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Zac Sunderland sailing speedily along as parents sink deeper into debt

Thousand Oaks teen Zac Sunderland making slow time earlier in his journey off Darwin, Australia.

Where in the world is Zac Sunderland?

Outposts' radar detects the 17-year-old adventurer breezing briskly across the Atlantic, making remarkable progress while covering as many as 170 miles a day, approaching Grenada in the southeastern Caribbean. He should reach the island nation by Wednesday of next week.

"It feels like I should be seeing land by now I've been out here so long," Zac reports on his blog.

Overall, Zac has been at sea or in far-flung ports since last June, when he set out to become the youngest person to solo-sail around the world. After Grenada he'll sail to Colon, Panama, then travel nearly 3,000 miles to his Marina del Rey starting point.

But this has not been easy on Zac's parents. Laurence Sunderland, a shipwright whose business has suffered because of the recession, reluctantly conceded in an interview that the odyssey has cost about $140,000, and that the family is sinking hopelessly into debt and now must pay for Zac's passage through the Panama Canal.

Laurence probably has not shared this information with Zac, and said he'd never ask his son's many followers for financial assistance. But I noted long ago that there's a "Help support Zac's World Adventure" link on the left column of his website. Maybe there are fans willing to help out?

Regardless, Zac has performed admirably for all these months and probably will return in late May or June a hero and an inspiration. But then he'd better go and land a job.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Thousand Oaks teen Zac Sunderland making slow time earlier in his journey off Darwin, Australia. Credit: Jen Edney

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Comments (22)

Zac's slogan was "do hard things", but in reality it turned into "do stupid things"

The voyage...great, Zac's bravery great, Zac's inspiration to others great, the prep for the boat and weather related decisions......awful.

Having Zac sail up that Mexico coast in June/July showed a complete lack of respect for Zac's safety. None of us sailors would ever send our kid up that coast during hurricane season. On June 1st, the boat should have stopped and sat in the closest marina till after hurricane season.

The boat was crap from the beginning and Lawrence "Sunderland Yacht Management" showed he is incompetent in boat prep and maint. Rotten bulkheads, bad rigging, bad fuel tanks, bad electrical installations, bad fibreglassing on the bottom, corroded mast and boom that finally broke, and on and on and on. Any of these failures could have lead to this young man's death.

A simple survey done by any mediocre surveyor would have exposed all these problems with this boat. Zac's safety was sacrificed for the media, record, and marketing for the family business. That is not "love for a son"........

They could have bought a decent boat from the beginning and avoided all the travel and repair expenses. At lease then the boat would now have some value, and could be sold. As it sits, the Intrepid with all her "McGyver" "bubble gum and prayers repairs is basically worthless.

And for all you "Zac Packers" who know zilch about boats and voyaging, go do some research and learn a few things about what you are talking about before you label us sailors as "negative" Those of us that have been "out there", fully understand the risks. I would love to see some of you idealistic morons on a pitching foredeck at 2:00 AM in a storm trying to do a head sail change. But you continued your blind encouragement....Go Zac Go! "Don't quit even though your boat is completely falling apart".

You would think this was Iran, or North Korea the way they moderate the blog over on Zac's site.

Zac is truly lucky to be alive considering how hap hazard this stunt was executed.

July 16, 2009
WELCOME HOME ZAC !!!!!!!! YOU DID IT. I had a chace to sail back from Kauai in 1967 on a 36 foot sloop, but I was joining the army and thought I had to get back to LA in a hurry. I 've always regretted that decision. Glad to see someone in the younger generation do something that makes the news in a positive manner. Good luck to you and your family.


I just read your story in the ESPN magazine and just wanted to say Whoa and to tell you that I am very proud of you. Wish you all the best! You are an aspiration to many.

I am keeping up with Zack's solo journey, as I think it inspiring! I would glady invest in my children's worthy aspirations as his parents have in his. I was shocked to read so many naysaying comments above... who else to support, encourage and invest in talent and ambitions than parents and friends and encouraged and generous on-lookers... I am going right now to donate a small amount to his fund... wouldn't you want others to believe in and invest in you?

Wow,all those negative comments have made me feel sick. I'm a young grandmother of two young boys and a almost 17 yr old grandaughter whose parents encourage the kids to strive for their dream. Negativity is the whose trait to have in life ,all those people with their nasty remarks get a life . I'm fed up with young kids thinking that life owes them something to see a young fit lad doing something productive is a refreshing change . Zac, I wish you a safe trip and you are a inspiration to my three grandchildren ,we'll be there to see you arrive home. AMERICA NEEDS MORE KIDS LIKE ZAC and more positive minded grown ups . Parents taking time to listen and inspire the children of today will made a better AMERICA .

