To the legions of online and cable television critics claiming child abuse that Laurence and Marianne Sunderland allowed their 16-year-old daughter Abby to sail alone around the world, I say get a life and mind your own store.
Abby Sunderland was better prepared to circumnavigate the oceans than Magellan. I was going to use the analogy of Tiger Woods father telling his son at age 16 he had to stop playing golf because, well, you know, but thought better of it.
The fact is those decisions are made by child and parents and in the Sunderland's case, the risks were well known and worth taking. If Abby was my daughter, I would encourage her to go for her dream.
As the Sunderlands pointed out on the Good Morning America show, it was less of a risk on the oceans than for a teenager getting killed in a traffic accident in her hometown of Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Yes, the inevitable happened and Abby's 40-foot sloop capsized in huge waves in the Indian Ocean and she was fortunate to be rescued by a French fishing vessel. But it wasn't all luck.
If she wasn't such a proficient sailor, she would have drowned.
Of course, if a full scale air and sea search was involved, I would suggest the bill be sent to the Sunderlands.
As the Denver Post noted:
In an era when social scientists worry about "helicopter parents" hovering over their offspring, shielding them from dangers real and invented, the saga of the globe-circling, teenage solo sailor presents a dramatic counterpoint.
I'm old fashioned and cringe at the thought of Abby being cast into a reality television show when I would prefer she write a book about her solo sailing experiences. Oops, there I go off on a tangent playing "Father Knows Best" like those helicopter parents.
But the lass is blogging her experiences and tells the world before even touching land she plans to write a book.
From the Los Angeles Times:
"At first I decided that I wasn't going to write a book. But then I started to think about all the good times Wild Eyes and I have had together," she wrote. "All that's left of the voyage of Wild Eyes are my memories, eventually they will get fuzzy and I won't remember all the details. I don't want that to happen. Wild Eyes and my trip have been the best thing I have ever done or been through and I don't ever want to forget all the great times we have had together, or the bad ones for that matter."
As for her journey, she added: "I'm still out on the ocean headed to a little island called Kerguelen and then will be on another boat for ten days up to an island near Madagascar. From there I will eventually make it home."
The Denver Post:
Children, Laurence Sunderland argues, should be encouraged to confront and manage challenges.
"Let's face it. Life is dangerous," Sunderland said on "Good Morning America." "How many teenagers are killed in car accidents? . . . Should we stop every teenager from driving a car?"
Even when Abby returns home to California, she is likely to face some of the same questions.
"The culture is conflicted," said David Halle, a professor of sociology at UCLA. "The culture has constructed this elaborate extended childhood that holds it is a difficult world and, on the other hand, there is this other point of view which is that young people can do amazing things, and every so often it bursts out."
On its website, Magnetic Entertainment said it is producing a reality TV show featuring the family.
"We follow the family in their day-to-day lives as shipbuilder Laurence Sunderland and mother/teacher Marianne try to balance work and family," the show description says. "Their philosophy on building strong, well-rounded adults is to mentor their seven home schooled children into setting goals, creating a plan to reach those goals, and implementing them ... allowing each of them to pursue their dreams of becoming world class adventurers."
I have owned two small boats and am fully aware of the dangers our seas present. I also know with a love and passion for sailing, the right equipment and sailing vessel, it is possible for even a youngster of 16 to sail the world alone, a far cry more safer than traveling by land. I also know first hand of the tragedies involved. As a reporter I was befriended by a hot-air balloonist. He was a sponsor of a group launching a balloon race from Santa Catalina Island to San Diego. An experienced woman balloonist lost control in tricky channel winds and was killed. The race was the first and last of an annual event.