Youngest solo circumnavigator back home

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Teenager Zac Sunderland left California in June 2008 and covered 24,568 miles in 13 months

When 17-year-old Zac Sunderland sailed into his hometown of Marina Del Rey, Calif., and into the books as the youngest solo circumnavigator after 24,568 miles at sea in his 1972 Islander 36, he was greeted by a crowd of friends, family and media. He arrived at about 10 a.m. July 16.

Sunderland sailed into Marina Del Rey to a hero's wlecome.

“I finally saw my mom and gave her a big hug and then the rest of the family,” says Sunderland, in an e-mail to Soundings. “I feel happy to have made it back and been able to experience all that I have.”

Australian Jesse Martin was 18 when he finished his solo circumnavigation in 1999, and he was a constant source of inspiration for Sunderland on his voyage, which began in June 2008. Sunderland’s record was certified by the American Sailing Association, but it was not recorded by the World Speed Sailing Record Council, which did not monitor his voyage, according to John Reed, secretary of the council. “Recent claims that Zac Sunderland has become the youngest person to sail solo around the world does not make this an official world sailing record in the eyes of the WSSRC,” Reed said in a recent release. (The WSSRC, however, did recognize Martin’s achievement with a “performance certificate” for the youngest non-stop, single-handed circumnavigation.)

Regardless of its “official” nature, Zac may not hold the youngest solo circumnavigator title for long. Last November, British teenager Mike Perham, who is 108 days younger than Sunderland, left Portsmouth, England, in an Open 50 to sail an eastward route around the world, passing through the Panama Canal. Sunderland sailed Intrepid on a westward route with various stops along the way, including Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Australia, South Africa and Grenada before heading home via the Panama Canal.

“The record is cool, but Mike Perham is younger, and that is just how it goes,” says Sunderland.

After meeting with the media and greeting his family, Sunderland attended a party the Del Rey Yacht Club threw for him and stayed up until around 1:30 a.m. catching up with friends. He was back at the dock at 3:30 a.m. for interviews with CBS’s The Early Show, CNN American Morning, Fox 11 Good Day LA, CBC World News from Canada, and CNN’s Campbell Brown.

Sunderland is philospohical about how fleeting his record could be, but he has his sites set on future adventures.

When the excitement of his return settles down, Sunderland plans to finish high school and work on various projects related to the adventure. “I’ll be busy for the next few months with my book, documentary and fixing up Intrepid,” says Sunderland, who hopes to keep his beloved sailboat. “[This voyage] has changed the way I look at myself, other people and the world. It has changed my perspective and my goals.

“I would like to continue to adventure and sail. We’ll just see what comes up,” he says.

Sunderland’s mother, Marianne, who doubled as his public relations agent, is just pleased to have her son home. “We’re so ecstatic to have him back. It was great to see him at the dock,” she says. “It’ll just be nice to have him home for a while.”

For information on Sunderland and his feat, visit www.zacsunderland.com.

This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue.

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