Too Young? Teen Attempts Solo Sail Around World

Laurence Sunderland answers his critics by saying they don't know his daughter and her abilities.

Setting Sail

Abby set sail Jan. 23 from Marina del Rey, Calif. Her parents watched as their teenage daughter faded into the horizon.

Later, via a Skype interview from her boat, Abby would recall her emotions that day.

"It was completely overwhelming," she said. "I mean, there was people everywhere, and boats, and all this noise and commotion and stuff. And then all of a sudden it just leaves, and you're the only person out there."

But Abby wasn't completely alone. While at sea, she talked with her mother twice a day, blogged her latest news and kept up her page on Facebook. One of her friends was Jessica Watson, a 16-year-old Aussie also in the process of sailing solo around the world.

"I just love, you know, going out and doing something and having to rely on yourself -- you know, it's up to me," Jessica said in an ESPN documentary.

As Abby got under way, Jessica was about to sail into history as the youngest ever to circle the globe, alone, nonstop. But Abby was five months younger, and so hoped to take that world record for herself.

"She set out to achieve -- a goal as being the youngest person to solo circumnavigate the world nonstop," said Laurence Sunderland.

Abby's route, crafted to avoid any threat of pirates, took her past Chile, where she was unaffected by the 8.8 magnitude earthquake; around Cape Horn and into the South Atlantic. When "20/20" talked with her, she'd been at sea for 101 days.

Abby Sunderland: 'I'm Happy to Do It Alone'

We asked what it was like to go for so long and not see any sign of civilization.

"I think it actually might be more fun if there was somebody else on board," Abby said. "But -- I'm happy to do it alone too."

We also asked her what was the toughest hit her boat had taken, and whether she got scared.

"I got hit by a rogue wave," she said. "I did get knocked down. ... I'd be happy if that didn't happen again."

Abby admitted to having been scared a few times.

She'd also dealt with disappointment. Because when she spoke with "20/20" she knew that her boat needed to stop in Cape Town for repairs -- ending her dream of a solo circumnavigation nonstop, but not ending her voyage.

When asked why she didn't go back home when she encountered problems, her father answered: "I think Abigail set out to sail around the world and she will accomplish that."

Guinness World Records says it will no longer recognize "youngest ever" sailing records, because they are so risky. But still-younger sailors are hoping to get their yo-ho-ho on.

A Dutch family court barred 13-year-old Laura Dekker from raising her mainsail alone. But she may finally get her chance later this year.

Her quest completed after 210 days at sea, Jessica Watson pulled into Sydney Harbor early this spring to a huge welcome -- and a classic sailor's response.

"Jessica, you are our new Australian hero," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said.

"I am actually going to disagree with what our prime minister just said," Jessica told the crowd of well-wishers. "I don't consider myself a hero. I am an ordinary girl who believed in a dream. You don't have to be someone special to achieve something amazing. You just have to have a dream, believe in it and work hard."

And tonight finds Abby Sunderland under sail once more. Somewhere south of Madagascar, a 16-year-old alone again on the unforgiving, irresistible sea.

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