Given her experience in long distance, short-handed sailing, we thought Lia Ditton could share a unique light on the Abby Sunderland situation. Did she ever.
In order to venture to the Poles, ‘explorers’ must levy a hefty deposit in case of an emergency pick-up, since unlike in the Southern Atlantic no one will happen to be passing. We are lucky enough that in our sport, the oceans are classified as ‘international waters’ and that in the case of distress, Maritime law dictates that a ship must divert or a rescue operation be undertaken.
In having to escrow the funds for a get-out-of-jail plan, there is a weeding out of potential polar adventurers – those that are not compelling about their rate of success, rarely get the sponsor and simply don’t make it to the ice. With RTW sailing records, there is no such rite of passage. If you have a boat and the gumption to do it, off you go and good luck to you. Mountain climbing is the same. Either we will see you when you return or we won’t. Then along came the PLB and the price of an EPIRB came down and suddenly you could be plucked off the mountain if your sleeping bag blew away.
Age sixteen is the legal borderline between child and adult. Few sixteen year olds are not going to cry and bail for home when it all gets a bit ugly. Jessica Watson was somehow different. She was 16 going on 24. She was confident, a good communicator and she undertook her challenge on her own terms, in a sensible boat, an S&S 34. Her campaign was cute and fun. It had personality. Abby Sunderland might also have had the dream to capture the youngest RTW solo record, but sailing an Open 40, leaving at a time of year when she would undoubtedly experience the full brunt of the Southern hemisphere winter- can these have been Abby’s own decisions?
My feeling about the Abby Sunderland story is one of disappointment. She clearly had a sat phone onboard in order to blog. Why didn’t she call when the mast came down? Why didn’t she have a contingency plan in case the mast came down? Why wasn’t she coached through all of this and instructed to start motoring for the nearest point of land? But there will come another child prodigy or maybe Abby Sunderland will recover ‘Wild Eyes’ and have another go. In a way, I hope she does.