Sixteen-year-olds Abby Sunderland and Jessica Watson each began voyages with a dream to become the youngest non-stop solo circumnavigator. Australian Watson should realize that dream in about 192 nautical miles. Sunderland, who is from California, abandoned her goal of a non-stop voyage, but plans to persevere after stopping in Cape Town, South Africa, to repair her autopilots.
Watson set off Oct. 18 from Sydney, Australia, in Ella's Pink Lady, her Sparkman & Stephens 34. She rounded Cape Horn Jan. 13 and is on the home stretch after traveling 22,808 nautical miles.
On May 3, Watson rounded Tasmania after a knockdown in 32-foot seas and 35-knot winds the morning of April 24. Watson describes the seas as "liquid mountains rolling past with tumbling white tops."
"It wasn't too bad as far as knockdowns go," says Watson in her April 24 blog entry. "But having a whole lot of bilge water in my bunk didn't have me thrilled."
Watson will turn 17 May 17, and it is now a race against the clock to make it home before her birthday. She hopes to be back by May 15, according to her May 6 blog entry.
Martin's record could stand
There is speculation that Watson's feat will not beat Jesse Martin's non-stop unassisted round-the-world record. Martin, also Australian, completed his non-stop solo circumnavigation in 1999 when he was 18 aboard Lionheart, a Sparkman & Stephens 34.
Jessica did not venture far enough into the Northern Hemisphere to qualify for the title, according to a Sail-World.com report. The report states she needed to sail around 1,500 kilometers north of the equator to have traveled far enough in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. "[Watson] has traveled 18,265 nm orthodromic distance - or 19,631 rhumb line distance - which adds up to 2,335 nm less than the official round the world distance," according to the article.
The World Sailing Speed Record Council wouldn't recognize Watson's feat regardless of route, according to Watson's team.
"It is very important to note that the World Speed Sailing Racing Council does not recognize any voyages from sailors under the age of 18," states a May 5 report from Watson's team on her Web site. "As a result of the WSSRC decision to discontinue recognition of age-related journeys, there is no official body to recognize Jessica's feat and, therefore, no official body's rules that need to be adhered to."
While the WSSRC no longer recognizes the "youngest" or "oldest" in any area of sailing, Watson reportedly has not sailed an official circumnavigation under WSSRC definitions.
However, she says her circumnavigation was about the voyage and she isn't concerned about formal recognition. Neither is Hachette Book Group, which has already offered Watson a book deal, saying it will publish the blog entries she has written throughout her trip "as soon as possible after her return," according to media reports.
"I think readjusting to life on land, keeping up with some of the exciting things planned for me, finishing my book and documentary, getting my driver's license, and finishing school will be more than enough to keep me busy," says Watson in her May 4 blog.
The current holder of the youngest solo circumnavigator title with stops is British teen Mike Perham, who set the record Aug. 27, 2009, at age 17 and has been recognized by Guinness World Records.
Abby puts in at Cape Town
Abby Sunderland, who is about seven months younger than Watson, set out Jan. 23 from the Del Rey Yacht Club in her hometown of Marina del Rey, Calif., aboard Wild Eyes, her Scott Jutson-designed Open 40. Abby is the younger sister of Zac Sunderland, who held the title of youngest solo circumnavigator for one month and 11 days before Perham - 108 days younger - took the title. (Zac Sunderland has just released the first DVD detailing his trip.)
Inspired by her brother, Sunderland wanted to embark on a similar voyage but planned to sail non-stop.
On Feb. 1, Sunderland put in at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to pick up additional batteries and deal with other problems that came up after leaving Marina del Rey. She started a "new" non-stop attempt in Cabo San Lucas, recasting the Marina del Ray-to-Cabo San Lucas leg as a shakedown cruise. But April 24 Sunderland announced on her blog that her non-stop attempt was officially at an end; because of her autopilots malfunctioning, she had to stop at Cape Town for repairs.
Jeff Ayliffe of Cape Town's Eyewitness News -- Sports meets Abby as she puts in. Click play to watch his report.
Mobile users, click here to watch on YouTube.
"I gave it my best shot and made it almost halfway around the world. I will definitely keep going, and whether or not I will make any more stops after this I don't know yet," says Sunderland. "I admit I was pretty upset at first, but there is no point in getting upset. ... This is the experience of a lifetime."
Sunderland arrived May 5 in Cape Town. Her engine died shortly after she entered Table Bay, and she was assisted by a 60-foot powerboat with her father, Laurence, and Zac on board. The two had flown in to greet her and help with repairs, according to her May 6 blog.
"Abby was so focused on what she was doing she was living a compromised existence. She was falling asleep at her nav nation because she didn't know when her autopilots were going to stop working," says her mother, Marianne. "When she decided to stop, it was a relief to everyone. There's a lot of pressure to keep the boat going when you are planning to go non-stop; everything has to work perfectly. Now that pressure is off for her."
In this issue: