Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Abby Sunderland: Brave girl, questionable choice


If, at the age of 16, my daughter wanted to sail around the world by herself despite warnings from sailing experts that she’d be crossing the Indian Ocean during the most dangerous weather conditions of the year, I would tell her, order her and, if necessary, beg her to wait a couple of years.

If she insisted on doing it anyway, I’d compliment her bravery and then lock her in her room, chain her to a tree or slip sleeping pills into her oatmeal.

Abby Sunderland of Thousand Oaks said before leaving Marina del Rey in January that her parents were “trying to scare me out of” taking the trip, but her mom and dad, Marianne and Laurence, apparently gave in. Oh, darn, honey. Sure thing, if it’s what you really want to do.

Maybe the parents of seven couldn’t figure out how to say no to their daughter after allowing their son to do the same thing when he was 17, and it makes you long for the days of truancy officers. So what happened?

Abby ran into a storm between Australia and South Africa, with 25-foot waves and 70-mph gales, and her boat's mast apparently snapped like a twig. The good news is she survived, which we know because she was spotted from the air.

Qantas Airways sent a jetliner to look for her along with dozens of harbor patrol spotters, and fishing vessels were changing direction to rush to her aide. To echo the sentiment of some readers who’ve been weighing in at latimes.com, and wondering how this doesn’t come under the category of “reckless endangerment” by the parents, I hope Qantas and anyone else involved in the search sends the bills to mom and dad in Thousand Oaks.

And what’s with Qantas?

I often can’t get an airline to give me a seat assignment six months out from a flight, and these guys drop everything and send up a posse to look for a kid with irresponsible parents?

Look, I’m all for letting kids take smart risks, but this was a stupid one.

I’m no expert, but I’ve done enough sailing to know that when you’re on the water, six dozen things you’ve never even thought of can go wrong at any time.

Just a couple weeks ago, the body of an experienced, 57-year-old sailor washed up in Long Beach after he tried to sail alone from Santa Catalina Island to Marina del Rey in a storm.

She’s a brave kid, this Abby Sunderland.

As for the parents, I don’t know how old the rest of their kids are, but where will mom and dad draw the line on around-the-world trips? Let’s hope they don’t have a 10-year-old who gets the bug next.

-- Steve Lopez

Tell Steve what you think about this issue by commenting below.

Photo: Abby Sunderland

Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (222)

What a bunch of miserable little mean spirited people posting here.
Accusations that it was done for publicity, or the parents should be charged with a crime, or as if the age has anything to do with it. Sailors of all ages get stranded at sea. They get caught in storms and even taken hostage by pirates. Why would it make a difference if she was 18?

This young lady has the kind of spirit that leads to a successful future. It is too bad more people her age can not do these kind of adventures, but they are restricted by cowardly little people like those posting here.

The average age of a midshipman during the height of the Age of Sail was around 11 years old. Albeit, their routine didn't include a solo circumnavigation of the globe. I think most children around Abby's age are left unchallenged by what they are able find around them.

I honestly believe that a child's parents are the only ones fit to decide if their offspring are prepared to make such trip on there own. In a situation where the parents are able to offer such a challenge, I would expect, not only would they be appraised of the dangers, but also quite scared by them.

I think they should be praised by showing the world that it's not as scary a place as the media paints it. There are real dangers, and the whole point is to overcome them. Her competence and ability to pilot the craft aren't really in question although her experience may be.

I wonder having had the experience what she'll say. Was she out of her depth?

I likely wouldn't let my daughter make this trip, but this girl is probably safer sailing around the world than the average teenager is growing up in Pacoima, East LA, or South Central... not to mention smarter and more dedicated, cultured, and worldly. She is certainly learning more in these ~6 months than she would at LAUSD. Most 16 year-olds wouldn't know how to go about taking a commercial airline around the world. I applaud her for her tenacity and expertise at such a young age.

If a 17 year old really wants to do something, they're going to do it whether you approve or not. Remember when you were 17? Anybody have or have had a 17 year old? Rather than sending the bill to the parents, send it to the 17 year old. That might make her think twice next time she wants to something this stupid

yeah I guess she should be at the mall eating McDonalds instead of learning life lessons and self preservation. Not to metion a load of maurity and experience.

