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Taking Children on the High Seas

In the months before publication of The Caiad considerable controversy arose in the press when a boat sailing into the Pacific Ocean from Mexico called for help after an enfant aboard became ill. It was an expensive "all out" rescue effort which included the scuttling of the Kaufman family boat Rebel Heart. For a description of the event and some of the commentary see:

See also Ania Bartkowiak's oped dispatch in the New York Times on April 13, 2014, about a childhood as sea on her family's sailboat. We took our young children on long offshore passages in the Caribbean, Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. About halfway through the 1200 mile passage from Bora Bora to Pago Pago we found ourselves in a full gale with mountainous waves. At one point the boat broached and we nearly lost our mainmast. So I am not going to deny or downplay the inherent risks. The picture shown here was taken as that gale abated and the happy faces suggest that we all felt that we were going to come though, but the night before had been a very different situation. We were much farther from civilization than the Kaufmans had been and any call for help we might have made would probably have gone completely unheeded.

There were other times when the children became sick or injuries occurred, though none reached the point of being life-threatening when we were far from land.

Many of the commentators in the Kaufman controversy focused on the hugh cost of the rescue, but that is mixing up two totally separate issues. There are numerous instances of offshore yachts calling for help in storms or due to sick or injured crew, the vast majority of which had no children aboard. The cost of rescues involving private yachts as sea and the risk to the rescuers is a legitimate issue for debate, but that debate has and should continued to be carried on. But the issue should be addfessed outside the emotional context of whether parents should take their children to sea.

Some commentators have suggested that the Kaufmans were unsuitable parents and that their children should be taken from them. When we headed offshore with our children the thought never entered out heads that anyone would hold such a view or propose such legal action.

We weighed the risks and the rewards and made what we believe was a reasonable and responsible choice. Our children have seen the world from a viewpoint few other children have had the opportunity to do and both we and our now-grown children regard it as a wonderful experience. There are risks in taking children in cars on interstate highways, in taking them in airplanes, in teaching them to ski and allowing them to have skateboards. Those who single out our choice for criticism are seriously out-of-bounds.

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