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Solo-circumnavigating the world at 16.
August 15, 2008 12:12 AM   Subscribe

Sixteen-year-old Zac Sunderland can't drive a car legally, but he's hoping to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone. Zac departed from Marina Del Rey, California on June 14, and right now he's blogging from somewhere off the Marshall Islands. If you have Google Earth, you can chart his latest position here. Here's the route he plans to take. Links to video and more press stories here.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese (41 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think it's awesome that a 16 year old can make me feel like I've wasted my life.

I love this post, though.
posted by crataegus at 12:22 AM on August 15, 2008


His blog is pretty fascinating. Great post.
posted by ORthey at 12:26 AM on August 15, 2008


Wow. That's really impressive.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:51 AM on August 15, 2008


Robin Lee Graham - the youngest circumnavigator to date - did it in 1965, but took five years and two boats to make it around the globe.
posted by mdonley at 1:11 AM on August 15, 2008


My parents would have loved it if I had done this. Or even lied about doing it and just stayed away from home that long when I was 16.
posted by srboisvert at 1:54 AM on August 15, 2008


This is pretty amazing. I'm working through the older posts on his blog now - he's a very articulate writer for being 16, I'm really looking forward to following his journey as he goes. Incredible stuff.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:55 AM on August 15, 2008


Pretty sure the current record holder is this guy, mdonley.
Grew up down the road from me.
posted by nudar at 2:04 AM on August 15, 2008


I thought Jesse Martin was the youngest (solo) circumnavigator to date - I remember him arriving home in triumph in 1999. I was jealous as hell.
posted by jacalata at 2:09 AM on August 15, 2008


Having spent four hours on a fishing boat in the Atlantic a few weeks ago, I am not jealous as hell. A sailor's life is not for me.

Also, as a parent, I'd say this guy's are incredibly rich and totally nuts. I mean, I know you've got to let go some time, but damn. All I can think of is Into The Wild, but with blogs.
posted by fungible at 2:20 AM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah, I meant the youngest guy up to 1965. Nudar, I'll trust your neighborliness over my non-leet techno-nautical skills.
posted by mdonley at 2:23 AM on August 15, 2008


Awesome post. Go Zac go.

Assuming he's not a MeFite yet, I still plan to be the youngest MeFite to complete this, assuming no one else already has.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:31 AM on August 15, 2008


You can't drive in CA at 16? Really? I thought it was 16 in all 50 states.
posted by zardoz at 5:43 AM on August 15, 2008


It sure beats my rebellion adventure at age 16 (ran away from home and drove around the country for a few months until a piston blew in Death Valley and limped back home to the East Coast at 35mph). Something like this takes a lot of experience in the planning phase, plus money, so I assume his parents are actively involved behind the scenes.
posted by stbalbach at 6:05 AM on August 15, 2008


it's a shame he's so young and started so late, otherwise he'd be able to go ashore and drunkenly savage the natives, infecting them with venereal disease, smallpox and the common cold, line them up and shoot them in the head until they accepted jeebus as their saviour and claim all this newly discovered land as a new suburb of los angeles.
posted by kitchenrat at 6:13 AM on August 15, 2008


(from his site) Zac's adventure will be highly publicized as he sails the world striving to break the record for the youngest solo circumnavigator. This will provide your company huge international publicity including the following:

1. Running articles in Sail Magazine, Soundings Magazine, Latitude 38, Cruising World and possibly other yachting literature
2. TV and radio news interviews and coverage

And upon his return, we anticipate:

1. Currently negotiating with major networks for television series.
2. Currently negotiating with literary agents for book rights.


Of course, I wish him luck. But I do kind of miss the days when people at least pretended they were half mad and were doing it all for the hell of it on a wing and a prayer.
posted by rhymer at 6:14 AM on August 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Of course, I wish him luck. But I do kind of miss the days when people at least pretended they were half mad and were doing it all for the hell of it on a wing and a prayer.

I've almost entirely stopped paying attention to these sorts of stunts — they are very rarely "pure," in the sense of just being a person with a monomaniacal drive to do a large and difficult task. Instead, they are usually transparently strategic — here is the fundraising component for "charity," here is the media outreach, here is the incipient book deal, here is the groundwork for the career as an inspirational speaker.

I can't imagine any reason to care, in almost all of these cases. Whereas the person who does something smaller, but genuinely does it on their own and for the trip/experience itself, has all of my attention. The account of the motorcycle trip through Angola (FPP) is a really good example of this. There was a broader meaning involved — several of the riders had served in the South African army in the war in Angola, and were returning for the first time. But it wasn't some cheesy "ride for reconciliation" sponsored by Coke, Unilever, and Nabisco — it was just a trip, with fantastic photographs and vivid writing.

