Somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a racing yacht lies abandoned. It drifts listlessly toward the western coast of Australia. It’s captain stuck with the craft for as long as possible after the ship had been de-masted by a rogue wave. Eventually, a rescue was mounted and the captain was rescued.
The captain was on an attempted non-stop circumnavigation. She would have been the youngest person to accomplish this feat if everything had gone according to plan. Few things ever do, really.
Not many people had heard about Abby Sunderland before her distress beacons activate. The possibility of tragedy always gets the media stirring. When they realized that the girl who, it was thinly publicized, was trying break the record of youngest person to sail around the world non-stop could now be dead or injured on the sea or devoured by ancient and unknown sea monsters of some leviathanian variety, everyone shot up and took notice.
I had first heard of Abby through a small article in the newspaper. I remember thinking: that kid’s got some real cajones. To be sixteen years old in our modern era and have the desire to do something so grandiose and to have the parental backing to do it was incredible.
You would have to think that someone her age, who, in printed interviews, seemed so charged with her love of sailing and her adventurous spirit, would be doing this of their own volition. At sixteen, you really start to think you’re making the right decisions, even though they’re mostly wrong. Either way, it seemed as though it was her decision to take on this mammoth task, non-stop and unassisted.
Her brother Zac had already done it, even though his run was not officially recognized by the World Sailing Speed Record Council, he still successfully sailed solo around the world, making stops unlike his sister’s plan, while he was only seventeen.
I know what you’re thinking. Wow. I didn’t even know something like that could be real. How could one person, let alone a council, become a governing body just for world sailing speed records? How little of a life do they actually have? Is this a full-time job and how much does it pay? Based on the sound of things it, it probably involves an office near a beach somewhere with A LOT of downtime. I’d totally take that gig.
So, Abby set off on her journey. I heard about her weeks before her incident, I believe as she was rounding the southern tip of South America and beginning her nearly Antarctic Atlantic crossing. The thing which truly interested me was that she was blogging the entire time she was doing it. Right up to the end. It made me want to go out and have an adventure so that I might have something to post here that wouldn’t violate my cardinal blogging rule (don’t get emotional about the personal life in any great detail unless there is a special occasion or extraordinary circumstance) and could be more than just entertainment reviews and pop-culture fights. Inspiration has been lost to me lately on the blog front and something like Abby’s adventure just struck me as an awesome thing to do and write about while doing it.
I had checked in on her blog when was forced to stop in Cape Town, South Africa (voiding her non-stop attempt, but still leaving hope for youngest circumnavigator) for repairs and started following her exploits from time to time. When her satellite internet was unavailable, she would call home to her mother on a satellite phone and dictate her blog entries to her. I was impressed with the girl’s fervor in keeping her readers updated on what was happening.
A month after I started checking in on her blog, I read a story on the web saying that distress beacons had been activated and no contact had been made. I can’t say I was worried for her, she’d proven to be a pretty tough kid. I was disappointed that she may have to quit her journey. All that work, all that time, all that effort might have been for nothing and, if it turned out to be for nothing, I feared she would give up on her dream. Which she had, at last report.
A day or so after her rescue, I heard a news story dubbing her “Balloon Boy 2”. A scandal had come forward saying that her father was shopping a reality show based on his “family of daredevils” and that Abby’s attempt at the record was just a publicity stunt to help him sell it. This was all regurgitated from the New York Post. Difference being, of course, Balloon Boy wasn’t actually in the balloon, let alone trying to pilot it solo through rough conditions.
The story on Abby’s Blog, from the family, is that they were approached before Abby set out. They offered to sponsor Abby’s trip in exchange for exclusivity, but sponsorship had already been given and, apparently, the family ultimately had no interest in exploiting their adventurous children.
Along with this came harsh criticism of her parents for letting a sixteen year old girl attempt something so dangerous and deadly without any supervision.
To those critics, I shout a rather enthusiastic string of curses which even my cuss-like-a-sailor sort of writing would be embarrassed by.
Yes, I understand she’s young, but she’s sixteen and her father taught her how to sail by the time she was thirteen. She spent most of her life around or on boats. Her father’s occupation was, at one time, shipwright. She knows what she’s doing and would certainly be more capable than most adults while out in the open ocean.
The second thing was that emphasis on the fact that she was a girl.
I think it was more shocking to the public that a teenaged girl could be full of sterner, braver, and stouter stuff than most people decades above her. My kneejerk response was: “What do you want her to be at sixteen? Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? Or training for it? Shouldn’t she be betrothed by now and learning to be a lady or something?”
Hey, she’s not some squealing idiot who would cut off her left tit to be within a 50 foot radius of a member of the cast of Twilight. She’s not sitting in her room, rotting on Facebook and texting her girlfriends about cute boys. She’s not acting like a whore. She is being the exact opposite of the stereotypical teenager in general, let alone teenaged girl. She was pro-active. She wanted to do something that mattered to her. She wanted to pursue a dream that didn’t involve Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner or both at the same time.
To me, it’s awesome to know that there are still kids out there who actually want to achieve something more than just what they see on Cribs (yeah, they still make that show, it’s not a dated reference, f-off) or in the tabloids. There are adventurers left among us and that in itself is inspiring.
There have been numerous other attempts to track her family’s name through the mud, each one more far-fetched and ridiculous than the next (something about an unpaid search-and-rescue bill as well as her father’s attempts to push her into the ocean at an unsafe time just so she could beat the record and get that fat TV contract).
I find this disgusting tabloid journalism at its worst.
The only reason they want to do this to Abby and her family is because the poor girl didn’t die. They don’t want to feel like they wasted America’s time on another boring lost-then-found happy ending. In a world full of fiction where crazy twists-and-turns are as much marquee stars as the actors and directors, we’re always looking for that negative angle.
Not every news story with a happy ending is an M. Night Shamalamanaman… am… movie. In fact, this ending was quite sad because her timeframe was blown and she’d never be able to get another attempt at the record. Maybe someday, she’ll try again, but it won’t have the same impact that breaking the record would have. Personally, I’d like to see that. I’d like to see her do it again, just to do it. Sponsorships might be a little harder to come by when you’re not racing Guinness.
With news, there’s not always the man behind the curtain. Sometimes, an adventurous girl is just and adventurous girl. Just because she catches the lime light for a moment doesn’t mean that she’s got some hidden agenda or someone around her is trying to manipulate her.
I’m with Abby. Congratulations on your attempt. You’re inspiring as hell. Way to go. It’s not often that I say things like this to someone so young, but it’s true. You deserve accolades, not scrutiny, and I hope you try again. I wish I had half of your motivation to do anything of meaning.
Leave Abby alone.
Keep fighting the good fight.