Many people dream of the chance to sail around the world in a boat. But for one family of four, a voyage across the Pacific Ocean quickly came to an end over the past week, as the youngest of the four, 1-year-old Lyra, became ill onboard the vessel. A Navy ship rescued the family on Sunday.
The family, consisting of Charlotte and Eric Kaufman, and their two daughters, Lyra and Cora, 3, were two weeks into a trans-Pacific voyage from Mexico to the South Pacific Islands and New Zealand, aboard their 36-foot-long sailboat, the Rebel Heart. But Lyra became sick with a fever and a rash that reportedly covered her whole body, became infected, and failed to respond to medication.
The family called for help on Thursday night while 900 miles off coast. Not only was Lyra sick, but the boat had also lost steering and communication function. The Rebel Heart’s first responders were a group of four pararescuers from the California Air National Guard who parachuted into the ocean that night, inflated a boat, and connected with the Rebel Heart to give Lyra prompt medical attention, USA Today reported. While neither the family nor the rescuers have confirmed diagnosis, the symptoms described hint Scarlet fever, a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the illness could have also been a relapse of Salmonella poisoning, which the young girl had before leaving — a doctor had cleared her for travel at the time.
Whatever it was, rescuers said that she was in improving, stable condition when a Navy warship took the family onboard on Sunday. “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,” A Navy press release said. “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.”
Since the rescue, the family has gotten loads of criticism through social media — mostly about child endangerment, but also about the costs of the rescue, which the Coast Guard has not disclosed. The family responded, saying that Eric Kaufman is a licensed captain with the U.S. Coast Guard and that he had planned the trip carefully. “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,” they said in the Navy statement. “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.” The family lost their boat, which was also their home, because it had begun to take on water, and authorities decided to leave it to sink.
While it may seem like a bad idea for a family to go sailing across the ocean — indeed, the waters could be rough for a small boat — the Kaufman’s are not the first to travel with young children. For this family of four, it could have been a series of unfortunate circumstances that caused them to be thrust into the waves of criticism.