IF YOU’VE BEEN FOLLOWING the blog of Abby Sunderland, you’ll have noticed her wariness about approaching land. Abby is the 16-year-old Californian who is sailing alone around the world. She apparently stayed 50 miles or more off Cape Horn. She was obviously scared of being caught on a lee shore with a boat that does not sail well to windward in rough water. Similarly, her approach to Cape Town was fraught with dread about collisions with ships and running into land.
You’ll have noticed, too, her nervousness about running in heavy weather: the way she sails dead downwind under staysail only, when this boat was designed to reach at 15 knots or more, tacking downwind under full sail for the sake of stability.
You may get the feeling, as I have, that she is too often at the mercy of a collection of machines and electronics that she can’t repair if anything goes wrong, a situation that makes for a chronically tense voyage. She’s constantly waiting for the next thing to go wrong. She jumped to the conclusion that her auxiliary engine was ruined when she started it to enter the inner harbor in Cape Town. But the black smoke pouring out of her exhaust apparently was caused by nothing more than overloading from a bunch of weed around her prop.
In addition to all this, she is no doubt disappointed that she no longer qualifies for a non-stop voyage around the world. The only title she’s chasing now is that of the youngest person to circumnavigate, a record that is no longer recognized by any world authority because it encourages ever younger kids to enter a competition that must eventually end in calamity.
Team Abby’s decision to have her make a stop at Cape Town for repairs has been described as a failure, but in my view the failure lies not with Abby but with the boat; and the blame belongs to whoever chose it. It is the wrong boat for the purpose. My earnest wish is that she should call it quits right now, the whole thing. She has already earned the glorious title of the youngest person to double Cape Horn. Let it stay there.
To continue this voyage from Cape Town with that boat is the greatest folly. Her parents know full well the dangers that face her in the Southern Ocean as she falls more and more behind schedule. What kind of parent sends a child down there, with winter fast approaching, in a boat as vulnerable as an Open 40, a boat built for nothing but speed, a boat whose extreme design gives it little chance of righting itself in case of a capsize?
Let’s not pretend this attempted voyage was all of Abby’s doing. Since when can a 16-year-old schoolgirl indulge her fantasy and afford to buy a million-dollar boat to sail around the world?
I fear for her autopilots. I fear she won’t be able to generate enough electricity. I fear for her safety. I wish the adults behind her record attempt (all safely on dry land, thank you very much) would step up to their responsibility and call it quits right now in Cape Town.
Abby is a brave and resourceful sailor. But she is also a kid. She deserves better guidance.
I give the fight up: let there be an end,
A privacy, an obscure nook for me.
I want to be forgotten even by God.
— Robert Browning, Paracelsus
Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #49
Scrubbing bare teak. Whatever you use to clean your bare teak, don’t scrub up afterward along the grain with a stiff-bristled brush. Always rub in a circular motion or across the grain with the rough side of a plastic scouring pad or something similar. In that way, you’ll avoid digging out the softer summer grain and leaving unsightly ridges of harder grain.
“Does your husband drink much?”
“Well, last time we went to Mexico we had to pay excise duty to get him back through Customs.”