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Abby Sunderland: Brave girl, questionable choice

June 11, 2010 |  3:26 pm


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