In Defense of Rebel Heart, Cruising Families and Choosing a Life Less Ordinary

Rebel Heart

Over the weekend, the dramatic tale of the rescue of the Kaufman family from aboard Rebel Heart 900 miles off Mexico’s Pacific coast made the international news. In case you’re not familiar with the story, the Kaufman family — mom Charlotte, dad Eric, and daughters Cora, 3, and Lyra, 1 — called for assistance due to Lyra falling ill and issues with the boat. A satellite phone call on April 3 set in motion the rescue operation, which included the California National Guard, the US Coast Guard and the US Navy. On Sunday, April 6, the family and medical personnel who had parachuted in to help Lyra were all evacuated from the Rebel Heart. The family is aboard the USS Vandegrift and the Rebel Heart, which had been their home for seven years, was scuttled.

While rescue stories are fairly common, this one captured the attention of the world at large and along with an outpouring of support for the family, there has been a firestorm of criticism in reaction to the news stories and on social media. After dealing with their daughter’s illness and losing their home, the Kaufmans are also facing questions about their choices and their parenting from people who likely have never considered taking their family sailing, let alone on an ocean crossing. For a more complete picture, take a look through their blog, The Rebel Heart, particularly this photo post, for an open and honest look at their sailing life over the last seven years. My hope is that Charlotte will put pen to paper to share firsthand the family’s experiences over the past week.

As a mother who also lives aboard a sailboat with two young daughters, I understand the courage and sacrifice it takes for a family to stray from the straight and narrow and do something extraordinary. As an editor for Cruising World, I have come into contact with many people who have gone off exploring the world from the deck of a sailboat on voyages large and small. The sad ending for Rebel Heart is definitely the exception, not the rule, but does remind us that life has risks and accidents and illnesses do happen.


Personally, I have chosen this lifestyle to show my children that the best things in life aren’t bought in a store, they are discovered when spending time with the people that you love or when totally immersed in nature. The joys of the cruising life are many — from seeing the wonder on my kids’ faces as they spot a dolphin swimming alongside the boat or explore a coral reef, to when they learn the real-life lessons that come when seeing an otherwise pristine beach on an uninhabited island covered in plastic detritus, and the responsibility that comes when children have truly important jobs to do onboard. In general, cruising families learn to work as a team and to trust one another. For me, it’s truly been an amazing life to share with my kids. Not easy, mind you, but neither are most things worth doing.

Over the years on the pages of Cruising World, we have had the good fortune to work with quite a few cruising families and tell their stories. Here are a few:

• Wendy Mitman Clarke and her family — husband Johnny, son Kaeo and daughter Kailani — spent five years cruising aboard Osprey along the East Coast and through the Caribbean. Check out this photo gallery to see what it was like: Five Years of Cruising Aboard Osprey. Her award-winning column, Off Watch: Osprey’s Flight (check out this one), beautifully documented their journey.


• Michael and Windy Robertson are currently cruising the West Coast of the US and Canada and Mexico with their two daughters aboard their Fuji 40, Del Viento. Their stories are chronicled in his excellent blog, the Log of Del Viento. Check out this post to see how cruising with kids today is easier than it used to be. In “Routes to the Sailing Life,” a feature that appeared in CW last year, Michael interviewed five families to learn how each of them were able to break free and get out cruising.

The Robertson family

• The Zartman family — Ben, Danielle, and daughters Antigone, Emily and Damaris — built their boat up from a bare hull in California (a process that Ben wrote about in his Backyard Warrior column for CW — check this one out to read about their first night aboard Ganymede). After leaving California, the family cruised Baja California, Central America, Colombia, the Caribbean, the East Coast, and last summer, the Canadian Maritimes. Take a look at this post, “Looking Back,” where Ben marks the fourth anniversary of the beginning of their travels aboard Ganymede. The rest of his blog, Cruising With the Zartman Family, is an excellent read as well.


Antigone Zartman

• My husband, Green, and I have been living aboard and cruising Lyra, our Reliance 44-foot ketch, since 2008. Our daughter Caitlin was 3 when we moved aboard, and Juliana came along in 2009. We live year round in Newport, RI, and this past winter we were able to get away for a while and made it down to the southern Bahamas. In our normal life, it’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day routine. This winter provided a much needed break from that and a chance for Green and I to enjoy our kids and our boat in ways that we just don’t typically have time for. I blog about the liveaboard life and our adventures in At Home Afloat. Check out this post, Bahamas Birthday Party, for a slice of the cruising life — Caitlin’s 9th birthday. Want to know what a cruising kid thinks of this life? Take a read through Caitlin’s blog of our winter adventure, which her class back in Newport has been following: Travels With Caitlin B.



As you can see, cruising families are not at all cookie cutter. We come from different backgrounds and have different budgets and experience levels. Our boats range from small and simple on up to boats that have most of the comforts of home (because they are home). In common, we have a love of sailing and adventure and the desire to show our kids that with hard work, they can achieve goals and that it’s OK, though not easy, to buck the tide and choose a different path. It’s true that living outside of the norm will expose you to the naysayers – friends, family, and even the general public – but from my experience the negativity usually comes from their own personal fears. With family cruising currently capturing the public’s (albeit limited) attention, my hope is that the story of Rebel Heart and other cruising families who are truly living their dream, will inspire at least one other family to take a leap and try a life less ordinary, what ever form that takes.


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