Two tots, a sailboat and a storm over parenting

The Kaufmans’ 1-year-old daughter, Lyra, left, was seriously ill, and the boat had lost steering. Their daughter Cora, 3, is far right

LOS ANGELES — As her family began what was supposed to be a monthslong journey in a 36-foot sailboat from Mexico to New Zealand, Charlotte Kaufman wrote openly of her misgivings about taking her two daughters — ages 1 and 3 — to sail the South Pacific, with her husband as captain and herself as the crew.

“I think this may be the stupidest thing we have ever done,” she wrote in her trip blog, before concluding: “It is a difficult self-imposed isolation that is completely worth it.”

Less than two weeks later, 900 miles off the coast of Mexico, Charlotte and her husband, Eric, unable to steer their ship, the Rebel Heart, called for emergency help. Their younger daughter, Lyra, who had been treated for salmonella just weeks before the trip, was covered in a rash and had a fever. After a complicated rescue effort orchestrated by the California Air National Guard and the United States Navy and Coast Guard, the Kaufman family was on a Navy ship heading to San Diego, scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.

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Rescuers reached Charlotte and Eric Kaufman’s sailboat on Thursday.

But well before they set foot on dry land, the Kaufmans have become the focus of a raging debate over responsible parenting. Some readers of their blogs have left blistering comments suggesting that the authorities should take their children away, seizing on such details in Ms. Kaufman’s postings as the baby rolling around and unable to sleep because of the ship’s violent pitch, and soiled diapers being washed in the galley sink.

Experienced sailors have also shaken their heads.

“I have a rule in my mind that I would never bring a kid less than 2 years old,” Matt Rutherford, who has completed several solo journeys across the seas and is planning to sail to Japan from Northern California this month, said in an interview. “There’s some real risks here, and you bring somebody else along and you’re taking the risk for them, too. That’s a serious question.”

Still, other observers said the parents were doing the right thing by following their passion and involving their children early. Pam Wall, who began sailing with her children when they were infants and traveled around the world with them for nearly seven years, said the Kaufman family — whom she does not know — had seemed to take the necessary precautions. “There were probably a series of events that two people just couldn’t handle,” said Ms. Wall, who has served as a consultant for dozens of families contemplating similar trips.

She often tells them that the sooner they get their children aboard a boat, the better. “The whole idea of being a family that goes out to sea is that you are totally self-sufficient,” Ms. Wall said.