From Wikipedia: A publicity stunt is a planned event designed to attract the public’s attention to the event’s organizers or their cause. Publicity stunts can be professionally organized or set up by amateurs.  Such events are frequently utilized by advertisers, celebrities, athletes, and politicians.
With the massive media attention that the Abby Sunderland rescue has generated, it’s not a surprise that much of it has found its way here, and the ‘She Sets Off’ thread is now up over 250,000 views. It’s also not a surprise that we’ve gotten complaints that we’ve been ‘too hard on the girl,’ and that we haven’t given her credit for what she’s accomplished. Funny, we don’t see it that way at all.
The truth is that we’ve been cynical about Abby’s trip from the beginning, though if you recall, we wrote back in January that "to us, a young girl accomplishing a solo RTW is a net positive for mainstream exposure to our sport and not a bad thing at all." We’d love to see another cute young girl conquer the ocean, and you’ll remember that we cheered on Jess Watson once it became clear that she could pull it off.
Our cynicism doesn’t come from Abby’s age (although that is hugely relevant to our perspective), or her inexperience, or indeed anything about the girl. It comes from the silly game her father Lawrence has been playing with her life. Abby had a dream – to sail around the world. Her father had a bigger dream; to cash in on Abby’s trip whether she succeeded or failed. Arguably, her failure will put a lot more in the Sunderland family coffers than her succeeding at a non-existent record ever would. The family has managed the moronic public’s expectations every step of the way by manipulating, inventing, and concealing the reality; that Abby really didn’t have a chance; that every difficulty was met not with adaptation or resourcefulness, but instead with the shore crew flying to wherever Abby could meet them. And that the first nasty weather knocked her rig off and sent her squealing for home. Abby should count her lucky stars that it wasn’t a real Southern Ocean storm. Note the pictures of Wild Eyes – with her wind generators still standing straight up, it’s almost a certainty that Abby wasn’t even rolled – she simply lost her rig in big wind and powerful waves, and rather than making even the slightest effort to jury rig or even motor herself somewhere, she threw in the towel. Which, of course, is the only thing she knew how to do.
And of course the family has already jumped on the money-making bandwagon, setting up a PayPal account for "salvaging Wild Eyes" and reuniting her with poor, distraught Abby. You can damned well bet that Abby will be on the talk show circuit minutes after her feet hit the ground, with doting dad hiding behind all the curtains, though amazingly, the mainstream news media actually seems to understand some of the issues – perhaps it’s because our outdoor correspondent friends at the New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times read SA to get the real story on stunts like this.
Perhaps Abby will try again, and we certainly hope she does. It would be wonderful for American girls to have the kind of role model that Australian girls currently do. It’s not like she needs to race around the world, and with a good shore team and the proper timing, she should be able to make it without issue.
For those of you wondering what a truly heroic voyage looks like, just read this thread about Alessandro Di Benedetto. Alone, non-stop around the world in a 20-foot Mini. He lost his rig, too, Abby. And you know what? He built a new one at sea out of whatever he could salvage. That was more than a month ago, and now he’s almost finished his circumnavigation, and will likely set a record. That’s something to look up to.
To close this chapter – for now – we’ll go to someone who’s been in this stretch of the ocean before, the always clear Evans Starzinger. You can find out more about Evans work, and see some of the great resources he and his partner Beth have created for ocean sailors, right here.
The daughter was The Captain. The buck always stops with the captain. She stopped simply being the daughter when she went to sea, and that in of itself was potentially one of the greatest things she could have gotten from this venture.
One of the great and very valuable lessons one can learn from going to sea is personal responsibility and accountability. The mature captain take responsibility for everything that goes wrong and should credit the team for everything that goes right. That’s the correct and ideal attitude. We don’t all get that right all the time. I have been known to occasionally whine and try to pass the buck, and I have had a few more years and miles to mature than Abby has. But deep down every captain needs to know and truly believe that the buck stops with her/him. Even if someone else screws up on their task, its always ultimately the Captain’s responsibility.
She tried hard. She made it quite far and around two great capes. She has made mistakes, just as we all do. Mistakes and failures are often more valuable learning and growing experiences than successes. She now has a decent story to tell. I just hope she has or is learning the right lessons – starting with accountability, responsibility and graciousness. If a 16 year old can have learned or developed those, then this whole venture will have been extremely valuable, if not it’s just a low class media circus.