We don’t have kids but if we did we would have taken them with us on our voyages. Judging by the families we met while cruising, I would say their kids were well balanced, inquisitive, educated and responsible. Yes, some were a touch wild but in general being at sea and experiencing different places and cultures was doing them nothing but good.
In 1986, my wife and I made a failed attempt to abandon ship. The self-imposed pressure to do so was immense without having the added complication of children to think about. This all happened in the Bay of Biscay during a storm that touched Force 11. Our yacht was rolled over, twice, and my wife and I went over the side. After the first capsize I activated the EPIRB, which didn’t work. Alone on a raging sea, we struggled to pump the water out of the boat and in anticipation of the boat sinking, lashed the liferaft into the cockpit and stowed a knife close by. We then made a silly mistake and left the grab bag on the cockpit seat. When the boat rolled a second time the grab bag, containing most of our flares, ships papers, cash and credit cards, went to the bottom of the heaving Atlantic. Based on our precarious situation, I made the decision to abandon ship; the Bay of Biscay, however, had different ideas. The outcome was that we fashioned a mast out of our one remaining spinnaker pole and a sailed to land, a memorable voyage of six days and two more storms.
Sailing aside, what is interesting about our experience is how people reacted once we reached land.
Our landfall was Port Joinville, a small fishing harbor on l'Île-d'Yeu, an island off the Brittany coast. Our yacht had lost its motor during the capsize and although our jury rigged sail (number 3 jib set upside down with a knot tied in it) carried us right into the harbor mouth, the wind shadow made it impossible for us to sail in. After several attempts and with a current pushing us past the breakwater, we were forced drop anchor. Around 15-minuts later, a small fishing boat with one man aboard came out of the harbor. One look at us and the state of our boat and he went about, threw us a line, and towed us into the marina where other fishermen and yacht crews came running along the dock to help us. We can never thank the people of I'Île-d'Yeu enough for their kindness. We were in a pretty bad way, my wife had hypothermia and we were both covered in saltwater sores.
The fact that we had saved ourselves didn’t mean we escaped the criticism of armchair captains. About three days after stepping ashore, a Paris newspaper ran a story about how brave fishermen on the island had fought the recent tempests, putting their lives at risk to rescue two English yachtsmen. The reporter had no facts, did not interview me and simply made it up. The story was later picked up by the English papers; they also never checked the facts. I was not happy.
Being judged by armchair seafarers who got their information from a story in a newspaper taught me an important lesson. It’s human nature to express an opinion, a view as to ‘what I would have done or what they should have done’, but unless you were there at the time, your opinion isn’t worth much.
Back to the Kaufman family and their wonderfully-named boat Rebel Heart. Many of the published comments following their ‘rescue’ bordered on hate: Hate that a family should be sailing together, hate for a different lifestyle and hate for their freedom. Many said they should be punished by charging them for the rescue! In other words let’s ruin them. The more venomous and deluded said their children should be taken from them and placed in care.
Photo from the Kaufman family website