Thursday, May 1, 2014

They Don't Like Us
By Michael

Eleanor standing watch over the sunset
in our La Paz anchorage.
I think it’s finally passed, the 15 minutes of attention brought to the cruising community by the Rebel Heart misadventure. In the end, the American public came to learn we exist and we came to learn they don’t like us.

I would love to try to answer and educate all the critics of this event, but it would require addressing too many misconceptions and trying to shift the perspectives of too many people—and really, I’m not that dogmatic, I think it’s healthy to continually question ourselves. So normalizing the decision to take children offshore, to normalize this way of living for the uninitiated, is an impossible task. And I don’t have the platform for that anyway; here I preach to the choir. Diana Selkirk did answer them, eloquently, on a conventional media outlet reaching a large, lay audience. Reading her article, I cheered—they will understand now.

And what happened?

In response to her article, Slate readers posted over 900 comments. The majority are as negative and misinformed as those I read earlier, elsewhere. The nicest of the worst assert that parents like Windy and I are irresponsible and unnecessarily putting our children’s lives at risk.

We had dinner the other night with the Spanish family aboard Lumbaz (Mom, Dad, and four kids). Though they’ve lived the past decade or so in Barcelona, he is from Germany and she is from France. Given their extensive European cultural ties, I asked how the Rebel Heart story was playing back home. They said interest was tepid; they couldn’t imagine the same negative responses in their home countries. (But of course, as a sport and a pastime, sailing and ocean voyaging are much more familiar to the folks across the pond.)

Our diminutive dinghy, the Portland Pudgy
always astounds us with her ability to fit
everything. Here is Windy (top right)
ferrying a family of five (our good friends,
the Bleimehls, who visited us from
our former D.C. hood)
Think about how under-the-radar we are to most Americans. My grandmother’s been learning about the world around her for the past 92 years, and even with us being her window to this world (she doesn’t have access to the blog) she still has little context for imagining what my family’s life is like out here or why we choose to live on a boat with our kids. I get that.

But what of her neighbors, young and old, the people without a cruiser in their lives, what context do they have for interpreting this rescue as reported on the Today show? They hear that American parents took their kids out to sea on an impossibly small boat in a self-serving bid to reach French Polynesia.

If you have knowledge of sailboat voyaging, there’s nothing wrong with reviewing and critiquing the actions and decisions of this particular family (after all, that’s how we increase our own knowledge base—thought it seems only scant definitive information is yet known at this time). But the blanket admonitions I’ve read, censuring all families cruising with their kids, make as much sense as admonishing surgery and surgeons following the failure of one operation, without both a knowledge of medicine and a of the single failure.

This isn’t the first family to lose their boat and be rescued, not even the first family to abandon ship in the same ocean this year. But Rebel Heart sure garnered the lion’s share of attention. Not everyone has to like we families afloat, but hopefully a few folks have learned enough to spark an awareness, perhaps one that will grow.

The Robertson and Bleimehl girls bounce on the
beachside trampoline at Stella's (from left: Leah,
Ally, Eleanor, Frances, and Sylvia)
Jana and the girls in the plaza de La Paz.

Shawn, Jana, Windy and I hung out, watching the
trampoline and sunset. 


  1. yeah, ok - sailing with kids is one thing. But what knucklehead parents would take their kids to Mexico??

    1. We ask ourselves the same thing every day, but it could be worse. The girls are learning to recognize the violent drug lords and dodge their bullets. And the language barrier isn't really a barrier--they've both learned to shout their words in English if they're not understood, always being clear to let everyone know they are American.

    2. Thank God we are back safe in the United States! Our 6 year old, Emma, was actually learning a foreign language attending kindergarten in a small fishing village. Our 4 year old, Charley, was getting way to comfortable meeting people of different cultures, languages, genders, and ages (we must keep our children safe from old people!)- so we had to leave! Luckily we are back in Arizona, safely locked inside a normal house with a fence and gate far away from all the strange people. We'll try again next year and maybe Mexico will be more like the US but cheaper. Your single minded rectitude against the daunting and dangerous experiences your children will encounter is grudgingly impressive despite the obvious long term trauma and psychological damage they will endure for the rest of their lives. Anyhoo- all our best from the McDowell clan as we head back to the grind for another season:)

  2. I just stumbled on your blog. Once my husband and I (at a much younger age) went out sailing with a couple in St. Thomas who lived on their boat and took tourists out for a day. I loved it and have always said that this is the way I wanted to live. We are from the Midwest and I have no knowledge of sailing so that was a pipedream. Anyway as to your post above, I find that in general online commenters are hateful regardless of the content of the article so take those comments with a grain of salt for the comments on the story of the Rebel Heart.
    My take on it from the conversations I have heard were only negative on occasion around the cost of the rescue effort on the taxpayers. It appears to me that they were very good parents.
    Knowing nothing about your life at sea- why did they have to let the Rebel Heart sink?
    As for the decisions that you make about raising your children on a boat- well only time will tell if they appreciated it or resented it and that is true for every parenting decisions any of us make- ha-ha, I know this now that my children are adults . But for sure they will definitely be more interesting, experienced people with amazing stories to share.

