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Zac Sunderland, sailing alone around the world, suddenly pressed for time

March 25, 2009 | 11:30 am

Zac Sunderland in Cape Town, South Africa.

Where in the world is Zac Sunderland?

Unfortunately, the 17-year-old from Thousand Oaks has been stuck in St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic, for more than two weeks, trying to complete repairs and get on with an endeavor that now appears in jeopardy.

Sunderland set out from Marina del Rey last June intent on becoming the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe. During his voyage, a slightly younger sailor from England embarked upon a similar quest in a larger, faster boat, and threatens to upstage his Yankee counterpart.

More frustrating for Zac, as he strives to fix a mysterious engine problem and repair his self-steering unit, is that time suddenly is of the essence. His journey was so carefree not long ago, featuring lengthy stops in exotic ports.

Now Zac must find a sturdy wind and stick to the task at hand. He'll sail more than 4,000 miles across the Atlantic and into the Caribbean. Ultimately, he'll pass through through the Panama canal and embark upon a 2,970-mile uphill journey to Southern California.

He must accomplish this by June, in his 36-foot Islander named Intrepid, because that marks the beginning of hurricane season in the eastern Pacific.

Said Marianne Sunderland, Zac's mom, in a recent blog post: "While we are anxious for Zac to make his way home by early June for weather reasons, we are not so anxious that we would risk his safety at sea. So we wait and pray and are exited to see how God will work his plan for Zac at this time."

Zac Sunderland approaching Cape Town earlier during his around-the-world journey.

In Zac's most recent post, on Sunday, he wrote, "Today is Mother's Day in this part of the world so Mom thanks so much for being the best mom in the world. I definitely wouldn't be here if it wasn't for all of your tireless help, support and love. Love ya!"

Zac is a good son and an excellent sailor who has already faced pirates and rough seas and has overcome a great deal to advance as far as he has. So my prediction is he'll sail into Marina del Rey in early June amid considerable and well-deserved fanfare.

Please stay tuned, as I plan on talking to Zac via satellite phone early next week, after he gets underway.

--Pete Thomas

Photos: Zac Sunderland in Cape Town, South Africa (top), and approaching Cape Town earlier during his around-the-world journey. Courtesy of Zac Sunderland