By: Madge Woods
I have been following Abby Sunderland as she travels alone around the world in a sailboat. In the beginning I was concerned that her parents were not stopping her in this journey but actually encouraging her. I soon changed my mind. Abby is 16 years old and has been on the water since infancy. Her brother at age 17 went around the world last year successfully. I hear people talking about the cerebral cortex not even fully formed in Abby’s brain and thereby making it impossible for her to know risks or make thorough decisions. Not sure it applies to her. I started to wonder how much I would encourage my children, my grandchildren, to explore uncharted waters and follow a passion at any age. What age is okay and what age is dangerous?
As I have followed Abby by her blog, I realized that she is so well prepared and such a level-headed teenager. She is different from the teenagers I have known. She has a gypsy in her that allows her to have the hubris to believe she can do something this difficult and survive. I know teenagers think they are invincible but this is different. She has been challenged throughout the voyage, thus far ending with her adrift in the Indian Ocean with no sail and no communication satellite, waiting to be rescued. As I look back over my life I realize that I never really tested myself to the limit. Sure I took risks but nothing of Abby’s magnitude. I encouraged my sons to be more adventurous and they traveled more than I had by the time they were 20. They married much later than I did. They explored life in a different way than I did. They quit jobs and started new careers in their 30’s. They followed passions which were harder than most. One jumped off a bridge with a bungy on his back. One was on TV for 7 years as a sports broadcaster (his dream from age 5) and then quit when he married and had a family and started a job that was commission only. I often thought I could sell shit to someone who had diarrhea but I never tried it.
With Abby facing daily challenges, she has shown her might and her ability to remain calm in a storm (literally) and continued to make choices by herself and with her team. Some decisions were made spur of the moment and in the middle of the night with waves knocking her sailboat to the side with sails in the water. She had her lucky charms but her real charm is in her desire to show real courage. She is not afraid and makes wise choices (like giving up the record and going ashore in Africa) because there were real harmful issues with her boat. She was eloquent in efforts to explain how and why she made those choices.
I am more than impressed with her and wish I could be more adventurous. I know my friends think I am more daring as I travel to third world countries by myself (but on a tour) and I paint and write, but somehow, those passions don’t resonate like Abby’s. I tried as a mother to give my sons latitude in their choices and supported them when I felt able and dissuaded when I was anxious. But anxiety can’t rule your life. It ruled my 20’s thru 40’s but now in my early 60’s I am more out there than ever before and you know, I like myself better than any time in my life.
As I was waiting to hear if they would locate Abby last night I realized that if she didn’t survive she would have died doing what she loved and would rest in the ocean with the beauty and dignity that the journey commanded. How many of us can say that? She knew the risks; she prepared herself for them and, as a rescue is now imminent, she has done an amazing job.
I thought of her parents’ unconditional love, support and faith that their daughter knew enough and was responsible and would survive yet another challenge. They were extremely worried, I know, but continued to believe in Abby. I think of her as wonderful example of courage –to explore this world in a unique and privileged way, knowing all along it could end badly but having the love and passion from her family, team and the thousands who have traveled along with her on her blog. I think we will hear from Abby again whether she continues this journey or starts another one. She named her boat “Wild Eyes” and I truly believe it represents who she is and what stamina, courage, faith and the love of the ocean she has in her eyes and heart.