Saturday, July 11, 2009

Teenager Circles the World on a Sailboat

Zac Sunderland wanted to be the youngest person to sail around the world solo. At 17, he's about to see his dream come true.




Sunderland set sail from Marina del Rey, Calif., on June 14, 2008. At the time, he was a 16-year-old high school sophomore who lacked even a driver's license.

Over the last 13 months, he has crossed the Pacific and Indian oceans, rounded Africa's Cape of Good Hope, made a stormy transit of the Atlantic Ocean, and passed through the Panama Canal.

If he remains on schedule, his 36-foot sailboat, the Intrepid, should drop anchor in Marina del Rey again on July 16.

"All in all, this is a very challenging trip," Sunderland wrote on his Web site. "To name the one biggest challenge would be difficult. Certainly, going for long periods at a time without sleep and not feeling hungry, but knowing I have to eat to keep up my strength, would be right up there at the top."


Key Points:

  • Sunderland set sail on June 14, 2008. At the time, he was a 16-year-old.

  • He drew much of his inspiration from Robert Lee Graham, who finished his trip in 1970, aged 20.

  • Australian David Dicks, who completed his navigation when he was 18 years and 41 days old breaking Graham's record.

  • Now Sunderland plans to break that record again



Perhaps even more frightening was a brush with suspected pirates. In October, when he was about 150 miles off the coast of Indonesia, a mysterious wooden vessel began tracking the Intrepid. The 60-foot craft refused to answer his radio signals.

Sunderland told the Los Angeles Times he called his father via satellite phone. Laurence Sunderland advised his son to issue a security alert with his position, then load his pistol and flare gun and prepare for a fight.

"For 30 minutes I was living on the edge out there," the teen the newspaper, "not knowing what to do." Luckily, the suspicious craft eventually departed.

Sunderland, whose dad is a shipwright, has dreamed of this voyage since he was kid. He drew much of his inspiration from Robert Lee Graham's 'The Dove,' which chronicles the author's five-year trip around the world.

When Graham finished his trip in 1970, he was 20. Since then, Graham's record as the youngest sailor to make the voyage alone was broken by Australian David Dicks, who completed his circumnavigation when he was 18 years and 41 days old. Now Sunderland plans to break that record again.

The teen's next challenge, perhaps, will be re-adjusting to life at home in Thousand Oaks, Calif. On his blog, Sunderland addresses that very question, and suggests that he's already mulling over his next destination.

"Do I have any apprehensions about being home? It will be good to be home again… but I wonder what I will do day after day in a normal life," he wrote. "I will be busy with my book and documentary and then planning my next adventure."

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