How young is too young?

Author:
Publish date:
Image placeholder title

I'm not sure what to make of today's nautical Brat Pack. They've got a lot of youthful moxie, which is hard not to admire, but you can't help but worry about how things could go.

The "race" for the youngest solo circumnavigator title started in 2008, when two young men, both 16 at the time, set out to girdle the globe - which they both successfully accomplished.

Both teen sailors, by all accounts, did a very fine job. And Mike Perham, the youngest of the pair by 108 days give or take, was recently given an Award of Merit by the Ocean Cruising Club. Bravo. He can add that to his Guinness World Record.

And if that were the end of the story, it would be one thing. But it's not.

As you read this, two 16-year-old girls are slogging their way around the world alone. And a 14-year-old Dutch girl would also like to be out there circumnavigating the blue planet, but a court has ruled, wisely, that she is not yet ready. (She had hoped to leave when she was 13.)

Image placeholder title

You wonder what's waiting in the wings. Right now, there are people vying for records as youngest circumnavigator, smallest boat to circumnavigate, and longest time at sea without putting in to land. What's next? Blindfolded?

It makes you want to shout, "enough." Someone is going to get hurt - or worse.

I don't like the trend. It seems as if it's being driven more by the desire to grab a record than it is to complete a journey. The prize should be the experience, not a Guinness notation.

And if one of these brave, young souls falters and a big midocean rescue is required, the critics will come out of the woodwork over the cost and their ages. That you can bank on.

I applaud the spirit of exploration, adventure and independence that has lured folks onto the water for centuries. And I am reluctant to criticize the young, given my own head-strong ways as a teen and the wanderlust that led me down blue highways far from home. But I think it's fair to wonder whether by age 16 these young people have the experience, judgment, maturity, physical strength, mechanical acumen and a host of other tangible and intangible attributes to sail alone around the world.

You can say kids grow up faster today, but there is still a big difference between a 16-year-old and someone who is 18 or 20. At that stage in life, a couple of years make a big difference.

The sea doesn't give a damn about record books, sponsors, blogs or whether you have a pink boat or not. It waits for opportunity and pounces on mistakes and weakness, be it in the person, vessel or gear.

Perhaps my concerns are simply those of a middle-aged parent, with three daughters and a son. Perhaps we've just written too many stories about capable, experienced cruisers who have lost their boats - their lives, in some cases - because of things outside of their control. A container, a whale, a reef. The 60-knot low that there's no hiding from. Perhaps.

There's an old saying: Heaven protects children, sailors and drunken men.

I pray these young people return safely; I'm just not comfortable with the odds.

Stories in this issue: