Most of 16-year-old Zac Sunderland’s friends are on the football field this time of year practicing for another season, but this year the former MVP (most valued player) won’t be joining them. Instead, the quiet and somewhat aloof teenager will be preparing a 36-foot Islander sloop, Intrepid, for a solo trip around the world. If he completes the journey successfully, Sunderland will become the youngest person to ever circle the globe alone.

The eldest from a family of seven, Sunderland hasn’t lived a typical childhood. He is the son of an accomplished shipwright and has spent most of his young life sailing from place to place. At 16 he already has racked up over 15,000 sea-miles and has made arduous deliveries by his father’s side.

“He learned to sail a sabot around Marina del Rey before he had a bicycle,” says Zac’s father Laurence of his son’s distinct aptitude.

Four months ago Zac approached his father with the idea of circling the globe and earning his place in the history books. Inspired by the young Australian sailor Jesse Martin, who holds the record for the youngest person (17) to sail non-stop around the world, Zac put it on the table and the family immediately got behind the challenge.

“I was excited,” Laurence says, describing the moment. “I thought, yeah, someone’s going to finally pick up the gauntlet and run with it, do something that’s going to change the whole of their life. He’s laying down the foundation for his life.”

Today it is no longer an intangible concept to be discussed at the dinner table, but a breathing project with hard deadlines, fiscal challenges, and lots and lots of physical labor preparing the vessel.

The record that Sunderland is trying to beat was set by David Dicks in the ’90s, who made the journey in nine months with stops, returning when he was 18 years and 41 days old. For Zac to be the youngest to ever go around the world, he has 19 months to make the trip, needing to return before January 8th, 2010.

With local sponsorship coming in from all over, the aptly named Intrepid is getting a major overhaul. What was once a coastal cruiser designed for weekend get-aways will by the end of this month become a bullet-proof blue-water machine prepared for the treachery of an angry ocean.

These days Zac spends all of his waking hours crawling into every little crevice installing new gear, removing the extraneous and reinforcing the boat for the ultimate ride.

“I know every inch of this boat at this point,” says Zac confidently. “Over the last week I’ve been everywhere — I’ve been inside every hole.”

It’s imperative that Zac have this level of complete familiarity with Intrepid. The open ocean can be an extremely hostile environment and a total understanding of everything onboard is crucial. In many instances, there will be no help available.

A solo circumnavigation is one of the most formidable experiences any person can attempt, but it seems Zac is both mentally and physically equipped, albeit a mite overwhelmed.

“It’s taking the shape of a reality now as I’m looking more into the routes and stuff — I’m leaving in a couple of weeks, maybe three,” Zac said of the impending reality. “I’ll be moving out of my house and that’s kind of weird.”

With such a monstrous odyssey about to begin, the teen sailor is beginning to marvel at his own circumstance. He has started something in motion that is bigger than anyone can anticipate until it is actually happening.

Beyond the preparation of the boat is the equally important issue of raising funds to make the trip. So far, many local companies and individuals have been very generous and supportive of the proposed effort in providing donations of equipment, time, or allowing substantial discounts for big-ticket items. Allen Alternators, Amparo Canvas Anchor’s Way Marine Boat Yard, Danard Marine, Dr. David Benson, Dr. David Lowenberg and his wife, Garhauer Marine, George Lyons, Esq., Railmakers, Ray Cech, Raymarine, Santiago Guttierez and UK Sailmakers have all played a part in the refit.

But the Sunderlands are hoping that a major sponsor will take interest in the project and attach their name.

“The exposure for a company would be huge,” says Zac’s mother, Marianne, who is currently working to acquire sponsorships. “Zac’s adventure will be highly publicized as he sails the world striving to break the world record for the youngest solo circumnavigator.

“We’re expecting articles in Cruising World, Latitude 38 and other major yachting literature, plus TV and radio news interviews and coverage. Upon his return we anticipate a televised documentary and book to follow.”

The boat will be equipped with mounted cameras that will document the journey and both the sails and hull are available for sponsor logos.

In the meantime, Zac continues to prepare the boat and come to grips with the idea that he will soon be alone at sea, far from his football teammates and loving family. While his buddies are struggling at fourth and one, Zac might well be off the coast of Africa, surrounded by a pod of two hundred dolphins in a far-off ocean on the way to a place none of his friends have ever studied in school.

“They’re like, what do you mean you’re sailing around the world?” Zac says smiling as he describes his friends’ reaction to the journey.

Of the solitude he will face and how his world will soon change, Sunderland appears a bit more serious.

“It’s the unknown. I’ve never gone a week without seeing my friends.”

For more information or to inquire about sponsorship, go to www.zacsunderland.com/.

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