Ignoring the underlying accomplishment

Published on January 3rd, 2019

The recent discovery of an abandoned 40-foot boat off the coast of South Australia has rekindled memories of how 16-year old Abby Sunderland (USA) attempted to become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe. But Indian Ocean storms required her rescue in June 2010, leaving her boat to roam until now.

Eight years later, questions continue about her attempt. Was she not prepared? Was the boat ill-fitted for the attempt? Was the time of year too dangerous? Was her father too pushy? Abby, now living in Alabama, married, and a mother of three with a fourth on the way, has certainly moved on. Maybe we should too.

The Aussie sailing coach and WindCheck columnist Joe Cooper reflects on this incident:


The stories, resurfacing after the discovery of her still floating 40-footer Wild Eyes, and the way too much (un)-Social Media and some other sailing websites, harassment of Abby Sunderland after being rescued from the Indian Ocean completely ignore the underlying accomplishments of this “kid”.

I have sailed with her, albeit only for an hour or so. She was quiet, attentive and could sail the boat, actually steer, with perfect aplomb. But seamanship is another world all together and no one knows it all.

How many of the complainers could sail a 40-footer, from Los Angeles to Cape Town and half way to Australia? Geeze people, what about giving her some atta-girls? I see people grizzling about the costs and daddy giving her a boat? But it’s a way better education, and likely cheaper, than a bog standard, four-year college degree in the US.

The costs of her rescue are always a point of contention, but until the basic laws of the sea and being a human are changed, this will continue, regardless.

Just think for a minute of being in a small boat, with living accommodations of a volume roughly equal to the inside of a small FedEx van, in the Indian ocean 2000 miles from anywhere, it is blowing 50, with a 20-foot ground swell rolling thru, with 6-10-foot breaking wind waves on top, you are sh#t scared but you need to push on.

But the boat rolls down and the mast breaks….etc. You push the AAA button and get picked up, dreams shattered and get pilloried for what? She was out there doing it.

Read the sailing magazines every winter, at least in the north east and one finds story after story of some middle-aged man calling AAA for “emergencies”, way less life critical than Ms. Sunderland’s. At least she did not motor directly into an island in the dark, crashing the boat and killing half the crew.

Stanley Paris has had four shots at getting around the world and has yet to make it. Alex Thompson had four cracks at the Vendee finishing only two.

People thought Blondie Hasler and Chichester had totally lost the plot in the 1958,59 prior to the O.S.T.A.R and look what happened.

Come on people, cut the kid some slack. There is today much complaining about her being too young and/or today’s kids looking at their phones, Facebook memes about the WW2 18-year-olds landing at Normandy versus today’s kids not being allowed to sail their Sabots out of sight of their parents lest parents be arrested for child neglect. I say more power to her.

Even if she has to wait another 50 years to beat Jeanne Socrates for the OLDEST person solo circumnavigation (if SHE makes it), I only wish I could be there to cheer.

Much is made of getting more gender equality in Sailing in the Olympics as the IOC is pressuring W.S. who is twisting and turning handsprings to deliver. Here we have a near as damn poster child for young girls facing all manner of adversity and all we can do is slam her.

Who amongst has (I have) shared the story of the all-girls crew sailing in the Sydney Hobart Race with their teenage girl contacts? Many of us do have teenage girl contacts if we think about it – our daughters, their girlfriends, your son’s girlfriend(s), all sorts teams in HS etc., clubs, coaches, Girls Lacrosse, Soccer, Hockey, Volley Ball teams in HS? There are plenty of places to share inspiring stories of young and not so young women doing great things in sailing.

If you don’t like it don’t do it, but as the Chinese proverb is reported to say, “people talking about “IT” should not get in way of person doing IT”.

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