ABBY SUNDERLAND: Three-Ring Circus

Abby Sunderland


If I wanted to I could now blog about this almost hourly and seem relevant, but really I have better things to do with my time. Abby’s rescue in the Southern Ocean has unleashed a firestorm of publicity and commentary, with one legion of critics denouncing Abby’s voyage and her family and another smaller legion denouncing the larger legion as being armchair after-the-fact ignorant sexist nay-sayers. As a member of the larger legion (one who has been nay-saying, I should note, from the very beginning of the voyage), I’m going to respond to some of the points raised by the smaller legion (which evidently includes my fellow BoaterMouth blogger Zuzana Prochazka) and by Abby and her family… and then that’s it. I’m over it!

This isn’t about whether or not Abby’s parents should have “allowed” her to sail around the world. They didn’t merely grant permission. They enabled her, abetted her, actively encouraged her, and may have even pushed her into it. The most recent revelation, that Abby’s parents are broke and months ago signed a deal to star in a reality TV show–to be called Adventures in Sunderland–belies any insistence on their part that this has only been about Abby fulfilling her own dream.

Read through Abby’s blog and website and you’ll see that through out the voyage it has been her family running the show. Abby seems a cypher and almost a non-entity. It seems questionable to me whether or not she was even writing her own blog entries. Whenever she had problems, she phoned home for instructions. She clearly wasn’t capable of coping with the boat and its systems on her own. And at the end, once she lost both her communications and her rig, it was obvious she stood no chance of being able to rescue herself.

This also isn’t about Abby’s age or gender. The voyage, regardless of who was undertaking it, was ill conceived from the start. The boat, a high-strung lightweight racing craft, was inappropriate for a voyage of this type and was not properly prepared. The schedule was way too ambitious. Even if Abby was a 40-year-old guy who proposed to sail around the world non-stop in a powerful, hastily prepped racing boat he had no experience handling, on a route that would take him through the Southern Ocean during winter, I would tell you, and him, that this is a very bad idea. Indeed, I’ve been complaining for years about inexperienced middle-aged men who sail south from New England in the fall expecting other people to come save them if they get into trouble. They and Abby (and those who have aided and encouraged Abby) are behaving irresponsibly.

I do not think sailors like Abby who impulsively bite off more than they can chew should be prohibited from doing so. People like this make life interesting and diverse and personify an important element of the human spirit. I do think they should be held accountable for their actions. Abby’s rescue, once it is complete (she apparently now is en route to the Kerguelen Islands, where she’ll hop a ride to Reunion, off Madagascar), will have cost upwards of half a million dollars. She and her family should pony up and cover that expense, even if they have to be in a goofy TV show to do it.


PS to everyone: For an example of how a real ocean sailor handles these sorts of situations, I urge you once again to pay attention to Alessandro di Benedetto. He’s sailing around the world alone, non-stop, on a 21-foot Mini. He got dismasted while approaching Cape Horn, put up a jury rig on his own while at sea, and is now set to finish his voyage in the next few weeks. This is the sort of person who should be the poster-child for our sport, NOT Abby Sunderland.

PPS to Zuzana: The terms “lost at sea” and missing at sea” are perfectly synonymous, IMHO. Granted, “lost” sounds more dramatic than “missing,” but this whole rumpus has been nothing if not dramatic.


BoaterMouth link: here


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