Archive for Saturday, June 12, 2010

Young sailor’s parents face sea of criticism

16-year-old trying to sail around world found adrift

June 12, 2010


Abby Sunderland, 16, looks out from her sailboat, Wild Eyes, as she leaves for her world record attempting journey at the Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, Calif. Sunderland, who was feared lost at sea while sailing solo around the world, has been found alive and well, adrift in the southern Indian Ocean with rescue boats headed toward her, officials said.

Abby Sunderland, 16, looks out from her sailboat, Wild Eyes, as she leaves for her world record attempting journey at the Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, Calif. Sunderland, who was feared lost at sea while sailing solo around the world, has been found alive and well, adrift in the southern Indian Ocean with rescue boats headed toward her, officials said.

— What were her parents thinking? Many people were asking that question as a 16-year-old girl sat adrift and alone in the frigid southern Indian Ocean, her ship’s mast dashed along with her around-the-world sailing effort.

Abby Sunderland’s ship was rolling in 20- to 30-foot waves as she waited to be rescued by a boat that was expected to arrive early today.

She set off a distress signal Thursday after rough seas disabled her ship and her satellite phone reception. There were 20 hours of tense silence before a search plane launched from Australia’s west coast made brief radio contact with Sunderland and found her alive and well Friday morning.

“The aircraft (crew) spoke to her. They told her help was on the way and she sounds like she’s in good health,” said Mick Kinley, acting chief of the Australia Maritime Safety Authority, which chartered a commercial jet for the search.

“She’s going to hang in there until a vessel can get to her,” Kinley told reporters in Canberra.

Many people criticized Sunderland’s parents for allowing the high-risk adventure, one of several by young people looking to make the record books. Some veteran sailors said it’s all but irresponsible to send a teenager off alone in a small boat, knowing it will be tossed about like a toy for 30 or more hours at a time by the giant waves that rake the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans this time of year.

“In Abby’s case she was lucky,” said Derrick Fries, a world sailing champion and author of the standard instruction manual “Learn to Sail.” “It’s only a matter of time until we end up with a tragedy on our hands.”

Sunderland’s family defends her trek, saying that as a lifelong sailor she was as well prepared for the journey as anyone could be. Her brother successfully circled the globe last year when he was about the same age.

“Sailing and life in general is dangerous,” her father, Laurence, told The Associated Press. “Teenagers drive cars. Does that mean teenagers shouldn’t drive a car? I think people who hold that opinion have lost their zeal for life. They’re living in a cotton-wool tunnel to make everything safe.”

The driving analogy didn’t impress many parents who lit up Internet message boards with criticism. One, Tammy Davis of Makanda, Ill., said in a subsequent interview there’s no comparison between a car breaking down in a city and a person being trapped alone in the ocean.

“My 21-year-old son runs triathlons for the University of Illinois,” Davis said. “Would I want him to run triathlons alone? No.”

Abby Sunderland set sail from Los Angeles County’s Marina del Rey in her boat, Wild Eyes, on Jan. 23, trying to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo.

Her brother, Zac, held the record for a little more than a month last year until Briton Mike Perham completed his own journey. The record changed hands again last month, when 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson completed her own around-the-world sail.

Sunderland, whose father is a shipwright and has a yacht management company, ran into equipment problems and had to stop for repairs soon after beginning her journey. She gave up the goal of setting the record in April, but continued, hoping to complete the journey.

Laurence Sunderland said Friday that he “gave her the option” of bowing out at that point in her trek.

“I said, ‘This isn’t about media. It’s about a passion and a love for the sport of sailing,”’ he said. “Her words to me was, ‘Dad, I know what I’m capable of. I know what this vessel is capable of and I’d like to continue.”


jmadison 8 years ago

Will her parents absorb the cost of the search and rescue or will the taxpayers of the countries rescuing her bear the costs?

Flap Doodle 8 years ago

This stunt is "look at me, look at me," written in huge letters for all the world to see.

Flap Doodle 8 years ago

Did somebody leave the door open? I thought I heard a little dog yipping?

DrRustinMcGillicuddy 8 years ago

If the current situation's impact is lost on anybody, here is a pretty clear analogy.

A 16 year old riding a crotch rocket at night down an icy rode, days away from anyone who can help, without cell phone reception, wearing only knee pads and elbow pads. Neither sound safe to me.

