Friday, June 11, 2010

A melange of thoughts - sailing, life, ageism, metaphors, reality

I've recently stated a coupla times in a coupla different places that I intend to be more creatively positive instead of being reactively negative in my posts. To lean toward meeting that goal, lemme start this post on a positive thought and and continue mostly in the vein, with maybe just a little snarkiness sneaked in there, like a dash of wasabi used to enhance the flavor of a dish. [No! "Snuk" is not acceptable, unless you're the kind of person who says "on accident."]

Abby Sunderland is a person I admire greatly but not because *I* want to do a solo circumnavigation and feel envy when I think of her. I love to sail and I enjoy having time alone but I have no desire to sail around the world just for the sake of doing it and I certainly don't wanna spend that much time alone. I admire her because she is a person who had a desire and pursued that desire in the face of tremendous opposition. From outsiders, anyway. Her family obviously supported her and I say kudos to them.

Currently, Abby is dismasted in the vastness of the Indian Ocean She was knocked down several times in winds gusting over 60 knots and large waves. Her radar was torn away in one of the knockdowns. Her engine compartment flooded. Her satellite phone went out. Oh woe! Oh horror! Blah, blah, blah.

For those of you unfamiliar with sailing, allow me to inform you that shit happens on a boat, especially a boat which is in tough conditions and has been at sea with no break for months. Abby is an experienced sailor, her boat is well-founded and perfectly-suited to survive difficult conditions, and she is well equipped. She has a dry suit, survival suit, life raft, and ditch bag with emergency supplies. Wild Eyes is designed for travel in the Southern Ocean and is equipped with 5 air-tight bulkheads to keep her buoyant in the event of major hull damage. It is built to Category 0 standards and is designed to self-right in the event of capsize. She has two EPIRBs, one of which is automatic and turns on when submerged. Etc. This was not some spur-of-the-moment decision undertaken without forethought or planning. This (young) woman was experienced and prepared. Speaking of her age…

Alexander the Great became king at age 16 and then resolved the riddle of the Gordian Knot (by chopping through it with his sword, which is precisely how he became ruler of Asia Minor), subsequently totally ravaging the Middle East, and pressing on into the Indian subcontinent before his death. We all love the story and artifacts associated with Tutankhamun who became pharaoh at 9 and ruled Egypt for a decade before his death. These are just a couple of examples from history of people we now call "teens" and think of as "children." It is only in very recent Western history that we've infantilized teens and defined them as a form of "child." Returning to thoughts of Abby and her age in the context of attempting a solo circumnavigation, MJ was 12 when we moved aboard the Zombie Princess. Chloe was 11. I'd rather have either of them as crew on a difficult passage than a lot of people I know who are 30-something, or 40-something, or whatever. Calendar age is a meaningless measure of… well, Hell!, almost everything. Robin Lee Graham set out on a solo circumnavigation at 16 in 1965 with his boat Dove, which, compared to Abby's fabulous 40-foot, specially-crafted Wild Eyes, was a 24-foot production P.O.S. (A Lapworth Gladiator. I've never been a fan of Lapworth's designs.) with no GPS, no Satphone, no EPIRB, etc.

Wait. That's too much detail. This post is only peripherally about sailing. Sailing is just the specific context for Abby Sunderland. And a few others. What this is about is life. A life of freedom and choice and self-direction. In response to natterings about the dangers of ocean sailing, Abby's folks countered with the dangers of driving on the freeway. Naysayers demurred, complaining that the two were not congruent. No, they're not congruent at all. Driving is much more dangerous than deep-ocean sailing on a yare craft. I reiterate a position I've stated a time or two: If you don't know what you're talking about, you should learn a bit before you comment or you should shut the fuck up.

To Abby, Abby's family, and other self-directed, autodidactic teens out there, I say: I support you. I love that you are pursuing your dreams, whether that dream is a solo circumnavigation or a desire to be a manga artist. Keep going after whatever it is that you want. Ignore the annoying cawing of the doom-crows. Listen to your own inner voice. It's your life. Live it.


Robin Graham's Dove

Exploring manga art

P.S. Ben Lovejoy forced me to write a song about Abby. It's here.


  1. Love your thoughts on this, Frank! I fully agree.

    And I too was thinking I need to steer myself away from the negative and snark ;)


  2. Well said, Frank. :) I didn't realize so many people were against Abby taking that trip. It seemed so exciting to me and it sounded like all the necessary safety arrangements had been made...

  3. Nicole, you danger-courting liveaboard you, thanks! (wink)

    Colleen, I was prompted to write about this because there were even (soi-disant) unschoolers demeaning Abby. Given that, I had to say something.

  4. Glad to hear your perspective on this, particularly since it's an area where you have IRL experience. On hearing about this, I felt worried for her, but also knew that this trip wouldn't have been something embarked upon without careful consideration. There are risks inherent in practically everything. I'm glad Abby has people who support her and her passion.

  5. Kirsten,

    A solo circumnavigation is inarguably "dangerous." *How dangerous* is a subjective assessment, as is *how prepared* is the sailor, whatever their age. Like I said, it's not something I'd wanna do, but if I were to do it, I'd be VERY happy to have her boat and equipment. Top-notch and heavily biased toward safety, whereas some circumnavigators prep their boat to favor speed or other factors.

    Like you said, practically everything (fun) is (more or less) risky. Assess the risk, prepare as best you can, then (I say) go for it!

  6. Very well said, bravo!

  7. Those last 4 sentences are great. "Doom-crows"?! Love it!


  8. Thanks, Jess. I tend to swim in the ocean of mythology and in European tradition the crow is often the harbinger of doom. I used that image once before on my blog when I spoke of "the cawing of dystopian crows." I liked that phrase a lot.

