The story of Abby Sunderland is one that I’ve followed with passing interest starting in December of last year. For reasons still kind of unclear to me, she made it her goal to circumnavigate the globe as a solo sailor in one shot, without going in to port and without any help. That, in and of itself, is a fine goal (I guess); however, what made her trip particular was that she was trying to become the youngest to do it.
Now, I’m all for young people aspiring to lofty goals. But you have to wonder where common sense should dictate which records should and should not be broken. The seas are dangerous. Unbelievably dangerous. Ask anyone who has spent time sailing even calm waters, and they’ll tell you there are significant dangers and hardships associated with the sea. There’s a reason why the world used to be considered flat in Europe: it was too hard and scary to find out otherwise.
Abby’s original goal went unfulfilled, as her hopes to be the youngest to circumnavigate the glove in one shot ended in South Africa after a number of mechanical and electrical failures forced her to port. But inexplicably, she continued on, hoping at least to finish what she had started. Now, I see this news:
I empathize with her parents anguish right now, and I hope that she is found and is returned to her parents safely.
Now, I don’t presume to know what kind of thought process went into this decision. I haven’t read her blog. Perhaps this was some ill-advised grab at fame and a book deal. Her brother completed the same trip when he was 18, so maybe some twisted sort of sibling rivalry played some part. But in what world would you let your 16 year old daughter do something like this? What did they think was going to happen? Worse – and I’m not suggesting that they did – is if her parents pushed her to do this. I refuse to assume they did – as is so easy to do in the age of ridiculous sideline parents – but it’s easy to imagine that their goal became her goal. And that really would be sad.
All I know is that whatever the reason for her wanting to set off on this trip, her parents shouldn’t have let her do it. Perhaps she’s a great sailor. Heck, maybe she’s the next goddamn Horatio Hornblower. There’s no way, at 16, you’re mentally prepared for that many days at sea by yourself. There’s no way you can anticipate how someone in the middle of their formative years will deal with the pressure, the loneliness, or the emergency situations that are sure to come up, despite being trained extensively to handle them. While you and I might say so just out of common sense, the Sunderlands have a real life example in their son, who actually completed the trip when he was 18 – but just barely. To allow their younger daughter to embark on such an expedition – fully aware of the degree of difficulty and the risks involved – is at best, just careless and at worst, just plain idiotic.