I think I'm requesting more amateurs and fewer careerists, please.
posted by Forktine at 6:41 AM on August 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


OK Fortine, you're right. I'm pulling my punches a bit.

The whole thing seems like something a management consultancy would put together after lunch with a branding agency. I don't give toss either.
posted by rhymer at 6:50 AM on August 15, 2008


I mean "a toss".
posted by rhymer at 6:54 AM on August 15, 2008


It's probably easier to get sponsor money if it's "for a charity" rather than "a crazy stunt".
posted by smackfu at 7:20 AM on August 15, 2008


Interesting timing. I've recently become somewhat obsessed with the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race (previously) and it's striking to see how much has changed in 40 years. I wouldn't even begin to minimize what this kid is doing, as I know I'll never do anything half as impressive. Still, his blog is proof that one of the most daunting factors in solo sailing, the isolation and sense of loneliness, has been greatly diminished due to advances in communications.

Not to mention satellite positioning, self-steering capabilities, etc etc.
posted by SpiffyRob at 7:43 AM on August 15, 2008


I've never understood the whole "youngest to blah blah blah" thing. So what... What are you really proving? Someone does it at 15, 27 or 40, what's the youngest prove? Guinness stopped doing a lot of the "youngest" because people had their kids doing dangerous and stupid stuff. For no good reason.

Flying a plane when you're 8 might be noteworthy if your Dad had a heart attack in the cockpit and you saved him and your 3 year-old sister and got the antibiotics to the sick villagers in time. Otherwise, flying a plane at 8 just to say you're the youngest person to ever fly a plane is dumb.

I think this is true of stunts done by really old people too.

Quite often the whole record breaking thing is tiresome.
posted by shoesietart at 7:48 AM on August 15, 2008


Staying fit is impossible in cramped quarters. Sunderland, who is 6 feet tall and weighed 170 pounds upon departure, says he has shed about 15 pounds and wonders whether he'll ever play football again.

Guys stay fit and even get ripped in prison so it's not impossible.

What I don't understand is how is this legal for his parents? Can you imagine the interview with Child and Family services?
posted by Mitheral at 8:02 AM on August 15, 2008


Also, as a parent, I'd say this guy's are incredibly rich and totally nuts.

I don't know. His boat, an Islander 36', only cost him 6 grand.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:20 AM on August 15, 2008


Forktine, that's pretty much how I feel about the Olympics anymore. Everything is about corporate sponsorship, and making big bucks. Perhaps it's always been that way, but at least they used to put lipstick on the pig.
posted by Eekacat at 8:23 AM on August 15, 2008


Heh, he's going to cross the equator not too far from where I did a few years ago on a trans-Pacific trip. I'm sure his patch of blue will look, well, exactly the same as mine did. Lucky kid isn't going to get hazed, though.

I have to agree with the whole record-breaking thing said above...it's great that he's sailing around the world solo, something I myself am planning on doing (originally before 30, but now that's a little close, so we'll go with 35). As much as I love to sail- and I do- the sailing really isn't the point, at least for me. Seeing the sights along the way, meeting people, and basically seeing the world is the point. The only difference in the world's oceans is the color, and how angry they are on any given day. The differences from island to island, culture to culture- now there's the reason I'm going to do it. Showing up in your own self-sufficient vessel, and having the time to linger and learn and experience, without worrying about getting somewhere in a specific amount of time is why I personally want to do it (I'm figuring about 2 years for my trip someday, for comparison).

(However, if Cruising World or Coke or, hell, the Chinese Government wants to sponsor my trip- call me! I be poor and not proud!)

That said, good for Zac, and I'm jealous as hell. Yarr.
posted by zap rowsdower at 8:34 AM on August 15, 2008


From the BBC article (the first hyperlink in the FPP):
"And to return as the youngest person ever to do so, he needs to get back by January 2010. The current record belongs to Australian David Dicks, who finished his voyage in 1996, aged 18 years and 41 days."
Aussie sailor's record under threat
"If Sunderland completes the trip, he would become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo. According to Guinness World Records, the youngest to pull off the feat is Australian David Dicks, who circled the globe at 18 in 1996."
"Zac desired to emulate his other hero and friend, Aussie, Jesse Martin, who completed his own circumnavigation at age 18."*
posted by ericb at 8:38 AM on August 15, 2008


I keep thinking that while this kid is sailing around the world, there are 16-year-olds who won't be allowed to go to rock concerts on weekends. I think I'd rather be this kid.

But this just doesn't look like some kind of lonely feat of rugged endurance. Seems more like he's going on a dream vacation with corporate sponsorship.

