SAN DIEGO -- Sariah English can't imagine the stress her sister's family endured after their sailboat broke down 900 miles off the Mexican coast while their 1-year-old daughter was covered in a rash, vomiting and suffering from diarrhea and a fever.
All ended well: California Air National Guard members parachuted down and reached the 36-foot sailboat to rescue the family and help them on board a Navy warship, and their daughter Lyra, quickly responded to new medication for her salmonella-like symptoms. The warship carrying the family is expected to reach San Diego on Wednesday afternoon.
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Charlotte and Eric Kaufman's decision to sail around the world with Lyra and her 3-year-old sister, Cora, has struck a chord with parents -- angering some who accuse them of endangering their children and drawing admiration from others for having the courage and determination to follow their dream.
"The rescuers have to risk their own lives to help people who do these kinds of stupid things on purpose, and I don't think that's right," said Margaret Dilloway, a San Diego novelist who has three children, adding that she thinks the family should have to foot part of the bill for the rescue operation. "They'll probably go on the 'Today' show to talk about this, and write a book about it, do a Mini-series and get 15 minutes of fame because that's how our country tends to reward people who choose recklessly to put themselves and their children in danger."
English doesn't question their decision: Sailing is their passion. It's what defines them. The family had lived aboard the sailboat, Rebel Heart, for seven years before it broke down. Rescuers had to sink it because it was taking in water.
"People are going to criticize anybody's parenting of their children," she said. "Charlotte and Eric raise their children how they see fit. They are very concerned about child safety. That's their No. 1 concern and they did not do this blindly. They are responsible, good parents."
The Kaufmans do not wish to speak publicly once the warship arrives in San Diego. They want to tend to their daughter first and get some rest, English said.
But they are aware of the criticism. Eric Kaufman, a Coast Guard-licensed captain, and his wife sent a statement from the USS Vandegrift defending their actions, saying "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."
Others say children benefit in numerous, intangible ways from parents who show them the world, even at an age in which they may not remember the travels.
Ivan Alba said they should be commended for having the courage to follow their dream.
"I think it's a great thing, their decision to sail around the world, and just because their children are 1 and 3 years old doesn't mean they can't be on a boat," said the San Diego father, who is also planning a world trip with his wife and two daughters, 8 and 10. "I say more power to them. It's just too bad what happened, but that's also life. Anything can happen, anywhere."
Charlotte Kaufman was pregnant with Lyra when they set off from San Diego. They stopped briefly in Mexico for the birth. The baby had salmonella in Mexico but her pediatrician had assured them she was over it and safe to travel when they set off again on their voyage last month, English said.
But shortly into the trip, she started showing symptoms and did not respond to antibiotics. Then the Rebel Heart lost its steering and communication abilities. The Kaufmans used a satellite phone to call for help Thursday.
It took three federal agencies, a fixed-wing aircraft, a Navy warship and scores of personnel to rescue the family. The Navy, Coast Guard and California Air National Guard don't charge for search-and-rescue missions so as not to not discourage people from calling for help. Rescuing people also is a requirement of international maritime convention.
The cost of the operation to rescue the Kaufmans has not been tallied yet,
English, who spoke to her sister after the rescue, said her niece has become a healthy, happy baby again with new medication. The girl is expected to see a doctor in San Diego to get a diagnosis of the illness.
"For now, they just want to focus on Lyra and get their feet back on the ground," English said. "But honestly I'd be surprised if there was not another sailing adventure in their future. I'm just not sure how soon."