird. There are a lot of African Americans however, which is nice snd gives us the diversity we prefer. 🙂

    1. Hi Shawna, that’s great to hear that there’s a bit more diversity in Myrtle Beach. I have to admit that we skipped over it on the way down. What a beautiful daughter you have! I’ll be living vicariously through your adventures while on land.

  5. i hope you told that kid that americans come in wide variety of packaging! ;o)

    “just doing something different enough to make a Tiger Mother screech” — hee hee

  6. Thanks for writing about your experience. I am black South African and my wife is ethnically Chinese. This topic has been of huge concern to me. Our two kids are currently 5 and 3 years old. We are in the process of purchasing our first blue water cruiser with an eye on the seven seas. Being South African I have been reading sailing magazines and blogs with some trepidation about the lack of diversity. I will admit to being super-sensitive about this topic and I’m partially afraid of projecting my own hangups into a non-issue.
    We were going to cast off regardless, but your post does provide some comfort about something which had been bothering me for a while now.

    I hope to bump into you guys when you embark on your 10 year circumnavigation 😀
    Stephan

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Stephan. I think you will find that cruisers are a wonderful bunch of people. And it’s easy to avoid people you don’t feel comfortable with, you have such freedom on a sailboat. I wish you and your family lots of luck on your adventure.

  7. Haha. I was the Asian American who left the note about how un-Asian American you guys were. I actually found your blog while researching future homeschooling options for my now very young kids. There are components to your blog that keep me checking in every so often: Asian American, cruising in the Bahamas (before the arrival of our son with special needs, it was something we’d thought about), your educational philosophy, and, now, MAINE! Our favorite state in the world.

    1. Jennifer, great to hear from you again. One thing I will say is that homeschooling thoughts and views evolve a lot over the years. So take your time and enjoy the process!

  8. Hi Serena! Like your website, but was initially drawn that you were the first sailing blog that was Asian America. So I can really relate to some of the posts regarding traditions (New Years). I’m Chinese, grew up in the S.F Bay Area and my fiance is Romanian. We currently live/work in Europe. After traveling and experiencing the various people/places around this continent, I concluded that the ‘white’ label is overly generic -as with most labels. People are not just… ‘white’. For example, “He’s Cretan.. and proud of his mother’s dolmades” or “Really, Romanian weddings always last til 5 am? And there’s an after-party with borș?”

    And ‘asian’ is just as hopelessly generic.

    Yes, Jennifer, it’ll be very un-Asian European for me and my family to go cruising the Med in a few years.

    1. VT, I’d love to live vicariously and follow your blog when you go cruising in the Med. I’ve always dreamed of the Greek Islands. We spent some time in the SF Bay area and loved it. And yes, labels are just that, labels. The best part about cruising is that we experienced very little of “labels.

  9. Hi Serena, It is an interesting topic. One of the couples we became good friends with on our first trip seventeen years ago is Asian Canadian. Actually I have say we met more ethnically diverse sailors on that trip. I don’t think the numbers of visibly non-white sailors have dropped though, I think it’s simply white sailors have had more role models to pave the way so there are more out there now. Just like there are more single-handed women sailors. As a travel writer this comes up pretty often. Another friend of mine just became National Geographic’s traveler of the year in part because of the unflinching way she wrote about being a black family on an extended journey (they were traveling by land) http://travel.nationalgeographic.com.au/travel/travelers-of-the-year/davis-family/ my guess is her family will inspire countless others to set off. It’s similar to our buddy boat we crossed the Pacific with–they are jewish and blogged very proudly about their heritage–showing other jewish families that it’s possible to combine their beliefs and cultural with the cruising dream.

    1. That’s awesome, Diane. I love hearing about diverse family travelers, land or sea. Like I said, we didn’t travel very far, and not for very long, so we didn’t get to see the full spectrum of cruisers. I’d love to see the jewish family cruisers’ blog.

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