Robin Lee Graham on the Latest Teen Circumnavs

In July 1965, at the age of 16, Robin Lee Graham set out on a 33,000-mile, five-year circumnavigation aboard his Bill Lapworth-designed 24ft sloop Dove. National Geographic magazine famously covered the voyage, which spawned two best-selling books—Dove and Home Is The Sailor—a children’s book and a 1974 Hollywood movie, The Dove.In recent years, another
Author:
Updated:
Original:
SAIP-100800-US-07.interior1

In July 1965, at the age of 16, Robin Lee Graham set out on a 33,000-mile, five-year circumnavigation aboard his Bill Lapworth-designed 24ft sloop Dove. National Geographic magazine famously covered the voyage, which spawned two best-selling books—Dove and Home Is The Sailor—a children’s book and a 1974 Hollywood movie, The Dove.

In recent years, another generation of teenagers has set out to establish their own records. In 2009, Zac Sunderland became the first person under age 18 to successfully complete a circumnavigation, an achievement that has since been matched by Brit Michael Perham, age 17, and Australian Jessica Watson, age 16. In June, Sunderland’s 16-year-old sister, Abby, was dismasted and rescued in the Indian Ocean while attempting a circumnavigation of her own.

Not surprisingly, the race to be the youngest has sparked its share of controversy, and the World Sailing Speed Record Council no longer recognizes these age-related records. To get some perspective on the phenomenon, who better to ask than the “teenager” who started it all, Robin Lee Graham? I contacted Robin, now 61, and his wife, Patti, at their home in Montana.

__________________________________________________________________________________

RLG2


SAIL:
You sailed around the world as a teen, but now you’re an adult and have two grown children and three grandchildren. Do you still think it’s a good idea for someone so young to be subjected to the dangers involved in chasing such goals?

Graham: I had a lot of experience before I set sail. I could navigate, was a competent sailor and already had a lot of bluewater experience cruising with my family. I had the strong desire to do it, and knew I was capable of doing it. It sounds like Abby Sunderland has all those same attributes. I’m sorry her voyage was not successful. But storms at sea happen. I doubt her age was the problem. If my kids had that same knowledge and desire, I’d say go ahead, realize your dreams. It’s totally individualistic. One person might be able to do it at age 16, another at 40. A lot of people are never equipped to sail solo. You have to know yourself.

__________________________________________________________________________________


SAIL:
But can anyone truly know who they are at such a young age?

Graham: Good point, but who better to know whether a young person is ready for such responsibility than a parent? Sure, there are bad parents with bad judgment. But a good parent knows their child and knows whether their son or daughter can handle it.

__________________________________________________________________________________

SAIL: Yet, your own mother was against you voyaging solo. In your book you discuss how she actually hired a lawyer to try and stop you from setting sail.

Graham: As a parent myself, I have empathy. But even though we cruised extensively as a family when I was growing up, my mother was never really a sailor. Sailing was my father’s passion, and mine. Mom never really understood the whole “lure of the sea” thing. So when I wanted to sail around the world, she just didn’t understand. But once I actually was on my way, she became very supportive. I’d call her on a ham radio rig from various ports, and she was always very encouraging. But it’s a parent’s job to worry. My mom is 88 and still worries about me.

__________________________________________________________________________________

SAIL: So, what do you say to those who might claim it is bad parenting to allow a son or daughter to pursue their passion when that passion leads them into dangerous situations?

RLG: It’s just not cut and dried. Each child is different. Being a good parent means understanding your child, understanding whether they have a strong enough desire to overcome adversity and whether they have the skills, knowledge and maturity to accomplish their goals.

Related

GMR19_F53_0539

Boat Review: Beneteau First Yacht 53

Luxury performance-cruising isn’t entirely new. You can go fast and still be comfortable. You can even race if you make the right tradeoffs—or so says Groupe Beneteau, which recently launched its First Yacht 53, in the process also reinventing the company’s “First” brand. ...read more

BirdonBoard

Cruising: Birds of a Feather

One of the neatest things about sailing offshore is the other lifeforms we encounter. We smile when we see flying fish skimming over the surface of the sea. We cheer when dolphins leap and dance in our bow waves. We are duly reverent when mighty whales sound and spout, and ...read more

pirate-marlin-logo

Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament

This Spring has felt a bit like a slow day of fishing but it’s almost time to time to Bait…and Switch. The Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournaments offer something for every member of your crew. Exceptional fishing, fun times with family, old friends and new. Our run is short, our ...read more

Tusk.00_00_16_21.Still001

Tusk by Spyderco

Spyderco's Tusk knife combines a blade and marlinspike to create a multitool perfect for marine use. Made with corrosion resistant materials like titanium and LC200N steel, a nitrogen alloyed steel, and Spyderco-exclusive locking mechanisms, this knife is one of the toughest ...read more

IY11.98_fTaccola©DJI_0200

Italia 11.98 Performance-cruiser

This past winter, SAIL principal editor, Adam Cort, check out the new Italia Yachts’ new 11.98 performance-cruiser at the boot Dusseldorf show in German, and says he can attest to the fact it’s a boat more than worthy of the attention of North American sailors. Available in ...read more

01-LEAD-2017_IDALEWIS_0219

Racing: Doublehanded

I was born in 1955, and although I was a tad young to actually follow the first Observer Single-Handed Transatlantic Race, I grew up in the age of the pioneers of solo offshore sailing—Francis Chichester, Robin Knox-Johnson, Alec Rose, all Knighted for their singlehanded ...read more

newport-400c-updated

Spectra Watermakers

The world's quietest and most energy-efficient watermakers. Our product line ranges from hand operated desalinators that can make 6 gallons a day to our largest system that produces 20,000 gallons of fresh, potable water per day. Spectra Watermakers has the complete package: ...read more

CAPE-COD---Under-sails

Boat Review: Cape Cod

The concept of “daysailer” has grown ever broader over the years. These days the label can be pasted on a boat as small and simple as a Sunfish, as fancy as a 40-footer with a nice big cockpit and plenty of brightwork, or any number of concoctions in between. This Cape Cod ...read more