California sailor Abby Sunderland had the determination for a solo circumnavigation, but she didn't have the boat. That changed when she and her father, Laurence, bought an Open 40 in Portsmouth, R.I., Oct. 19 - Abby's Sweet 16.
Soundings joined the Sunderlands at the Hunt Yachts yard during the purchase, and between managing a survey and calling Australia in search of a hard-to-find alternator, the American teen looking to claim the title of youngest solo circumnavigator spoke about her upcoming voyage.
Click play for a tour of Abby's new Open 40.
"I've been wanting to do this since I was 13 - well before Zac was going to go," says Abby, referring to older brother Zac Sunderland, who completed a solo circumnavigation July 16 at age 17.
Abby is five months younger than the other teen currently chasing the title, 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson. Watson sailed out of Sydney Oct. 18 aboard Ella's Pink Lady, her Sparkman & Stephens 34.
While Watson was making her way toward New Zealand, the Sunderlands were preparing Abby's Open 40 for a sail to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where it will be shipped to their home port of Marina del Rey, Calif. Wild Eyes - a Scott Hollers Jutson design built in 2001 by ASA Yachts of Australia - went around the world as BTC Velocity in the 2002-'03 Around Alone, helmed by Bermuda sailor Alan Paris.
Abby is aiming to depart in early December. "We plan to map out some emergency ports just in case anything goes wrong," she says, "but I want to go non-stop as much as possible."
The family had originally eyed an Open 40 in Nassau, Bahamas, but the boat in Portsmouth was closer to their price range. The Sunderlands have raised $150,000 in what the family is calling Project Global Breeze, and they stayed within budget on the purchase of Wild Eyes.
"We have one major sponsor with Shoe City Inc.," a chain store based in Whittier, Calif., says Abby. "We are still looking for a second major sponsor, but even if we don't find one I'm still going to try to pull this off."
More from this issue Hitting the docks in Lauderdale Another season drifts into the sunset "The Bourne Identity' meets 'Flipper' Hard lessons for Jessica Watson VIDEO: Safety first for 'Deadliest Catch' captain
Zac Sunderland circumnavigated aboard Intrepid, a 1972 Islander 36, sailing 24,568 miles from his June 2008 departure in Marina del Rey. He held the title of youngest solo circumnavigator for less than a month and a half before British teen Mike Perham, who is 108 days younger, claimed it. Perham also is 17. He sailed a chartered Open 50, TotallyMoney.com.
Laurence Sunderland says Abby isn't sailing Intrepid because it made more sense to get the Open 40 rather than prepare a 37-year-old boat for it's second circumnavigation in less than two years.
"It is a little harder to see your daughter go off on [a voyage] like this," says Laurence, a shipwright and owner of Sunderland's Yacht Management in Marina del Rey. "But she's got the experience to see this through."
Abby has done solo deliveries for her father's company since she was 13, says Laurence. Sailing is a way of life for the Sunderland family, so she is qualified for the circumnavigation, he says.
"[This trip] is dangerous, but most things in life are dangerous," says Laurence. "How many teenagers die in cars every year? With her upbringing, she will overcome the rough times and bring the boat safely into port."
Abby says she has been training to prepare for the physical rigors of single-handing a racing yacht around the world. "My biggest concern is fatigue, which is something every sailor goes through," she says. "Sometimes you're exhausted, and that's really hard to deal with. Sailing is always a risk, even for the most experienced sailors."
Wild Eye's equipment list includes radar, an EPIRB, high-frequency radio, life raft and satellite phone, among other gear. And there will be backup systems, she says. And, of course, she has her big brother to turn to for firsthand advice.
"I have tried to knock her confidence by telling her my scary stories, mostly so she will better understand what she is getting into," says Zac, who is joining Abby and Dad on the sail to Fort Lauderdale. "She is still confident and totally focused on going."
Zac says safety must remain a high priority. "You cannot go to sleep with a ship within two to four miles," he says. "You just never know. Reef early, eat often, and look at the bright side of everything."
"Zac's been very supportive," Abby says. "We originally thought about Zac and I sailing together on separate boats, but there was not enough time to raise money for two people."