With the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade behind us and Christmas right around the corner, it’s hard to believe that it has already been six-months since I, along with a group of other well-wishers, followed young Zac Sunderland out of the main channel of the Marina and waved our good-byes to this young kid who was sailing around the world alone in a 36-foot Islander sloop.
He was 16 and forgoing all the things teenagers love in order to chase a dream and a world record — to be the youngest person to ever circle the globe alone.
He needs to return before January 8th, 2010 and by the looks of things right now, he’ll do it with time to spare. He turned 17 at the end of November out in the Indian Ocean, celebrating his birthday with no one else.
“A far cry from all the craziness of my 16th back at home, but my second at sea,” Sunderland said of the occasion. “I had my tenth birthday heading south from Nueva Vallarta in Mexico aboard my family’s boat, Amazing Grace.”
While he opened his presents in relative calm, it certainly hasn’t been a trip of birthday cake and milk. As expected, Sunderland is seeing what the ocean so often dishes up — brutal weather and plenty of the unexpected. But in his (almost) daily blog, the young skipper seems to be rolling with the punches, no matter how hard they land.
Up to this point, Sunderland has suffered a broken boom, forestay (which holds up the mast) loss, a pirate scare, communication system failure and most recently severe lightning.
As he was nearing the port of Durban, South Africa, where he is currently resting and making repairs, Zac was dodging lightning that was far too close for comfort.
“I was going 8.3 knots with 25 knots on the beam,” Sunderland said. “I had hit one of the currents that runs along the coast of Africa. Now that I was in the cockpit I could see the lightning striking all around me. I counted the seconds between the flash and the thunder and got to two! Not sure what that means but it was way too close for me. I altered course so I would get as far upwind from the squall as I could.”
He went on to recount how large ships also seemed to be trying to avert the strikes.
“I’m not sure what happens when a massive metal ship gets hit by lightning,” he mused. “But they were making some pretty sharp turns to avoid it.”
“He was not much comforted by the scientific explanations of lightning proximity,” said his mother Marianne of the precarious situation. “Imagine, nighttime, ships all around and squalls that not only block your vision of the ship but also the radar is cluttered with clouds so the ships don’t show up there either.”
Eventually Sunderland made landfall in the hot and humid town of Durban, South Africa. After a short stay, his next stop is Cape Town, and then he makes a hard right to head up the Atlantic coast.
While Zac prepares for the next leg, Mike Perham, an even younger teenager, 16, who is in the midst of trying for the same record Zac pursues, is having technical problems with his sleek and sexy Open 50 racing sled.
Perham, a British teen, who is already the record-holder as the youngest person to cross the Atlantic, is looking to break Jesse Martin’s record as the youngest to go non-stop around the planet, thus beating Zac to the punch in the process. But Perham is having serious issues with his autopilot and has yet to restart his attempt.
The young Brit started his quest on the coast of England, but had to stop in Portugal. He began again and had to pull into Gran Canaria, where he is now testing his equipment.
To follow Zac Sunderland’s journey or donate to his cause go to www.zacsunderland.com/.