14-year old granted permission to sail solo around the world

14-year old Laura Dekker has waited months for her opportunity to attempt a solo circumnavigation of the globe, and after being denied on several occasions by Dutch authorities, yesterday she finally received permission to set sail at long last. She now plans to begin the voyage, which could take upwards of two years to complete, sometime in the next couple of weeks. The teen hopes to set a new record for the youngest person to sail around the globe alone.

Laura first received attention last year when it was announced that she hoped to make the solo circumnavigation attempt at the age of 13. Before she could set out however, a Dutch court intervened, barring her from sailing. Since that time, she has been under the supervision of child protective services, who have continually recommended against allowing her to sail. That recommendation changed recently however, as the young woman trained to improve her sailing and survival skills, and joined a distance learning program that would allow her to continue her studies while she is at sea. Even Laura’s mom, who had been against the voyage, had changed her tune, now granting the 14-year old her blessing to sail.

The voyage that Laura has planned differs quite a bit from the one that was taken by Jessica Watson, the 17-year old girl who recently set the new “youngest” record and Abby Sunderland, who had to be rescued from the Indian Ocean back in June. Those two sailors faced the perilous waters of Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, but Laura will instead take a route that passes through the Panama and Suez Canals. While this lowers the risks involved with her having to deal with some of the worst seas in the world, it does increase the amount of ship traffic she’ll encounter, which means she runs the risk of colliding with another ship in those busy sea lanes.

Perhaps more importantly, Laura will have a support ship that will be following her closely and will be on hand in case the need arises. This ship will be there in the event of trouble, but will not aid her in any way as she navigates the oceans. With this plan in place, she’ll have a safety net to help protect her, but one that won’t endanger the “solo” status of her voyage.

Over the next two weeks the teenager will be working hard to prepare her ship, the Guppy, for the voyage. Once it is stocked with all the gear and supplies that she’ll need, she’ll be on her way, and off on a grand adventure on the high seas. What were you doing when you were 14?

[Photo credit: Associated Press]

Rescue ships reach Abby Sunderland

A French fishing ship reached 16-year old American Abby Sunderland in the Indian Ocean earlier today, bringing a sigh of relief to her friends and family back home in California, who have been waiting for news on her rescue for the past two days. The girl, who had been attempting to sail solo around the world, was feared lost at sea on Thursday when contact with her home team was disrupted during a major storm. Later she would set off two emergency locator beacons, and on Friday, an Australian commercial aircraft few over her position, confirming that she was alive and well, but adrift in the frigid ocean waters.

Abby’s remote location in the Indian Ocean made it difficult to make a quick recovery. She was more than 2000 miles from both Africa and Australia, which made the use of a helicopter impossible. The French ship was the closest to her position, but was still 40 hours away when she ran into trouble.

As of this morning, the decision was still being made as to where to take the teenager. The ship could sail for Reunion Island, which is the closest land, but is in the middle of the Indian Ocean and quite remote in its own right. Or they could make a course for Australia, where Abby will have more resources at her disposal for getting home or repairing her own vessel. The fishing boat may even rendezvous with another ship, which could start a relay of sorts delivering the girl to safety.

Also unknown as this time is whether or not Abby will continue her attempt to sail around the world. Her boat, the Wild Eyes, has suffered a broken mast, and her sails are in tatters, with further damage a possibility. The Wild Eyes will have to be towed into port for repairs before she can go anywhere again, which will require time and money. For the near term anyway, Abby will be able to think carefully on what her next move is.

[Photo credit: Al Seib / L.A. Times]

16-year old Abby Sunderland found safe at sea

16-year old American Abby Sunderland has been spotted safe at sea by a search plane that flew out of Perth this morning. The California native, who had been attempting to solo circumnavigate the Earth, is reportedly fine, and her ship is upright, although her sails are down, and most likely destroyed.

Yesterday morning, Abby contacted her support team, via satellite phone, to report that she was navigating through 20-25 foot waves, with winds of 35-50 knots swirling around her. She also reported that her ship, the Wild Eyes, had been knocked down twice, which means that the conditions were bad enough to knock the boat onto its side, with the sail touching the water. She hung up the phone saying she was going to make a few quick adjustments to the boat, and that she would call back soon. That was the last anyone heard from her directly. Later, she would set off two distress signals, and many feared the worst.

