March 2, 2010 in Sports

If Gilligan, castaways await, Abby will need more silverware

Norman Chad

A little while back, Abby Sunderland of Thousand Oaks, Calif., boarded a 40-foot sailboat in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe alone.

She is 16 years old.

When I’ve mentioned this to others the last few weeks, the reaction is always the same: What type of parents would allow their teenage kid to venture on such a grueling, perilous journey?

I’ll tell you what type – the same parents who allowed Abby’s older brother Zac to complete an around-the-world sailboat trip alone last year at age 17.

That’s right – the Sunderland family now hopes to have two of its children each circumnavigate the globe as teenagers. In my home, we’re just happy if Isaiah and Mia clear the table after dinner and do half their homework.

Heck, I have friends who won’t even allow their kids to walk to the end of the driveway by themselves to pick up the morning newspaper. (Note: This is an apocryphal point on my part since, as I understand it, nobody gets the morning newspaper anymore.) At 16, I couldn’t even figure out how to drive a stick shift; meanwhile, the Sunderland siblings are junior Vasco da Gamas.

Zac Sunderland spent 13 months aboard a 36-foot sailboat, briefly becoming the youngest person to sail around the world. However, he made many stops – his sister Abby is attempting to become the youngest person to go around the world nonstop and singlehanded.

Abby’s trip will put her at sea for six months or so.

“Six months alone is a long time,” she says. Six months alone is a long time? Ah, youthful naiveté – during adulthood, I’m constantly alone for six-month stretches, even longer during most of my marriages.

Amazingly, Abby is not the only 16-year-old trying to become the youngest to sail solo around the globe – what, nobody goes to their junior prom anymore? – as Australian Jessica Watson, slightly older than her American counterpart, is more than halfway through her record-breaking bid.

(Column intermission: Speaking of remarkable female achievement, I have been remiss in not celebrating Kelly Kulick’s sensational breakthrough in bowling, winning the Tournament of Champions. She became the first woman to beat all the men, including Chris Barnes in the title match.)

Home-schooled her whole life, Abby has brought textbooks on board to keep up with her studies – can you imagine trying to figure out the Pythagorean theorem while furling the jib? – and she’s also writing a lot. Naturally, she’s blogging because, well, everyone blogs, plus what else are you going to do to pass the time out at sea alone, watch “The Poseidon Adventure” on DVD?

From her blogs we have learned that she often wakes up to find squid on deck and that she discovered she has only one fork, one knife and one spoon on board which, frankly, is all she needs, because you just don’t throw a lot of dinner parties while zigzagging the Indian Ocean.

Abby already suffered a setback. Less than two weeks after departing from Marina del Rey, Calif., on Jan. 23, she was forced to stop in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – essentially, restarting her trip from that point – to repair some boat malfunctions.

It is an ominous, foreboding 25,000-mile expedition. She has to worry about weather, sharks, her own physical fitness and the possibility of pirates.

“Pirates terrify me,” she says, though if they hail from Pittsburgh, they’d only be dangerous to themselves.

She has to go around Cape Horn in South America, then continue easterly across the treacherous Southern Ocean – above Antarctica – the K2 of the high seas.

One misstep anywhere and she might set ground on the shore of an uncharted desert isle with Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the professor and Mary Ann.

She’ll need more silverware.

Ask The Slouch

Q. What justification does the NBA have to disallow the Mavericks’ Caron Butler from chewing straws during games? (Mark Miller; Fairfax, Va.)

A. It’s a safety issue. Louis XVI reportedly was chewing straws when French peasants stormed the Palace of Versailles in 1789. He was later executed.

Q. If being married to you was an Olympic sport, how do you think your wives would line up on the medals podium? (William L. Patin; Houston)

A. Marrying me is not a medal sport, it’s a mental lapse.

Q. When poker becomes Olympic- sanctioned, will it be in the winter or summer? (Joe Kaschalk; Cleveland)

A. I imagine it will be in the Bellagio.

Q. Did spinach consumption enable Popeye to rough up Bluto or did it merely aid his recovery time? (Jeff Melchior; Brookfield, Wis.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Norman Chad is a syndicated columnist. You can enter his $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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