Friday, April 11, 2014

The Rebel Heart Kid Controversy

REbelHeartShips wheel

From NPR to Fox News to the New York Times and the British Telegraph the Pacific Ocean rescue of the crew aboard Rebel Heart has made some entertainment for the worldwide news peddlers. If you haven’t heard, the basic story is that a couple, Eric and Charlotte, spent two years cruising in Mexico with their first born. While there they have a second child. They waited till the new kid was about 13 months old and headed off for a trans-Pacific crossing to the Marquesas, French Polynesia. This is one of the longest, if not the longest, passage that most cruising circumnavigators sail. Its about 3,000 miles and takes 3 to 4 weeks. The crew were reasonably prepared, although they did not have significant ocean passage experience.

When they were offshore Mexico about 900 miles the youngest child got sick. The boat also had developed some issues; the steering had problems and they were taking on water when the engine was run. Charlotte was clearly tired out after the first segment of the passage. A decision was made onboard to request outside rescue help to deal with the young child’s --or do you still say baby at 13 months -- condition.

PX*804146  These pararescuers grabbed an unscheduled C130 flight and four of them donned swim fins and jumped out into the Pacific along with a rubber raft. The baby was stabilized onboard but the decision was made that she should be evacuated to shore for further medical evaluation and treatment. A Navy frigate arrived a day later and evacuated the family and the pararescures. In the top picture you can see the wheel from Rebel Heart being passed over to the Navy rescue boat prior to Rebel Heart being scuttled.  I assume they saved the wheel as a memento – not that it is likely they they will forget about this adventure. The boat was scuttled – sunk – to avoid it becoming a hazard to navigation.

In many articles, Internet forums and blog posts and comments there have been some hard-core slamming of the family for putting their children at risk on this adventure and for abandoning the boat. When I’m on a commercial plane flight and there’s an infant within about 6 rows of me, I feel trapped and pray that the owners have appropriately drugged the child for the 3 or 4 hour journey. The last place I’d want to be is on a 3 week ocean passage on a small, bouncing sailboat with an infant. Of course, that doesn’t make it child abuse. My feeling is that when you take kids on a cruising boat it is an amazing growth opportunity for them. Life without The Mall and continuous i-connectivity. But they need to be old enough to have some sense of it. Maybe by 5 or 6 before they can really start to become part of the adventure. All parents take risks with their children. They drive them on the freeway. Some refuse to vaccinate them. Others delegate their care to outsiders. A wait of a few more years cruising closer into Mexico surely would have worked out for the better for Rebel Heart, but their decision to attempt long passages with an infant is really just a personal parenting decision, no different than the thousands of less obvious decisions that parents in suburbia make everyday. It’s not a decision I would have made, but others have. This one just turned out for the worse.

As to the abandoning of the ship. I’m sure that was a tough decision decision. The medical condition of the child was clearly beyond the state where the parents felt they could manage it. Once outside rescue help has arrived, the ball is rolling fast. The rescuers aren’t going to come out twice. The captain could have stayed with the ship and single handed the vessel the 2000 additional miles to French Polynesia, or tried to sail to windward and slogged back the 900 miles to the Mexican coast; both have been done before, but this in a boat that had reported steering and engine issues. And there would have been that small issue of not knowing how the family is doing in a time of crisis. Making the decision to abandon and scuttle the boat was probably what seemed the most reasonable at the time and it was probably pushed fairly hard by the Navy rescue team. As far as Internet facts go, it appears that the boat was uninsured, meaning they have lost their home and its contents – except the wheel – and will have to start over on land – hopefully with their family’s health intact.


