I resisted doing a post on Rebel Heart for awhile now. My thinking was first I did not want to ride on the wake of another person’s disaster and second I wanted to wait for more facts to come in. (as of this writing still no word from Eric) Many bloggers were quick to post useless ramblings just to tie into the publicity and gain hits to their blogs but that is not my motive. That said this is a hot topic and does bare some review and thought, so I am going to try not to rehash what has been said already but rather try to add some new (hopefully constructive) thoughts to the subject.

The voyage or rather rescue of Rebel Heart has turned into a media circus for several reasons. The primary being it involved a young sick child and that tugs a lot of heart strings, so it became a human interest piece. It also happened during a slow news period. The Ukraine was quiet and there was nothing new happening with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 so the national media outlets saw this story as human interest filler. From there it took off with public interest and debate about how parents could risk their child “in such a reckless way.”

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As I had just finished a blog post about abandoning boats at sea (Why Boats are Abandoned at Sea) I was interested in this story as well. I, like many others have read many of Eric’s posts on the Cruisers Forum along with his blog, so this sort of makes a connection to the person, even if only a cyber connection. I also think, because this couple was prevalent on the internet with their blogs and presence on forums, it brought a lot of attention from both the sailing community as well as the general public.

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The first subject of controversy is whether they made the right decision to set to sea with small children aboard. As far as I am concerned the answer to this is clear and without debate. NO they did not make the right decision, period, end of discussion. But before anyone gets their knickers in a knot let me explain why I say this. Anytime a sailor points their bow out to sea and their back to land it is a crap shoot as to whether they are making the right decision or not. Sure we plan and prepare, check weather and do all the prudent things, the Kaufman’s did all this as any prudent sailor would. Chasing the horizon is a basic instinct in many of us but it is not without risks. Those risks can be planned for and prepared for but they can never be known unless you go out there.

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 I see it a bit like Schrodinger’s cat, you simply do not know if you are making the “right” decision until the voyage is complete. Had the Kaufman’s made it to their destination without incident the cat would have been alive and everyone would have praised their voyage as a success. In that case they would have made the “right” decision and the cat would be alive. Sadly this is not what happened and the box was opened only to find the cat dead and let’s face it nobody likes a dead cat. They threw the dice and unfortunately it did not work out for them. I personally cannot find fault in that. We know this is not what they wanted and we know they did the best they could but sometimes it just does not work out. So it is only when the box is opened  (or the voyage complete) do we know if we made the right or wrong choice and the only way to open the box is to take the risk. Sure we can sit at home dreaming about the voyage just like staring at a closed box imagining the cat alive but some of us just have to “know” and open the damned box.

The next subject of controversy is about their children and whether it was right of Eric and Charlotte to place their kids in a risky situation. I suppose this is the heart of the controversy. Personally I would not have set off on such a long passage with young children. I can think of many reasons not to set sail on a long ocean passage with very young children. Safety of the children being only one reason the other being just how difficult it would be.  The fact of the matter is young children need lots of attention, in fact they are utterly dependent on their parents for their daily survival. This takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the care givers. This is just a fact of life. I personally just do not see how a small two person crew could possibly take care of two very young children, themselves and the boat all at the same time without something going wrong. I do not really think Eric and Charlotte thought this through or if they did they did not fully understand what was involved. The argument I have heard was that Eric was an experienced sailor and fully prepared. This may have been true for coastal sailing but from what I have read in his blog he and Charlotte were not really ready for a serious ocean crossing.  I think they simply underestimated just how hard this would be with two small children, reading their blog posts support this line of thinking. I know others have done it but I am guessing those that have either were experienced ocean sailors that were better prepared, or were just plain lucky.

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It is hard enough to take care of two very young kids on land let alone on a boat. It just takes a lot out of you and wears you down physically and emotionally. Now add to this being seasick and having to take watches! Fatigue is one of the most dangerous problems one can face at sea; it leads to bad decisions and mistakes that can prove costly. Personally I cannot see this not being a problem on any long passage with very young children and I am guessing Eric and Charlotte might agree in hindsight, but that of course I do not know. I would have waited and cruised more local places like the Caribbean, at least until the kids were older before taking on a major ocean crossing.

