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.