Abby has been sailing across the Indian Ocean since departing Cape Town, South Africa a few weeks back. She is approximately 2000 miles from Africa and Australia, putting her in an incredibly remote position that is difficult to reach. She is currently too far out for a rescue helicopter to make the journey, but ships are now inbound on her position, with the first expected to arrive sometime in the next 24 hours.

Abby set out on her solo sail around the world on January 24th, hoping to become the youngest person to accomplish that feat. She was also following in the footsteps of her older brother, Zac, who made the same journey at the age of 17 last year. The disappearance at sea comes just weeks after Abby’s Australian counterpart, Jessica Watson, completed her solo circumnavigation, finishing up just three days shy of her 17th birthday.

Friends and family are breathing a sigh of relief this morning, as it appears that this story will have a happy ending.

[Photo credit: ABC News]

Jessica Watson completes round-the-world sail

16-year old Jessica Watson completed her solo, non-stop, circumnavigation of the globe earlier today, sailing into Sydney Harbor, while hundreds of Australians cheered, and thousands more watched on television. Jessica set out from Sydney last October, and has spent the last seven months navigating the high seas. By returning to the place she started on Saturday, she has become the youngest person to sail alone, unassisted, and without stopping, around the world.

Those seven months at sea offered plenty of challenges for Jessica and her 30-foot ship, the Ella’s Pink Lady. At times she faced massive storms, high winds, and 30-foot swells, as she covered more than 23,000 nautical miles in her journey. Her voyage took her briefly north of the equator before sailing through the treacherous waters around South America’s Cape Horn and Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Even her return home has been a challenging one, with storms near Tasmania slowing her progress and keeping an element of danger even in the final days.

Despite her amazing journey however, there are many who refuse to recognize her claim on the record of the youngest to sail around the world. For instance, the World Sailing Speed Record Council has set a minimum age of 18 as a requirement for a record to be officially recognized. Other long time sailors say that Jessica’s route was not long enough to be officially recognized either, saying that another 2000 miles would need to be added to compare it to similar feats done in the past. To achieve those extra miles, Jess would have had to spend more time in the Northern Hemisphere.

Jessica’s closest competition for the “youngest around” title was American Abby Sunderland, who is also 16-years old, and a few months younger than her Aussie counterpart. Abby was recently forced to pull into shore in Cape Town, South Africa to under go repairs to her ship, and by doing so, she removed the “non-stop” element from her voyage. Abby will continue on her solo sail however, saying she is as determined as ever to finish what she has started.

Regardless of whether or not the accomplishments of these two young women are seen as a record of any kind, their adventurous spirits are something to be recognized and celebrated. Congratulations to Jessica for her amazing accomplishment, and good luck to Abby on the rest of her journey as well.

Another teenager sets sail on a solo circumnavigation attempt

16-year old Abby Sunderland set sail last weekend on an attempt to sail solo around the world, and in the process, become the youngest person to accomplish that feat. She launched her 40-foot long boat, the Wild Eyes, from Marina del Rey, California, following a delay of several days due to the heavy storms that have plagued that area recently. If all goes according to plan, Abby will be at sea for roughly 5-6 months, making the journey non-stop without ever pulling into port.

Abby won’t just be battling the ocean waves and unpredictable weather while out on the high seas, she also faces a little competition for the crown of “youngest around”. Australian teenager Jessica Watson, who we told you about here, is in the middle of her own circumnavigation attempt, having just cleared Cape Horn, at the southern end of South America. Jessica is now making her way across the Atlantic towards Africa. And lest we forget, 14-year old Laura Dekker is hoping to make the same journey later this year, provided Dutch officials allow her to set sail.

For Abby, sailing runs in the family. Her brother Zac temporarily held the record for youngest solo circumnavigation last year when he completed the voyage at the age of 17. His record was bested by British teen Mike Perham a few months later. Perham is also 17, but is a few months younger than Zac.

It use to be that teenagers simply asked their parents for the keys to the car, but in the case of these adventurous young men and women, they’re hitting the high seas and spending months alone out on the water. The questions remain however; Should we be encouraging these activities and how young is too young?