I wish each of you could see one sunset or sunrise that she sees daily, just one. It would change your perspective in a moment.

Qantas Airways sent a jetliner to look for her along with dozens of harbor patrol spotters, and fishing vessels were changing direction to rush to her aide.
Awesome. Send her parents the bill.
Stupid selfish brat is all that she is.. There's no bravery but stubbornness thinking she can do whatever she wants when she pleases and the stupid people that gives in to her rants and tantrums.

Hey Steve,

maybe she should have just gone camping:


Or to a science fair!


Or as others have said: driving on the 405.

Or swimming; Or riding a bike (very dangerous, actually--look at the numbers.)

Some people are exceptional. She risked it--didn't succeed, but not because she was not smart or capable.

Sailor Moon.

Get your facts right. Qantas did not do this as a publicity stunt. The Australian government chartered the Qantas at a cost of $10,000 per hour. The disabled boat was so far out at sea that normal search and rescue aircraft do not have that range. Do a google search for - "Abby Sunderland" qantas chartered - and also note the angst among Australian tax payers who are going to have to pay for the chartered jet. The real question you US guys should be asking is: should the US government pay for the rescue of its own citizens in international waters - not Australian waters. If you want to send your citizens into dangerous international waters, you pay it she needs rescuing. By the way, it's the southern hemisphere down under here, and it's winter in the southern Indian Ocean where Abby is needing to be rescued. Who's the person who authorised her to cross that dangerous stretch of water in the middle of winter. Our own Jessica Watson completed the trip by selecting seasons with better weather conditions.

Once upon a time (100-150 years ago), 16 year olds were considered responsible individuals. People in their teens were active in society and it was common for them to strike out on their own, rather than stay in the protective womb of the home. Now we raise kids with the belief and expectation that they are naturally physically and mentally immature until their mid-20s.

Abby and her parents knew what she was doing. They prepared responsibly. Look at the safety equipment she had. And, most of all, look at the fact that she handled herself and her boat well during the day preceding -- also with huge waves and high storms. She clearly knows what she's doing on the water.

Sure it's risky. Sure I wouldn't do it (but, then, I don't sail). But I think she's acted responsibly and undoubtedly has had an experience (and self-testing) which will be useful for her throughout her life.

It's her dream", that is all it takes for it to be all right? Freeways are more dangerous than around the world single handed sailing? Really? From everything I have read, the worst rush offer on the 405 hardly compares to a month in the roaring forties. Add me to the list of those thinking that this is a form of child abuse. Ma and Pa Sunderland need to acquaint themselves with the word ‘no’, and when to use it.

She was sailing for ego, the family should definitely pay for the search and rescue expenses.

Nonsense. The fact she's able to do great things like this at such a young age show how well her parents have raised her. I hope she tries again in a few months, and makes it the full way this time.

Allowing their minor daughter's sailing route to be mapped into the southern hemisphere during winter storm season is incredibly neglectful behavior by the Sunderland parents.

Seems to me they want to be "like, the cool 'rents who, like, won't put any limits on the kids, man..."


Who are you to stick your "rookie" nose in this issue. Where were you and others in 1997 when the family in Toronto, including a 5, 9 and 11 year old, as I recollect sailed around the world on a 2 year journey with their inexperienced parents who had total sailing experience of 6 afternoons on the Ottawa River ( Northern Magic).

This 16 year old was significantly more qualified than that family, but no foul when they decided to set out on their voyage.

This does prove that comment jockeys (and newspaper columnists) are a population self-selected to sit on their asses, ascribe all ambitions of others to a desire for publicity, and imagine that their money is always being spent on undeserving others. A sixteen-year-old girl from Australia, Jessica Watson, recently inspired that country by successfully completing a nonstop, unassisted voyage around the world. Maybe that's why Australians were so willing to help this young adventurer. And maybe Down Under is where America's frontier spirit has emigrated. Abby Sunderland has lived more in a few months than Steve Lopez will his whole lifetime, and her blog posts have been comparably more interesting than his shrill, self-righteous columns.

