Having successfully gotten safely around Cape Horn, one of the most notoriously dangerous places for sailors on the planet, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland has decided that she will give up on her quest to become the youngest to sail around the world alone, non-stop and unassisted, but will still attempt to become the youngest to circle the globe solo.
Although Abby’s mother, Marianne Sunderland, told the Argonaut a few weeks ago that the team was “confident that she will be able to keep the autopilot system functioning,” it proved not to be the case. Abby left Marina del Rey in January with two autopilot systems and one broke down before she rounded the Horn.
At the time, she seemed anxious but optimistic that she would be able to either fix the old one or have it for spares in the event of the last one failing. But when the second unit started to malfunction late last month, the team saw the situation more vividly and felt the idea of hand-steering for any amount of time was unacceptable, so the decision was made to pull in for repairs.
“It really seems like [it] had just gone insane,” Sunderland said of the integral piece of electronic equipment, “not correcting when I was off course, steering all over the place when I was on course and occasionally steering the wrong way. There is nothing like autopilot alarms and accidental jibes at four in the morning to start off the day.”
For solo sailors, the autopilot is arguably more important than any other piece of equipment on the boat. Without it, the skipper would have to man the helm 24-hours a day, making sleep nearly impossible. Many long distance sailors use mechanical devices like a windvane for self-steering, which uses no electricity. But in the case of Abby’s boat Wild Eyes, a high speed Open 40 downwind racer, the design won’t allow for this type of fixture.
For Abby, she seems to be understandably grappling with the emotions involved in the decision. Clearly there is a certain amount of relief in seeing loved ones, feeling land under foot and getting the boat back in better shape, but letting go of such a deeply-rooted goal is a difficult pill to swallow for such a driven young person.
“I gave it my best shot and made it almost half way around the world,” she said with a disappointed pride. “I will definitely keep going, and whether or not I will make any more stops after this I don’t know yet. I admit I was pretty upset at first, but there is no point in getting upset. What’s done is done and there is nothing I can do about it.”
As of Monday, May 3rd, Sunderland was at sea for 100 days, banking well over 10,000 miles. Today, she should be pulling into the harbor of Cape Town, South Africa where her brother Zac, the first person under 18 to sail solo around the world, will greet her and help her with repairs. Abby was candid in her blog about the impending stop and the conflicting feelings it stirs.
“I’m happy out here. I love everything about being out here. Thinking that in just two or three days I am going to be walking on dry land, seeing the people I talk to, and sleeping in a dry bed… it’s a little overwhelming.
“It may seem like no big deal, but to be honest, I wish it didn’t have to happen. I guess it doesn’t fit the race boat profile very well, but losing a record isn’t a big deal after you have done what I have just done. Just being out here…I wish there was a way for me to spend the rest of my life out here.”
To follow Sunderland’s journey, log onto abbysunderland.com/.