Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Very Big Passages and Very Little Kids

They're f---ing heros.  They were trying to give their kids the very best life possible.

--A writer acquaintance,
 in conversation about
Eric and Charlotte Kaufman

Elias crossing the equator en route to the Marquesas, age 1.
This photo and below - Eric en route to the Marquesas, age 1.

The Rebel Heart story is very close to home for us, since we have twice sailed the passage that they were on - once on Pelagic and once on Galactic.  Both times we had one-year-olds aboard.

Our hearts go out to the Kaufmans - we don't know them at all, but we have every reason to expect that they prepared very hard for the trip, and take their responsibility as parents very seriously.

As for all those people who have queued up to criticize them, either by being interviewed in the media or as online trolls - well, you would think that self-respect would stop people from flapping their gums when they don't know what they're talking about.  A tradewind passage like the one that Rebel Heart was making is an eminently safe affair for a well-found boat.  Anyone who describes such a trip as too "extreme" for little kids is likely ignorant - and also more than likely jealous that someone else had the courage to try something they'll never do.

The risks that come from the remoteness of the route, and the resulting distance from medical care, are faced by families in other situations.  As a friend of mine pointed out, no one would criticize an Alaskan family that lived in the Bush if their one-year-old required a medevac.

(As an aside, I found the only humor in the whole saga in the fact that Eric's brother-in-law decided to get up on his hind legs and give an interview saying he thought the whole trip was a bad idea.  Chuck, Dave, Chris - if I ever do anything that you think is really stupid, please have the courtesy not to tell me through the local CBS affiliate!)

[But note this addendum - after seeing this post from Charlotte, I guess that the family comments aren't so funny.  Mike]

Sailing big passages with very little kids can be very difficult on the parents - see this example and this one, too.  But we haven't regretted either of our Pacific crossings with toddlers, or the bigger-picture decision to raise the kids on a boat.  The upsides of this life, for us and for them, are enormous.

And, six years in, we continue to very actively assess the line of what we think is reasonable to take on with the kids.  That's perhaps the heart of going long-distance sailing with kids - it's entirely up to the parents to decide what's reasonable, and to decide what level of preparation is sufficient.  No one licenses us, no one inspects our boat or examines our competence.  We internalize all of the safety decisions that parents back on land are able to offload to the larger society.

For us, the line of reasonability precludes Antarctica or South Georgia - though other families have safely sailed to those places with young children.  And for anything that we'd like to do on the boat, we try to prepare with incremental steps.  Thus 3-day and 7-day passages with Elias before we set off across the Marquesas, and trips across the Tasman, and down to the New Zealand sub-Antarctic, and between New Zealand and the tropics and back, before we set off for Patagonia.

No one can take the question of safety for the boys more seriously than we do, and the responsibility of taking them to sea is a weight that we live with, day to day.

But, conversely, the joy of this life, all together and together all the time, seeing the world as we will, is a pleasure that we live with, day to day.  It is, I trust, a pleasure that will turn over time into memories to inform all four of our lives for decades to come.


  1. Agree with your post 100%. Heck sending young children off to school each day may very well be a riskier proposition than taking them on a well planned, prepared passage.
    BTW...I've noticed that in about the last 2 weeks opening your blog on my iPad2 causes Safari to crash...but IE on my PC is fine.
    As always I continue to enjoy reading your posts.

    1. Thanks for that, Roger. And thanks very much for the heads-up on the bug…a fix might take a little while, since we're in the throes of getting ready to head off on a big passage...

  2. Great post Mike - passionately argued, with great supporting evidence. Not that you'll stop people from passing judgment. People do. Makes it a bit harder for those who plot a considered course for their lives off the much-thumbed chart, but a blog (and book) as unplugged as yours leaves a very revealing trail for those who want to understand this kind of decision-making. Much appreciated, as ever.

  3. Yeah, thanks, guys. It's all just regular life in an irregular setting, eh?

  4. http://www.viva.co.nz/article/fashion/collette-dinnigan/
    Interesting article about how growing up on boats shaped this successful woman's life.