FOUND: 16 Year Old Solo Sailor in Deep Trouble Far From Help

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June 10, 2010

Photo By Richard Hartog, AP

UPDATE: According to the latest reports, Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old Californian attempting a solo sailing trip around the world has been found:

Abby Sunderland went off the grid briefly as 70-mile-per-hour winds lashed her yacht. Late Thursday, an Australian spotter jet located the 16-year-old, who told them she was safe.

On Friday, her parents faced waves of criticism for allowing Abby’s adventure.

Her father, Laurence, shot back, telling ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “How many teenagers die in car accidents every year? Should we stop them from driving cars?”

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OK, I have said this before, sailing around the world solo is a dangerous stunt that risks not only your life but also those who may have to come rescue you when you get into trouble.

As I wrote in Maritime Monday 113:

The Hourse’s Mouth has a video report on 16 year old Zac Sunderland, who is getting ready to sail around the world, solo. The current departure date is 14 June. Yahoo has more details at “L.A. teen embarking on crazy around-the-world voyage“. As stated before, I think solo circumnavigation of the globe as a dangerous stunt, at any age, not at all in lines with professional seamanship, other than it takes professional seamanship to avoid certain doom. – gCaptain

This time around the solo sailor is 16 year old Abbey Sunderland, Zac’s younger sister.

Abby Sunderland, 16, is feared lost at sea today in her attempt to become the youngest sailor ever to circumnavigate the globe.

Abby Sunderland’s age sparks debate over how young is too young.

A support crew lost contact with Abby, who was in heavy seas in the Southern Indian Ocean, early this morning.

Sunderland’s brother, Zac Sunderland, said his sister’s boat was clearly in trouble.

“The boat is most likely not completely submerged because there’s another alarm that sends off a signal if it goes 15 feet underwater,” Zac Sunderland said in an interview with Ron Kilgore of KNX radio in Los Angeles. – ABC News

One little item not mentioned in the ABC News story or TV report was that her big brother pulled of a round the world sail two years ago. If you read the story, you are led to believe that Abbey came up with this idea all on her own like magic. Makes you wonder if the parents had some secret plan to be the only parents in the world with two children to sail solo around the world.

However, now they have bigger problem. At sea, when things go wrong, they can really go wrong. In this case, the nearest help is about two days away.

“We’re still trying to figure out the rescue situation,” he said. “There’s two boats headed out to her position, one is an estimated 40 hours, the other is 48. Right now we’re trying to figure out if there is any way faster. She’s in the middle of nowhere pretty much in the southern Indian Ocean. There’s nothing closer.” – Yahoo News

The family is also trying to get aircraft to help investigate, but this once again brings up the question of who pays for trying to rescue this girl? There are two ships whose schedule is getting disrupted as a result of an adventure seeker getting into trouble. Depending on the ships involved, you are probably looking at anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000 a day for each ship. These are expenses that the vessel operators are probably going to have to eat as the crew needs to be paid for their time and the fuel tanks don’t fill themselves for free. Given the distance I think I would think twice before offering to help if I was the Captain.

Add in another $100,000+ for a search and rescue flight, provided they convince someone to make one. That will probably come out of your pocket.

That said, I think that there is a good chance that she is still alive. The sailboat had been knocked down a couple times in rough seas and I suspect that either the boat has been de-masted (bad) or that the keel has fallen off (worse). Either scenario would have a good probability of killing communication with the ship.

So, long distance solo sailing, just don’t do it! As for this story, we will probably have to wait a couple days for an update, unless she can call in before that.

UPDATE – 11 June:

As predicted, she has been found alive and well. Her boat was de-masted.

A 16-year-old US sailor who went missing while sailing solo around the world has been found safe and well.

Abby Sunderland’s yacht was spotted by an aerial search team in the southern Indian Ocean, midway between Australia and Africa. – BBC News

This story notes that she was trying to break her brother’s record for sailing around the world, something other stories have not mentioned. Some news stories don’t mention at all that her brother did a similar sailing stunt a couple years back. This story also points out that she was sailing in the southern ocean during winter, the worst time to attempt crossing that area. Of course this needed to be done, because waiting for the summer would put the goal of being the youngest at risk.

I would like to point out one more thing that illustrates why these solo voyages by kids are such stunts. Just how many of these solo voyages are attempted by kids that are already too old to break any records? None.

And as for the 13 year old from the Netherlands whose parents want to send her off on a round-the-world solo voyage, perhaps this incident will make them think twice about doing that. A 13 year old is a kid and does not have the physical upper strength to handle such a voyage.

As for Abby, she is still not out of the woods yet. the rescue ships still need to get to her and get her off the boat.

UPDATE – 2 – 11 June:

AMVER gives us details on the vessels dispatched for the rescue:

One of the Amver vessels diverting to assist in the rescue of American sailor Abby Sunderland is the Norwegian owned Skandi Bergen. The 105 meter British flagged ship diverted after French rescue authorities in Reunion requested Amver assistance from the United States Coast Guard. Ironically, the Skandi Bergen enrolled in the Amver system on June 11, 2008.

It is unclear when the Skandi Bergen will arrive on scene but reports are it may only be 143 nautical miles away from from Sunderland’s distress position. We will keep you posted.

Be sure to check back here and at the AMVER BLOG for continual updates on the rescue.

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