16 and Sailing Around the World

Zac Sunderland, 16, has set off on a solo sailboat trip around the world.

June 14, 2008 — -- Zac Sunderland is only 16 but he's already setting out on the adventure of a lifetime: a round- the-world voyage aboard a miniscule 36-foot sail boat.

If he completes it, as hoped, in the next 12 to 18 months he'll be the youngest sailor ever to circumnavigate the globe alone.

Sunderland, who has had little sleep in the days leading up to his departure, speaks in low tones about the adventure he is about to embark upon.

"It's a lot of prep right now just getting everything ready," he said. "It's kind of crazy here. I don't know [how it will change me], it's going to be an amazing adventure. Life changes you as you move along through it."

You can follow his progress at his blog, www.zacsunderland.com.

Sunderland, the oldest of seven siblings, has spent his entire life around the water. His father, Laurence Sunderland, was a ship builder and now manages yachts. The elder Sunderland says he's more comfortable letting his oldest son sail around the world than he would be letting him do a cross-country drive.

"This is not something I'd recommend for everybody," Zac's father says. "Zac has been raised on the ocean. He's been a night watch captain since the age of 13. He's traveled 15,000 miles on the ocean. He's cruised with me everywhere. He's phenomenal seaman."

Those seafaring skills will be put to the test. Weather is his biggest worry. Sunderland will be backed up by a satellite phone, email, a professional weather watcher keeping him informed about what lies ahead and sophisticated weather gear on board.

But the open ocean in a storm is brutal and life threatening, particularly in such a small boat.

Sunderland will be using ClearPoint's High Definition weather gear on board. He says that with it "I can see everything -- waves, wind, everything. ... It takes down a lot of the risk as opposed to five, ten years ago."

Still there are dangers. Experienced sailor Ken Barnes tried to go non-stop around the world last year. His dream ended when he got caught in a storm that ripped both masts off his 44-foot boat and cracked its hull.

Another concern for Sunderland will be pirates. He has carefully selected a course to avoid the areas where pirate attacks are most likely. He is also willing to change course if necessary, even if it means jeopardizing his record-setting goal.

"You know, I'm not going to jeopardize the boat for the record," he says. "If it turns out that I can't make it in a year and half that I have, I'm not going to go crazy about it."

Sunderland expects to make between 15 and 30 stops along the way. His father will meet him at a handful of those stops.

Sunderland will also be blogging along the way and his boat has been outfitted with cameras that will record his voyage day and night. That footage will also be picked up when Zac pulls into various ports around the world.

Sunderland, who will complete his junior year of high school at sea, will study aboard the 36- year-old boat, which was originally named "Nantucket Sleigh Ride," an old term for what whalers experience when they had harpooned a whale and then were pulled along until the animal tired. The boat has been rechristened "Intrepid."

The boat, which Sunderland says has already been around the world once, has been worked on by a team of more than 20 volunteers for three months to prepare it for the open-ocean, or "blue water," voyage.

Aside from being outfitted with the weather and communications technology, the boat's mast, rigging, and structure have all been improved and hardened. If worse comes to worst, Sunderland can always ditch in the ocean. His life jacket is equipped with an emergency locator beacon.

Sunderland, who seems more comfortable with the solitude of the sea than being interviewed, already has visions of how his life might change the next time he sees California. He's thinking about writing a book and maybe a film script, too. (This is after all Los Angeles.)

Now all he has to do it make it home again. As I write this, he's a mile or two out to sea, only about 40,000 more to go.

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