SAN DIEGO – Six days after a family of four found themselves helpless and adrift in a sailboat far into the Pacific with a vomiting, feverish 1-year-old, a Navy warship delivered them safely Wednesday to San Diego, where they began their attempted around-the world voyage before the child was born.
The Rebel Heart, the 36-foot sailboat that had been their home for seven years, is at the bottom of the ocean 900 miles off Mexico, sunk by rescuers because it was taking on water after losing its steering and most of its communications.
A satellite phone ping from the boat Thursday set off a huge rescue effort that involved skydiving National Guardsmen, three federal agencies, a plane, a frigate and scores of personnel.
It also sparked a serious debate over parenting, and the propriety of hitting the high seas with two young children.
The Navy warship, the USS Vandegrift, docked at Naval Air Station North Island with the Kaufman family safely aboard and the child recovering from her illness, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lenaya Rotklein said.
In a photo released by the Navy, the family looked like typical vacationers, with father Eric dressed in shorts and a baseball cap while lugging bags, and his wife Charlotte walking behind him, holding the toddler in a strap-on carrier and grasping the hand of her 3-year-old daughter.
The ship was scheduled to move from the island to the San Diego mainland later in the day without the Kaufmans, who first want to tend to their 1-year-old daughter, Lyra, and get some rest before talking publicly, Charlotte Kaufman’s sister, Sariah English, said.
The Kaufmans’ decision to sail around the world with Lyra and her sister Cora drew accusations of reckless foolishness from some observers and praise from others for their courageous spirit.
“They’ll probably go on the ‘Today’ show to talk about this, and write a book about it, do a miniseries and get 15 minutes of fame because that’s how our country tends to reward people who choose recklessly to put themselves and their children in danger,” said Margaret Dilloway, a San Diego novelist who has three children.
English doesn’t question the decision of her sister’s family. She said sailing is their passion. It’s what defines them.
“Charlotte and Eric raise their children how they see fit,” English said. “They are very concerned about child safety. That’s their No. 1 concern, and they did not do this blindly. They are responsible, good parents.”
Eric Kaufman, a Coast Guard-licensed captain, and his wife sent a statement from the ship defending their actions, saying “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.”
Others said children benefit in many intangible ways from parents who show them the world, even when they’re too young to remember it.
Ivan Alba said the Kaufmans should be commended.
“I think it’s a great thing, their decision to sail around the world, and just because their children are 1 and 3 years old doesn’t mean they can’t be on a boat,” said Alba, of San Diego, who is also planning a world trip with his wife and two daughters, 8 and 10. “It’s just too bad what happened, but that’s also life. Anything can happen, anywhere.”
Four California Air National Guard members parachuted to the sailboat Thursday and stabilized Lyra, who responded well to medication for salmonella-like symptoms. The warship arrived Sunday.
She previously had salmonella in Mexico, where the family had stopped their voyage for her birth. Her pediatrician assured them she was recovered and could travel, English said.
Still, shortly into the trip, the child started showing symptoms and did not respond to antibiotics.