A San Diego couple rescued hundreds of miles off the coast of Mexico after their daughter fell ill defended their decision Monday to sail across the Pacific Ocean with their two toddlers.
The rescue set off a social media storm from parents and others saying the couple were selfish for taking their daughters, ages 1 and 3, on such a dangerous trip. Supporters say they respect the couple's choices and sailing is a safe activity.
In a statement issued aboard the U.S. Navy frigate USS Vandegrift, where the family will remain until the ship returns to San Diego midweek, Eric and Charlotte Kaufman addressed the controversy their lifestyle has sparked.
"We understand there are those who question our decision to sail with our family, but please know that this is how our family has lived for seven years, and when we departed on this journey more than a year ago, we were then and remain today confident that we prepared as well as any sailing crew could," the statement said. "The ocean is one of the greatest forces of nature, and it always has the potential to overcome those who live on or near it. We are proud of our choices and our preparation, and while we are disappointed that we lost our sailboat and our home, we remain grateful for those who came to our aid and those family and friends who continue to encourage and support us."
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The couple sent out a distress signal from their boat, the 36-foot Rebel Heart, on Thursday after their 1-year-old daughter, Lyra, became ill. They were all rescued Sunday, and their boat sunk after it started to take on water. The child is doing well and remains in stable condition.
The family set sail two weeks ago on another leg of a years-long trip around the world that began in the fall of 2012. They were on their way to island-hop in the South Pacific.
About a week before the rescue, Charlotte Kaufman wrote on the family's blog, The Rebel Heart, "I think this may be the stupidest thing we have ever done. 'Stupid' is the number one word that resonates throughout my day as we tick the slow minutes away to the kids' bed times each night."
She ends the post on an upbeat note: "Ultimately, how many people will ever experience the feeling of being surrounded by waves and wind ... It is a difficult, self-imposed isolation that is completely worth it. Okay, maybe still a tiny bit stupid, but worth it."
They are no strangers to sailing. Eric Kaufman is a former Navy corpsman and Coast Guard-licensed captain who introduced his wife to sailing 10 years ago, says Charlotte's sister, Sariah English.
"It became a mutual love and something they wanted to do together," English says.
The couple continued sailing after the births of Cora and Lyra. Cora was out on a boat at 3 months, and her sister was born in Mexico during another sailing trip, English says.
Their seagoing lifestyle with such young children against the risks of the open ocean has raised questions and loads of criticism.
Among the critics is Charlotte Kaufman's brother, James Moriset, who told NBC 7 in San Diego, "It is crazy. It is nuts. My thoughts about it were — bringing kids on a trip like that and then having the second one along the way and bringing a younger kid along on the trip, it was just — I do feel very firmly that yes, that was crazy."
On Twitter, Facebook and the family's blog, The Rebel Heart, many had a similar message.
"Shame on you and your reckless way of life. You not only put your young family at risk, but you also put to risk those that had to come and rescue you. All on taxpayers dollars. Yes I am a sailor too; but I always calculate my risks using common sense," someone identified as Gregory Charles Gone wrote on the family's Facebook page.
"Irresponsible to put your children in danger, #selfish, #stupid," Mark Yates, 48, a Pittsburgh golf course superintendent wrote on Twitter.
A father of two, Yates says he took to social media because although he respects the couple's right to make decisions for their family, not all their decisions were wise.
"It's unnecessary risks for the children," he says.
Family and friends have started a fundraiser to help the family after the loss of their boat, which was their only home.
English says Charlotte, one of seven children raised in Alaska, was always adventurous. She says the couple had a sailing plan to travel with children that included rescue training, high-end equipment and a sturdy classic Hans Christian sailboat.
"Charlotte and Eric were very prepared and knowledgeable," English says. "Charlotte and Eric are good parents. The naysayers can say what they want, but I know the truth."
English spoke with her sister Sunday. She says Charlotte sounded stressed and tired. She says Charlotte isn't thinking right now about more sailing trips, only the health of her daughter and family.
"But," English says, "I wouldn't be surprised if there is a future sailing trip."