Yesterday evening I found myself in the middle of a discussion between two Australians regarding the Abby Sunderland story. Seems they both felt that a) Abby had no business being on the ocean at that age, b) she should be in school, c) her parents pushed her into it for fame and fortune, and d) the Australian government should not be picking up the tab for her rescue.
I’ve already covered my disagreement with their objection to Abby’s parents allowing her to attempt the voyage. I stand by my reasoning from yesterday and will touch on that again briefly.
As to their complaint about the cost of rescuing Abby. I thought it was quite admirable when the Australian maritime authority publicly stated they would not be seeking compensation for the search and rescue operation conducted at the far edge of Australian waters. I commend them on taking that stance despite having to charter private jets twice to reach her position.
“We’ll do whatever is required,” Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith told a radio station. ”As a maritime nation, we have these responsibilities and we always discharge them properly.”
Abby’s boat, Wild Eyes, is presently adrift in the Indian Ocean and has a value reported to be between $120,000 and $200,000. I’m almost certain that Australia would be awarded salvage rights to the vessel if it were to tow it back to shore. Perhaps with a new mast, the government could sell the boat and recoup the costs of the search operation. It would be a little bit tacky, but considering the other option being considered right now is to scuttle and sink the boat, I suppose it is alright.
The Australian people are considered by Americans to be one of our top allies. We appreciate the strong relationship and history of cooperation between our nations. We both broke free from British rule. We worked together in Word War II to defeat Japan. It is a bit of a disappointment to hear citizens of Australia disparaging that relationship over the rescuing of one lone experienced sailor adrift at sea.
Abby may be only 16 years old but she had already proven her mettle on the open sea. She sailed around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope – daunting tasks for any sailor. She endured winds of more than 50 knots and waves cresting more than 30 feet. To quote her father, Laurence Sunderland. “This is like second nature to Abigail. She’s lived over half her life on yachts.”
I do not believe Abby would have been better off in school these past five months. There is no doubt she learned more about herself and developed greater confidence, mental toughness and focus then she would have learned in any high school classroom. She will be better prepared for college as a result.
Watch videos of Abby preparing for the voyage and it is quickly apparent she loves sailing and was amped about the voyage. After she came ashore in South Africa, ending her record-breaking quest, she repaired the boat and continued on her way. The journey is more important to her than the record.
Fame and fortune is quite fleeting in America. Sailing is not as big here as in Australia or New Zealand. The America’s Cup barely gets mentioned in sports media. The hardships Abby encountered have gotten her mainstream media coverage (although I don’t recall the same happening for her brother, Zac, when he completed his own around-the-world voyage last year). She’ll be on some talk shows in the future. She’ll write a book. There’ll be a straight-to-DVD movie release about the journey . However, recognition will quickly wane and, come the fall, she’ll be just another student in her high school.
The head of Yachting Australia, Phil Jones, has been quoted as saying Abby shouldn’t have been allowed to attempt the voyage. I wonder if Mr. Jones said the same when Aussie Jessica Watson went out on her own around-the-world sailing voyage? She completed the trip last month and was also 16 years old at the time she left port on the record-breaking quest.
You can be damn sure if Jessica had run into trouble anywhere near American waters, our Coast Guard and military would have spared no expense to come to her rescue. And we would have expected nothing but a simple ‘Thank you’ in return either. It is what we do every day. It is what all civilized nations do for citizens of the world. We help those in need and ask little in return. No matter the situation. No matter their nationality. No matter their age.