Note: I have a very strong opinion about this specific issue, but have tried to write a fair post and not slant it to either side. Please let me know in the comments if there is something that contradicts the statement I just made above. Thanks for reading. -Taylor.
For the past couple days, the news media has been in turmoil about the Abby Sunderland issue. Are her parents to blame? Is she to blame? There have been a huge amount of opinions coming from all different directions about the undertaking. Here’s some things I think everybody can agree on:
- The endeavor is dangerous, and requires a lot of planning and time in order to come up with a feasible strategy.
- Funding the trip is also a large problem.
- Teens who decide to make this trip come under a lot of criticism. The younger you are, the more you’re challenged.
- Making a voyage like this requires a huge number of skills; not just sailing skills. Some teens may not possess the life and experience skills needed to make a trip of this magnitude.
There also things that I’ve seen in the media. Some I think are valid points, but others I believe are people making ignorant statements because they don’t care to research the background of the situation. Here’s some things you may not have known (read on after the break):
The Facts, and Some Questions, Too
- The Sunderlands are a well-respected sailing family. Abby Sunderland is not just some “random girl” who decided to sail. Her brother made the same voyage at her age, and completed his trip successfully. Her father is a sailor by trade, and Abby (according to her website and sources close to the family) has been sailing from a young age.
- Abby has the sailing skills. She didn’t make it from California to the Indian Ocean (roughly 15,000 nautical miles by my calculations – just an estimate) on good fortune alone. She has to have sailing skills, which I believe she does, to successfully make it more than halfway across the world.
- The weather was a factor. There are many offshore sailing races that take place every three years or so. The most popular are the Volvo Ocean Race and the Clipper Round the World Race. They encounter rough weather every day, but are simply better equipped to deal with it. For one, at Volvo, teams are privately funded by big-name companies. PUMA in the United States, Telefonica in Spain, Ericsson in Europe. There are 11 guys working on a boat outfitted with million-dollar equipment. Abby, on the other hand, is one person on a 40-foot boat with good, but much less expensive equipment. She has to spread herself pretty thin to get everything done during the course of a day. Having 60+ knot winds (as reported by Abby through her blog) in the Indian Ocean surely must have played a factor in the dismasting of her boat, an event in which the mast breaks off and renders the boat basically unusuable.
Which brings me to my next point, a question that people have been asking for a very long time:
- Why would Abby’s parents allow her to do such a thing? Again, this goes back to the fact that they are very apt sailors. Her parents obviously thought this was something she could handle, just as her brother had. Her parents were obviously willing to give her a great deal of latitude.
- Why would the cost of a rescue or recovery not be covered in the cost of the trip? Unknown. It’s a good questions.
- Why is Australia absorbing the cost of the search for Abby? This is a twofold answer. According to media reports, when Abby activated her distress signals, she was inside the Australian Search & Rescue area, an area of about 2,000 miles around the continent. That means that it is an Australian responsibility to initiate a search and/or rescue. Presumably, this would be covered in the national budget somewhere. I don’t know how Aussie Searches & Rescues usually go, but chartering an Airbus A330 from Qantas does seem out of the ordinary. However, they might not have aircraft in their military with that range. It was reported that the Airbus cost the Australian government $200,000 AUD (about $170,000 USD). However, some sources from Australia have reported that Abby was not inside the Search & Rescue limits. Who knows?
- Why in the world would Abby and her parents ask for money to salvage Wild Eyes, Abby’s boat? Unknown. I really don’t think they were prepared for something like this to occur.
- Does her age have anything to do with this incident? Unless she’s figured out how to control the weather, last time we checked, weather was purely random and controlled by Mother Nature. And since that’s what caused this accident, I think it’s safe to say that her age was a nonfactor.
From the Sailors and People Around
- George Caras, president of the NH-based Commander’s Weather Center told Sailing Scuttlebutt, “‘Whether she was 16 or whether she was 40, the storms still would have happened.'” (Scuttlebutt)
- Said Abby’s dad, Laurence, “‘If people are looking at age, they’re looking at the wrong thing here. Age is not a factor … I’ve never advocated this for 16-year olds, I’ve advocated this for experienced sailors.'” (Seattle Times via Scuttlebutt)
- Leighton O’ Connor, a maritime photographer based out of Boston, has worked many sailing events, including the notorious Volvo Ocean Race, told me this over Facebook: “I don’t see a problem with letting a person of that age doing a sail like that. I think it’s great and amazing! I’m not sure if I’d let one of my kids do it though but they don’t have the sailing experience she does.”
- Andrew Cape, an experienced sailor on PUMA’s Volvo Ocean Race campaign, had this to say to Jessica Watson, an Australian teen who completed her journey weeks before the Sunderland incident occurred. She was 15 when she left. “‘Obviously you have to start somewhere to gain experience but to head straight into the Southern Ocean on your own is foolish.’ Cape estimates Watson’s chances of making it around the world at 33 per cent, of damage to boat or crew that “prevents continuation” at 33 per cent, and “33 per cent of total loss of boat or crew. Believe me that when you are at the mercy of the weather it is a matter of probability. These odds change rapidly with experience gained.'” (Volvo Ocean Race)
- In the letter, of which excerpts were published at VolvoOceanRace.com, Cape compares the endeavor to “‘growing up on a farm and, upon acquiring a 303 rifle, (feeling) you are ready to take on the Taliban.’”
Anyway, it’s a very interesting discussion piece.
The Daily Caller
The Washington Post
Volvo Ocean Race
Australian Search & Rescue Service
Eye on Annapolis
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