Crazy people, taking children cruising

What kind of irresponsible parent would take their children cruising? That seems to be the underlying message from many corners in the wake of the Kaufman family’s rescue in the Pacific from their boat, Rebel Heart.

It’s all too easy for me to remember the questions we had from people who didn’t understand our decision to go cruising as a family. They dove to the risks, and not to the benefits, and never considered that we had considered those risks already. This was a very deliberate choice driven by family values: not crazy hubris, not selfish interests.

Not that this stops the naysayers, who loved to let us know how we were ruining our children’s education. Placing them in harm’s way. Not to mention, of course, that they would never be properly socialized.

I remember too well what it was like, that run up to cruising: it is full of voices, some from the well-intentioned but uninformed, some in your head, some from those who need to speak against your brave choices to justify their own inaction. Don’t let them intimidate you, or let one unfortunate event spun up in the media tip your dreams. Don’t let the ridiculous fabrications of the fearful leach into your psyche.

Consider the sources, and hold tight to your supporters instead. Their voices align more closely with the reality. Cruising is the fulfillment of our dream to share precious years with our children as they grow. Countless memories and experiences enrich their lives and ours. It is turning our kids into curious, articulate citizens of the world. It has given them respect for cultures and lives beyond our home sphere. It has built our bonds as a family.

No, it’s not completely without risk, but we take great care to prepare for the tough realities, and mitigate each of them to the best of our ability. And really, what life is without risk? Whether it is natural disaster, or human error, or pure bad luck- stuff happens, whether you live on a farm in Oklahoma or a boat in Mexico or a condo in San Francisco. None of us are immune, no matter how we navigate our futures.

Irresponsible? Crazy? If that’s the bucket we get tossed in, well, I’m proud to be a member of the tribe that’s chosen to raise children differently.

31 Responses

  1. Thank you for your family values and courage to follow through! I wished we would have followed through with my Dream when we had young kids, maybe we would still be married! Better late than not at all, my love of my life, Tara and I have lived on our boat for 10 years now.

  2. Yes, we made the same decision to live/travel for years on a boat with our child and never regretted it. While some of the backlash from the Rebel Heart fiasco seem to fixate on that decision, I think there is more to the story. There has to be when you hear that the boat was taking on water, had lost steering, lost a sail, running low on food, communication gone, and couldn’t use its engine, on top of a child becoming very ill from the same problem she had just one week before they left. I have no idea if all of that calamity is a fair representation of what was truly going on, BUT…. that’s an awful lot of disaster to strike in two weeks. It makes me wonder if they really were ready for their trip. Yes, it’s wonderful and safe to live/travel on a boat with your children, but you should be absolutely sure your boat and crew are ready for the conditions. Coastal hopping is more forgiving, passage making is less so.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this! It’s nice to have such well articulated response in my pocket when confronted with the negativity from family and friends.

    I have something to add about the comment above mine. I worked in the space program for 11 years and when we analyzed our systems for safety we always looked at the possibility for cascading failures and how we could mitigate them. Study after study showed that when things go wrong, they often go very wrong, very quickly and cascade into other systems. It is impossible to be able to forcast every way a failure can propogate.

    1. Thank you for sharing that, Tara- it’s a great perspective. YES. You can spend years preparing, but it really is impossible to forecast the domino effect of a disaster.

  4. Thank you for this post. I am a long time reader of your blog, the Rebel Heart blogs and many other similar blogs. I commend you all for giving your children the gift of your time, your attention and the wonders of the whole wide world!!

  5. Behan, the naysayers are right! How dare you raise your kids to think nothing of associating with other kids who are far below them in wealth, and don’t even have white skins? How will they ever fit in if they don’t learn to text under the desk to friends in boring history classes? Today a study was just published that asked Americans to locate Ukraine on a map. Only 16% could do so, and college graduates were hardly better informed at 21%. The ones that located Ukraine in Greenland were the most enthusiastic about invading. So, pray tell, how are you preparing your kids to re-integrate into a society like that. (off snark)

  6. The socializing thing is one that astounds me. Who would ever think that raising kids in America, exactly the way everyone else appears to be doing it, is the only way and/or the best way? Ugh. At no point in the rest of your life are you ever surrounded by massive hordes of people exactly the same age as you. The purpose our schools serve our kids is no guarantee of success.

  7. Hi Behan,
    I’m a friend of Dan Sears – he pointed me to your blog. My husband and I are trying to sell our condo. Our plan is to buy a boat (a trawler – we have no sailing experience) and live aboard in the local marina while we continue to work during the week. We’ll putter around the Sound on weekends. Our hope is to take the Inland Passage to Alaska in a couple of years. Our children are grown, but I could have written your post (minus the cruising) back in 1994 when we decided to homeschool our children. We weren’t heading off on a world cruise, just planning to homeschool in our suburban home. The comments we got! Only a handful of people supported our decision, and the push back from the teachers and school was hard. My sister told me I was going to ruin our children and said she just wanted to slap me. Well…they are both great young men – kind, loving, smart, interesting young men. We homeschooled all the way through, though the boys did attend Running Start at the local community college, both earning their Associates. Our oldest son has lived in communes on self-sustaining farms, is a talented musician, and sails on tall ships – he’s been crew member, cook, and education coordinator. Our youngest son joined the Navy (after a couple years of college) where he excels in IT. As wonderful as our homeschooling experience was, I only wish we could have given them the experience you are giving your kids! You have given them a gift that is priceless – a childhood filled with rich experiences and freedom. The self-sufficiency and problem solving skills they are learning will carry them through life. They are lucky kids!