All this second-guessing the parents characterizes what has gone wrong in the USA. It's a free country! What part of free don't you get? Take a look at the life of Henry C. Luce, one of the founders of Time, Inc. At Abby's age he was traveling the world--alone. His parents were missionaries in China, and when he started secondary school he cleaved from home. Didn't seem to hurt him any. Kids today seem way too sheltered. And shelter is what America has become all about. Don't even have to go out when going out anymore. Get in the car in the garage, then park close at the mall so you can get back inside.

Elrey in OC

As soon as we start putting limits on what people can do, how much they can excel, and what barriers they can overcome, that's the end of progress.

Shame on all of you.

I smell sour grapes from some folks with far lesser achievements.

I absolutely agree with you!!

It was this that Los Angeles meteorologist Mark Michelson found most troubling. He described the route chosen for the teenager as ''outrageous''.

''It's bad enough in the summer, December and January,'' Mr Michelson said. ''It can be pretty challenging then. But 10 days before winter? In the peak of the season? I was perplexed.

''It's a shorter ride, but faster is a relative term when you've rolled the boat four times and your rigging is in the water. I'm dismayed that they gave her a course this far south. That's just asking for it at this time of the year.''

'And what's with Qantas'??? The aircraft was commissioned by Australian Rescue authorities. I would expect American authorities would return the favour if an Australian teenager was lost at sea off the coast of California. Qantas and the Australian government were obligated to fulfill this mission. They have done a good deed. An insinuation that questions their integrity is appalling.

Any competent sailor will tell you that no sailor should be in the Southern Ocean in wintertime. Any competent lawyer will tell you that a minor child should not be allowed to make life and death decisions. All major sailing publications spoke against her publicity stunt. Like Sarah Palin, just spell her name right.

This is one of these hindsight articles, as are many responses in the comments where was the outrage and indignation when she took off on her journey? Where was the negativity when she had mechanical problems and safely brought the boat to port in Cabo San Lucas and South Africa?

She proved her capabilities as a sailor and she upheld her parents faith in her when she took the appropriate steps after having her mast ripped off in a storm. Others have perished under similar events but she did everything correctly and because she knew what she was doing she will return home safe and sound.

You are ridiculous. You need to get a reality check. Children grow up from perusing their dreams. If Abby's dream was to sail around the world, than she deserves to. Her parents did nothing wrong, but everything right. Abby has had no problems until now, and yes, her mast broke, but she is alive and doing well. That is what matters. She has learned so much more on this trip (even if she does not finish it) than you or I will in our entire life. So why don't you look at your own children, and ask yourself this question: Would your children ever have the guts to do something like that? NO!

Wasn't there a 7 year old girl that tried to fly across America years ago? What happened? CRASH and burn! That's what happened. This sailing girls parents are trying to get free publicity because they couldn't get it any other way. She could have attempted this journey without telling anyone. Why didn't she? No publicity if she kept her mouth shut. What morons are comparing her to Columbus? Did Columbus have GPS, a map of the fully discovered world, preserved foods, rescue planes on stand by, or a sat phone to call daddy for help?

Ben, She did nothing wrong and made no mistakes? Really Ben? Really? Then why is she sitting in the middle of an ocean more than 40 hours away from the nearest aid - waiting to be rescued. If she were a mature sailor, she'd have known that her craft would not/could not withstand the treacherous waters of the Indian Ocean at this time of year as experienced mariners had warned her in advance. This isn't about kids facing risks every single day like they do behind the wheel of a car. Driving a car is one of life's necessities. This is about making foolish choices for 5 minutes of fame. I recently read that Guinness Book of World Records was going to eliminate recognizing the "youngest ...." in order to eliminate situations like this. A little too late for Abby but maybe her little sister might reap the benefit. The parents should be arrested.

« | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 | »


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
Have a story tip for L.A. Now?
Please send to newstips@latimes.com
Can I call someone with news?
Yes. The city desk number is (213) 237-7847.


Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: