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Sailor Zac Sunderland gives thanks, turns 17 alone in Indian Ocean

Zac Sunderland relaxes in Mauritius before embarking for Durban, South Africa.

Did you enjoy a warm and cozy Thanksgiving with family, gorging yourself?

Zac Sunderland did not. The 16-year-old from Thousand Oaks was aboard Intrepid, his 36-foot sailboat, eating Costco spuds while sailing into a headwind off Madagascar, pointed toward Durban, South Africa.

If that isn't a sad story, two days later he turned 17, alone, not terribly far south of a red-hot pirate zone, celebrating by snacking on a just-add-water microwavable cake and opening presents stuffed in a box and stowed on his vessel long beforehand by family and friends.

"Zac is well and entering the danger zone as far as weather off of Africa," Marianne Sunderland, his mother, says. "So far he has had pretty light winds and so though he's not making great progress, he is happy to not be getting his butt kicked."

That is the best birthday gift of all, as the danger zone Marianne speaks of is notorious for cyclones beginning about this time of year.

Zac Sunderland signs autographs at the Grand Baie Yacht Club before embarking for Durban, South Africa.

Zac's attempt to become the youngest person to sail alone around the world began in June and he's finally past the halfway point, though the most challenging stretch lies just ahead, especially after Durban, when he must round the Cape of Good Hope.

It's been a costly and frightening adventure thus far, filled with long stretches of severe weather and one brief confrontation with possible pirates.

The following is a Thanksgiving Day passage from Zac's blog, written by Marianne:

"On behalf of Zac and the entire Sunderland family we thank you all for supporting and encouraging all of us in this endeavour. Zac's quest began as a grass roots effort by a small but growing number of local sailors, writers and photographers.

"If it had been solely up to our family to fund Zac's trip he may well have had to stop by now. It is amazing to realize that Zac's trip has been supported in many different ways by hundreds of individuals and small companies for nearly six months now!

"We are truely a blessed nation to live with such freedom and affluence and comfort. Great to take a day to stop and thank the God who gives us all good things!"

-- Pete Thomas

Photos: Zac Sunderland relaxes in Mauritius and signs autographs at the Grand Baie Yacht Club, for before embarking for Durban, South Africa. Credit: Richard Munisami

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Comments (18)

I find it quite sad indeed that some commenting here find they must thumb their out-of-joint noses at the God who not only created them, but who certainly sustains Zac on this amazing trip. How many of us would have wet our pants before even getting out of port on such a trip?

This young man is a man, in every sense of the word. While it appears his faith has been played down in the media coverage of his journey, the picture on the home page of his Web site says it all for me: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That's from Phil 4:13 in the New Testament, for the biblically illiterate.

As a 17-year former resident of California, I find I am more and more embarrassed by where this state is headed. Thank God for families like the Sunderlands, who remind us of all that is right and good about life worth living to the fullest.

Am I the only one who thinks Zac's high seas adventures are driven by the ultimate stage parents? Why would any decent, caring parent risk their 17 year-old son's life for a notation in the Guinness Book of Worlds Records? I hardly think Zac's mature enough to make this kind of decision, much less sail around the world on his own.

I hope he makes it home alive - with or without a record.

I know this kid. I went sailing with his family to Catalina Island when he was a baby! Good Luck Zack!

well said BIG JIM!! celebrate the young man and take your discussion on religion else where.

Am I supposed to feel SORRY for this rich kid?
A teenager from Thousand Oaks, CA - a very nice place to live, for those of you not from California - who owns his own 36' sailing vessel?
I do not hold anything against him, don't get me wrong, but I get the feeling the reporter is trying to extract sympathy for the kid's journey.
As far as his trip is concerned, I wish him the best!
What he is doing is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing that he'll no doubt remember the rest of his life!
WTG Zac and Good Luck!

To Mike at 12:42:
The Times isn't giving away Zac's position: He often updates his position on his blog, http://www.zacsunderland.com/blog/index.html.
Just a friendly reminder to do some research before slamming the reporter.

Good luck Zac!

While this young man's courage is commendable, the idea that he spent a sad and solo Thanksgiving and birthday as portrayed by this post is just plain laughable and ridiculous. There is nothing sad about someone who has the opportunity to fulfill their dream and a network of loving, positive family, friends and strangers able to contribute their support and funds to it as well. They even had the foresight and consideration to send him off with birthday presents.

So as much as I find it wonderful that someone so young has the dedication and means to make their dream into a reality, I also find it a slap in the face for the LAT to report it in such a callous and inconsiderate manner to those people who don't have such opportunities and blessings to look forward to.

This is an amazing thing you are doing. I have three children, 17, 15 and 12 years old and when my husband forwarded your story from the LA Times to me, I had them all read it. I wanted them to read about something a kid their age is doing that is inspiring! There is a reason why this record has not been breached to date. If it were easy, it would already have been tackled. You have incredible gumption and a truly adventurous spirit. The best wishes for your journey home.
PS I could not have known it when I read your story, but I learned a few weeks later that I am in a Bible study with your grandmother. She asked that we say a special prayer for her grandson who was on this journey and it was then that I put two and two together.

What an inspiring story. Godspeed, Zac

Conversely what an idiotic place for some dolts to share their opinions on God and religion.

Yet one can't help but concur with bloggers that start off with "I don't think..."

You know what gjang? Some people not only care, but also agree with Gertrude. The kid is on an inspiring journey. But to feel the need to place it in the context of "living in a land with so much freedom and affluence" and then attributing that all to god seems misguided. This god surely plays favorites. Just ask the impoverished millions in the countries Zack is sailing past now, or even the hundreds of thousands who are losing their jobs here at home. I admire Zack's courage and ambition -- it's phenomenal -- and I wish him all the best, but I'm pretty sure god -- that same god that let's children die of cancer, 6 million die in the holocaust, 80,000 die in the China earthquake, and untold millions die of diverse diseases and calamities -- has no stake in the outcome.

Cheers to Zac.

Jeers to the LAT for giving up his position. Dumb. I guess you figured that pirates don't read the major US papers online.

As a former sailer, and one who had dreamed of doing the same, I congratulate Zac. And I agree, it is Zac and no one else, including a god.

awesome!! so inspirational and brave!! good luck zac!!

God speed to Zac!! As an adventurer my self, may the wind be at your back and sun on your face.

Zac makes us all PROUD...so much courage, commitment, and our prayers are truly with him! Great job, Zac!!!

I don't think 'god' had anything to do with this. Looks like Zac is doing all the work!

As a lifelong surfer and offshore sailor I would like to salute Zac!!! To say the least, his journey is an amazing accomplishment. I'll be eagerly checking on his future progress and wishing him flat seas, favorable winds and good luck. Hang Ten and keep that harness on!

Inspirational. In a time when we can see the world on a computer, and kids are missing the outdoors, Zac is keeping the adventurer's dream alive.


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