Sailing Family Defends Choice to Raise Children at Sea

Thursday, July 10, 2014
The Zaniboni family made the decision to abandon the comforts of their Mississippi home almost a year ago, leaving everything behind to live out their dream of raising their young children on a sailboat.

Carly and Carl Zaniboni decided to share their story with "Nightline" to show the joys and challenges of parenting at sea, but also defend their lifestyle, now under mounting scrutiny after another family's harrowing ordeal made national headlines.

Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 12:35 a.m. ET

Eric Kaufman, his wife Charlotte, and their two young daughters, ages 1 and 3 at the time, set sail from San Diego in March, when two weeks into their trip, the family became a stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and their 1-year-old daughter Lyra came down with an unknown illness.

Eric Kaufman, who, with his wife, had spent years planning the 3,000-mile trip from Mexico to New Zealand, told ABC News today "we knew we were in a bad spot" when their daughter became ill.

The Kaufmans allege their satellite phone carrier cut off their only connection to land as they were stranded. They used the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) on their boat to call for help. A California Air National Guard para-rescue team was called in to save them, and the parents faced waves of harsh criticism.

Now the Kaufmans are planning to sue their satellite phone carrier and still defend their decision to take their young children with them.

"We're both experienced sailors," said Charlotte, who described the planned 3,000-mile journey as not a trip but the family's way of living. "We've raised our daughters on a sailboat."

"We were very prepared," she said. "We knew what we were doing."

Carl and Carly Zaniboni said they understood the difficulties the Kaufmans went through.

"My heart went out for them," Carly said. "They lost everything. They lost their home. It's just like your house burning down.""In my mind, they did everything right because they got the kids to safety," Carl added.

The Zanibonis are one of thousands of sailing families and said raising their children at sea is not nearly as dangerous as some may think. While they acknowledge that living on a sailboat may not be for everyone, "neither is living in the city or living in the mountains," Carl Zaniboni said. "I wouldn't do it if I didn't think it was safe."

Carly Zaniboni spent three years living on a boat with her parents, and met Carl while they both traveled the world, working on a charter yacht. Now they sail their 65-foot steel cutter sailboat named "Salty" with their three young children, Capri, 4, Cali and newborn Crew.

The Zanibonis admit that Crew, who was recently born at a hospital in the Bahamas, was an unexpected addition to the family, but they say their familiarity with ocean life helped them choose the right boat for their growing family.

"We have netting all the way around and the gates are always locked. It's pretty much a gigantic playpen," Carly said. "I feel safe on this boat and I think the kids feel safe but we don't have a false sense of security. We always have our eyes on them all the time."

The kids are forced to wear life jackets on the main deck and are tethered to the boat with a harness when the family hits the high seas. Below deck, every bunk -- including the improvised crib for Crew -- has protective netting. In addition, every cabinet has a lock, every counter has a lip and even the stove has clamps to keep pots in place while cooking.

"I don't trust [the stove clamps] fully," Carly said. "If I have something boiling on the stove, I don't leave the area... and if it's really rough, I don't boil water."

The boat is also equipped with high-tech communication and navigation systems, gallons upon gallons of sunscreen and a trauma-ward medical kit.

Even though the Kauffmans took all the same precautions and ended up helpless in the middle of the Pacific, the Zanibonis still defend their decision and say the Kauffmans were not being irresponsible.

"Mother Nature can do fierce, fierce things," Carl said. "We live on the water but who's to say we're any worse than people who live in New Orleans with hurricanes or Kansas with tornadoes... it's just our way of choosing to live."

Although they saved money, the Zaniboni family said it is uncertain how long they can afford to keep up their nautical lifestyle. Despite the challenges, including selling everything they owned on land, the Zanibonis said they have no regrets.

"I don't want to be that person that looks back and just says that I worked and became a slave to the system and not live. I want to live," Carly said.

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