  8. Nicely expressed. A lot of simple-minded opinions being blurted out over this affair.

    I’d ask people condemning the couple who lost their boat at what point on the continuum of childhood is it appropriate for a parent to enlist a child on a long journey away from immediate access to medical infrastructure, etc.? 2 years? 4 years?

    One thing that strikes me about this situation: if the couple had more energy available for vessel management, perhaps they would not have lost their boat. Infants require a fair amount of effort for maintenance, effort that is drawn from a fixed, limited pool of energy. Exhaustion is widely cited as the main reason for abandoning serviceable vessels. Was this simply a case of too much work needing to be done in too little time, with scanty human resources?

    If there’s a lesson to be drawn here, perhaps it may be that parents contemplating a long voyage with babes-in-arms should contemplate adding a third, fully functional crewmember for long passages.

    1. Absolutely agree…..I think the entire issue has been skewed by throwing all cruising families in one pot. There is a huge difference between island hopping with kids or day sailing and doing a 40 day passage. Had the Kaufmans ever done more than 3 or 4 nights at sea? I also think there is a huge difference between traveling with school age kids who have good immune systems and infants who notoriously don’t. Do I think the Kaufmans are bad people–no, not at all but this trip plus their blog are full of hubris.

  9. Behan, well said and beautifully written. One of my favorite quotes in support of your thesis. “Happiness is not a goal, but the by product of a life well lived.” Clearly your children are happy. Well Done!

  10. Well said Behan. In my opinion you are giving your children a priceless gift that will be with them forever. It’s sad that most folks can’t understand that perspective, but I think some find anything outside the norm a little threatening, hence the backlash. We are sending supportive thoughts their way too.

  11. Nicely said, Behan. I’m still not sure that I would sail with a one-year-old. I barely survived mine with a house and a job under me! BTW, who is JLee Enders? Are we related?

  12. Hi I am in CA and have followed your blog for a while. I was driving home through the Los Angeles traffic, and was listening to KNX 1070. Then I heard your interview. I am like I “know” them. It was very cool. We will be retiring June 30th of this year an moving to WA and will begin homeschooling/RVing with our special needs 12 year old. I really enjoy your journey! Thank you

  13. Love it, Behan! Did you see the Slate article by Diane Selkirk? She also states it beautifully. Asked my girls if they ever felt dragged off into danger. The confused looks on their faces were all the answer I needed.

  14. We did exactly the same and took our children out of school and sailing with us. The eldest is still here and loves the life aboard. The youngest went back to the UK to make his own life. Everyone say what a wonderful rounded and fun loving boy he is. People don’t tell you how much it breaks your heart when they leave. It really does but he has just been back with his girlfriend and we are proud of the way he has turned out. I know with your own children you will also be proud of your and their accomplishments.
    I’m with you on this one.

  15. Everyone runs into problems, it seems that this family just had a few at once, I really hope they find a way to try again perhaps when the children are a bit older.

    Your family is so lucky, what an amazing life they have lived at such a young age, spring boarding them into the future, while the kids getting the ‘so called’ great education and socialisation back home are learning the bad habits of others in my opinion.

    A wonderful post

  16. I heard you guys on KNX1070 AM Los Angeles, Very well rounded interview thanks.
    s/v Brrr Wind II
    Channel Islands Marina

  17. Excellent words! I just found your blog, we are just starting to plan our retirement dream/sailing/moving to another country kind of dream. We have two daughters, 10 and 17, and right now, our biggest hurdle is getting them onboard, especially the 17 year old! Do you know of any sailing blogs that took teenagers with them?

    1. Hi Inger, not a lot of cruising boats with teens. For boats cruising *now*, and blogging about it… precious few. None age 17+. Send me an email (see ‘contact’) and I’ll try to do a rundown.

  18. A Hoy
    Here is My view about children sailing, and I am single never married and no children ( for personal reasons by choice).
    What I can observes from children I met while sailing, they seem to be well educated, and full of knowledge that few land locked children have, they tend to speak multiple languages.
    They socialize easier and are accepting of others that are different with few reserves.
    They are not electronic slaves, meaning they are not texting all the time, they do not spend all day on the computer playing games. they tend to be more adept to fix things I.E watching their parent fix stuff on the boat all the times understanding the mechanics of things either electronic, electric, mechanic and even the physic aspect. They can amuse themselves with little, they do not need thousands of dollars of toys. Thus making them more financially responsible. They are not as materialistic as land locked children. And tend to share what little they have.
    As to the danger of things, they are not getting bullied like other kids are in school because they are different, although traffic accidents do occur, not being in the traffic all the time, does limits the risk, plus they are not getting complacent about crossing streets or intersections like land locked people do. People tend to forget that in the good old US of A, kidnapping, drive-by shooting, robbery earth quakes tornadoes house fires also do happens. I am sure school mass shooting is not as prevalent as it is in the states.
    In short they have a whole lot more life experience that their land locked counter part will never understand, and that as to count for something.
    But as every thing in life, people will always try to impose their views on others, it seems if one does go about life differently then them selves they are either weird, crazy or just plain anti social. According to some, we should all be the same, act the same and conform to their views.
    They do not know, they do not understand nor do they want to, all they see is what they want to see no more no less.
    I say the hell with them, and good for you.
    J/M Fortin
    S/V Ete Infini

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