Skip navigation

Honestly, I hesitate to write about this.

For the past five days the tragedy of Rebel Heart has played out across the internet. So much has been written already that I probably can’t add much to what has already been posted. Still, much of what has been said about the event seems to miss the point. I’m going to weigh in.


As background, in case one missed the drama, a sailboat with four aboard set out from the Mazatlan area on the West coast of Mexico for the 3,000 mile, non-stop passage to the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. For those in the United States, the passage to the Marquesas from the West Coast of North America is the first leg for those attempting a circumnavigation of the planet…or sailing around the world, if you will.


The sailboat in question was a Hans Christian 36 …a thirty-six foot sloop. The yachts name was Rebel Heart. Hans Christian sailboats are known as dependable blue water cruisers. They are designed to go far offshore.


Crewing Rebel Heart was USCG 50 Ton Licensed Captain Eric Kaufman, his wife Charlotte, and their two daughters, Lyra and Cora, aged one and three. The boat belonged to the Kaufman family.


After a couple of weeks or so at sea, last Thursday, April 3, the boat notified the United States Coast Guard that their one year old daughter, Lyra, was critically ill with a rash, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea…and wasn’t responding to antibiotics the family had on board. The family was 900 miles or so off the western coast of Mexico.


The USCG notified the California Air National Guard. In an initially complex scheme, the National Guard arranged for four pararescue jumpers to parachute on the boat and administer medical attention. Upon boarding the boat the four PJs (as they are evidently called) found little Lyra in stable condition but the boat was said to have lost both its power and steerage. The boat was made good and the decision was made not to evacuate Lyra unless her condition worsened. Instead, Rebel Heart was to steam East to rendezvous with a US Navy frigate that had been dispatched from San Diego.


The US Navy Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Vandegrift met up with Rebel Heart and the entire family was evacuated to the Navy vessel. Rebel Heart was then scuttled…sunk…unmanned boats are navigation hazards. The Kaufman family is well; baby Lyra continues to improve. The family arrived in San Diego yesterday.


Undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of dollars in USCG and California Air National Guard expenses will have been incurred. The family has lost its home…the sailboat. And, whatever cost can be attributed to the men and women of the Coast Guard and National Guard who risked their lives for the family…thankfully there were no additional injuries associated with the rescue. The family will not be charged for these expenses as the services performed by the National Guard and Coast Guard is “what they do” and they don’t charge for a rescue like this.

So…what a freaking brouhaha, huh?

If one wants to know the gist of the sailing community’s take on the above I would suggest you follow these links to the comment section of the Kaufman’s Blog HERE and HERE, Cruiser’s Forum HERE, and Sailing Anarchy HERE.  Some of the comment sections run pages and pages long. If one takes the time to read some of them it becomes apparent this whole situation is one big hot mess.

My concern right off the bat is not that of most of those who commented. It is pretty obvious that most of those who commented on the Kaufman’s own blog were not sailors and had been led to the blog via a link published by the huge media coverage.

Those who have followed all of the drama, predictably, seem to fall into two main camps. There are those who almost seem to want to burn the Kaufman’s at the stake for what they perceive as the irresponsible, selfish, endangering act of taking their two daughters out into the open ocean…a lot of this group are non sailors. And, then there are those who defend the Kaufman’s to the end as prepared, experienced sailors being somewhat crucified by those who simply don’t understand the need for sharing their life dreams and adventures. A lot of this group are sailors…or claim to be.

Let me be clear on my position: I support the Kaufman’s decision to attempt an ocean passage with their two young children. With that said, and knowing full well that hundreds of families are, as we speak, sailing our oceans…if I had two young daughters the age of theirs I would not take my own children on such an adventure. In short, if someone else wants to do such a thing then I applaud them…but I wouldn’t do it. As I said in my blog post Babies and Boats: “Now, let me say from the outset that as much as I’ve always loved kids, I can think of few things less appealing than raising a baby aboard a full time cruising sailboat.”

What about the cost of the rescue…aren’t you outraged? Well, hardly. I’d rather my money go to their rescue than to fund our military killing brown people in other countries under the guise of national security. I don’t have a problem with the cost…I’m extremely glad the Kaufman’s are out of danger.

But…the boat was so small? It could be argued that a thirty six foot long sailboat is not a very big vessel, however, a Hans Christian 36 is a very well made and capable blue water cruiser. Many circumnavigations have been completed in this and other sailboat this size and smaller…it’s done every single day actually.

However, when boarded by the paramedics it was reported that the boat had lost power and steerage as well as taking on water when the engine ran. They were having some mechanical problems but the boat still had the ability to sail. None of the reports indicated Rebel Heart was in any immediate risk of sinking.

But, surely you agree such an act was dangerous and irresponsible? Not really. One doesn’t see a flood of sailboat accidents each night on the evening news. The fact is that it is fairly rare to hear of a cruising sailboat getting into big life threatening situations offshore. It happens for sure, but in the big scheme of things it doesn’t happen very often.

On the little/big adventure scale, crossing the Pacific most assuredly falls into the king-size category and there is obviously some risk involved. Often this passage is the longest passage of a circumnavigation. But it is not a monumental challenge that only a select few have accomplished. Thousands and tens of thousands of recreational blue water cruisers have crossed the Pacific before. Most people who attempt a Pacific crossing succeed. But, even if they don’t there is nothing irresponsible about making the attempt. In my mind, even with toddlers…again, though I wouldn’t do it with them.

Don’t you think the Kaufman’s are bad parents? I certainly do not think that. There is nothing I’ve read that even in the remotest sense suggests the Kaufman’s are anything but the greatest of parents.

Well, then, what do you think happened? The truth is, like everyone at this juncture, I don’t know for sure. But, I do speculate on the cause of the incident. Like everyone, I’m just very glad they are OK. However, being grateful for their rescue does not prohibit me from being curious.

If Eric Kaufman is the dedicated sailing community source that he somewhat set himself up to be I’d think he would find it incumbent upon himself to tell the story…accurately tell his story. I think if Mr. Kaufman explains the situation simply, accurately, objectively, and truthfully his sailing community will forgive him. If the story, if and when it’s told, is sprinkled with BS then maybe not so much forgiveness…

Regardless of what happened out there I must say once again that it is wonderful that the family is all OK. It’s terrible they lost their boat in the process. I also want to say that I don’t judge the Captain’s decisions. He, for whatever reasons, threw up the white flag and called for help in the name of his family’s safety. And, for that, I think we all should applaud him.

I wish the entire family nothing but the best.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Rebel Heart Revisited | The Boat on 21 Jul 2014 at 1:03 pm

    […] written about the Rebel Heart rescue thing before, HERE. I won’t be commenting on it again. When I wrote the piece on Rebel Heart the family had just […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: