OT: Abby Sunderland is Missing

Submitted by the_big_house 500th on June 10th, 2010 at 5:17 PM

I'm not sure if this has already been posted but if you have been watching the news, 16 year old sailor Abby Sunderland who has attempted to sail around the world has now dissapeared some where in the Indian Ocean this morning. Her parents have lost all contact with her and in an ocean where 50 to 60 ft waves are common, this situtation has now become grave. I pray for her and her family that she is still alive.




June 10th, 2010 at 5:19 PM ^


Two boats are headed toward Abby Sunderland's vessel but won't be there for another 40 to 48 hours, said her brother Zac Sunderland, speaking briefly to reporters from the doorway of the family's Thousand Oaks house. At first light, the Australian Coast Guard also intends to fly over the area, he said.

The family remains optimistic that the 16-year-old is still alive because a beacon triggered when the boat sinks has not been set off.



Zac Sunderland said his sister had three emergency beacons. Two are on the boat and one is on her life vest. Two of the beacons have been manually set off.

The third is a deep-water automatic beacon that is triggered by salt water and goes off when the boat has reached a depth of about 15 feet. That beacon has not gone off. The boat is built with water-tight compartments and his sister could be huddled safely in one of those, even if the vessel has capsized, Zac Sunderland said.



June 10th, 2010 at 5:35 PM ^

Why do we let our children play sports where they could get severly injured (baseball, football, etc.)? Because they are passionate about it.

As long as you do your best to prepare them for the worst (pad them up, make them wear their helmet properly, etc.)  ....

Sounds like her parents equipped her well (three emergency beacons and a sat phone on a boat with watertight floatation compartments, ect.).

This is no different than an adult doing the same thing, and frankly there are many adults out on the water far less prepared than she is.


June 10th, 2010 at 6:18 PM ^

... I love this site and the commentary, but there have been far stupider comments than this. 

I, for one, think it's absolutely incredible that they would have this confidence in their child and do not baby their children.  We shelter our children so much these days.  There are risks -- yes -- but there are great rewards, as well.   

"The person who goes furthest is the one who is willing to do and dare."


June 10th, 2010 at 7:34 PM ^

That quote at the end of your post is pure sophistry.  Not allowing your minor child to sail solo around the world is not sheltering him or her.  It is being a good parent.

Children are not equipped to make good decisions in these kinds of cases (and don't even think about saying Abby wasn't a child).  They simply cannot comprehend the tremendous risks of ultra-hazardous endeavors.  That's what parents are supposed to be for: to guide their child down the right path until that child is capable of competent decision making.  Our society recognizes this fact through various laws (e.g., child labor laws and minimum age requirements), through the promulgation of governmental institutions (e.g., child protective services), and through its court's decisions.  In Roper v Simmons, the Supreme Court held that a person cannot be executed for crimes committed while they were a minor largely on the basis of its finding that minors possess a "lack of maturity" which results in "ill-considered actions and decisions."  The Court in that case also noted that "Even the normal 16-year-old customarily lacks the maturity of an adult."

Roper gets at the heart of the issue here: minors are too immature to make good decisions when the stakes are high.  Abby Sunderland is (was?) a minor, and she had an incomplete understanding of what she was getting herself into.  Her parents were supposed to be there to protect her, to help her gain sailing experience, and to tell her to wait a few years before pursuing her dream.  They didn't.

In some instances, there is room for differences of opinion as to what constitutes good parenting.  Some parents see no problem allowing their young children to keep guns in their rooms, while others find the idea abhorrent.  There can be no room for debate, however, when the issue is exposing your child to tremendous risk of harm.  Here, the parent has an affirmative duty to assist the child in avoiding such risk.  In recognition of this, the Guiness Book of World Records stopped recognizing "youngest" records; the publishers did not want to provide an incentive for parents to breach their affirmative duty to protect their child from serious risk.

Abby Sunderland's parents breached their duty to protect her.  They utterly failed to be good parents to her.  As a result, Abby may have suffered the ultimate consequence.


June 10th, 2010 at 8:14 PM ^

... quotes like " There can be no room for debate" are poisonous.  There actually is always room for debate if you have an open mind. 

You quote legal precedent in a completely irrelevant context -- committing stupid crimes -- to support your assertion that all children are incapable of making good decisions all the time.  

Good decision making comes from experience.  If this girl was an expert sailor, and it sounds as if she was, she is quite capable of making good sailing decisions.  She may not be able to make good decisions about whom to date or what crowd to hang out with in high school, but I'd rather have her skipper a boat than a 18 year old frat boy who "society" recognizes as an adult. 

We cleary aren't going to see eye to eye on this.  I just think I would have loved to have parents who would support me in such grand dreams and help me prepare to achieve those dreams, even if that meant exposing me to elements that could put my life at risk.


June 10th, 2010 at 10:33 PM ^

She may not be able to make good decisions about whom to date or what crowd to hang out with in high school, but I'd rather have her skipper a boat than a 18 year old frat boy who "society" recognizes as an adult.

What does being a better sailor than Fratty McStrawman have to do with it?  I'm a better choice than a 300-pound couch potato to run the 100m dash at the Olympics but that doesn't make me qualified to do it anyway.

And you totally mischaracterized marlon's argument.  He very specifically qualified the situations in which kids can't be expected to make good decisions, multiple times.  Nowhere did anyone say, as you claim, that "all children are incapable of making good decisions all the time."  He clearly did not say that.

When it comes to sailing, any expert at all will tell you they make stupid decisions all the time.  All the time.  Being capable of making good decisions doesn't mean you always will.  I'm sure the family is going through all sorts of emotions right now, but surprise really shouldn't be one of them.  If it is, then they didn't know the dangers and were reckless.


June 10th, 2010 at 6:53 PM ^

My comment is directed more at the OP in this string of comments. I just posted it against this one because he is refuting the validity of a rebuttal against that post, which makes me believe he is in agreement with the original statement. He also gives a specific age of 16, which is why I brought this up.

I'm pretty sure that's not arguing an altered point, it's just continuing the conversation.


June 10th, 2010 at 6:59 PM ^

Yes it is. There is inherent risk in any sports activity: football, skiing, jetskiing, sailing, etc. My football playing son may not have as high of odds of dying, but he has higher odds of serious injury.

My point is, if her parents felt she was mature enough for the voyage, and did what they could to safely equip her, than I don't see any difference between her attempting a circumnavigation, and a 18 or 20 year old. Furthermore, because her parents embraced her dream, she is probably better equipped and more likely to survive than a similar 18 or 20 year old doing this on their own.

Ever read the book Dove?


June 10th, 2010 at 6:27 PM ^

But I would venture that the risks for injury or worse in a solo sail around the world are far more likely than the risks for serious sports related injuries.

As a 16 year old, she is certainly as able to make this journey as any adult.  However, there is much to be said about the wisdom and maturity that comes with age, which can't be overlooked when we are talking about making decisions that put our lives in harms way.


June 10th, 2010 at 5:58 PM ^

Everything you said is probably right on the money. I pray for her and hope for her parent's sake that she will be found unharmed. Despite everything you listed above if that were my daughter and this happened I don't think I would ever be able to forgive myself. Thankfully it sounds like precautions were taken in the case of an event like this.


June 10th, 2010 at 7:35 PM ^

before I had children.  I'll go on a limb a guess you don't.  Some may consider 16 to be an adult, but there is no way someone of this age would have the necessary experience to even attempt this.  If she is not ok, I can't even fathom the guilt the parents will feel.  I hope for the best and that she comes home safely and quickly. 


June 10th, 2010 at 8:41 PM ^

I have three children.

I have sailed all my life. I read the book Dove when I was young and dreamed about doing exactly what she is doing. I also spent four years on the bridge of a Navy ship in the middle of the ocean (which I grant is not the same a ocean cruising sailboat).

In the book BTW, the author's parents forbid the author from attempting a circumnavigation when he is a yougn teenager, so he buys a dilapidated old life boat, and tries to do it himself which ends in disaster. Later his father decides that it is better to equip him, and let him go, than try to stop him.

It depends entirely on the kid, and whether as a parent you think your kid is skilled enough, and mature enough. I am assuming the parents sail, and they certainly have made the same evaulation and decision before. They knew the risks, and made a decision. I am sure if she is lost, they will question that decision.

Obviously many people don't agree with me, but I do not think her parents were negligent.


June 10th, 2010 at 8:56 PM ^

I doubt Abby's parents will feel much guilt if she dies.  People who make decisions as egregious as the one they made in letting her take this trip are irrational, and they operate on a different plane.  They won't see their daughter's death as the consequence of their own poor judgment as parents, but, instead, as something akin to an "accident."

turd ferguson

June 10th, 2010 at 7:07 PM ^

i'd argue that this is over the line for an extremely mature 16-year old, too. teenagers -- even smart, mature ones -- are extraordinarily bad at understanding that actions have consequences and their futures can be fundamentally affected by today's decisions. that's why tobacco companies try to get people hooked before they're mature enough to appreciate the consequences and (partly) why militaries target such young recruits.

although i'm a fan of letting kids make mistakes and learn from them, i'm also really damn happy that my parents helped me avoid any terrible ones that i'd deeply regret later on.


June 10th, 2010 at 7:20 PM ^

I can appreciate these sentiments, but my overall point is that she is probably going to do this when she is 18 with or without her parents' support. I would imagine if her parents didn't allow her to use their sail boat (an assumption I'm making, so correct me if I'm wrong) that she would probably use something much less safe, but more affordable. Without support, she probably wouldn't have the 3 beacons or any communication with land.

So, her parents have 3 options. Don't support her on this at all. Don't support her until she is an adult and can legally make her own decisions. Support her now.

I think the first is a poor choice and the latter two are basically equivalent. If her parents did not think she could do it, I would think they would choose to wait until she was 18 and hopefully she is ready at that point.


June 10th, 2010 at 5:23 PM ^

I hope those emergency beacons stay up long enough for the Aussies to locate her and direct the ships headed in her direction. The reports said she had 20 - 25 foot seas when they last spoke, and her boat had been knocked down twice by high wind gusts.

Hope they find her.


June 10th, 2010 at 5:43 PM ^

I can't fathom why she and her parents thought this was a good idea.  The risk far outweighed the reward, and the worst case scnerio couldn't have been all that hard to imagine.

Too many people put their well being at risk for fame.  I sincerely hope that she is ok, but I have a hard time being overly concerned, not because I'm a heartless SOB, but because of the situation she put herself in with the apparent support of her guardians. 


June 10th, 2010 at 11:01 PM ^

Her brother Zac recently did the same thing and completed his journey safely. He was also 16 years old. These kids literally grew up on a boat. Zac starting sailing when he was 4. His family has spent their whole life sailing all over the world as he and his sister were home schooled. Seeing Zac do it probably made his sister think she could. Im not telling anyone how to raise their kids and this is obviously a very dangerous trip, but these two kids are probably more experienced than a lot of sailors out there.  


June 11th, 2010 at 7:27 AM ^

"but these two kids are probably more experienced than a lot of sailors out there. "

I don't know why people keep saying this.  More qualified is not the same thing as qualified.

And no, they're not really more experienced.  They're 16 years old!  They literally cannot possibly have more than a few years of honest-to-god sailing under their belt.  People die sailing around the world all the time, and these are people who have been sailing for twice as long as Abby Sunderland is old.


June 10th, 2010 at 6:13 PM ^

If a parent encouraged their child to stand outside during a lightning storm, child protective services would conduct an inquiry into that parent's fitness to be a parent.  I see no distinction between that hypothetical and this situation.  Abby's parents have not merely allowed their daughter to attempt a solo circumnavigation of the globe--they've aided and encouraged her to do it.  This is a prime example of unfit parents, and they ought to be taken to task for what they've done.  Same goes for that father who lugged his 13 year old son up Mount Everest.  It doesn't help, of course, that the media largely overlooks the moral questions of these events in favor of glorifying the child's achievements simply because it makes for a good human interest story.

A Case of Blue

June 10th, 2010 at 6:31 PM ^

I sometimes think this has to do with these kids being incredibly privileged - perhaps that's why the media overlooks the moral concerns.  To climb Mount Everest and a host of other mountains or to sail a forty-foot boat around the world (hell, even owning a boat that size isn't cheap) requires a lot of money.  I wonder if classism doesn't play a part.

A Case of Blue

June 10th, 2010 at 6:27 PM ^

I hope she's safe and sound. 

Even though I don't agree with the idea of a sixteen-year-old sailing around the world solo, she's brave, confident and accomplished, and most importantly, she's loved and needed.


June 10th, 2010 at 8:02 PM ^

In 1996, a 7-year-old girl was killed when the plane she was in crashed on landing.  Her name was Jessica Dubroff, and she was attempting to become the youngest person to fly across the U.S.  Now, Jessica wasn't flying the plane when it crashed, but that's not the point.  The point is that Jessica never should have been in that plane to begin with.  She was a 7-year-old child; she should have been in school or playing with her friends.  Instead, her media-hungry parents allowed her to try to set a record because she "requested it."  That's right.  When a 7-year-old told her parents that she wanted to fly a plane, they didn't tell her to wait ten years, they piled some phonebooks onto the pilot's seat and told her to give it a go.  Fourteen years later, Abby Sunderland's parents did the same thing.


June 10th, 2010 at 9:34 PM ^

I noticed this statement from her parents:

"We are working closely with American, French and Australian Search & Rescue authorities to coordinate several ships in the area to divert to her location. There are several ships in her area, the earliest possible contact is 40 hours. We are actively seeking out some sort of air rescue but this is difficult due to the remoteness of her location. Australian Search & Rescue have arranged to have a Quantas Airbus fly over her location at first light (she is 11 hours later)"


Speaking for French, Australian and American folks everywhere to these parents, I hope your child is ok, and she is returned to you safely and she lives a long and happy life with your family.  At the same time you as parents should be responsible, and pay for every drop of fuel that plane takes looking for your lost child along with paying for the crew of the plane, and every other dime of expense that crops up because YOU put your child into this situation...



June 10th, 2010 at 11:25 PM ^

Instead of criticizing her parents for letting her go, criticize them for under-preparing her. She just got the boat a month before we left, with little time to learn it, break it in, etc. Also, I read that her offshore time was limited before she left; she only had a few nights alone in the boat. Finally, she left late and shouldn't be going through the Southern Ocean in winter.

Her brother Zac, the British kid who went around at the same time, and Jessica Watson (who is the same age and just finished a nonstop circumnavigation) all made it around, so it seems relatively easy. It's not, and it's unfortunate Abby's in trouble.

I hope they find her soon, but I expect it won't end well.


June 11th, 2010 at 7:54 AM ^

It sounds like they had an angel watching over them. Hopefully, Abby will be one and done with this type of expedition.

As a side note to the article above, and I do not mean to sound crass, but who is paying for all this boats, planes and man hours that this search and rescue is taking? I would guess the tax payers of Australia and other countries involved are none too thrilled if they are in the same sort of financial upheaval that we here in the US are experiencing. 


June 11th, 2010 at 10:54 AM ^

I have been trying to find a proxy for statistics.

researchers found that death rates among fishermen in Alaska worked out to about 1.07 deaths per 10,000 full-time fishermen between 2000 and 2006

The car accident death rate for teen male drivers and passengers is more than one and a half times female teen driver (19.4 killed per 100,000 male drivers compared with 11.1 killed per 100,000 female drivers.

Deaths Due to Unintentional Injuries, 2000 (Estimates) Source of data, National Safety Council, Injury Facts, 2001 Edition (age 15-24) Auto 1:10500

So, an Alaskan fisherman (whoes job is arguably more hazardous or as hazardous as Abby's voyage, and yes there are Alaskan fishermen who are teenagers) has a 1 in 9,345 odds of dying, while a female teenager has a 1 in 9,009 odds of dying in an auto accident.

But she's 16 (not 7 by the way). Experienced ocean sailors and racers are dismasted as well. I don't see that her age had anything to do with being dismasted: the wind and seas did. The author of the book I referred too above lost a mast at least twice in his voyage and had to jury rig and sail to safety.

Yes, her parents had a choice about whether to allow her to sail around the world. And as I have said before we all have choices whether or not to let our teenagers undertake risky activity. They chose to equip her as safely as they could (a 40 foot boat, three emergency beacons, sat phone, radar, life raft, land based advisory support, etc.), and then let her go.

The one questionable decision I can see, is the decision to transit the Southern or south Indian Ocean at a time of year known for sea conditions as bad,or worse than she has experienced. That represents an increased risk - but one similar to the one Alaskan fishermen experience.

Her odds of dying are about the same as the odds of a 16 year old girl driving a car (or half the odds of a 16 year old boy).

P.S. thankfully she has been located in relatively godo shape, and will hopefully be rescued tomorrow. Between the emergency beacons, and her communications with the aircraft crew, it appears she has responded well in a crisis.


June 11th, 2010 at 11:55 AM ^

I would argue there are fishing boats in the same size range as her 40 foot boat, and when the weather is rough for her, she puts up the storm sails, heaves too, battens down and rides it out in relative safety inside. A commercial fisherman is routinely more exposed to rough seas and dangerous gear.

I could not find sports injury statistics (there were some on football, but not by age), nor ocean racing statistics. The list of teenage fatality rates were lower than other accident types (falls, drowning, gun related, etc.), but I chose driving because all parents face that decision at some point to let our teenager drive. Her parents chose to put her in the equivalent of a big Mercedes with the Mercedes onstar like service available for consultation at every turn.

As I said, the one decision I would question is the timing. (Which, ironically, is the same type of decsion that ended the life of the 7 year old pilot.)