In Defense of Babies on Board

They set off their EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, and help came running (or rather floating and flying). Then soon thereafter, so did an outpouring of criticism, some sympathy, and a sizable amount of media-whipped frenzy of outrage.

In April 2014, the Kaufman family put out a distress signal (the EPRIB) from their 36 ft. sailboat as they were sailing from Mexico to the Marquesas Islands. They had undergone some serious structural damage to their boat from a knockdown wave during a storm. This in itself wasn't enough to merit a call for help, but as bad things usually happen in three's, such was their predicament as their 1 year-old daughter had become very ill and wasn't responding to antibiotics, their only link with the doctor died when their satellite phone inexplicably went out of service, and the invading water onboard due to some major leaks produced from the knockdown, rendered their radio equipment useless.

I recently listened to their version of the events on an NPR radio program and was struck by how everything they related about their experience with bad luck, were some of the exact things we had also experienced—only spread out over 10 years of our sailing on Cowabunga, not all at once. (If one sails long enough, one risks experiencing just about every scenario.) That's what made their situation so dire. The fact that their baby girl wasn't improving with medication and that they had no way to stay in touch for medical help, is what made them go for this final, irreversible decision, and thus lose their boat.

We, too, in our sailing history had experienced a couple of knockdowns (but luckily with no major damage); we, too, had endured two notably bad 50-knot wind storms and did sustain some damage; we almost lost a child overboard (twice!); we had some urgent health issues; and my husband even had an episode of sudden death (although it happened on land, and he was brought back to life). Indeed, when these things happened, it was also a trickle down effect in that two or three other undesirable events happened almost simultaneously, but again, nothing that obliged us to abandon our ship, our home, our way of life. So, I understand thoroughly the Kaufmans' devastation at the loss of their boat, their home, their way of life.

Much of the criticism directed toward them was in regards to them having small children on board, that it was dangerous and irresponsible. One of the most ignorant comments I heard, and read, was that taking a 1 year-old on a boat trip was stupid and worthless, since the child wouldn't remember anything! In that case, why take a 1 year-old on a family vacation, why take her to the park, why take her on walk in a stroller, why take her to a swimming pool (where they drown, also, by the way)…???? A child is formed by everything he or she is surrounded by: the situations, the experiences, parents' reactions in situations, languages. Being, and living, on a boat is a particular environment and YES that environment forms a lot in a child: knowledge, reactions, language, judgments, spirit, frame of mind. Any type of life lays a foundation in a child's brain. If a child is set on a couch all day long with a blaring TV, what kind of formation and memories will that child have? As Charlotte Kaufman herself stated:

"We believe that children who grow up with parents who are actively trying to achieve their dreams will be empowered and motivated to reach for their own life's dreams in turn. Likewise, children who are 'too young to remember' a voyage across the Pacific Ocean, like our daughter Lyra, will still benefit from living in a family that is meeting challenges and enriching its lives together."

This is 150%, no 200%, or give it whatever superlative percentage you wish, TRUE! Proof is in what my two sons, now 36 and 33 have become. Those who have read my blogs Koda, Cowabunga ReincarnateHis Gorge(ous) Life, and Cowabungans 3.0 know that I have illustrated what adventurous, confidant, and able men they are.

On deck during a brief rain break
On deck during a brief rain break

When the Kaufmans' tragedy took place over a year ago, my son, Sean, now 36, took to the Internet in at that time their defense, and penned this:

There has been quite a bit of debate and conversation lately about taking a young family cruising. I have read quite a few comments regarding the subject, some supportive and some very negative ones. I would like to put forth my two cents on this subject. 

What kind of authority do I have on this subject? Turns out, quite a bit. My parents took my brother and me cruising for 10 years on a boat. I moved onto the boat when I was 1 and we left our homeport in France when I was 3 and my brother just a few months old. We left France in 1982 and arrived in Bodega Bay, CA in 1990.

Were the Kaufman’s world-class sailors and ready for anything the ocean could throw at them? I don’t know them or their skills, but probably not. Do they need  to take a voyage like this with a young family? NO. Better sailing knowledge is always better but it shouldn’t keep them from doing what they dreamed of. My parents were decent sailors (my dad more than my mom), but they were definitely not world class. They learned as they went and learned many life lessons along way. 

But isn’t it risky to take a young family on such a voyage? Yes, there is some risk. But so is driving your kids to daycare or a play date. At least on the ocean, there won't be someone drifting into oncoming traffic while looking down at their cell phone. There are always news stories about families suffering terrible tragedies in a horrible traffic accident. There is always the risk of something terrible happening, but it shouldn’t prevent you from living life.

Then there are people that claim it’s a waste to do all this traveling while the kids are so young and can’t remember. Do I remember everything that happened to us on during 10-year voyage? No, but I do recall quite a bit, and it became part of who I am today. It gave me an appreciation for the world we live in, the people that live in different countries, how lucky we are in our country, different perspectives of the world…

The Kaufmans were giving their kids a gift, an invaluable gift. I still sail to this day. Actually, I sail professionally and enjoy spending time on the ocean. I’m always looking for adventure today, be it on my mountain bike in the mountains, or taking my family on a hike. My kids are 4 and 2, and I have not held back on taking them around. They go skiing, biking, swimming, sailing, kite flying, kayaking, paddle boarding…on a regular basis. I’m trying to give them the same gift my parents gave me: to enjoy and appreciate the world.

I wish the best of luck to the Kaufman family that their little girl recovers fully. Don’t give up your dreams.

Sean "Doogie" Couvreux, Currently bowman on Bella Mente (Mini Maxi 72)

April, 2014