Posted Fri, June 11, 2010 3:50pm EST

Bonnie Asks: Should 16-Year-Old Sailor Abby Sunderland’s Parents Be Arrested For Child Endangerment?

My first reaction on hearing that 16-year-old sailor Abby Sunderland may have been lost at sea, was to blame her irresponsible parents!

Were they lunatics for allowing their daughter to put herself into enormous danger? Was there any difference really between sending her alone across a 6000 mile stretch of Indian Ocean at 16, versus leaving a 5-year-old home alone? Lock them up!

Just how ridiculous are these growing quests for “youngest” records anyway? Abby Sunderland was on a mission to set a record as the world’s youngest person to sail around the globe non-stop. Her older brother Zac, had successfully navigated the globe in 2009 and became the first person under 18 to achieve this.

His trip ended safely. So did Jordan Romeo’s, the 13-year-old who was the youngest person ever to scale Mr. Everest, just last month in May.

However, quests to set records of being the “youngest” have ended in tragedy– most famously when Jessica Dubraff, a 7-year-old student pilot from Pescadero, California crashed after takeoff on the second leg of her ambitious journey. She was attempting with her parents support to become the youngest person ever to complete a round-trip flight across the country.

Now, personally I would never allow my minor daughter to sail solo around the world no matter how experienced a sailor. It appears fraught with danger.

But according to George Day, owner and publisher of Blue Water Sailing magazine, “it seems like a challenging and dangerous journey but it’s not unique — a number of other teenage sailors have successfully made the voyage.”

Day is very familiar with the whole situation including the sailboat that Abby used — in fact, he said that Abby’s family purchased the boat in Rhode Island, where he’s based. “The boat had already been around the world and was equipped with sophisticated communications systems, navigation systems and back up systems.”

In his professional opinion, her 40 ft boat was actually an excellent ocean-going size. When it comes to safety in the ocean “it’s not necessarily how big the boat, but the experience of the skipper,” he insisted.

But could a 16-year-old ever be experienced enough to handle a solo global sail trip? Day countered that Sunderland did have enough experience after growing up in a seafaring family.

Now here’s another question for you — if you have a teenage child that’s obsessive and gifted — whether as a pianist or an athlete like Tiger Woods or Vanessa or Serena Williams — do you ENABLE them like Abby’s parents did, or overprotectively hold them back?

“In order to be exceptional, you have to have an exceptional upbringing,” believes Atoosa Rubinstein, former editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine. You have to remember 16-year-olds in our country don’t have enormous responsibility but historically they had to pull far more weight. ” She doesn’t equate what Abby’s parents did to “putting any kid into an LL Bean jacket and saying good luck. If my child showed an extreme and passionate interest in something, I’d help her pursue it.”

Ok — I can buy that. And really children’s literature from Harry Potter to the Chronicles of Narnia to George of the Jungle, are full of teenage hero’s and heroines who set off on adventures to conquer the world. And we read these books to our kids, then take them to movies, adapted from them.

No wonder an Abby Sunderland could think it was ok to follow her dreams.

But here’s my real complaint against her parents Laurence and Marianna. They allowed her to set off recklessly. If they were letting her go, they should have ensured that Abby was set up to sail as safely as possible. They didn’t.

The southern Indian Ocean between South Africa and Australia is known as one of the fiercest stretches of oceans in the world for sailors , especially in the winter, according to Blue Water Sailing’s, George Day.

Apparently, Abby was originally supposed to have begun her trip from Southern Cailfornia — in Oct. or Nov. — a far safer time to sail. Hurricane season in the southern Pacific occurs during the southern hemispehere’s winter.  Delays for various reasons, held her up.

I fault her parents for allowing her eagerness to set a “youngest” record, outway concerns for embarking on the sailing trip at the safest time possible. As the mature adults, they should have insisted she wait .

Thank the Lord, Abby is safe and I applaud her mature and adventurous soul. But, she’s incredibly lucky that her parent’s recklessness didn’t end in a tragedy.

What do you think BFFs?

  1. TEEN SAILOR FOUND! Abby Sunderland Stranded But Safe (Whew!) In Southern Indian Ocean!
  2. Heidi Klum NAKED! Can You Believe She’s A Mom Of Four?
  3. Hey BFFs! GQ’s World Oceans Day Party Was Off The Hook – And I Was Inside!

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Posted at 7:24 PM on June 14, 2010  

There are few things worse than some busy body with limited knowledge and/or intelligece trying to impose their morals on the rest of the world. Bonnie, since you know practically nothing about the Sunderland situation you should just shut up. I cannot even begin to tell you how I’m sicked by the likes of you.

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Posted at 2:18 PM on June 18, 2010  

@SunnyD, I’m sorry but it is YOU who knows little about the facts of the issue and trying to impose YOUR judgement. In fact, most of the professional sailing community (by at least a margin of 20 to 1) had condemned Abby’s adventure long before, during and after she started MAINLY due to the decision to let her depart at a time that would allow her to cross the southern Indian Ocean at a time of year when the seas were at its fiercest!! Many, many sailors with decades of experience who had cross the Indian Ocean many times had thought it crazy to even consider even for an experience, well travelled, sailor to attempt to do so.

Here is a great quote from one of the articles reagarding what the professional sailors had to say about crossing the southern Indian Ocean:

“When the great maxi French mulithulls attempt around the world records, their window is always November to about March. Why? Because as Adrienne Cahalan, navigator on Playstation’s record circumnavigation said, “You don’t sail in the Southern Ocean in the winter.” You just don’t do it. Not the Volvo, not the Vendée, not The Race, not nobody. If the world’s greatest sailors will wait a full year just to stay out of the Southern Ocean in winter — when there are gales 30% of the time as opposed to 5% of the time in summer — you’d think the parents of a 16-year-old minor would make their daughter do the same.”

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Posted at 7:55 PM on June 13, 2010  

oliva i thought the guy you went out with was so cute
rethink it …. i thought he was so more adorablr than guys in pics

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Posted at 5:16 PM on June 13, 2010  

you people are idiots,most of you don’t have the guts to circumnavigate your block, you’re sheep prompted and herde until your dirtnap and you love it..why?..because you can’t help yourselves 9 out of 10 of you are absolutely pathetic worry about your own souls..devils

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Posted at 5:55 PM on June 14, 2010  

calm down phil. you’re the one that sounds like the moron. just b/c we question the logic of these parents’ decision, doesn’t make us sheep. to the contrary, actually, by the very act of questioning the behavior and NOT simply following along.

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