Abby on Wild Eyes
Photo Richard Hartog/AP

June 10, 2010 —  Abby Sunderland, a 16 year old from California, has activated two emergency beacons from her 40′ sailing yacht Wild Eyes.  Abby is attempting to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the world alone and had just reached the halfway mark a few days previously.  Her last known position put her approximately halfway between Africa and Australia with the nearest ship some 40 hours away.

Abby’s original goal was to sail non-stop  unassisted around the world and  be the youngest to do it.   She departed Marina Del Ray January 23rd but was beset by equipment problems from the outset and pulled into Cabo San Lucas for repairs, after which she restarted her circumnavigation from there.  Plagued by continuing problems with her autopilot system she abandoned her goal of sailing non-stop and pulled into Cape Town for repairs.  She still had hopes of being the youngest the solo circumnavigator when she continued on her voyage just a few short weeks ago.

Jessica Watson a young Australian, recently completed her solo non-stop circumnavigation on her 34′ sailboat Pink Lady.  She arrived triumphantly in Sydney harbor to the delight of thousands of fans who had come to greet her.  Her trip had an inauspicious start that nearly ended her quest before it had truly begun when she t-boned a freighter on a shakedown cruise after imprudently napping whilst in a shipping channel.  Her family came under scrutiny for permitting their young daughter to embark on her journey but Jessica proved to be both an able sailor and a lucky one.

Many naysayers have called into question the wisdom of parents that would permit their child to undertake such a perilous trip, I among them.  The quest for fame is a powerful drug and one has to wonder, how much younger will the next kid be?  Next a ten year old on Everest?  Or a nine year old sailing around the world?  How much of this is the result of the parents projecting their own dreams and aspirations onto their children?

Even when such a goal is clearly the child’s own, that doesn’t mean we should permit them to do it.  Wait.  Guinness no longer honors these “youngest” types of records and neither do the governing sailing bodies.  The brains of teenagers may be developed enough to have the sailing skills required but are they truly mature enough to understand the full risks involved?  I don’t think so.

In Abby’s case I think too she was engaged in a bit of one-upmanship with her brother Zach who completed his own solo circumnavigation last year in August.  He did stop along the way and held the record for the youngest sailor to achieve this feat for a mere few weeks before he was bested by yet a younger sailor.  Zach achieved a degree of notoriety that no doubt attracted Abby.

On Abby’s side is the fact that the two EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) that have gone off were self-activated.  She has another EPIRB that goes off automatically when it is submerged in water, this has not gone off at this writing.  She has lost radio/satellite communication though so it is impossible to say for sure that Wild Eyes has not been dismasted or rolled.   Abby has a level head and lots of safety gear, hopefully she will be found a little older and wiser, with nothing more than a few bumps and bruises.  I sincerely hope so.

Abby’s parents are updating her blog, which can be found here.

I will continue to update this blog as more news becomes available.

UPDATE:  Below is a map created by the LA times at 3:30 PDST, June 10 which indicates Abby’s position.

6/10/10 11:27 PM PDST  UPDATE:  According a post made by Abby’s parents at 11:27 PDST Abby’s vessel Wild Eyes has been located.  She is upright but has lost her mast.  “Radio communication was made and Abby reports that she is fine!”

Let’s hope that the rescue continues without incident and Abby is able to resume her life as a teenager doing teenage things, perhaps attending high school will be on the agenda!

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