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Southern Spars

Jessica Watson pounded by 70knots, Abby Sunderland sets off

by Nancy Knudsen on 24 Jan 2010
Abby farewell Lisa Gizara 2009 Gizaraarts.Com
While our Sunshine coast teenager, 16-year-old Jessica Watson has just received her worst pounding so far, with 70 knot winds and three knock-downs during the gale, Californian sailor, the slightly younger 16-year-old Abby Sunderland, has just departed Marina del Ray in California on a similar quest to that of Jessica - to be the youngest sailor to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world.

Abby, younger sister of Zac Sunderland, who last year became the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the world, is setting off to emulate and eclipse her brother's feat, as well as being in friendly competition with Jessica.

Departing California's premier yachting facility Marina del Ray yesterday, Abby, on her Open 40 Wild Eyes, was farewelled by hundreds of well wishers, and escorted out of calm waters by yachts from the Del Ray Yacht Club.


Her brother didn't keep his unofficial record for long. British teen sailor Michael Perham, already in the news as the youngest sailor to cross the Atlantic solo, had set off after Zac in a much faster boat, and he was about three months younger. Mike took the record from Zac just a couple months after Zac had finished. (Neither of the boys completed their journeys non-stop and unassisted.) Then, in September, Jessica departed, and has since crossed the equator twice, rounded Cape Horn, and is more than half way through her voyage. She has reported that her yacht, Ella's Pink Lady, handled the recent bad conditions and the three knock-downs well.

Abby doesn't hide the fact that she was inspired by her brother's feat. 'Every little kid wants to be a doctor or a princess or a firefighter,' Sunderland told reporters just before she left, while trying to explain the motivation behind her controversial excursion. 'But watching my own brother go out and actually do it; it really made me realize that you can do things like this.'

Abby's father, Laurence Sunderland, obviously attempting to deflect the widely expressed suspicion that parents whose children attempt such challenges are spurred on by their ambitious parents, told reporters that during the last three years he had tried to dissuade his daughter from such a venture by taking her sailing in nasty weather and bad sea conditions, but she only became more determined.

Abby's mother, Marianne, also supports her daughter's voyage. She told reporters before the departure, 'At first I wasn't as supportive as I was with Zac -- with him I never had a doubt. However with the new Abby I've seen over the last months, I have seen an incredibly tough and determined young woman take the place of the sweet girl she had always been. Now I am really excited for her because it is true that this has been something she's been talking about for years.'

Abby and her team are slightly worried, however, about the timing of her journey. While, on her present schedule, she will round the Horn in the height of summer when conditions should be the best they can be, her delayed departure - delayed because of necessary boat preparation - means that by the time she sails south of Australia, the weather will be approaching Autumn, and the weather will be deteriorating.

Sail-World, along with thousands of sailors around the world, wishes her fair sailing.

However, as I write these words, my heart is anxious for Abby.

Her Open 40 yacht is a racing boat rather than a cruising boat, and for this reason offers her the best chance of getting round the world before the worst of the winter in the Southern Ocean.

However, it is also more complex and more difficult to handle - in the conditions she is likely to face - than the sturdy and slow Sparksman and Stephens 34 that Jessica is sailing.

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