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Sixteen Year Old Sailor Continues Her Solo Voyage Around the World

Abby Sunderland (Photo: Jeff Ayliffe)

Abby Sunderland has been training all her life in the art of sailing skills and seamanship. Since she was thirteen years old she has been dreaming of sailing solo around the world. Now at the age of sixteen her dream has become a reality. Abby set sail on January 23, 2010 from Marina Del Rey near Los Angeles, California on her Australian built 40 foot solo rigged sloop named “Wild Eyes.”

The Sunderland family lives in Thousand Oaks, California and Abby has an older brother, Zac, along with five younger siblings. Last year, Zac broke records by being the first person under the age of 18 to solo-circumnavigate the world in his 36 foot sailboat, “Intrepid.”

Zac’s voyage was quite an adventure riding out storms and avoiding close encounters with pirates. After a considerable amount of investigation and prayer, Abby and her parents, decided that it would be safer for the teen to pursue a non-stop voyage. The course would entail leaving Marina Del Rey in Southern California, sailing South to Cape Horn at the tip of South America, around the horn along the Drake Passage and then Eastward hugging the bottom portion of the world to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and back to California.

This is not an easy trip and all along the way, Abby will have to keep a constant watch for hazards to navigation such as whales who could cause considerable damage in a collision. Changes in weather, other vessels and icebergs from the Antarctic region are also a risk factor.

“Wild Eyes” is well equipped with the latest marine state of the art technology including collision alarms, Global Positioning Satellite Systems, chart plotters, computer navigation system and radar to reduce the factor of risk. The boat is also equipped with solar panels, wind generators and gasoline generators to recharge the battery cells that power the navigation system and warning systems. Still, with all the safety gear and technology, Abby’s skills will be put to the test.

Abby’s voyage has been well recorded on her blog, which she updates on a regular basis. Her web site is located at: http://www.abbysunderland.com/ and contains videos, photos, answers to questions, links to her blog and access to a web page called “Where’s Abby” where visitors can track her progress. Abby is also writing a book about her adventure and intends to publish it when she returns.

Even with the best laid plans, spare parts, safety gear and back up systems, Abby had to cut her trip short in the first week of her trek with a stop in the Mexican resort, Cabo San Lucas, for some repairs. After leaving Cabo San Lucas she was met with rain. She blogged, “I’ve had a lot of squally conditions. Nothing too big or bad, but enough to keep me from getting much sleep at night with the frequent sail changes.”

While traveling South along South America, Abby blogged about some days of doldrums and other days where she had experienced calm winds and warming weather as she inched toward the Equator. Abby was three thousand miles off the coast Chile when an 8.8 on the moment magnitude scale earthquake hit in the Maule Region near Santiago Chile on the 27th of February. Fears and concerns were raised that young Abby was in the direct path of a Tsunami. A phone call to her parents assisted her in preparing the boat for a possible encounter with information relayed from the U.S. Coast Guard. Abby was assured that she was in no danger and blogged, “I went over the boat and made sure everything was ready just in case, but in the end, I didn’t even get a big swell.”

In late April, Abby encountered problems with the auto pilot while crossing the Atlantic Ocean and was unable to repair them while underway. The auto pilot is the equipment keeps her boat on course while Abby spends time performing minor work on the boat or sleeping in short periods while underway. Since sleep deprivation is a major risk factor Team Abby decided that it was for the best to stop in the closest port, Cape Town, for repairs. To make matters worse, the sleep deprived Abby was met by a rain shower and thick fog on her approach to the South African safe harbor.

A local boat with her Father and brother who flew over to assist with repairs went out to meet “Wild Eyes and escort her skipper to the marina. The sailboat with the tired and rains soaked Abby was met at the dock by the press, and a special delivery from the local hotel- a cheeseburger, chips and a hot soda. This was Abby’s first hot meal in a long time, a pleasant change from the dehydrated meals that she eat during her voyage. Abby has spent 16 days in Cape Town catching up on lost sleep and working to get her boat prepared for the rest of her trip.

On Friday, May 21, 2010 Abby blogged that the completed repairs were successful and that “Wild Eyes” and she are heading back to sea to continue the adventure.

Abby is very well aware of the life threatening risks involved in such a voyage and it is quite a leap of faith for her and her parents who not only granted permission but to assisted, equipped and encouraged both their teenaged son and daughter for such a risky voyage. In a video interview posted on her web site, Abby’s father, Lawrence said, “We are Born Again Christians, and we don’t make any decision just based on feeling or even on sound knowledge. We also pray about it. The conviction of prayer and the answer to prayer has led to where we are with Abigail’s campaign and definitely has help in the whole process and scope of making decisions.”

Abby’s father puts it best when he said, “We have our dreams and our aspirations but we have to remember that the LORD is in control of everything.”

Tony Ashlin (shown with dog) is a Christian radio producer, eRumor investigator for www.truthorfiction.com and a sailor who volunteers his spare time as a recreational boating safety educator for the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.

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