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The following biography was originally published in Homeschooling Teen Magazine.

Zac Sunderland

ESPN Magazine's Cover Story: June 15, 2009

“I have spent a lot of time out here thinking about what is important and what I'd like to do with my life. I don't have all of the answers but I know this...without God in your life, you have nothing and I don't want to spend my life reading about what other people have done. I want to be the kind of person that people want to read about. I believe that my solo circumnavigation is just the beginning of many more adventures to come. Documenting them and telling others and hopefully inspiring others at the same time is what I want to do.” ~Zac Sunderland

Homeschooler Sails Around The World

As of June 1, 2009, Southern California teenager Zac Sunderland is heading toward home in his 36-foot sailboat, with just a few more weeks and about 3,000 miles left to go before he becomes the youngest person to sail around the world alone. Zac was just 16 when he left Marina Del Rey on June 14, 2008. Now 17 years old, he expects to arrive at Marina Del Rey in the Los Angeles area sometime in mid-to-late June. [scroll down for update]

Zac has spent his whole life on and around boats. His father was always fixing up boats and using them for family cruises before selling them. A sailboat was literally Zac's first home, and a three-year family cruise was a formative experience during Zac's preteen years. An experienced young sailor who had already logged over 15,000 sea hours, Zac spent all of his savings to buy a 36-foot sailboat named "Intrepid" for the circumnavigation trip. His father, a shipwright who also runs a yacht management company, retrofitted the ship with sophisticated communications, safety equipment, a water maker, and many other custom upgrades.

Zac is the youngest American sailor since 1965 to attempt a solo global circumnavigation. That was the year 16-year-old Robin Lee Graham departed Los Angeles, but Graham did not finish his voyage until the age of 21. Graham's book, Dove, was one of Zac's inspirations. Zac will sail west from Los Angeles on approximately the same course as Graham, but plans to complete his voyage while still 17 years old.

The record for the youngest solo circumnavigation since Robin Lee Graham has been held by an Australian, David Dicks, who was age 18 years and 41 days when he completed his voyage in 1996. Zac Sunderland won't turn 18 until November 29, so he should easily beat that record. Zac is also following in the footsteps of another hero and friend, Jesse Martin, who completed his own solo, nonstop, and unassisted circumnavigation at age 18.

The eldest of seven children, Zac is a homeschooled straight-A student. He brought books along to study on board so that he could finish his high school education during the 40,000-mile journey. "I have all my books with me. I have one more year to finish at high school and I have to send back my tests (via e-mail) to my mum. She's going to grade them and make sure I am doing well."

Zac will have plenty of projects to keep him busy when he returns. He would like to write a book and he also plans to put together a documentary using footage from the eight video cameras aboard his boat. Included in the footage is a pirate ship circling his sailboat between Indonesia and Australia. Locking himself behind the bullet-proof glass of his cabin, he made a call on his satellite phone to notify authorities, who sent a plane that presumably scared off the pirates.

Zac has stated, "My dad says cruising is 80 percent hassle and 20 percent fun, but somehow that 20 percent outweighs the 80 percent. When you're in port and it's like a beautiful day and you've worked so hard to get somewhere, it makes it all worthwhile."

The Sunderlands estimate that Zac's entire trip will cost $150,000. While Zac used his own money to buy the boat and was able to sign up some sponsors, he's borrowing the rest from his parents. Unfortunately, his dad's business has suffered because of the recession, and the family has been sinking further into debt as a result of all the extra expenditures.

Coincidentally, another contender this year for the record of youngest solo circumnavigator is 17-year-old British sailor Mike Perham. At one point on their respective journeys, the two adventurers happened to have a chance meeting with each other in Cape Town, South Africa. Mike left on November 15, 2008, aboard a sleek, fully provisioned 50-foot racing yacht named after a sponsor, "" He had planned on sailing nonstop and completing his journey in only four months. But he was plagued with breakdowns and his plans to sail nonstop came to an end when he was sidelined for more than a week due to problems with his autopilot.

Visit Zac's website:

Visit Mike's website:

See Also: ESPN's June 15 Cover Story

Zac Sunderland: An Amazing Adventure


Zac Sunderland, 17, had hoped to finish up his around-the-world solo adventure by the end of June. Unfortunately, the last leg of Zac's trip has been troublesome, which means that his arrival at Marina del Rey will be delayed until sometime around July 14. Since leaving Panama, the winds have been incredibly frustrating. First the winds were fluky and light, so he barely made any progress. As he sailed farther north along the coast of Mexico, strong winds kept sending him in the wrong direction. Then his bulkhead broke, forcing him to stop for repairs. In his blog, Zac explains how it happened:

“This morning I tacked over to a port tack to make some northing after a dismal night bearing south no matter how hard I pushed northwards. The wind built during the day and by 10am I was slamming in to 25 knots and 8-10 foot sharp seas…. I hit a huge wave and Intrepid launched out of the water. When we came down I heard a bang like a gun going off. Looking I saw that the deck was flexing about 3 inches up where the shrouds are attached to the deck at the chain plates. I went into the head and saw that the inch thick teak bulkhead that my portside chain plates are tapped into had cracked…. With this damage the mast wouldn't be able to take the strain of beating in these conditions so I altered course more downwind and now I'm headed for Banderas Bay where I will repair the bulkhead and get back out to sea as soon as possible.”

This unanticipated complication also coincided with a rather nasty tropical depression that would later be upgraded to a Category One Hurricane. Both of these developments had Zac heading for a safe harbor. Zac’s father and grandmother flew down to be with him at the Paradise Village Marina in Nueva Vallarta. The repairs were completed in just five days and the weather abated. As of June 27, the conditions were right for Zac to continue his journey toward home.

"The key to being a successful single-handed round-the-world sailor is being pretty good at everything -- navigation, routing, carbon fiber repair, tactics. You're part sail trimmer, part mechanic, part boat builder." ~American solo sailor Brad Van Liew, 35

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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