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Entries in Abby Sunderland (1)


Abby Sunderland

I've received a lot of email over the last few days about what went on in the Southern Ocean over the weekend with a California teenager named Abby Sunderland. She was trying to be the youngest person to ever sail around the world solo. She got herself in trouble and had to be rescued. She is now safe and coming back to the states. The boat was rolled at about 40S latitude about 2000 miles west of Australia.


As many of you know I am a fairly experienced offshore solo sailor. I did the singlehanded transpacific race twice, one in 2002 and once in 2004 on a boat very similar in size to the boat Abby was on. I have about 10,000 solo offshore miles under my keel.


Here's what I do not have a problem with:


A) I do not have a problem with a properly prepared 16 year old girl trying to sail around the world by herself. In fact it would be something I would encourage and mentor.


B) I do not have a problem with taking sponsorship to help defray the expense. Nor do I have a problem with trying to put together a TV series to tell the story.


C) I have no issue with the boat they chose for the attempt. Wild Eyes (AKA BTC Velocity) is an Open 40 that has previously completed the 2002 Around Alone race.


D) I have no issue with the bitch slap that the media is giving her family now. They chose to do this in public. If you choose to live your life in public it can have great upside, but that comes with downside risk if you screw up. Lots of people circumnavigate every year, very few of them put out press releases about their exploits.


Here are where I have big issues with what went down:


As a sailor Abby was hideously unprepared for the trip. The first time she had sailed solo on the boat was about a week before she left and that was a brief overnight coastal trip of what appears to be fewer than 100 miles. Best I can tell she had never been offshore by herself, particularly in hairy weather. She would not have been qualified to race in the SInglehanded Transpac because she had never done anything as rigorous as the qualifying cruise for that race (400 miles solo offshore in the boat you're racing). The qualifiers for the solo around-the-world races are much more rigorous (2000 miles solo offshore including crossing an ocean in the boat you're racing).


The family purchased the boat in November 2009, 6 weeks before she left. They didn't get her into the yard to do a refit for the journey until December 2009. She left in January 2010 without having done adequate sea trials. This is simply not enough time to prepare a boat as complex as an open 40 for this trip. The fact that less than two weeks into the trip they had to stop in Cabo and double the battery capacity tells me that there had never been a proper energy budget put together for the systems on board.


The largest error however was the timing of the attempt which was sheer lunacy. The hard part of this trip is the southern ocean (down below 40S latitude). There are no continents down there and the waves just go around and around. The various around-the-world races are timed to take the southern ocean on in the southern hemisphere's summer months. If you leave California in January you are going to need to cross the southern ocean in the winter.


She put into Cape Town South Africa for repairs in May. She headed east out of Cape Town on May 21. That's way too late in the season. The routing she was given was inappropriate for the time of year. From these signs it is very clear that the PR behind the record attempt was driving the decision making process and not good seamanship.


Given when she left, and where she went, the end result was basically inevitable. She got really lucky for a long time. From reading her logs she sailed from Marina del Rey to the middle of the Southern Ocean without ever seeing more than 35K of wind. She had only 20 knots of wind at Cape Horn. By comparison during the 2004 SHTP we saw up to 40K of wind for the first 72 hours of the race out of San Francisco.


A few final comments based on a photograph I just received of her rescue. 40 hours after her capsize she had done little or nothing as far as what basic seamanship would suggest. Her life raft (the white canister at the back of the cockpit) is fouled by jerry cans. She has lines and debris trailing overboard so she can't even try to start the engine. The debris also puts the rescuers at risk of fouling a propellor She does not appear to have a sea anchor or drogue deployed. She has done nothing to self rescue by constructing a jury rig.  All of this reinforces my feeling that she was vastly unprepared for what she was trying to do. She is by all appearances sitting on her hands waiting for someone to come get her. That's not what good sailors do. Ultimately you are responsible for your own well being.