What Should Abby Do?

By: American Sailing Association, Safety, Weather

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The world was washed with relief this morning when Australian Qantas flight raised Abby Sunderland on the VHF and snapped a picture of her in one piece aboard Wild Eyes. But Abby’s journey is far from over as she waits in huge rollers for help to come. Imagine how it must have felt to see that plane and then watch it fly away.

Photo courtesy of Australian Search & Rescue, via http://soloround.blogspot.com

As soon as she was spotted, public discussion turned to what the appropriate action for Abby to take next is. She is, no doubt, thinking about the same things.

What troubles me is how a media that so recently celebrated Jessica Watson’s successful circumnavigation could lash out so fast at Abby’s setback. Between interviews with reporters, ASA’s Executive Director Charlie Nobles pointed out in his twitter feed, “Being 16 was not the issue here.”

I do not believe that Abby’s choice to activate her emergency beacons is evidence that she’s too young to “handle” a solo circumnavigation. If she had been within range of anyone hearing her, calling “pahn-pahn” to nearby ships might have been technically more appropriate than “mayday” given the situation (dismasting). But Abby knows distress signaling protocols. She was in the middle of nowhere and short-range communications weren’t cutting it. Neither was the sat phone. An EPIRB makes no distinction as to the type of trouble she’s in, but she needed assistance, and wisely called for it with the only method she had.

I’m quite sure Miss Sunderland will complete her solo circumnavigation. It’s just hard to guess when. The only immature decision now would be to rush it for a record. To have even gotten herself out of Marina del Rey took determination, maturity, and commitment to her dream. I look forward to watching Abby soak in the calm after this storm, pick herself up, and continue sailing someday–however long it takes her.

Join the discussion with other sailors on Twitter @__ASA__, #WSAD (What Should Abby Do?)