When Demi Ayres wanted to mark her 50th birthday with a tough, new challenge, she signed on for a rigorous Outward Bound sailing adventure course -- with her teenage son. ``I knew Eliot would soar,'' she explained. ``I wanted him with me. There aren't many experiences a parent can have where they're on equal footing with their child.''
Alison and John De Lavis weren't looking to prove anything when they enrolled themselves and their two daughters in a Florida sailing school -- just a different kind of beach vacation. ``We're not good at going somewhere and sitting in the sun,'' explained Alison De Lavis, who lives in Connecticut. ``Sailing gave the week some focus.''
The Risers, meanwhile, see their sailing trips aboard a historic Maine schooner with their two kids as the ultimate stress-free getaway. ``You get those moments you don't get at home when the kids lie on your stomach and talk to you. Out on a sailboat, you're not competing with the TV,'' explains Chris Riser, a science teacher. ``The kids don't even fight. It's very peaceful out on the water, away from everyday life.''
Whatever the reason, more families, especially with older grade schoolers and teens, are finding sailing offers a vacation equation that really works: a lot of water plus a little adventure equals plenty of fun and family bonding. There's an added plus for aging baby boomers: Sailing doesn't require the stamina that other sports might. ``Sailing is the vehicle but the ultimate purpose is the fabulous relationship with your kid. That happens from working together to learn a new skill,'' explains longtime Outward Bound sailing trip leader Susan St. John.
``My son had never seen me in that kind of environment,'' said Outward Bound sailing veteran Demi Ayres. ``Definitely the trip made us closer.''
And as more parents seek such active outdoor adventures to share with their children, more sailing schools, cruise lines and resorts are offering special-for-families sailing vacations. The SunSail charter yacht company has based an entire resort in Antigua on that premise, ``big time,'' says SunSail spokesman Scot (cq) West.
``The number of families grows every year,'' observes Rick Franke from the Annapolis Sailing School, in business since 1959. ``When the family gets on a boat, everyone can contribute. They just don't have to listen to dad. These parents see sailing as the beginning of a lifestyle.''
In some cases, one of the parents loves to sail and wants to pass on that skill -- and tradition -- to the rest of the family. In others, it's the chance to experience a different part of the country from the water rather than land.
Often, though, it's the kids who spur their parents' interest. The De Lavis kids, for example, had first learned to sail at camp, so their parents opted for a program run by the Offshore Sailing School in which the kids could enhance their skills in junior classes at the same time their parents learned with other adults .
``Part of the fun was comparing notes at night about what we were all learning,'' said Alison De Lavis. ``This trip we were all talking the same language, and that doesn't often happen on vacation.''
Here's a sampling of what's out there for would-be sailing families this summer:
-- Relax on deck and do some sailing aboard a Maine Windjammer Association historic tall ship, most designated national landmarks. Some trips are geared for children as young as 5, complete with lobster bakes and plenty of time to explore tidepools. Three-day trips start at $350 per person. The Schooner Isaac H. Evans welcomes kids 8 and older on every trip. Call 800-807-WIND or www.midcoast.com/~sailmwa.
-- Opt for a father-son or a mother-daughter sailing week scheduled in June at the Offshore Sailing School on Captiva Island in Florida. Rates start at $1,195 per person, including accommodations and the course. Junior Captains classes are offered for children 8-12 year round whose parents are enrolled in adult classes. The kids sail when the adults do. Call 800-221-4326 or www.southseas.com
-- Customize a family package at the Annapolis Sailing School in Annapolis, Md., for a weekend or week. There are classes for kids as young as 5. Weekend courses for a family of four start at $875. A seven-night package, including hotel and the chance to try out your new skills as part of a flotilla in the Chesapeake Bay, costs $3,555 for a family of four. Call 800-638-9192 or www.usboat.com/annapway
-- Play pirate for a week on a family Windjammer Barefoot Cruise on six-day tall-ship trips in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Trips start at $875 for adults. One child sails free with two parents or gets half off with one parent. Call 800-327-2601 or www.windjammer.com
-- Take the baby and sail all you want at SunSail's Colona Club in Antigua where there's supervised day care for infants and toddlers as well as organized programs -- including sailing lessons -- for older children and parents. Week-long inclusive packages start at under $2,500 for a family of four, with a $100-per-person discount offered this summer. Call 800-327-2276 or www.sunsail.com
-- Get a free beachfront room for the kids at the luxe Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands with more than 100 watercraft and junior sailing program. This summer, stay seven nights and pay for six. Vacation by Aug. 15 and seven-night inclusive packages start at $4,800 for a family of four. Call 800-872-2392 or www.beyc.com
-- Test your mettle sailing and rock climbing along with your teen on a special parent-teen Outward Bound sailing trip to Hurricane Island, Me. Groups are small. Eight-day courses are $850 per person and are offered in late June and in August. Call 800-341-1744 or www.hurricaneisland.org
(c) 1999, Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate