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Young circumnavigators

My son Ryan was 8 when we left, and 14 when we completed our circumnavigation.  He, my wife and I were the only crew for the whole time.  When we returned, Ryan was a very experienced blue-water sailor.  He wanted to go on.  “Dolphin Spirit” was fully set up to be single-handed, completely equipped, proven, loaded with all the right instruments and charts.  Ryan knew the boat intimately, he had experienced three major ocean crossings and had dropped anchor in hundreds of foreign spots, many uncharted.
In all of these ways, and in many others, he and his boat were far more well prepared than were Zac and his boat.  Ryan would have easily been the youngest to solo circumnavigate, but we decided not to for a number of reasons:
1. The circumnavigation Ryan had just completed was fun, the one being contemplated was not going to be that.

2. Sticking to a timetable meant disregarding almost every lesson I had taught him about being weather-wise and cautious.  There is simply no way to circumnavigate in less than 18 months and stay out of problem weather areas and times.

3. Solo long-distance sailors are a danger to themselves and to everyone else on the ocean.  There is simply no way to keep a proper watch and we and almost every solo sailor I know understand that audio alarms do not wake an exhausted person. A solo sailor has to rely on other boats to avoid him, and this is contrary to my teachings to Ryan about being in control of your own destiny to the greatest extent possible. Others certainly do not agree with me on this subject, and that is their right.

4. Ryan had nothing to prove about himself or his skills.

I understand that others don’t share my point of view, but I repeat that I am really concerned that this competition to be the youngest circumnavigator will get out of hand and felt that something had to be said, not to denigrate Zac’s accomplishments in any way, but to put them into a perspective.

My concern is that his exceptional feat be put in proper perspective and that the almost inevitable trend to younger and younger record-seekers that new technology makes possible be staved off.  As Zac has proved, sailing around the world on a timetable, even with all possible personal and technological assistance, is dangerous process and I don’t want to see sailing and cruising tarnished by the death of a child trying to break another child’s record.

I wrote the above before the report in the July 17 LA Times which said that a 15 year old was about to set sail. I rest my case!

One Response to “Young circumnavigators”

  1. Walter Says:

    It is an interest topic and you’ve pretty much said what a whole lot of others have said and been saying, all in one post. Couple notes if I may.

    1. Jessica Watson (young Australian lass) just turned 16, she’ll also turn 17 at sea, same as both Mike Perham and Zac Sunderland did on their trips, she’ll just be several months younger than both of them should she complete her trip. Point being she’s not starting of at 15.

    2. I think it is more the routing that the time-table. While you of course take 7 years waiting for the best possible weather, you can also sail around the world non-stop in 50 days or with ease under 18 months. But I think it is the routing rather than the time-table.

    Take Zac Sunderland for example. He rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the height of summer. Now if you have been fortunate enough to be down in that region during summer it is pure bliss. As are most if not all regions during the summer months. Even so there you simply must contend with the 2-3 day weather breaks in order to sail around the Cape. The winds and seas off the Cape are ferocious year round. If you think summer is bad with its max 2-3 day windows to hop around, try the winter when there are none. So here, you can wait 1, 2, 3, 40 years awaiting perfect weather to round the Cape, it simply won’t come. You have to make your move when a window opens up and even then you’ll either catch the start or tail end of a front. There’s just no getting around that, unless you take a different route.

    Another example, Zac was laid up in St Helena for nearly a month due to repairs. necessary mind you, (ball bearings for his wind vane, no part for his engine), whereby a month on St Helena pushed back his schedule where by the time he traversed the Mexican coast the Pacific Hurricane season was commencing and caught some fringe action on that final leg (broken bulkhead). Had he not had the delay in St Helena, he would have been home well before the hurricane season started.

    So we can add up his delays (some intentional as sight seeing time, which was actually the primary purpose of his trip). I think totals roughly 3 months. In other words if all he did was stops for provisioning the trip would have taken 10 months v.s 13 months. And if it had take 10 months, his plotted course would have seen him catching good weather the entire way round. His route.

    3. Lastly is the matter of other ships. A concern of mine all round. The open seas are the open seas, effectively for use by anyone. If someone want’s to go sail their boat alone in them they are of course entitled to. However commercial vessels plying them ought to be the ones responsible for lookout. The opens seas is the last “free” thing we have on earth. Call it a national park or public park. If it’s going to be used for commerce, it ought to be regulated and with much more strict rules. It’s not acceptable for commercial vessels to run amok steam any which way they can not have navigation lights on, not respond to hails over the radio, not have their AIS on etc. etc. There should be strict shipping lanes and strict rules of use. That is if you wish to use “our” open seas for commerce. (I won’t go into oil spills, rubbish dumping, unsecured containers falling off etc.). But it should be our right, not theirs to head out to see unencumbered as it’s the last place on the planet that we have where we can be completely free. And sadly even my suggestion above re regulating commerce on it, of course contradicts it all. So we are in a lose / lose situation all round regardless of what is done. My point being, in the context of the above, I’m not for your premise that sailing around the world, or just sailing anywhere alone is a hazard to others, rather the others are a hazard to those sailing care free and for fun and not profit.

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