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The following biography was originally published in Homeschooling Teen Magazine.

Abby Sunderland

Abigail “Abby” Sunderland (born October 19, 1993) is a homeschool teen who believes in the motto “Do Hard Things.” At age 16 she attempted to follow in her brother’s footsteps and become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

Zac Sunderland (born November 29, 1991) was the first person to have accomplished that feat before turning 18. Zac became a sailing celebrity when he finished his thirteen-month odyssey in July 2009. However, his distinction as the youngest person to solo-circumnavigate the globe was short-lived. Just six weeks later, 17-year-old British sailor Michael Perham (born March 16, 1992) set a new record as the youngest person to sail around the world alone, having started out after Zac in a much faster boat.

The record changed hands yet again on May 15, 2010, when a 16-year-old Australian homeschool student named Jessica Watson became the youngest individual to sail solo around the world non-stop and unassisted. Jessica had reached the halfway point in her voyage when Abby Sunderland was just finishing the first leg of her journey, following a delayed departure due to equipment problems.

Sadly, Abby was forced to call off her circumnavigation attempt on June 10, 2010, right after passing her halfway point. Abby’s 40-foot racing sailboat was rolled by a giant wave and dismasted during stormy seas in a remote area of the Indian Ocean northeast of the Kerguelen Islands. Sunderland had been keeping in contact with her parents and support team by satellite phone, and on the morning of June 10th she reported that her yacht was being tossed by 30-50 foot waves and 70 mph wind gusts. An hour later, Abby’s emergency distress beacons were activated. The teenager was feared lost at sea, or even worse.

Abby’s yacht was adrift and incapacitated with its engine not working, satellite reception knocked out, and sail dragging in the water from the broken mast. That area of the ocean is rarely visited by merchant ships or other sea traffic, so Abby thought it would be weeks before she was rescued – but in just two days she was spotted by a plane about 2,000 miles west of Australia. Since setting sail from Marina del Rey 4 ˝ months previously, Abby had grown so attached to her sailboat “Wild Eyes” that it was difficult for her to leave it behind, but the vessel had to be abandoned.

Sunderland stated on her blog that she would like to write a book about her adventures. “I started to think about all the good times Wild Eyes and I have had together,” she said. “All that's left of the voyage of Wild Eyes are my memories, eventually they will get fuzzy and I won't remember all the details. I don't want that to happen.”

Abby is the second-eldest of Laurence and Marianne Sunderland’s eight children. Laurence Sunderland is a shipwright, sailing instructor, and captain, so Abby grew up in a seafaring family and has spent her whole life on and around boats. In fact, when the oldest four Sunderland kids were babies, a 56 ft. Tradewind sailboat was literally their first home. Additionally, living aboard a sailboat during a three-year family cruise was a formative experience for them.

Prior to her proposed circumnavigation, Abby accumulated thousands of miles of coastal cruising through a number of hazardous weather conditions and was trained in ocean sailing. She began sailing single-handedly when she was 13. That’s when Abby first had the idea of sailing around the world, even before her brother did. She explains, “I had begun to think that dreams are meant to be no more than dreams and that in reality dreams don't come true. Then my brother (Zac) left on his trip. It was amazing to see all the support that he got from around the world and to see how everyone worked together to help make his dream reality. Watching him do this really made me believe that I could too.”

The Sunderlands are devout Christians who homeschool their children through the Trinity Pacific Christian School program, a homeschool organization in Thousand Oaks, California. During his June 8 graduation at Calvary Community Church, Abby’s older brother Zac said “God was with me every nautical mile” regarding his own historic voyage. Abby had written on her website, “I am taking my school books with me so that will keep me busy. I don’t want to stay in high school another year so I’m motivated to get my school work done.”

When Abby rounded Cape Horn – the southernmost point of South America – on March 31, 2010, she was the youngest solo sailor ever to have done so. She hopes to one day make another attempt at fulfilling her dream of a global circumnavigation, declaring “I’m definitely going to do it sometime.” Her father says he would “absolutely endorse that wholeheartedly.”


Recommended Reading

Dove, by Robin Lee Graham - The autobiographical account of Robin Lee Graham's record-breaking voyage as the first teenager to sail alone around the world.

Joshua Slocum’s classic adventure, Sailing Alone Around the World, the story of the first solo circumnavigator who set sail from Boston in 1895. Arthur Ransome wrote in 1947: “A school library without this book is incomplete. It should be part of the education of every English or American boy.”

Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast. It’s a detailed autobiographical account of a two-year trip out of Boston and around Cape Horn to California circa 1834. You will love this story if you like books about sailing and the sea, travel, or adventure.

Jesse Martin's Lionheart: A Journey of the Human Spirit. By circumnavigating the world in his 34-foot yacht, Lionheart, the 17-year-old Australian became the youngest person in history to sail around the world solo, nonstop and unassisted. He never stepped off the boat for the entire 10-month trip!

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