Thursday, April 3, 2014



We left Dominica after a few days and headed down island to Martinique. We had some warranty parts being shipped from France to the marina in Le Marin at the south end of Martinique and didn’t want the package sitting around too long. First stop was the city of Sainte Pierre. Its claim to fame is that the volcano behind it erupted in 1902 and wiped out the 28,000 residents. The photo above is just after the eruption. A couple of days before the eruption the mayor made a speech letting the residents know that there was no longer a risk of eruption – at least that’s how the story goes. He was kind of right. It wasn’t the lava flow that got the town, it was the super-heated gasses that killed everyone except a prisoner locked up in the local jail. This guy later had a good career touring with the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

martinqueIMG_4822 The town is repopulated, but a little on the sleepy side. The capital was moved to Fort de France. We took a bunch of pictures of the old remains – none to be shown here as we’ve experienced some more electronics failure. The Canon zoom lens we bought at B&H camera in New York last summer is dead. Bummer.

martinqueIMG_4820 I”m not really up on my French gang tags, but we thought the art work on this beach wall in St. Pierre is pretty good.


martinqueIMG_4846There’s a lot of deep water diving at St. Pierre. The water is very deep till you are almost at the shore. A few days before the eruption a tsunami hit the bay and sunk a bunch of cargo ships. Most ended up in fairly deep water. Take a look at the gear in this photo. On the right is an old bronze diving helmet, on the left on the dock is a 50’s style dive suit and in the upper left is a two person hand crank air pump. These guys were doing a dive off the pier using this old equipment – I assume just because they could.

martinqueIMG_4853 A north swell really picked up overnight. We were anchored close into the beach – about 250 feet off in 17 feet of water. The swell just didn’t make staying there seem like a smart move.

martinqueIMG_4858 We headed off on a light wind sail toward Fort de France, the capital. Part the way down the wind was totally shadowed by the high mountains. We saw this red German flagged steel-hull boat doing 360’s and then saw them jumping into their dinghy. We went over to see if they were OK. Here’s me earning my sailing kharma points for towing them toward the wind. Chris censored the other photos as not blog appropriate.

martinqueIMG_4869 We spent a night in Anse Mitan across from Fort de France. The dinghy dock was untenable due to the swells and its location right up against the rocks, so we took off in the morning and continued on to St. Anne, at the bottom of the island next to the bay that had our parts. This is sunset with Martinique on the right and Diamand on the left. Sorry, no green flash.

martinqueDSCN2159 We got in a little snorkeling near the entrance to Le Marin bay. Seascape with abandoned fish trap.


There was some great sponges. Look at the size of the one at the center bottom compared to Chris’ head.


Not sure if this is Global Warming related, but there was an iceberg floating in the anchorage.


Gingerbread filigree on a local building.


And the real reason to go to any French island – fresh baguettes.

We’re off on an overnight sail to Bequia (pronounced beck-way)this afternoon.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sailing with Foreigners


I was reading an e-mail that Chris sent to one of her friends recently and figured it just seemed somewhat appropriate for April 1st. Here’s a long snippet.

…We've been in the eastern Caribbean, the Windward Islands, for awhile now, getting further and further away from the N. American crowd, and I've got to tell you, being among the Euros is such a trip! Paul of course is thrilled by the fact that none of the women wear tops. The highlight of the Iles de Saintes, for Paul, was the topless snorkeler. But, they don’t even wear tops while they’re sailing. We towed this young German couple’s boat a few miles the other day and the girl was topless the entire time. You know it's one thing to sunbathe with the girls hanging out there (be careful not to burn the nips!) but all together another to be working the winches! Ouch. The other day a young woman (w/two small children) who was on a French boat anchored near us (the French like to come into an anchorage, even one with plenty of room and see just how close they can anchor to the other boats) was walking around on the boat in her birthday suit. Paul is watching her, of course, and she bends over and just totally browns him out. He almost fell off the boat… ewwww. Saw another couple last night anchoring in the nude – completely starkers... explain that one to me. The German ‘'boys’ like to walk around their boats in their birthday suits all the time, especially the big boys.TMI! But I mean really, guys, do you  want those dangly things any where near the windlass??

Ok, I know I come off sounding like an American prude, but as a health care provider I think it’s my responsibility to point out the hazards involved when you sail without your safety gear… Just a public health announcement.