I think Robin Lee Graham's story might be the rustic Hemingwayesque one I remember, where he was invited to dinner or some event in a port somewhere and suddenly feeling a bit awkward at not owning a pair of shoes, having seen no reason to have any on a boat.
posted by Tubes at 8:49 AM on August 15, 2008


He's the second sixteen-year-old American to attempt this feat. In 1970 16 year-old Robin Lee Graham left Los Angeles, California but did not finish his voyage until 1970 (at the age of 20) via two separate boats. He wrote an interesting book, 'Dove' which later became a movie.
posted by ericb at 8:49 AM on August 15, 2008


What mdonley said above!
posted by ericb at 8:53 AM on August 15, 2008


Awesome post!

Also worth mentioning this guy who is spending 1,000 days at sea without touching land.
posted by nitsuj at 9:02 AM on August 15, 2008


Instead, they are usually transparently strategic — here is the fundraising component for "charity," here is the media outreach, here is the incipient book deal, here is the groundwork for the career as an inspirational speaker.

I love this sort of thing. I always appreciate a good gimmick and a great adventure, no matter how suspect the motivations. If I waited for people to do interesting things for what I see as pure motives, I expect I would be waiting a long time.

Hey, I took up guitar to get girls. And it worked. Then I switched to ukulele and my success rate plummeted.

Anyway: Capitalize on your gimmick, lad! Ride that gimmick to majestic heights!
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:29 AM on August 15, 2008


This is awesome. To everyone saying "Oh, it's no good with sponsorship": You try it. The Board of directors of Sunset Tomatoes Inc. isn't sitting in the cockpit with him when the storm comes up 300 miles off St. Helena.

There is no adventure travel without sponsorship, anymore. It's simply too expensive, even aside from the cost of not making any money for however many months (for grownups, obviously). If I could round up someone to sponsor me, I'd be off like a rocket too. In a couple years.

Ok. What I want to know though, is why is he so far off course ("and headng straight for the sun!")?
posted by rusty at 9:52 AM on August 15, 2008


Can you imagine the interview with Child and Family services?

"we'll have to have an interview with your son to check his welfare i'm afraid - where can we find him?"

"he's about 230 miles ene of nauru in the south pacific - would you like directions?"
posted by pyramid termite at 10:18 AM on August 15, 2008


deep water -- highly recommend this doc, sad but fascinating
posted by jcruelty at 10:47 AM on August 15, 2008


I'm with Zardoz. Why can't he drive? did he get a DUI on his learners permit?
posted by Megafly at 11:52 AM on August 15, 2008


I keep thinking that while this kid is sailing around the world, there are 16-year-olds who won't be allowed to go to rock concerts on weekends.

I think there's a middle ground here somewhere. A lot of solo sailors... die.
posted by smackfu at 12:02 PM on August 15, 2008


Driving license questioners: CA has all sorts of rules for teenager drivers (scroll about 1/3 down the page), in line with what other states have enacted recently. You have to complete multiple hours of class, have a permit for 6 months, and complete 50 hours of driving prior to applying for a license. I suspect that he was too busy sailing to deal with this, or is somewhere in the middle of the process.
posted by holyrood at 3:27 PM on August 15, 2008


That's really weird ericb, never heard of the kid that Guiness have listed as the record holder, despite being Australian (trust me when I say Australians who do these types of things are elevated to god-like status upon their victories, hence both jacalata and myself being able to immediately recall Jesse Martin from '99, go media nationalism obsession team!)
Either way, I wish young Zac bon voyage and a safe passage. It is no cake walk at any age to pull something like this off. But the whole doing it for the book deals thing as espoused by Rhymer upthread makes me stop short of wishing him capture of the record, although I'm sure he will probably do it anyway.

And yes maybe I want an Australian to keep the record go team rah rah
posted by nudar at 4:57 PM on August 15, 2008


CA has all sorts of rules for teenager drivers...you have to complete multiple hours of class, have a permit for 6 months, and complete 50 hours of driving prior to applying for a license.

Heh, in Arkansas you can get a permit at 14 and the test at 16 is a 15-minute formality with a bored State Trooper. At least, this is the late 80's.
posted by zardoz at 7:17 PM on August 15, 2008


Yea, nudar, I've never heard of David Dicks either. There's a sentence in his wikipedia entry 'Because of accepting a bolt to fix his rig near the Falkland Islands, his circumnavigation was not considered unassisted.', perhaps that made a bigger difference in the fame stakes than I would have guessed? But also, I was only 10 in '96, and he was from Perth, so would barely have rated a mention in The Age (unlike Martin, a 'hometown boy'). And he might have had less media savvy and sponsorship than Martin, who also wrote a book and started a media company since finishing his trip.
posted by jacalata at 7:56 PM on August 15, 2008


I've almost entirely stopped paying attention to these sorts of stunts — they are very rarely "pure" .... Instead, they are usually transparently strategic — here is the fundraising component for "charity," here is the media outreach ...

Here is the great hook for the kid's Harvard/Yale/Stanford application ...
posted by jayder at 12:25 PM on August 16, 2008


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