I followed the voyage of Zac Sunderland in National Geographic magazine when he, at 17, became the youngest person to sail solo around the world. When Zac’s sister, Abby, decided to beat her brother’s record, I was astounded. Why on earth would a 16-year-old girl try to accomplish something so difficult? Was this a death wish, was she overreaching, or was someone or something pushing her beyond her abilities?
At the time of Abby’s voyage, I was battling cancer and was only vaguely aware of the news coverage, except that she only made it half way around the world before she had to be rescued. Recently, someone gave me a copy of her book, Unsinkable, which detailed the events leading up to her voyage, and what was involved in her attempt to break her brother’s record. Much has been written about the voyage, with so many becoming vocal critics of her abilities, even going so far as to criticize her and her family as nothing more than thrill seekers. Having pursued several difficult and sometimes dangerous sports, I started reading the book with an open mind. Was her attempt foolhardy, or was there something larger than life that drove her on?
In view of the criticism Abby and her family received, she and her co-author spent a lot of time in explaining the type of family she came from and the kind of things each of them expected of themselves. Her father was a sailor and somewhat of an expert on all things nautical, after having spent the last 30 years on boats. Abby loved the sea and at 13 started helping her father deliver boats along the coast of
and down the length of Mexico.
Often, there were two boats to deliver to some marina, and she sailed one while
her father handled the other. Her father, Lawrence, taught Abby about the sea,
the equipment, and the dangers to avoid. I wasn’t far into the book when I
decided that the way Abby was raised wasn’t very different from the way in
which my generation grew up. There are few of us who can remember when we started
driving or when we were turned loose with large pieces of farm equipment. We
worked hard, shared responsibilities, and were mentored by every adult we were
around. Most kids today are sheltered by their parents and don’t know how to
handle any of life’s experiences. Upon graduating from high school, they have
mastered their cell phones, the Internet, and little else. They have no job
skills, yet they are sent off to college or to the workplace, after having
absorbed unrealistic expectations from thousands of movies and televisions
programs. No wonder so many of them grab the first job that comes along and
spend the rest of their lives making a living and never really learning to live.
There is something exhilarating about pushing yourself to the limit and beyond
that few people who haven’t experienced it understand. Mountains are climbed
because they are there, and oceans are crossed because there are adventuresome
people who cannot resist. As Lawrence
said in the book, “No one comes away from the sea unchanged.” The same is true
for any other endeavor that pushes us to the limit in order to grow and to
become. What Abby did was dangerous, but think of the many thousands of teens
who die each year because they can’t handle a car safely, or they don’t seem to
be able to drive without sending a text message to their friends while they are
behind the wheel. Parents need to learn to encourage their children to pursue
their dreams, and then be willing to turn them loose to find their place in the
world. If you are a parent, you need to read this book. It is a story of faith,
determination, and courage. You will come away from it energized and perhaps