Is it really true that those people (especially kids) who take huge risks to fulfill their dreams are visionary, inspired, gifted etc while those who stay at home are armchair critics and humbugs? I say let them go but without publicity and without the need for rescue. Then we will see just how many visionaries are really out there. Being cautious is also being responsible. It may be a great adventure to sail alone around the world, but it is irresponsible. In Jessica Watsons case all I have read is "Strength of Character". Well that's exactly the receipe for Alexander Haigh's fruitless campaigns of WW1. As the number of kids seeking adventure on the high seas increases, so does the likelyhood of a fatality. The odds are against them. Sorry folks, that's how it is.

The family has marketed this adventure from the get-go, and according to their own website "have several offers for media rights". It looks like they should stop holding out, and sell the rights to pay for the trip.

I wonder if they plan to pay back all those who felt sorry for them & submitted donations, once someone buys up the rights.

The recession didn't fly the father all over the world to coax the boat along through the trip, so the recession is hardly responsible for the father not bringing home a paycheck to support his 7 kids.

Zac Sunderland, just arrived here at Shelter Bay Marina this morning. My husband David Dyche and our 13 yr. old son just started our circumnavigation last September. When it is your dream to do something you should in the words of Irving Johnson “ Take the time in your life and do it.” I applaud him for his spirit and his family for their support. I am hoping our son David will be able to meet him.
What is better. To support young peoples dreams or build another rehab or detention center.
I was surprised to read the meanness in some of these comments and the small minded negativity expressed.
Your almost there Zac. We wish you all the best.
Rosemary Dyche
S/V Nina Schooner 1928

It is a real shame if you read his blog you will see what a brave young man he is.

I also read http://www.totallymoney.com/sailmike and the mike perham adventure another brave and well spoken young man. It seems that his dad has lost his job as well while flying around the globe trying to support him. http://www.ybw.com/auto/newsdesk/20090314151033ymnews.html.

I just hope Jessica watson realises what an expensive and dangerous trip this actually is.

I didn't realize Jack London needed daddy's help.

In my opinion giving 1 cent to this instead of giving money to a kid who can't afford to go to college (like Zac will be) would be a travesty.

I've been following Zac's adventure on his blog since before he left. He is an amazing man and has grown so much through his experiences. He has become an excellent writer - I am sure a fine book will be forthcoming in a couple of years. It will make a fantastic movie - too many frightening days, they'll have to leave many of them out! I am sure the debt will be easily paid off from the proceeds. Continued good luck to you, Zac & family!

Zac has embarked on a life experience that will improve his character as much, if not more, than going to college. We should avoid bashing him and his family for simply expressing their financial condition. Each person can decide whether or not to be charitable.

I have financially supported Zac's adventure in the past, and I will continue to do so as I'm able. I believe that in helping others you get more than you give. There may be a time when I need help from others, and I hope that if that happens others will be as generous to me as I have tried to be to them. Additionally, I am inspired by reading Zac's blog and am happy to support an adventure that I enjoy reading about.

I do not believe that Zac's parents made a bad decision in allowing/supporting Zac's adventure. Zac is very mature for his age, and he has proven that he is capable of completing this trip. I think it's important for parents to encourage their children to follow their dreams. Zac's adventure is his own dream, not something his parents pushed upon him. My parents always supported me and my dreams, and I am eternally thankful to them. I am married to a wonderful man whose parents pushed aside a very big (and not very expensive) dream of his, and 15 years later he is still saddened by his parents' lack of support. Cheers to Zac's parents for recognizing the importance of their child's dream!

Best wishes to Zac and his family!

Zac has a HUGE fan base... those of us who have been following him since he left in June will do every thing we can to help make his dream come true..he has an AWSOME family who has been the best through this adventure..i was lucky enough to meet them at a fundraiser when Zac was in Australia. I suggest you go to Zac's web site and learn all you can about him and his family ...i guarantee you will be impressed.
Laura BD

In this day and age do people really thing a 16 year old is going to cobble a boat together for the price of plywood and nails and sail around the world? Of course not. Neither is Zac going to raise his own support at that age. Especially given the time frame of the idea to the date of departure.

Let me say, I know the Sunderland's. I've known them for over 10 years. I live three blocks away from them. This is Zac's dream - not theirs. Their dream is that their son returns safely. What he does have is their full support. Zac worked and paid for this boat by himself. That is a lot more than most 16 year olds will do.

The Sunderland home is very modest. I can comment on the neighborhood because I live in it myself. The situation is such that a significant number of the homes have 3-4 families living in them. Yea, it is that type of neighborhood. The house is furnished in "early yard sale." I mean that not to insult them, but to point out the modest way they live. I've never known them to buy a new car. In fact, during the time I've known them a few of their vehicles have run on the ragged edge.