  9. Thanks, Anonymous! Always great to hear positive feedback from the mysterious unknown.

  10. I love this - I learn something (rather, manythings), I laugh, and I pump my fist in the air and say "Yes! What he said!"

  11. Snicker! Thanks, Laura. There'll be a test on what you learned. Next post. Maybe I'll make it True/False. Multiple choice is always good.

  12. Well said my friend!
    At 16 I was in another country and continent, pursuing my dreams, luckly with my parents blessing.
    Make big decisions, living with people that my parents did not know.
    I was learning my craft, working day and night.
    I travelled most of the United States doing so.
    It was an awesome experience.
    I know most parents thought mine were crazy to let their just turned 16 year old drop school and go work in another country thousands of miles away.
    I am so glad my da and specially my mom were behind me 100%!

  13. No, my dear Alex, you never need to proofread for me. Speak your heart and mine will hear and understand.

  14. Those who are the most fearful, the most derisive about a teen (or anyone) pursuing that which they love are those who don't take risk I suppose. Those who live a life sheltered in the illusion of safety, who don't step too far away from the familiar and never have great stories to tell. Hurrah for the Sunderlands and those like them, who face their fears and move forward, who embrace their passions and recognize the inherent danger in being alive....but keep on truly LIVING!

    We all have the same end to our story...we die. How that story is told between birth and death is up to us. I want mine to be full of risk and passion.

  15. I really like the point you made about how we infantilize teenagers. In some cultures, children "come of age" around 13. Trust children. Did you read the article about the playground the kids in Germany built?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  16. Exactly.

    Your last line reminds me of the quote I plastered on my monitor this week:: "Wherever you go, go with all your heart." ~Confucius


  17. Ren, you are absolutely on the money. As always.

    Heather, yeah. Amazing what kids can do, huh? Actually, no it isn't amazing at all! You and I know how competent kids are!

    Denise, I like that quote.

  18. Frank, I used to sail with my dad all the time and loved it. Got my sailing license (in NC) at 14 and sailed alone before I could even drive a car. I fully support Abby's journey and totally admire her for doing it. We were just discussing her at dinner, Geoff (DH) knew more details about her than I did. Anyway, we were both of the opinion that the world needs more kids with that kind of spirit! I can't believe she's not getting more support! :)

    Isn't there a kid who wants to solo fly an airplane around the world but they won't let him because he's only 13 or 14?

    Kim Z (can't seem to log in)

  19. Ahhh! Hi, Kim! Sorry you had trouble logging in. I don't know about the flying thing, except that in the U.S. you hafta be 16 before you can solo as a student pilot and 17 to obtain an actual license, minimal PP-ASEL (private pilot - airplane, single-engine, land). Other countries tend to be more restrictive than the U.S. so it seems that 17 would therefore be the absolute minimum threshold for a "youngest solo pilot" effort.

  20. Yeah! What Frank said. Times ten. We get this on a different level with the freedom we allow our 5 year old around the water/ boat/ marina. I always repeat that a suburban neighborhood and houses with large flights of stairs and padded cells for wee ones and streets are FAR more dangerous than the community we have on the water. Not to mention, the boy has real smarts about the real dangers around him rather than being falsely protected from the boxed in world. Don't get me started. :)

  21. Well put Frank, I thought what Abby was doing was inspiring. I agree with Ren, what kind of life have you lived if you live it avoiding risks and adventure?

    It's a dangerous business, going out your door.

  22. Hi, Cindy, you evil child-endangerer! Letting Zach run wild and taking him out on the wild ocean on that nasty, plastic, easy-to-flip catamaran! The horror! The horror!

    (Can I share some horror with y'all?) (grin)

  23. TJ, you're calling my name. "Safe" was never a word I embraced and I don't think it'd be fair to wrap my kids in it.

  24. I am right with you on this. A friend of mine was killed in an avalanche this week. He was 27. He, posthumously, has been given a lot of flack for doing dangerous things, particularly because he had a 5 year old son. As an unschooler myself I feel vigilantly that everyone has a right to be free. Free to make dangerous choices. There is not a right or wrong way to live a life. People all over the world live day to day in far more dangerous situations then I will ever encounter whether it be swift moving rivers that need crossing, war, poisonous snakes, etc. We get to have our LIVES. Claim your life. LIVE in whatever way your heart calls you toward. There is no safety anyway. It kinda looks like I need a blog of my own. :)

  25. Kirstin, thanks for commenting. Maybe you should start your own blog! (grin) Meanwhile, feel free to comment as much as you want here.

  26. There are certain dangerous things we don't lets children do. I think Abby's Dad was seeing dollar signs as we has been shopping for a reality show. Doesn't that bring back memories of that little kid who faked the fact that he was "Balloon Boy" Makes me a little sick. Check out the article in the NY Post dated 6/14/10 about this reality show that Abby's father was intending to do

  27. Anonymous, thanks for sharing your opinion. I'll simply say that this in no way reminds me of balloon boy and, aside from that, I'll let your comments speak for themselves.

  28. Not doing dangerous things does not garantee that nothing bad will NOT happen to you.
    A dear friend is on ICU tonight in an induced coma as he collapsed running yesterday morning. A long time runner, super healthy and fit guy that did not smoke, drink and only ate healthy stuff.
    He did all the things "right".

  29. Fear cannot control our lives. We would accomplish nothing. Although as a mother, it is very difficult to set children free. Mmc