in Musings, Sailing

Abby Sunderland

Abby Sunderland, a 16-year-old girl vying to be the youngest person ever to solo circumnavigate the world in a sailboat, ran into trouble when she had to be rescued in the Southern Ocean. Her boat, Wild Eyes, had its mast snapped by the violent storms occurring during the antarctic winter.

A lot of helicopter parents are cluck-clucking about this in the Internet forums. But she could’ve been killed, they’ll say. That’s exactly the point. She could’ve been killed but instead she took a chance to live her dream. Better that than to die slowly knowing you were too afraid to go for what you wanted. To really live.

I have little issue with what Abby did. She has grown up in a sailing family and has been sailing all of her life, so she and her boat were well-equipped for the journey. In other words, Abby is not your typical teenager taking the family boat for a joyride. The only thing I would question is sailing the Southern Ocean in the dead of winter. The weather in that area of the world doesn’t play around, and most sailors would be challenged by it. Abby is lucky she had the ability to send a distress call as she might easily have not gotten the chance. But good for her for trying!

I sure wish I was in the position Abby is in – to be able to chase those dreams. Before you know it, grown-up life takes over and your existence gets defined by what happens inside cubicle walls. Some fortunate souls manage to rise above it but most of us adventurers must postpone our journeys until the demands of family, work, or other obligations are satisfied.

I will be cheering Abby on when she returns to the helm, and should my kids wish to someday follow in her footsteps or forge their own adventurous paths I will be behind them all the way. As they say, life is not a spectator sport.

  1. Mark :

    I have to disagree. No matter how technically strong a sailor she might be, having ‘been sailing all of her life”, I do not think a 16 year old is mentally or emotionally prepared for the dangers and stress that such a journey can (and did) present. I have little doubt that her sailing skills were sound – navigation, helmsmanship, etc. But as young teen, I can’t believe that she had the breadth and depth of experience to be able to handle the stresses present during such a trip. Sailing, or any adventure sport, requires regular and repeated decision making under highly stressful and dangerous conditions. And to make those decisions requires considerable experience and calmness from which you can react ‘instinctively’. As you point out, most sailors would be challenged by that journey. I don’t believe that any 16 year old could have the experience and emotional strength to handle those conditions.

    I understand and respect her “dream”, but the vanity and selfishness to take on something so dangerous to me seems to outweigh the benefit. Would she have felt that much less ‘satisfied’ if she had sailed around the world with an adult? She wouldn’t have become the youngest, but she would have accomplished the same task and I expect that anyone she met would have been equally impressed with ANY circumnavigation, solo, tandem, or otherwise. To do it in seeking the world record was purely selfish vanity.

    I am glad that she has been found safe, and I wish her great things, but this was irresponsible.

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