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Sick 1-Year-Old Rescued From Sailboat 1,000 Miles Off Mexican Coast

The Kaufman family's 36-foot cutter, Rebel Heart.
The Kaufman family's 36-foot cutter, Rebel Heart.

A family with two small children who set sail on a round-the-world trip in their 36-foot boat were rescued 1,000 miles off Mexico's Pacific Coast after the 1-year-old daughter fell seriously ill.

Eric Kaufman, a U.S. Coast-Guard-licensed captain, and his wife, Charlotte, 3-year-old Cora and baby Lyra set sail from Mexico in March, bound for the Marquesas, a Pacific island chain. They were following a route used by hundreds of small-boat sailors each year that is nicknamed the "coconut milk run" for its generally benign conditions.

But some 900 miles off the Mexican coast, Lyra developed a fever and a rash that wasn't responding to medications. The sailboat, Rebel Heart, also experienced a loss of steering and a power failure. That's when the family activated an emergency radio beacon known as an EPIRB, triggering an air-sea rescue.

A statement from the U.S. Navy on Sunday said:

"Sailors from Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) assisted in the rescue of a family with a sick infant via the ship's small boat as part of a joint U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and California Air National Guard rescue effort. The Kaufman family and four Air National Guard pararescuemen were safely moved from the sailboat to Vandegrift, and the ship is now transiting to San Diego."

The rescue, however, has sparked a social media firestorm, with the couple's blog and Facebook page attracting hundreds of negative comments. One commenter, Anthony Bartholomew, wrote on the Kaufman's Facebook page: "I hope the US Government sends you a bill for this 'adventure' courtesy of the US Taxpayer."

Others jumped to defend the couple. Cidnie Carroll also wrote on their Facebook page: "Statistically, more children are killed in car accidents per population than are killed sailing. All of you screaming for the heads of Eric and Charlotte for being 'irresponsible' parents- have you ever put your child in a moving vehicle? You have put your child in harm's way. Let your child participate in organized sports? More children were killed playing organized sports in the US than were injured sailing."

Fellow long-distance sailors who belong to the Seven Seas Cruising Association have also largely rallied to the family's defense.

After leaving Rebel Heart, which was reportedly scuttled after taking on water, the Kaufman's issued a statement:

"We understand there are those who question our decision to sail with our family, but please know that this is how our family has lived for seven years, and when we departed on this journey more than a year ago, we were then and remain today confident that we prepared as well as any sailing crew could. The ocean is one of the greatest forces of nature, and it always has the potential to overcome those who live on or near it. We are proud of our choices and our preparation, and while we are disappointed that we lost our sailboat and our home, we remain grateful for those who came to our aid and those family and friends who continue to encourage and support us."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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