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Sailboat exiting Morro Bay, by mikebaird

Sixteen-year-old Abby Sunderland went missing last week during her solo sailing trip around the world. Fortunately, the ending is a happy one.

SUNDERLAND SET OFF on her journey on January 23 and was doing well on her own as she navigated her way around the globe. Sailing is in her blood: Her father is a boat builder, and her brother Zac previously held the world record of being the youngest solo sailor to complete the trip at age 17.

On Thursday of this past week, Sunderland went missing in the Indian Ocean, about 2,000 miles east of Madagascar. She reported dangerous seas with swells of 30 feet, and then her engine began failing. Shortly thereafter, she lost satellite phone contact with her family and set off two GPS emergency beacons.

Sunderland’s lucky, however. It wasn’t long before authorities from the United States, Australia, and France set out on a rescue mission. She was rescued safely and in good health by a French fishing vessel soon after. The only casualty was Sunderland’s boat, Wild Eyes.

Tour by bike, by Mr. Usaji

Of course, now Sunderland has to face the flack. Matador Trips editor Carlo Alcos has already discussed the verbal punishment that 16-year-old Jessica Watson and her parents received when she set out on her global solo sailing mission. Considering Watson actually completed the mission, one can only imagine the kind of negative press Sunderland will receive.

As Sunderland reports from her blog, the media began calling her as soon as she stepped onto the fishing boat. While most people commenting on her blog expressed nothing but relief and happiness for the young lady, the occasional negative feedback slipped in:

Her parents should be criminally indicted for allowing such a stupid stunt. As a result, search and rescue personnel had to take their valuable time and resources, not to mention putting their lives at risk, to look for her. What a disgrace.

Sunderland, however, is in high spirits. She wrote:

There are plenty of things people can think of to blame for my situation; my age, the time of year and many more. The truth is, I was in a storm and you don’t sail through the Indian Ocean without getting in at least one storm. It wasn’t the time of year it was just a Southern Ocean storm. Storms are part of the deal when you set out to sail around the world.

As for age, since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?

Her greatest regret, it seems, is the loss of her dear boat.

Honestly, I’m baffled about how anybody could scorn Sunderland for her efforts, especially after witnessing her own brother and Jessica Watson successfully complete their own journeys around the world. These people are living proof that age isn’t an issue, and nobody can accurately predict the will of nature. I also don’t understand the comments about wasting rescue personnel’s time. Isn’t that their job?

In the meantime, let’s celebrate the fact that a young lady was given a second chance. The ending could have been much worse.

Community Connection

What do you think? Was Abby Sunderland’s mission irresponsible? Or was this just a case of bad luck?



About The Author

Candice Walsh

Candice Walsh is a Professional Experience Collector and full-time writer, blogger, and inventor of job titles that don't make much sense. She's based out of St. John's, Newfoundland. Follow her website for more shenanigans.

  • Carlo

    I have no knowledge of sailing, but I’ll wager that this can happen to anyone of any age who attempts the same thing. Would anyone be as pissed off if it was a 20 year old? a 25 year old? How about a 40 year old?

    What if a 30 year old with less sailing experience than her tried this. Would there be such a commotion?

    I’ll reckon that many of these parents who are so high and mighty are parents who have kids in sports and who yell at coaches, referees, and other kids during games. Sometimes kids die playing sports. Go ahead and google “teen dies playing _____ (insert any sport in the blank)”. Who’s fault is this? Can we blame the parents for allowing them to play sports? For perhaps pushing them to excel? Can we question the motives of these parents and say they push their kids so they can land a multimillion dollar contract?

    Why aren’t they scrutinized to the same degree? People. Take a good long hard look at yourselves before criticizing Abby’s (and Jessica’s etc) parenting skills.

  • Mike Collins

    As someone who has circumnavigated the globe, and has more than 40 years at sea, I feel qualified to say that age has nothing to do with it. My worst sea disasters have been well within sight of land and well out of my teens. If I had been 16 I probably would have reacted quicker in some circumstances.

    I was off the Grand Bahama Bank during Hurricane Fran when I was washed overboard. Luckily my very able 12 year old son used his expert sailing skills to gain control of the boat and use the winch to pull me back aboard by my attached lifeline.

    Never underestimate teenagers. The pirate Johnny Bleard was 13 and the famous pirate John King was only 11. Captain Guy Earl became a licensed sea captain in 1935 at the age of 16. They did ok for themselves at sea.

  • Avio Brooklyn

    First off, I want to say how happy I was to hear that Abby was ok.

    As a Search and Rescue volunteer, an avid sailor, and an adventures teenager, I need to say that niether Abby’s age, nor the fact that she was attempting to do somthing of great difficulty should be held against her. Each year, around the world, a lot of money is spent and time is given by SAR agencies to find and help people. Much of that time and money is spent helping people who have no skill, training, or expirience.

    I, as a SAR volunteer, would much rather spend my time looking for and helping who was put into a sticky situation following their dreams, rather than searching for a day tripper who went of on a jaunt in the woods for the thrill of it.

    In response to the comments about her parents being irresponsible, I think that it would have been of greater harm to Abby had they denied her dream to sail around the world. I have been lucky in that my parents have always supported me in my ventures. I applaud Abby’s parents for supporting her in this adventure. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for them to let their daughter sail away from the dock.

    As a sailor, it is my opinion that the ocean does things that suprise us all, even in the day of radio weather reports, and advanced weather radars. The area where Abby ran into trouble is notorious for it’s sudden, and harsh, storms. Many sailors, both much more expirienced and much older have run into trouble in that area. She was unlucky, not at fault.

    I think that Abby should be looked at as a hero, an inspiration. I am inspired by her.

    I hope that this accident doesnt keep her from sailing again.

    So to you Abby, fair winds!

  • Jeff Bartlett

    Everytime a teenager does something impressive, these comments seem to arise. Imagine a teenager climbing Mt Everest, sailing around the globe, or cycling the pan-american highway. Now look at the facts, its possible!

    I would think that rescue personal would be thrilled to find her living and breathing. They likely met an experience young woman who had both the ability and experience to pull off the sail. Unfortunately, some bad luck ended the trip. I don’t see why people comment about the rescue personal wasting their time. Leave it up to the rescue personal to voice their opinion.

    I’m glad to hear that things ended without fatality and think that she was more than right to attempt this feat. She should be applauded for bravery and sportsmanship.

  • Adventurous Kate

    I actually just blogged about this:

    I am SO relieved that she was found safe, but I’m mad about the recklessness that both she and her parents had.

    Rather than taking the time to train and prepare in the safest way possible, they focused on getting her out as early as possible.

    I fully support her, but I think that this could have been done in a better way.

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  • Candice Walsh

    Thanks for weighing in, folks! I feel like a lot of resentment comes from people sitting around on their couches twiddling their thumbs, realizing they’ll never get an opportunity back to do something like that again in their lifetime. I’m jealous too.

    Kate, I wasn’t aware of the fact that her or her parents had failed to properly prepare her…I’m not really sure what to believe, but apparently Sunderland is now signed on for a reality television show? Respect fading.

  • Eva

    Yeah, Candice, there’s a lot more to this story I think. The reality TV show angle is super nasty, and then there’s the fact that her mother has suggested US taxpayers should repay Australia for the $300,000 (!!) rescue costs… The parents seem highly suspect in this case.

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  • life_awaits

    see im 16 also and i feel age is but a nuber if you let it rule your life then you have no life!!!

  • louisa

    I think age and experience definitely come into it.
    16 is too young.
    The parents are idiots, and I think they should definitely cover the cost of her rescue.

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