Iona Levinson has just spent the last 18 months sailing around Southeast Asia with her husband Jeremy and their girls Phoebe (10), Hatty (8) and Willow (7) on their boat Nalukai. As well as participating in the Louisiades Rally in Papua New Guinea, they have been to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and are currently in Thailand. Iona tells suitcases&strollers about her adventures sailing with kids. 

How did you get the idea to sail around Southeast Asia?

Jeremy and I were having a holiday by ourselves just before Hatty was born in Port Douglas in Queensland, Australia and were watching the boats come into the harbour. One catamaran came in with children on it and we commented it would be a fantastic thing to do. Jeremy has always sailed dingys as a child, then had done quite a bit of racing sailing around Victoria and Tasmania mainly with his father. I worked as a cook on a boat that did fishing charters in Queensland. I loved the boat life and snorkeling (although I hadn't sailed before). Nalukai is relatively easy to sail independently so Jeremy still does most of the sailing!

How did you find the right boat for you?

We saw Nalukai advertised and after a quick look we knew it was right. A bedroom for each of the girls and us, aluminum hull which is very strong, great cockpit at the stern for living, eating and barbecuing and a big deck space which is fantastic for the girls to play on. It is amazing what we had at home which we do without now and it makes us realise how little we really need to live a great life. A few comforts like my Thermomix make cooking easy from fresh bread, great dips, cakes to ice cream and fruit juices. In a small space there isn't much room for other appliances!

Why choose sailing versus just travelling by plane?

Sailing has been fantastic as we can get to places quite remote to other travellers like islands in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. We also have a floating caravan so always have the same bed to sleep in, place to cook and retreat when it's a culture overload for the girls.

Is it safe to sail with young children?

For much of our time since leaving Australia we have travelled with one or more boats just so we had safety in numbers. But not once have we felt threatened or unsafe in any of the countries we travelled in. We have been in a few storms but Nalukai is a strong, safe boat so there has never been a time when we have felt in danger.

[In terms of onboard safety] Nalukai has wide decks and a sturdy hand rail around which makes it a very safe. We put gates around the transom at the stern of the boat so that no one can fall off the back. When we are sailing the girls need to have a life jacket on and if it’s rough they stay inside or in the cockpit. We always check the weather and don't sail if conditions aren't favourable.

Our medical kit includes many things for children including the common medical item such as Band-Aids, a cold pack for bumps and knocks and Soov cream for bites. We filter our water and wash all fruit and veg and everyone has remained remarkably healthy. [For more travel tips on emergency travel medical kits for kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]

Where has been your favourite destination on the trip thus far?

We have many favourites. The Louisiade Archipelago in Papua New Guinea were stunning with beautiful clear water, great snorkeling and fishing and very friendly people. Through the Louisiades Rally we met many locals and experienced their food, culture and dancing which was fabulous. In return we were able to help their lives by providing them with fishing gear, sewing materials, clothes, school materials for the children and medical supplies through trading for fruit, wooden products and baskets.

Raja Ampat in Indonesia was spectacular with beautiful islands and the most amazing diversity of marine life to snorkel around.

We loved Borneo, Malaysia for its wildlife including the orang utans, bird life and proboscis monkeys we saw when we went up the Kinabatangan River.

Where has been the kids’ favourite destination?

The girls loved the marina at Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia for all the fun things to do like three swimming pools to choose from, a movie cinema, bowling alley and kids club.

They loved Singapore for the Singapore ZooAdventure Cove Waterpark at Sentosa, Jurong Bird Park and Gardens by the BayWe were really impressed with how well they are done and so educational as well. [For more travel tips on things to do in Singapore with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]

What do you think the girls are gaining from this experience?

They have got an appreciation of the world, where countries are and how they differ. They are experiencing different cultures, religions and food and how these shape people and the countries they live in. They are much more outgoing meeting many different people and are being more independent and practical living on the boat.

Science is at it's best when seeing marine and land animals; [it makes for a better] understanding [of] how we as humans are shaping their world and the world we are living in. They are seeing the influence human have in regards to rubbish, forest clearing and use of fossil fuels.

What are your tips to a successful sailing trip with young kids?

Good, basic sailing experience would be advised but we often laugh about how tentative we were when we set out and how apprehensive we were about going on long sails. Jeremy could take it anywhere now!

We have learnt a lot along the way from experience and talking to other people. Many sailors have been travelling for years so it is great talking to them about places to go, anchorages, visas and handy hints for the boat.

For more about organised sailing tours in Vietnam with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Halong Bay. For more travel tips on sailing with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.

Prefer cruising to self-sail holidays? Then click on the suitcases&strollers story here