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Dangerous, Inexperienced Sailing: The Real Sunderland Reality

Abby Sunderland was rushed out the gate in an ill prepared attempt to get an obscure record. She had to stop at Cabo for major upgrades on her boat. There were 2 auto pilots on the boat and the electrical demand exceeded the ability of the wind generators and solar panels to supply power. This was in California and Mexico, not the overcast Atlantic or Souther Ocean where you might not see the sun for days. Bad omen and signs of total incompetence before even leaving the Americas.

Abby continued to have problems with the 2 auto pilots for most of her trip. She stated in her blog that she had no wind-vane steering because her boat went too fast. This of-course is nonsense. I have sailed boats with twice the hull speed of her boat that used the system. Zak Sunderland, her brother in his circumnavigation and Jessica Watson in her record breaking circumnavigation had wind-vanes installed. I can only guess she was parroting the misinformation her father gave her. Monitor wind-vanes do not require electricity to run and are the preferred safety navigation system for most epic adventurers.

When both navigation systems inevitably failed Abby stopped in Cape town to replace them. Her Father flew down to help. As well as replacing the navigation system he helped with repairs. Rather than wait for a cradle at the boat yard to hoist the boat out to repair a scratch in the hull, they did the most boneheaded and dangerous repair you can do on a sailboat. They tied a rope to the top of the mast and using leverage pulled the boat over to expose the hull (photos on Abby's blog Thursday May 13). I have seen masts snap when this has been tried and the fact that her mast later  broke might not be coincidental.That action creates enormous stress on the mast and deck fittings. It is something you do on hobby-cats and small sailboats, not on a 40 foot boat if there are any alternatives. Again, incompetence, rushing and ignorance setting her up for failure.

The builder of her boat, Marty Still, warned them not to continue as it was the wrong time of year for the southern Ocean in that type of boat with such an inexperienced sailor. Her father let her go anyway.

The claims of Abby being an experienced sailor are put to rest in her own words and actions. In her blog on June 2 I was horrified to read on that she went on deck in a storm at night  without her foul weather safety gear. She stated she didn't have time to put it on. Sailing 101 tells you otherwise. It took her days to get dry and warm again.

The photo of her boat de-masted are a pictorial record of her inexperience. You can see the trailing mast and sails in the water. A mast can and does puncture the hull of the boat if it is allowed to dangle from the boat after going overboard and bash against the hull.  An experienced sailor would cut it free to eliminate the danger of sinking the boat. She either (a) didn't know to do that (b) was not equipped with the necessary tools (c)  didn't have the strength. Any answer is reason to believe she shouldn't have been out there in those conditions. I think she was so controlled from shore by her team that when the mast went down and she lost contact and was left to her own devices her inexperience showed.

Two Sat phones and two auto pilots do not make you safe if you do not have the fundamental survival skills. Her father put her life in jeopardy when he allowed her to continue from Cape Town into the Southern Ocean at the most dangerous time of year. Her boat was knocked down twice, Jessica Watson had her boat knocked down 7 times in her record breaking circumnavigation. The difference is Jessica boat was more suited to the task, was better prepared and she is a vastly more experienced sailor than Abby and was through the southern Ocean before Abby got to Cape Town.

Abby did a great job and was lucky to round the  two capes in relatively mild conditions(Jessica had 5 knockdowns before she entered the Indian Ocean). I would have applauded her efforts if common sense prevailed and she stayed in cape-town and continued when the weather was better.

Her father equates this with letting a 16 year old drive a car. But you don't let a 16 year old drive a car on ice, at night with no headlights and bald tires. Thats the equivalent conditions he put Abby in. 

The difference between the balloon boy's attention seeking Dad and Abby's Father is that Balloon Boys dad did not actually risk the life of his kid in an attempt at fame and fortune.


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