Having said that, if she wants to take a trip around the world for no reason, very greatly risking her life, well that's her decision... Actually, that's her parents decision. They encouraged and funded her, but ultimately she made the decision. The question is whether or not a 16 year old can make that decision logically and with maturity. There's only so much experience 16 years can give you. The US doesn't consider her mature enough to even vote in the election at that age. Her dad may say she is experienced, and no one disputing that; but the fact is that more experienced sailors have said how stupid it is to be in the Indian Ocean during winter, no matter your level of experience. And why did she do this? Because if she was to wait until later this year, she would no longer "be the youngest" and wouldn't hold an arbitrary award.

The most puzzling aspect is their claim that this is being done to break the world record of youngest person to complete a solo circumnavigation around the globe. Well, she has already had problems in the past, before the problems she is having now. She's already had assistance, and she's receiving some now. She won't be eligible for the record in the first place.

DrRustinMcGillicuddy 8 years ago

At no point in history was a 16 year old girl given a boat and encouraged to circumnavigate the entire earth. She's risking the lives of rescue workers and wasting taxpayer money (albeit from Australia) to sail around the world at a very inopportune time (winter in the Indian Ocean) because if she went later in the year, she wouldn't be the "youngest" person to sail around the world.

GardenMomma 8 years ago

I think the point was that in history many young women (16 years old or a little older) were already married, having children, moving out with husband to take care of house and land, etc.

impska 8 years ago

Australia will probably bill her. Most countries aren't super generous with tax payer money when it comes to non-citizens. You just don't necessarily hear about the bill arriving in the mail.

citizen0123 8 years ago

and what have you folks done lately?

8 years ago

Bah! She's an adventurous young sailor, mature and intelligent. She knew the risks. She wanted to make history. Her parents should be proud. No harm, no foul. Quit getting all up in arms, people. Go back to your needlepoint.

Sarah St. John 8 years ago

Found this interesting in light of a recent item I came across while looking through the old 1910 newspapers..... This would have been a little unusual even 100 years ago, but no one was telling the parents that they were being idiots. My point in posting it is just to underline the difference between then and now regarding the expectation that teenagers (a word I don't think they didn't even use 100 years ago; you were a child or you were "of age") would act responsibly if they were raised that way. Your thoughts?

From the Lawrence Daily World for June 7, 1910: “Professor Dyche, the state game warden, has moved his household effects and family to Pratt, Kan., where they will make their future home. Lindsay, the 13 year old son, came to the rescue of his father on the matter of transporting two ponies by offering to drive them to their destination. After some hesitation, Mr. Dyche agreed, since Lindsay had secured Charlie Griesa, one of his playmates, to accompany him. So yesterday, the youngsters hitched up the ponies to the run-about, packed up a goodly supply of provisions for a two week trip, and secured the family artillery, namely two revolvers, a shot gun and a rifle. The distance to Pratt is about 300 miles by road and the boys figure that, by taking their time, they can arrive there in two weeks, camping at various places along the road during the night time. It is a great undertaking, especially for such small youngsters, but they’re brave and feel quite secure with their weapons."


DrRustinMcGillicuddy 8 years ago

But the point of contention is that there is no point in circumnavigating the world at 16! It's not 1910, and she isn't acting valiantly to save one of her family's most important assets. I know you're very concerned with academics and critical of sports in college, so I ask why isn't this 16 year old girl in school?

I can tell people, "Hey, watch me! I'm gonna drive down this icy road on a motorcycle without a helmet!". And if I come out alright, I can guarantee that the response would not be, "Way to go man! You're really living your life to the fullest!". I think is would be more along the lines of, "Well, you made it, but that was really stupid and doesn't prove anything."

denak 8 years ago

To me, allowing a 16 year old to sail around the world alone sounds crazy. However, in this particular instance, she did everything she was suppose to do. There are people who go out on boats who have wayyyyyyyyy less experience than she does. She survived because she was experienced. This wasn't her first attempt. Her brother had already sailed around the world. She comes from a boating family. She knows more about boating, and these types of emergencies,than probably all of us combined on this board. This wasn't some green kid. Had she died, she would have died way to soon but at least she would have died taking a risk and doing what she wanted.


Tom McCune 8 years ago

"Abby Sunderland’s ship was rolling in 20- to 30-foot waves as she waited to be rescued by a boat that was expected to arrive early today."

She was sailing a boat and was rescued by a ship, not the other way around....

Liberty275 8 years ago

I'm glad the young lady is well. Kudos to her for having the bravery to attempt such a mission and kudos to her father for having the confidence in her to give her the chance. She will grow up to be an exceptional human unlike the spawn of cowardly parents that never give leash enough to their children that they have a chance to find their own fate.

I am thankful every day that my mother let go of me at 17 so I could join the military. That made me a man while those I grew up with stayed small-minded little boys.

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