Point of View: Soloist to Soloist
In one mid-July week of 2009, we celebrated both the 40th anniversary of the first man on the moon and the solo circumnavigation of 17-year-old Zac Sunderland, deemed the youngest sailor ever to carry out that feat.
I was asked to write about his voyage from my perspective. It makes sense; I also was once featured in a coming-of-age story about a daughter who survived her father's plan to kick his pain-in-the-neck 18-year-old off to sea and around the world.
Interest in my whole yarn would've fizzled as fast as the post-moon-landing NASA budget if I hadn't written a book about it that's still in print, with updated editions. Twenty-two years later, I'm still writing, this time about Zac.
A little over one year ago, an e-mail came to me containing a press release about a 16-year-old boy preparing to set sail on his first passage across the Pacific Ocean from Los Angeles. Zac and I talked on the phone, and then I wrote a piece about how cool it was to see him confidently turn a larger-than-life dream to reality in a youth culture driven by commercial definitions of "real." Then I got back down to living life with my own teenagers.
We're Vermont hill dwellers, not connected by a cellphone or Facebook. My own website has been, ahem, "under construction" for years. So updates on Zac's progress would filter to me via friends or snippets in the one sailing magazine I receive-until that auspicious mid-July week. To bone up to deliver the requested perspective, I started Googling Zac, whose name, at that moment, got 1.98 million hits.
This is what I found.
From a packaged press release that's been recycled a million times over, we learn that a childhood spent sailing with the family and the story of Jesse Martin (the nonstop Australian solo circumnavigator who finished his trip when he was 18 and wrote Lionheart: A Journey of the Human Spirit) inspired Zac to sail around the world himself while making stops and to become the youngest ever to do so.
We read about how he used $6,000 saved from summer jobs to buy an Islander 36 and spent months of 18-hour days with his father refitting her.
We learn that his parents were highly involved in the planning and supportive all along; that while under way, Zac called home every day; that his father met him at most stops to help fix things before Zac continued on.
From blog updates, we learn that he had rough weather, a broken boom, engine problems, and a fright whilst dodging some suspicious types off Indonesia. His larger mission, we're told, was to become an example to teenagers needing to know that they're capable of so much and that no dream is impossible. Mission accomplished. Bravo.
According to most news sources, he's sailed into the record books as the youngest solo circumnavigator ever.
But-wait. Not really, some say. Apparently, there's only one body officially responsible for ratifying such a record-the World Speed Sailing Record Council, established in 1972 by the International Yacht Racing Union, now the International Sailing Federation-and it isn't recognizing Zac.