Their son had a dream. His father had the background to assist in fulfilling that dream. They stepped out in hope. This is an age related quest. This is a time related quest. It is not something that can be done at a "later date."

How does "Laurence Sunderland - reluctantly conceded in an interview that the odyssey has cost about $140,000, and that the family is sinking hopelessly into debt." And, "- said he'd never ask his son's many followers for financial assistance" equate to verbal thrashing these people like some of you do?

Does one have to be a "Rich Kid" to compete? I'm sure cost have gone beyond expectation. The economy has hit everyone. At this point can Zac get home any cheaper than to finish the race? If every person in the USA had given less than five cents it would have covered the $140,000 to date. For the honor of our country is that asking too much?

It is not like Zac is asking for you to finance "Spring Break." He has set out to do what NO ONE his age has EVER done. And ultimately with or without some of the criticism - he will.

T. Charles W.

I posted about this earlier. A 140K gift to their son for the parent's to achieve their own vanity project? Now they are having financial problems? Have they thought about college expenses yet?

If this was really Zac's dream, he should have went out and secured the financing. There is no solo "record" here if it assisted. This is not about Zac, This is about the parents putting their son in harms way and pushing their own dreams onto their children. If my daughter wanted to sail around the world I’d tell her no way, and if she insisted and raised the money, and threatened to run out and do it on her own, only then would I reluctantly put my support behind such a dangerous adventure.

I have very mixed feelings on this. Hopefully no harm done to Zac, but I could care less about the parent's finances.

Being a lifelong boater and major boating safety person my main concern is that Zac and his young competitor from England will now both be in a tremendous hurry due to this competition which on the ocean is what I would call the number one cause of avoidable problems and even death in many cases.

Sailing, especially cruising solo, can be extremely tiring by itself without the added pressure of a competition greatly enhanced by the fact that these young men are still only very young men.

In a race one tends to keep too much sail up for the conditions resulting in a dismasting or if the auto pilot goes out (as it did on my first cruise to South America in a hurricane in the mid 1970s) and you have no windvang then you must steer manually and that is exhausting beyond belief especially if the weather is kicking up 24/7 for days or weeks.

I hope they both simply enjoy the adventure and remember that safety is always foremost. Never push you or your boat to its maximum limits if doing so could create an avoidable life or death situation (which most often you will not see coming until it is too late so error on the side of being safe).

The good news is that Zac's older Islander is built a lot stronger than racing boats that sacrifice strength (safety) for saving weight so his boat should handle being pushed more than even the best of racing boats but still might not handle being maxed out 24/7...

As for the family's money problems? Perhaps it would help greatly if they published (on their website) what each sponsor put in and the expenses thus far and future expected expenses. That would allow people who would like to donate see where the costs are. I am sure many people would consider donating but only see a very long list of top notch sponsors and think, gee and he will have a book and movie too...

That said, I too am rooting for Zac to SAFELY win this competition (as I am an American 110%)

Mark Gray
MIB Studios
Captain's Log Boating Safety TV Show
Father & Husband First, Last, and Foremost !

Hate to say it, but I agree with the previous post by Anthony. What were Zac's parents thinking? Sponsors were going to shower them with $$? Get real.

"Help support Zac's World Adventure?" Don't think so. I pay for my sailing and think other people should too...

I am 43 years old. I really appreciate this young guy going out there and doing what a lot of us older guys are just now discovering....that we should have done exactly what this kid is doing with his life, and that is living your dream. I started following his story from the day he left his home marina, and now that he's about to embark in the caribbean area, it means that much more to me especially when he lands in Colón, Panamá. This is where I was born. Today, I live in Cincinnati, Ohio USA. I am looking to follow one of my dreams which has been evading me for so long ,and that is to go back to Costa Rica & Panamá and develop my parent's farm land. So, Go Zac Go!

I'm sorry, but young Zack & parents don't get any sympathy.
After having worked my butt off, saved,scrimped and sacrificed, I spent a few years sailing around the South Pacific on my humble boat.
Great stuff, but I wouldn't begin to ask that other folks should have supported my dream.

Later I used my fledgling retirement-fund to go back to college and now work in a good position (thankfully too.... as it turned out, the best investment was in myself).

No family supported/supporting me, no Internet sponsors.

So, sorry young ZACK & family. You appear to be leftover from the yuppie years when folks thought they could have it all, up front.

Now, you get to confront the reality of debt.
Same as most of the USA.


I love you ZAC, see you soon. You're a woman's man and a man's man.

I admire Zac's courage and his family's generousity and spirit. To explore the oceans and the unknown is amazing and gives us hope for the world.


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