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:
Publish date:
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

albintoilet

Gear: Albin Pump Marine Toilet

Head Start Is there room for a new marine toilet? Albin Pump Marine thinks so, having just introduced its line of Swedish-built heads—ranging from compact to full-size models—to the American market. The toilets feature vitreous porcelain bowls and either wooden or thermoplastic ...read more

07n_45R2699

Multihull Sailor: Classic Cats

If you’re looking for a decent sub-40ft cruising cat, you have few choices when it comes to new-boat offerings. It is a well-known fact that the multihull market has taken off in a way very few could have predicted. Despite Hurricane Irma’s recent destruction of a large part of ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Thanks a bunch  This scene is very calm and seamanlike. No frantic rope throwing or shouting. As he passes the line to the gent on the dock, the crew on the boat says, quietly and clearly, “Would you ...read more

mcarthy-and-mouse

Experience: McCarthy and the Mouse

Sitting at the helm in a light breeze, my arms crusted with a fine rime of salt, my skin so dry I’d lost my fingerprints, I heard a clatter and a curse from below. There were only three of us a thousand miles from shore and only one on watch at a time. Usually, the off watch lay ...read more

2018-giftGuide

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Brass Yacht Lamp Does someone on your gift list spend the whole winter missing the warm days on the water? Let them bring a little bit of nautical atmosphere home with this new lamp from Weems & Plath. The glass enclosure means the flame cannot be blown out even by ...read more

image001

Opinion: On Not Giving Up Sailing

E.B. White was 64 when he wrote his now-famous essay “The Sea and the Wind That Blows,” which begins as a romantic paean to sailing and then drifts, as if spun around by a pessimistic eddy of thought, into a reflection on selling his boat. Does an aging sailor quit while he’s ...read more

1812-JeanneaueNewsVideo

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 410

Designed by Marc Lombard, the Sun Odyssey 410 shares much in common with her older siblings including of course, the walk-around deck. Other features that set the 410 apart from other models being introduced this year include the 410’s “negative bow” shape allowing for a longer ...read more