In mid-June, 16-year-old Zac Sunderland set off in his Islander 36, Intrepid, to sail around the world in an attempt to be the youngest solo sailor ever to do so. His competition was a page from the foggy past. Australian David Dicks, circled the globe at 18 in 1996 in a 34-foot boat in an effort that has stayed in the record books ever since.
Sunderland, the son of a shipwright, had many ocean-going miles to his credit before he left the docks of Marina del Rey in pursuit of Dicks’ record, but he had never crossed oceans alone.
Now halfway through his journey, young Zac is anchored at an island off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean making some repairs and reprovisioning his small boat to continue his record-breaking quest.
The quiet, unassuming young man has already proven leagues of critics wrong. He has shown himself to be focused, fearless and calm under pressure. His concerns about being alone for long periods of time are behind him and he has learned to problem solve, navigate and make decisions with confidence.
At a recent fundraiser for Zac, he calmly, via satellite phone, described to a crowd of 75 supporters, the conditions he was currently in.
“What’s it like out there Zac?” Laurence Sunderland asked his son through his cell phone with a microphone stuck to it.
“Uh, it’s blowing about 20 to 25 with a pretty decent-sized swell,” Zac said in an even tone.
“What size is the swell, if you were to guess?” Laurence questioned.
“Uh, well, it’s up to the spreaders, so I guess around 15 to 18 feet.”
The crowd sighed, but for Zac, this was just another day in an adventure that was only half done. At the time, he was contending with a broken boom and in the following days Sunderland would lose his forestay in some trying Indian Ocean weather conditions. He was able to keep his mast up by using spinnaker halyards to enforce an existing cutter stay.
All along, the teenage globe-trotter has been managing these problems and handling these circumstances while methodically plodding along the world’s oceans at a walking pace, never deviating from the goal of breaking Dicks’ record.
But now there is another 16-year old sailor who is also vying for the same place in history. Like Zac, Mike Perham is an experienced sailor with many ocean miles to his credit. Unlike Zac, Perham had already crossed oceans going into the circumnavigation. At 14, Mike became the youngest person to ever sail across the Atlantic single-handed.
The young Englishmen Perham is looking to not only break Dicks’ record and thwart Sunderland’s attempt, but he aims to be the youngest to circle the planet nonstop, a record held currently by Jesse Martin who did it when he was 18. Perham will turn 17 on March 16th and he hopes to be back right around that time. If Perham is successful, Sunderland won’t break Dicks’ record and will instead hold the record for youngest American to circle the earth alone.
“We have the highest regard for Mike —Ýhe seems to be much like Zac,” said Zac’s mother Marianne.Ý”He grew up around boats and has boating in his blood. His trip is a lot different than Zac’s, with a very expensive racing boat, a big sponsor and a professional [shore] crew.”
The differences in vessels are stark. Laurence Sunderland bought a small old cruising boat for very little; then he and his son, with the help of a boating community, spent months preparing for the voyage, while Perham’s team chartered an all-carbon Open 50 solo-racing sled equipped with all the latest technology available.
However, Perham’s task is a bit more arduous. It’s nonstop, and he will go around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America, one of the most treacherous places in the world.
“His route is pretty dangerous, especially single-handed,” said Marianne.Ý”We wish him well.”
And while Perham is very well prepared and equipped both mentally and physically, it’s this element of danger that keeps Zac’s record-making possibilities very much alive. Anyone who follows solo ocean racing knows that making the journey around the world alone without major damage is the farthest thing from guaranteed.
While there are great contrasts in how each of these young men has chosen to sail around the planet, their similarity is uncanny. Whatever happens with their particular adventures, it seems likely we won’t have heard the last from either of them.
To follow Zac Sunderland’s journey or donate to his cause, go to www.zacsunderland.com/.