Sunderland Ending Nonstop Bid

Thanks to problems with her autopilot, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland has decided to divert to Cape Town, South Africa, for repairs, thereby giving up her bid to become the youngest person to sail solo, nonstop around the globe.

Although Sunderland, whose brother Zac briefly held the record as the youngest circumnavigator in 2008, says she plans to continue on from South Africa, her decision leaves the field wide open to Jessica Watson—another 16 year old from Australia, currently closing in on the finish after having set sail last October.

“This whole trip came from a dream, a dream to sail around the world, and that is what I am doing, youngest or not, non-stop or stopping,” Sunderland reported in her blog. She set about from Marina del Rey, California, about three months ago.

Many observers, including SAIL magazine, have questioned the wisdom of teenagers competing to see who can be the youngest circumnavigator, and the World Sailing Speed Record Council is no longer certifying these kinds of age-related records. As possible evidence of their inexperience, both girls had to return to port shortly after initially setting out: Watson after colliding with a freighter off the Australian coast, Sunderland because of mechanical problems.

Nonetheless, these kinds of voyages are undoubtedly here to stay—at least until there is some kind of tragedy. On the one hand, a 14-year-old Dutch girl named Laura Dekker plans to set out on her own voyage in September, after having been barred from doing so by Dutch authorities earlier. On the other, there are already reports that Watson stands to profit quite handsomely from her accomplishment.

According to New Zealand’s Fairfax Media, Watson’s agent, Andrew Fraser is “astounded” by some of the offers he’s received. “It’s a global interest, there’s no doubt she’s engaged the world,” he is quoted as saying. “Once we get her back to shore then we’ll sit down and work out all of the opportunities…. It’s important that she does stuff that she wants to do and enjoys, because there’s no doubt she’s going to be in high demand.”

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