Sixteen-year-old Abby Sunderland, sister of Zac Sunderland, who was the first person under 18 to sail around the world alone, is scheduled to leave the docks of Marina del Rey in her Class 40 racing boat Saturday, January 23rd in an attempt to become the youngest person to ever go around the world non-stop, single-handed and unassisted.
In an interview a week prior to her target departure date, the younger Sunderland discussed her anxieties, preparation and expectations with the upcoming voyage.
While Jessica Watson, 16, who just rounded Cape Horn in South America is undergoing an attempt at the same record, Abby could be the youngest if all goes well, but given the route and the time of year, Sunderland is just hoping to get around safe.
The following is an excerpt from the interview conducted before her planned take-off.
You’re home-schooled like Zac?
Yes, I’ve been home-schooled my whole life.
Will you attempt, like Zac, to keep up with school as you sail around the world?
I’ll be bringing my schoolbooks with me because I’m not ahead. And I don’t want to be stuck in high school an extra year.
Was your brother successful in staying up on his books?
No, he wasn’t really at all but he was already a year ahead so when he got back he only had a couple of classes to finish up to graduate.
So, are you concerned about being able to stay on top of it?
Yeah, I should be able to stay on top of it. If I can’t for some reason, I’ll just go to school through the summer; it’s just too big of a chance to miss because of school.
Do you have more single-handed sailing experience than Zac did before he left?
Yes, before Zac left I do have more single-handed experience than he did when he left. I mean nothing big, just little things up and down the coast. But for what I’m doing now it was kind of a stepping-stone for starting all of this.
What’s the longest solo trip you’ve taken?
The longest one I’ve done is just 24 hours. Nothing that big, but I’ve also lived on boats my whole life.
When you start to let your mind wander, what gives you the most anxiety?
Um, I don’t know, I think it’s going to be hard to get out there and kinda get into the rhythm of things. I mean, usually after about a week out you kinda get into a flow and things get a little easier, but it will be hard at first. There are going to be hard times all the way through — six months alone is a long time.
What about the flipside of the coin — what are you most looking forward to?
I’m really looking forward to just getting out there. It’s been really crazy the past few weeks here and it’s going to be good to finally get out there and get going.
And what has to happen between you and Jessica; how much time is separating you guys? You’re younger than she is, but she left before you, so where does that stand?
She’s about five months older than me and her boat is a little slower than mine, but so many things can happen so I’m really not going to say that the record is mine just because I’m younger and have a faster boat. Jessica could easily get the record still. It’s pretty close with how things have turned out.
Let’s suppose that something does happen and you do have to stop. Will you then continue the trip and make stops or will you just get right back on the road? What’s the plan if that happens?
I think the plan is, if I have to stop, I’ll stop and we’ll take care of repairs. My dad (Laurence) will fly out and then I’ll probably have a bit of an easier trip because I will be able to stop and stock up because I’m not going for non-stop anymore so then I’ll just kinda start enjoying the whole stopping thing and just change my trip around a little.
You’re obviously sponsored by Shoe City. Are there Abby shoes?
Yes. I’ve got my whole shoe line. (Smiling) They have my name on them.
Shoe City is on board. Anybody else?
Other than small equipment sponsors we don’t have anyone else. We’re actually looking for somebody because even though Shoe City is a major sponsor we’re beginning to run out of sponsorship [dollars] from them. But I’m hoping to get a few more sponsors pretty soon. We’ve got a few people working on that. Hopefully something will come through.
Since your brother Zac just sailed around the world alone, what have you learned from his experience?
I think just keeping safe. A lot of stuff happened on Zac’s boat that could have been prevented had he taken a few extra precautions. I definitely learned a lot from Zac’s trip about what to do and what not to do as well. It’s good to have him as a brother to ask whatever I want, whenever.
So let’s assume that it all works out and you go around the world unassisted and perhaps you beat Jessica or perhaps you don’t, what will come next? Will there will be a book and a documentary and all that kind of stuff?
I’ll definitely be writing a book and there’s a possibility of a documentary — probably so. So I’ll definitely start writing once I get out there and try to keep up on it while I’m there.