I agree with those that say cruising with kids is a good thing and that the kids get a lot out of that lifestyle. I have met many cruising children and have been impressed with them. But most of these were coastal cruising with older kids. I am sure it is possible to do with babies but like they say maybe “baby steps” would have been best for the Kaufman’s.  Taking smaller passages as the kids grew some and everyone learned the sea life a bit better. I do admire the Kaufman’s for trying, it took some courage for that. I think they had the right intentions and truly tried their best to do the right thing, I just think they underestimated the degree of difficulty.

A big part of this whole thing is the internet and online blogs and forums. This media gives us all a voice good and bad. I sort of see this “online community” like a crowed highway, when things are simple it flows easily and we are all civil. As soon as something gets a bit out of the normal flow the road rage begins to rear up. For some reason we have a way of becoming less than civil hurling insults and bad words at people we do not know.  (And Eric himself has been guilty of this) We forget the person we are cursing is just like us and they are just trying to get along with life like we are. I am not sure why it is both on the road and online we lose the ability to control our outrage. Perhaps it has to do with a lack of personal contact. Would you say the same things in the same harsh overtones if you were looking that person in the eye? I think not. So for those who hurl the insults and abusive language I say imagine looking that person in the eye as you type. Would you still say the same things in the same way?

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Another issue is the cost of the rescue and this is something that always comes up. I feel I have a unique view point on this as I myself have been rescued hundreds of miles offshore. I was reminded of the cost at that time as well.  That is a story for another post but I feel because of that I have firsthand experience others lack. It is the policy of the US armed services not to charge for this type of thing. The reasoning being they do not want people to delay or avoid calling for help because they are afraid of the cost. This makes perfect sense. My fear is that if this type of thing keeps happening that could change. Even the rescue personnel pointed out that the cost is minimal because they have to train and it all falls within a set budget anyway. I can understand why some who never take risks resent those that do and then require help. It is sad that some see the world only from that perspective.

I find it interesting that some who staunchly have supported the Kaufman’s are some of the same people who came down hard on others they did not know who found themselves in similar circumstances of having to be rescued. Eric is well known by his blog and his activity on some of the cruiser forums. Because of this I think he has been given a free pass from criticism by many. I do not know the full situation but I do know that many of these sailors and wannabe sailors on the forums are quick to jump on the criticizing bandwagon when the sailors being rescued were not known to them. Eric himself was known to criticize those who made mistakes. It seems there is a double standard here which I believe is more harmful to this discussion than helpful. It is nice to see the sailing community come to the defense of a friend and fellow sailor but let’s not be hypocritical here. Last fall’s Salty Dawg rally had its share of problems and many of those now defending Eric were the same ones calling those in that rally fools and poor sailors. I just hope next time this happens, and it will happen again, think a bit more before they are so quick to criticize those they do not know.

The bad publicity from this has not, in my mind, been helped by the cruising community blindly supporting Rebel Heart. I think we will all be better served to look at this as a learning experience, to be a bit critical while at the same time supportive. It is better to tell the detractors that yes, there were some mistakes and yes, we will learn from this, and then point out that most of those that cruise do so quietly and without problem. That we are careful and try to prepare for the hardships the best we can and that sometimes things do go wrong despite our best efforts. We should not tell those who criticize no matter how harshly, that they are fools and they do not “get it.” Instead we should try to explain that most of those cruising are very careful and try hard not to get into trouble.

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I think many forget this country was built by people who took risks and they took those risks with their children, many boarded ships to cross oceans in times where rescue was not an option. Ellis Island is filled with the ghosts of parents who carried their babies into a new land with nothing more than hope of a better future. Okay so sailing around the world on a small yacht may not be the same thing but it is the same spirit, the same desire to push beyond the limits and explore the possibilities we as humans possess.  We need to maintain this spirit of adventure if we expect our children to learn to take risks, to explore and be willing to do things others will not. We have many frontiers ahead of and around us. Space exploration is within our grasp but we need to maintain the spirit of adventure and be willing to take some risks to achieve the remarkable.

Yes mistakes will be made, and no we will never all agree as to what is right and what is wrong when it comes to taking that leap of faith and stepping over the horizon. But if we never take that step and we never teach our children to take that step then we will never learn anything new. Although I may not agree with Eric’s choice to set off with two small children it does not mean I do not admire his spirit.

Capt. Wayne

Comments and thought welcome but only if they are not crude or offensive 🙂

 

About the author: Capt. Wayne

 

Boat builder, Sailor, Surveyor, and freelance writer.