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Youngest, smallest, longest

From sailing around the world at 16 to not touching land for more than 1,000 days, the oceans seem to be filled with adventurous souls right now. Here are four sailors who are out to make their mark. Foolhardy or intrepid? You decide.

Jessica Watson -- the quest to be the youngest

Jessica Watson, who will turn 17 May 18, set off from Sydney, Australia, Oct. 18 of last year in Ella's Pink Lady, her Sparkman & Stephens 34, in an effort to claim the title of youngest solo circumnavigator. On Jan. 13 she successfully rounded Cape Horn, but she hit a bad patch of weather shortly thereafter. In winds that reached 65 knots, Watson's vessel was knocked down four times - once setting off her EPIRB mounted under the dodger.

She came through uninjured, with only minor damage, according to her blog.

This isn't the first snag Watson has hit. Prior to her trip the teen collided with a 63,000-ton bulk carrier 17 miles offshore during her sea trial from Mooloolaba to Sydney. The accident prompted a fair bit of criticism and discussion about Watson's sailing abilities. (Click here to read more about the collision and subsequent investigation.)

Watson hopes to complete her journey before her 17th birthday; according to her Web site .

The sailor currently recognized as the youngest to sail solo around the world is British teen Mike Perham, who set out Nov. 18, 2008, and completed his non-stop voyage Aug. 27 of last year. Perham was 17 years, 164 days when he completed his journey.


Abby Sunderland -- 16 and sailing around the world

Not everyone dreams about a boat for their 16th birthday, but that is exactly what Abby Sunderland wanted and received: a Scott Jutson-designed Open 40 named Wild Eyes, to be precise.

On Saturday, Jan. 23, Sunderland took off from her hometown of Marina del Rey, Calif., to sail non-stop around the world in Wild Eyes. Sunderland originally planned to compete with Watson for the youngest solo circumnavigator title, but after pushing back her departure date several times she now says this trip is about the experience, not the record.

With an Oct. 19 birthday, however, Sunderland could still finish in time to claim the title.

Sunderland will be heading south then east around Cape Horn, and on through the southern Atlantic by way of the other two major capes.

Sunderland's older brother, Zac, completed his own solo circumnavigation last July at age 17, sailing a 1972 Islander 36. He achieved the title of youngest solo circumnavigator - though he only held that title for one month and 11 days before Perham, 108 days younger, snatched the title for his own.

For more information on Abby's trip, visit www.abbysunderland.com.

 

Alessandro Di Benedetto -- Tiny boat, big world

Italian sailor Alessandro Di Benedetto departed from Les Sables d'Olonne, France, Oct. 29 of last year on Findomestic Banca, a 21-foot modified ocean racing sailboat. The 39-year-old French-Italian geologist plans to make an unassisted non-stop circumnavigation traveling eastward and rounding all three capes. Should he succeed, he would be the first person to do so sailing a boat smaller than 32 feet, according to Di Benedetto's Web site.

The boat has been reinforced with Kevlar and carbon, according to his site. The trip will be monitored and ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council.

This would not be Di Benedetto's first record. In December 2002 he completed the first non-stop unassisted single-handed trans-Atlantic crossing in the "20-feet-sport" category (smaller than 20 feet sport catamaran without a cabin). In August 2006 he was recognized for his single-handed non-stop North Pacific Ocean crossing, in the same category, according to his Web site.

 

Reid Stowe -- the man who lives "off" the land

On April 21, 2007, then 55-year-old Reid Stowe set sail from New York Harbor on his 70-foot gaff-rigged Schooner, Anne, with his girlfriend, Soanya Ahmad, who was 23 at the time. Their goal was to spend 1,000 days at sea without touching land. Almost three years later Stowe, now 58, has achieved his goal but won't be returning home until June 17 due to weather conditions, he says. Stowe is currently in the Atlantic off Guinea, West Africa, according to Ahmad.

"I won't be able to send or receive e-mails or photos anymore," wrote Reid on his blog Dec. 29. "I've had a few months of trouble with the computer, so I'm not surprised. Of course, I will miss communicating with everybody and sending my stories with illustrations.  But I'm thankful it lasted for most of the voyage."

Less than a year into the voyage -- Feb. 22, 2008 -- Ahmad had to leave because of severe bouts of seasickness, aggravated by her pregnancy. Their son, Darshen, was born July 31 of that year in New York City, where he and Ahmad still live.

"I still feel like there is long way to go before I can start seeing the end or getting excited about [seeing Stowe]," says Ahmad on the Web site. "I think Reid and I share the same sentiment that it has been so many hundreds of days already. A few more weeks, in the bigger picture, won't make much of a difference. Reid will continue with his routine just as he has been surviving on the ocean, and I'll be kept busy with an energetic, climbing, self-assertive toddler."

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