16-Year-Old Girl Aims to Break Solo-Sailing Record

Lisa Gizara

Most parents wouldn't let a teenage daughter stay out past midnight, much less sail around the world by herself. But that's just what 16-year-old Abby Sunderland did Saturday, when she embarked on a six-month solo journey aboard the open 40-foot racing yacht Wild Eyes.

Her plan is to sail from California, south around South America's Cape Horn, over to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and back to California, non-stop. The total distance of the trip is just over 24,000 miles.

VIDEO: 16-Year-Old Girl Starts Solo Sail Around Globe
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If successful, she will make history as the youngest person -- male or female -- ever to make the trip unaccompanied.

"To me, it's one of the greatest challenges there is," Sunderland told ABC News. "Every time I go sailing there are new challenges, and it's amazing. I love doing it. Being alone just adds to the challenge for me. It puts me in a position where I'm the only one there to take care of things."

She won't be entirely without help, however. Back home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., her father, Laurence Sunderland, an accomplished sailor and shipwright, and her mother Marianne, who has raised seven children on boats, will be on the satellite phone with her daily.

"My initial concern for Abby is just how she will handle the fatigue and loneliness," Marianne Sunderland said.

Wild Eyes is designed for solo sailing and has already made one trip around the world. The yacht has a full complement of navigational instruments and two autopilots, in case one breaks. Sunderland has enough food for 180 days and water makers that extract salt from sea water on board.

A British meteorologist who has sailed the same route as Abby will be monitoring her progress by GPS and steering her around destructive storms.

"Weather is always a concern," Laurence Sunderland said. "It doesn't matter if you're going out in the perfect time of year."

And what about pirates? Laurence Sunderland said there's shouldn't be any.

"There simply aren't any pirates down in the southern ocean. They don't hang out in 40 degrees south or 50 degrees south, which are the latitudes at which Abby will be traversing. It's less likely, in fact, almost impossible, for her to encounter pirates."

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As wild as this sounds to most landlubbers, the Sunderlands not only have experience launching their children into blue seas, but also are joining a small but growing group of families who are watching their children take on this challenge.

Just last summer, Abby's older brother Zac set the world record for being the first person under age 18 to circumnavigate the globe solo in a sailboat. His record was eclipsed a few months later by British teenager Mike Perham, who is a few months his junior.

And even as Abby prepared for her journey, Australian teen Jessica Watson was almost halfway through her sail around the world. But Abby is still the youngest of the bunch.

"I think that people our age should be allowed to do this if they are capable of it," she said.

Others disagree. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, T.J. Simers said he choked on his pancakes when he came across an article in the morning paper.

"Why am I reading about a 16-year old girl about to sail around the world by herself when I should be reading about her parents being hauled off to counseling or jail?" he said in a column.

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