(There are days when I swear I live in a hole. Until I read Bonnie’s review, I didn’t know who Abby Sunderland was! What an amazing girl and an amazing-sounding autobiography! Thanks Bonnie – I’ve added to my “to read” pile for 2014!)
Newspapers around the world carried news of Abby Sunderland’s voyage in 2010. Many criticized Abby and her parents, saying she was too young to be sailing solo. During her voyage, though, Abby demonstrated her strength and ability at sea, proving her critics wrong.
Abby Sunderland’s Early Years
Abby grew up on a sailboat. While her father, Laurence, worked as a harbour patrolman, his family lived on a boat. Marianne Sunderland homeschooled her children, while Laurence “made sure the kids understood being at sea was anything but a lark.” In 1998, the family spent three years sailing up and down the coast of Mexico.
When the family settled into their home in California, Abby began raising chickens, turkeys, dogs, rabbits, and horses. At age thirteen, she helped her father sail boats between ports.
One day, she skippered a boat by herself on a forty-mile trip. Later that same day, she helped deliver another boat to a show. The distance was only thirty miles, but the weather turned nasty. Abby says, “I was soaked through, freezing cold, teeth chattering. I was absolutely miserable… but I loved it” (Sunderland/Vincent).
Abby Begins Her Solo Circumnavigation Campaign
In 2009, Abby’s older brother Zac Sunderland became the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Watching him, Abby learned a lot about sailing and became more serious about her dream.
In September 2009, Shoe City offered to sponsor Abby’s campaign and the Sunderlands began searching for a boat. They choose Wild Eyes, an Open 40 that was “part of a new generation of single-handed boats designed to meet new international standards for self-righting and flotation.” Laurence figured “sending Abby to sea in Wild Eyes would be like sending her in an unsinkable tank.”
The Sunderlands spent the fall of 2009 refitting Wild Eyes for Abby’s voyage. They gathered a team of experts to help prepare both the boat and Abby. Zac and other experienced sailors talked to Abby about what she could expect during her voyage. Wild Eyes was equipped with the latest technology. On January 23, 2010, everything was ready and Abby set sail.
Abby’s Solo Circumnavigation
Soon after setting sail, some problems came up with Abby’s instruments. She decided to stop in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for repairs, and to restart her solo circumnavigation attempt there. More experts were called in to make necessary adjustments on Wild Eyes. On February 8, she set sail again.
Just before Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, Abby’s autopilots stopped working. She called two of her experts and spent ten hours following their trouble-shooting advice. Finally, using pieces of both machines, she got one working autopilot. She then set her first record on March 21: becoming the youngest person ever to sail solo around Cape Horn.
Abby’s autopilots continued to malfunction after Cape Horn. Finally, after much debate, she pulled into Cape Town, South Africa, to fix them. It was a tough decision, but she said, “My goal was to sail solo and nonstop around the world, not to die of stupidity.” Her team members had agreed that she should stop for repairs, but they left the decision with Abby. She showed her maturity and responsibility when she made the right choice.
Disaster Strikes Abby
In Cape Town, Abby’s team installed completely new autopilots as well as doing other repairs. On May 21, she sailed out of Cape Town.
In the Indian Ocean, Abby hit heavier weather and faced more problems with her boat. One day, her mainsail became stuck. Abby consulted her team and Marianne sent out prayer requests before the tangled rope miraculously came loose and the sail came down. Only a few days later, Abby’s engine stopped working, leading to more trouble-shooting with her team to get it fixed.
On June 10, 2010, a rogue wave rolled Abby’s boat 360 degrees, breaking the mast completely off. Abby set off her emergency beacons. Rescue teams from Canberra, Australia, located Abby’s boat and helped guide a French ship from Reunion Island to her position.
Abby Sunderland Today
Since returning to her home, Abby has had the chance to provide advice to NASA about a second-generation satellite beacon system; she is “living proof that the current system works.” She has shared her story in schools, yacht clubs, and other places. She is evidence of what a young person can accomplish when given the chance to live a dream.
In May 2011, Abby released Unsinkable: A Young Woman’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas, the inspiring story of her solo circumnavigation attempt written with Lynn Vincent. Her story is also told in a documentary DVD, Wild Eyes: The Abby Sunderland Story.
Bonnie Way is a blogger, wife, and mom with three daughters under five. She is currently trying to finish her final year of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing. She enjoys reading, rock climbing and watching movies with her family. You can find her blogging about juggling all her activities at www.thekoalabearwriter.com.