The third day of August was a proud one for Laurence Sunderland, watching his 16-year-old son Zac motor into Majuro in the Marshall Islands aboard Intrepid, the 1972 Islander 36 sailboat they outfitted together. Zac had set out June 14 from Marina Del Rey, Calif., in a bid to become the world’s youngest solo circumnavigator.
“It was slightly unnerving for me because he dealt with about 20 squalls before he got here, and they come fast and furious in these parts,” says Laurence Sunderland, a shipwright and owner of Sunderland’s Yacht Management in Marina Del Rey. “I could tell he was dead tired.”
And no wonder. Once Zac entered the Majuro Atoll, he still had to motor through 10 miles of reef to get to the island yacht club and his mooring. It didn’t help when his 30-hp Yanmar diesel died and he had to take the fuel line off the fuel filter and suck on it until the diesel came through.
Once he made it to the mooring, he was greeted by the local islanders. Hotel Robert Reimers sponsored three rooms and a rental car for Zac during his stay, and after preparing Intrepid for the next leg of the voyage with his dad, the young sailor was off again Aug. 9, bound for the Solomon Islands.
“It will probably take him 30 days to get there, and I plan to meet him in Darwin, Australia, since I have citizenship,” says Laurence. “But we really do need to find a major sponsor in order for the rest of this trip to come off. Every time we pull into port, we spend about $2,000 to $5,000 on maintenance and repairs.”
Zac hit heavy weather about three weeks into his first leg. And when he started having trouble with his solar panel regulator, he implemented his backup plan to stop in Honolulu, arriving July 11 and leaving July 17, when repairs were complete. “Other than that, the boat has been working really well,” says Zac, who spoke with Soundings by satellite phone shortly after leaving Hawaii. “Not too much went wrong.”
The father-and-son team spent six months refitting Intrepid for the odyssey. Zac purchased the boat from a friend of the family for $6,000, and about $50,000 went into the refit, which Zac hopes to pay back to his family by writing a book when he finishes. Intrepid had a chance to test her mettle in swells 15- to 20-feet high and 100 yards apart on his way to Hawaii. “I’ve never really dealt with anything that big before,” he says. “There were a lot of hours of sleep lost, but I was able to hold her course.”
Zac’s parents flew to Hawaii and spent a few days working on the boat — and made sure their son was safe. “I was so happy to see his boat coming into the dock,” says Marianne Sunderland, Zac’s mom. “I’m very pleased with what he’s done so far.”
Weather and gear problems notwithstanding, this leg of the voyage wasn’t without its lighter moments. In his blog, Zac tells of a booby that took up residence on Intrepid. The bird had flown into the mainsail and fell to the deck. “I went up to see what the noise was and noticed the poor, stunned thing crouching in the corner of the cockpit,” Sunderland writes in the blog entry. “Being half asleep and not realizing how many times a booby bird can poop in six hours, I decided to let him rest there awhile. When I woke up in the morning he was sitting on my tiller having a ride with the windvane steering.”
After several attempts to shoo the bird off the boat, Zac’s air horn finally did the trick. Unfortunately, he was to meet several more on his way to Majuro. “I couldn’t believe how annoying he was,” says Zac. “It took me forever to clean up after him.”
Zac says it took him a few days to get used to being alone, but Internet access and the satellite phone helped him cope. “It’s kind of a pain, but you get used to it,” says Zac. “I have friends who came to visit me in Hawaii, and we went surfing together. That was pretty awesome, getting to do that every day.”
At press time, Zac had roughly 4,500 miles under his keel since setting out in June. “I was hoping to get under a sleep schedule, but you pretty much sleep when you can,” says Sunderland. “Otherwise, I’m glad the boat’s doing fine.”
To follow Sunderland’s progress, visit www.zacsunderland.com.
This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue.