Saturday, September 22, 2018

Young Solo Sailor Faces the Furious 50s

Credit: Abby Sunderland Team
Young Sailor leaves Cabo after repair

Abby Sunderland who at 16 seeks to break the world record for age and speed for a global circumnavigation rounds Cape Horn into the treacherous winds of the 50th latitude.

The continuing saga of a quest for a world record by a young lady sailor places her in the annals of people of all ages who have defied the odds and took risks to achieve a goal. On a specially built sailboat called Wild Eyes, a 16 year old California girl, Abby Sunderland, passed the 70 day mark at sea in her journey to circumnavigate the globe alone and to do it in record time. On a navigation that took her south from her base of Marina Del Ray on January 23rd, she passed through the infamous doldrums, rounded Cape Horn and headed north into the Atlantic.

Abby is no ordinary girl. She comes from a sailing family. The 2nd of 7 children, Abby watched her older brother Zac set a world record in July 2009 as the youngest to make a solo global crossing in a sailboat. His 27,500 nautical mile journey over 13 months inspired Abby to test herself. She saw the unbelievable support, both commercial and moral, that Zac received and decided that she would pursue her dream. Her ambition varied from her brother and others before him in that she intended not only to become the youngest to achieve it, but to do it without stopping at any port and in the fastest time. This required the right boat and special preparations. With the backing of her family, Abby and her advisors determined that an Open 40 racing sailboat would provide the speed and safety needed to battle the type conditions that she would face. Early in the trip she had to make a stop in Mexico to fix her equipment eliminating that part of her goal. She intends that is the only stop she will make until she returns to her home port.

During her trip south along the western coast of South America, Abby sailed off the coast from the earthquake that hit Chile in February and destroyed many coastal villages and towns. Fortunately, she did not experience any negative impact form the catastrophe and was able to sail through. Her distance from the Chilean coast helped minimize the direct impact of the earthquake. When people read about events like these that happen without any warning, they fail to realize that there are sailors in the contiguous waters who must handle suddenly ferocious seas.

Earlier in March, Abby sailed through the 40 degree latitude or what to sailors is known as the Roaring 40s. According to Wikipedia (, the name was given, especially by sailors, to the latitudes between 40°S and 50°S, so called because of the boisterous and prevailing westerly winds. Because there is less landmass to slow them down, the winds are especially strong in the Southern Hemisphere. The strong winds made their present felt, but the sturdiness of the boat and Abby’s skill in sailing in all conditions made the trip somewhat routine if such an experience could ever be considered that. A sailor who made the trip through these waters wrote a book about the experience “Alone through the Roaring Forties” by Vito Dumas. Dumas describes in wonderful detail his experience in sailing his 32 foot sailboat through these treacherous seas. His account is a highly readable story of his successful attempt to do accomplish a solo circumnavigation.

With the Roaring 40s behind her, Abby has moved around the tip of South America pass Cape Horn and entered an area known as the Furious 50s. The name given due to the strong winds found in the latitudes between 50°S and 60°S just north of the Southern Ocean close to Antarctica. They are closely related to the weather patterns found in the region. Wild Eyes was chosen because of its ability to handle tough, even extreme, wind conditions. However, no boat sails itself and so Abby’s years of experience and training are essential ingredients in sailing successfully through this region. As she does, she heads north into the Atlantic and an area known for unpredictable weather patterns. The timing of the trip will allow her to miss the hurricane season that starts in late spring and moves into the Atlantic and Caribbean until November.

So Abby sails on. In her own way, she deals with the ups and downs of a long journey alone. There are still many days and miles ahead for her. Be safe, Abby.

Her brother Zac recorded his experience and recently released a DVD about his journey to become at that time the youngest sailor to solo the world. It is available through his web site,

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2 comments on Young Solo Sailor Faces the Furious 50s

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By Theresa H Hall on March 31, 2010 at 01:36 pm

I am thrilled you continue writing about this young sailor. The fact that she is female only serves to make me pray harder for her and to feel a womanly sense of pride.

The courage and determination she possesses is astounding. I'm certain her guardian angels are working overtime, as she has so many millions of people wishing her well.

I shall look forward to your next update about Abby because they are a joy to read.

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By alan handwerger on April 03, 2010 at 12:46 pm

John --

Until I read this incredibly good account of ABby's adventures, I'd just been thinking how cool it was that Katie and Steve are going canoing on a river in France tomorrow.

I still do, incidentally -- but ... Go Abby!

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