Last month Zac Sunderland’s parents Marianne and Laurence invited me to a presentation they gave at the Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club in Marina del Rey. The invitation went out to people who played some role in his preparation and departure from Los Angeles en route to a world circumnavigation.
Zac is hoping to be the youngest person to ever sail around the world alone and the Sunderlands held the dinner to reconnect with the many people in the boating community who pitched in, and give an update.
Before he left, young Zac was on many news programs, both local and national, in story after story that could only discuss projections and potential. He had never made a substantial crossing alone.
While it was nearly always mentioned that he had 15,000 sea miles under his belt, what wasn’t a focus was that most of these miles were spent with his more-than-able father, Laurence, who knows boating more than he knows most anything else. But now the story can adapt a new angle.
The Sunderlands displayed a PowerPoint presentation at the club with photographs and comments and we all awaited a phone call from Zack, who at the time was a few days from the Hawaiian Islands.
No longer were the questions about “what ifs” and “how are you going to handle that.” Now they were rooted in reality. Is he lonely? What’s he eating? Has anything broken? Is he running into violent storms?
These questions were answered by the faithful, albeit realistically worried parents:
“Yes, but he’s handling it well.”
“Top Ramen and fruit.”
“The solar panels need working on.”
“Considerable squalls, not violent storms.”
But it was less the answer to the questions than that the questions could be asked at all that seemed to give Laurence a relaxed pride.
“Zac has sailed more miles on this trip than most of the people in this whole Marina have their whole lives,” he said.
Later in the evening, almost on cue, Zac called to say hello to us all and we all felt the extreme differences in our present environments.
“I have one reef in and I’m moving along at about five and a half knots,” Sunderland said in his characteristically reserved manner. “It’s going good.”
“Do you have any poles in the water, Zac?” asked his father, grinning.
“Yeah, I have three in,” Zac replied.
“Not to tell you your business, mate,” Laurence said tiptoeing in his Australian accent. “But if you hook up with something, it might tangle all the lines together and you’ll have a mess on your hands.”
The crowd hushed, realizing a critical moment was at hand — a young man on his own, hearing unsolicited advice from his dad. Then after an extended pause Zac said, “But I have three times the odds of hooking up with something.”
Everyone laughed realizing the classic schism between father and a son coming into his own.
A few days later, Zac made land for the first time after 22 days at sea, having sailed thousands of miles alone.
He was welcomed by the people of Waikiki and spent some time doing press and preparing for his next leg to the Marshall Islands.
Like his crossing to Hawaii, he successfully landed in Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands, and was treated like a visiting dignitary. He met with President Litokwa Tomeing, danced to traditional music and inspected indigenous dishes like pig liver in blood.
Laurence met Zac in Majuro and inspected the boat to insure its readiness for the next leg, which he feels could be the most treacherous of all.
“In my estimation it’s probably one of the more dangerous places on the trip,” Laurence said. “There are a lot of low-lying islands and outstanding reefs — marked and unmarked. He’s going from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and there are a lot of squalls and microbursts.”
Currently Zac is a few days into his 3,400-mile journey to Darwin, Australia, and readjusting to life on the water. Laurence says he hates the first few days but gradually settles back into the rhythm of a passage.
In addition to the concerns of Zac’s overall well-being, the other major focus for the Sunderlands is fundraising. They had hoped that a major sponsor would have come through by now. While they have had an enormous amount of help from private citizens and small businesses, they still have expectations that a major corporate sponsor will see the advertising potential of Zac’s pursuit.
According to some marketing experts, the coverage Zac has received to this point is worth close to a million dollars. While there are talks of big sponsors, nothing is solidified as yet.
It seems, at this point, that this economic reality is the only thing that could cause the trip to fail. Sunderland points out that he has spent an enormous amount of their own money to fund the trip and understands that they will need financial support to continue to achieve the goal. But through it all, he is hopeful and patient.
“You know the definition of cruising?” Laurence asked, smiling. “Going to the most exotic places in the world to fix your boat.”
Zac’s travels can be followed at www.zacsunderland.com/.