Teen sailor Abby Sunderland abandons nonstop around-the-world quest

Abby Sunderland, one of two 16-year-old girls on different quests to sail around the world alone, nonstop and unassisted, has announced she will head to Cape Town, South Africa, to repair a faulty autopilot system.

The high-school junior from Thousand Oaks, Calif., stressed on her blog that she will continue her journey after making repairs and seek to become simply the youngest person to solo-circumnavigate the planet in a sailboat.

Jessica Watson, Sunderland’s Australian counterpart, is expected to complete her nonstop circumnavigation attempt in late May. Watson is enduring severe weather aboard her 34-foot pink sailboat as she travels beneath Australia en route to her finish point at Sydney Harbor. Watson, who is five months older than Sunderland, left Sydney last October.

Sunderland, who departed from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in early February aboard a 40-foot vessel, has been experiencing trouble with her autopilot system for the past several weeks, including during a precarious passage around treacherous Cape Horn at South America’s tip.

Autopilots are supposed to hold a sailor’s course but Sunderland’s primary and backup units have been faulty. At one point recently, in rough seas and freezing temperatures, the intrepid mariner had to hand-steer from the stern deck for 24 consecutive hours.

She stated on her blog that it’d be “foolish and irresponsible” to transition from the South Atlantic to a long and potentially rollicking Indian Ocean stretch without fully operational equipment.

“I gave it my best shot and made it almost halfway around the world,” she said. “I will definitely keep going, and whether or not I will make any more stops after this I don’t know.”

Laurence Sunderland, Abby’s father, said in an interview that his daughter has “matured considerably as a sailor and a person” while working tirelessly to keep her boat, Wild Eyes, on course in the monotonously gray, topsy-turvy and bitter-cold region east of Cape Horn.

Laurence Sunderland will fly to Cape Town and help Abby with repairs when she arrives in 10-12 days.

The father added that Abby’s older brother Zac made 13 stops “and still became a hero” during a solo-circumnavigation he completed, at 17, last July.

Zac briefly held the distinction of being the youngest person to have sailed around the world alone. England’s Mike Perham currently holds that distinction.

–Photo of Abby Sunderland courtesy of GizaraArts.com

To put these adventures into perspective, more than 3,000 people have successfully climbed Mt. Everest during the past 56 years. According to the American Sailing Assn., fewer than 250 people have sailed alone around the world since Joshua Slocum logged the first documented solo-circumnavigation in 1898.

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