    1. My understanding is that because they all abandoned Rebel Heart, the Navy asked them to scuttle (sink) it. This is actually common as an unmanned vessel is considered a hazard to navigation. For me, the big question is why they all decided to abandon ship. Perhaps they felt the risk to their daughter's health was too great to split up, so that Eric could sail Rebel Heart solo to the South Pacific and then get on the first plane to San Diego. Perhaps he didn't feel comfortable doing that passage alone. Perhaps Rebel Heart had mechanical problems they could not resolve. Perhaps she looked him in the eyes and said, "Don't leave me alone right now." I'm curious too, can't imagine how difficult that would have been for me to do--like setting your home on fire.

  3. OMG! Where is the safety cage around the trampoline with all the lawyer generated signs? Where are the harnesses and high barrier to prevent you from falling over that railing? Where is the surgeon general's warning that those beverages are bad for you? The USA has become a shadow of what it used to be, an overtaxed nanny state 'ruled' by idiots, kind of like the people that vote them in. Our kids have departed the nest but if it can be pulled together, September is the departure date from this insanity. People in general are ill informed and have no clue and are content to be fattened for slaughter. I respect your family and the many others that have chosen independence and self sufficiency. Your children will be the better for it. If I had only been wiser .....

  4. Mike, I love your blog. Your insights and perspectives delivered with tongue in cheek wit and sarcasm makes your blog my #1 go to blog to get my cruising fix. If you do learn more about why Eric chose not to singlehand Rebel Heart, I'd love to know. Obviously this public forum and your strong moral fiber do not allow you to publish your speculations...after all you know them first hand, but to me it sounded like Eric was, for all intents and purposes, sailing singlehanded(maybe 1.25 handed at best). You are preaching to the choir and you will never be able to persuade the naysayers. Perhaps you could provide an interview or a link to comments from active or former child cruisers. I would love to hear how much they lamented their lost childhoods and how they coped with being held prisoners at sea. ;) The proof is in the pudding.

  5. Yes, the Rebel Heart's media moment has passed. what I found ironic is how the Coast Guard has to rescue thousands of drunk knuckle heads driving boats on rivers, lakes and oceans but that did not come up as a point of comparison.
    If you think the criticism of cruising with kids is harsh, dare you to look up unschooling!! bwah hah hah

  6. I disagree with the title of this post, basically the idea that “They don't like us”. I read the article you referenced in "The Slate" and many of the comments attached to it (not all 900 that was too much) and generally speaking they were a mixed bag. Truth be told, after reading some of the comments on Rebel Heart's blog I was relieved to see that these actually were discussing the issues rather than resorting to straight out name calling. I remember one comment on Rebel Hearts blog actually said: "I hope you all die" and was posted by: “Getting really sick of you people”, so when I read the comments on The Slate article I was actually expecting more of the same but that's not really what I found. That’s not to say people weren’t critical of the choice of going cruising with kids but they typically were more concerned about how it would affect the kids, would they have a chance to socialize, would they feel lonely and cut off from the rest of the world, etc, etc. There were also lots of “live-and-let-live” comments and people saying that they were supportive of those who want to live outside the box along with many comments about what it takes to pull off such an adventure. I didn’t really get the feeling that people didn’t like cruisers in general from those comments, but perhaps I just didn’t read enough of them (like I said I only got through about 100-150 of the 900 and I have no idea how they were sorted). What I do believe is that people generally don’t like the Kaufman’s given what they did and the choices they appear to have made. From what I’ve gathered it sounds like some of that might be justified given what is known at this point (for example few cruisers appear to defend the idea of a long ocean crossing with only a crew of two adults attempting who are attempting to sail while simultaneously watching a 1 year old and a 3 year old). It is also a shame that their mistakes should shine a poor light on those who are better prepared and who make better decisions. But my sense is that people can tell the difference, that they can know that there are those who go out and try to give a unique experience to their children within reason and with a mind towards safety (as it appears that you do from what I’ve read in your blog) and those that make careless decisions out of a need to fulfill personal goals. This is what I got from the comments associated with The Slate article… if you got something different perhaps this speaks to something you are feeling.

  7. Well put Michael,

    If we sometimes have a hard time explaining our choices to our families, how much harder is it explaining to strangers? Not sure its worth it to try. Glad you and the family are enjoying La Paz. We had a great time there. Thanks for your voice.

    S/V Madrona

  8. Hey! Don't worry about who "Doesn't Like Us."
    "They" don't even have a clue about what goes on living aboard a boat.
    I've only lived aboard in shore stretches but I envy you and your family and your quality of living.

    HPJ Washington

  9. You guys are really irresponsible! Mexico is/was bad enough, but you actually exposed your children to many months of Canada and Canadians. Jeeesh! ;-}

  10. I'm kind of glad "they don't like us". As a member of a future cruiser family, I don't want the anchorages to grow any more crowded.

  11. I have been thinking more about this, I just posted about what boys do, on land as well as sea:

    Never mind sailing, sometimes I am amazed they even make it back indoors ok!

  12. the problem is that US has a nanny society, an over whelming concern with 'safety', and a desire to force everyone to conform. we are also plagued with an over abundance of moronic lawyers, an ignorant, self serving media that is only interested in ratings, and where truth, or intelligent reporting based on facts, and research is non exasent. My thought, is to totally ignore them and keep on enjoying your self, and the hell with the idiots.


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