Local view: Teen sailor embodies courage, while critics enable mediocrity
The recent, real-life drama of 16-year-old Abby Sunderland's attempt to sail solo around the world has set off media motor-mouths and self-righteous "better parents." Incendiary charges are being thrown at Sunderland and her parents, including "g...
The recent, real-life drama of 16-year-old Abby Sunderland's attempt to sail solo around the world has set off media motor-mouths and self-righteous "better parents." Incendiary charges are being thrown at Sunderland and her parents, including "glory hound" and "child abusers."
Those so quick to castigate can please take a breath.
According to news reports, Sunderland has sailed and has been on sailboats nearly since before she could walk. Her father has been a boatwright, a vessel owner and a charterer almost his entire life. Abby herself often delivered sailboats for her father's business, sailing solo on the Pacific Ocean. His kids grew up on and around sailboats with her brother, Zachary, setting the previous record for youngest solo circumnavigation a few years ago. In fact, Sunderland said her brother was the inspiration for her attempt, not some publicity-seeking parent.
Clearly, her family knew long-distance sailing and how to prepare. While there may be some subsequent documentary or TV show, that did not seem to be the reason for the voyage.
Considering Sunderland's experience, preparation and logistical support, who is in more danger: a farm kid feeding an arm-chomping hay baler, a teenage girl and her friends driving from Duluth to Minneapolis for a rock concert, a college student walking home alone late at night on the Lakewalk or Sunderland?
Part of my work includes inspecting yachts for safety, value and seaworthiness. In the past 20-plus years, I've seen my share of starry-eyed, new yacht owners excitedly sail off into a brewing storm with Pollyanna attitudes.
Abby Sunderland, even at 16, had more experience, preparation and level-headed ability than many boaters out there. Rather than brickbats, her parents deserve kudos for raising such a mature and capable daughter. I bet she won't be the 16-year-old daughter tearfully calling home from jail after getting caught shoplifting, or the one at the hospital after doing drugs, or the one unexpectedly pregnant.
No doubt, some of the harshest critics are the same enabling-type parents who end up with adult brats who rarely heard "NO!" while they were growing up and who end up being basement-dwelling ne'er-do-wells. These parents, of course, are the supposedly enlightened adults who 20 years ago insisted all kids in Little League should get trophies just for showing up, lest little Johnny and precious Suzy emerge from their bubble-wrapped upbringing with crippled self-esteem.
Witnessing the prevalence of clueless 20-somethings out there who can't cope with not having everything handed to them, I wouldn't question the Sunderland's parenting style. Instead, I question the money- and status-worshiping, anti-faith popular culture.
Abby Sunderland sailed on a capable, specially built boat with as much safety gear as the Coast Guard. In the end, all the equipment worked as intended, from the satellite phone to her GPS to her cold-water survival gear.
I think Sunderland is a positive role model and an achiever. She's someone who looked at the difficulties ahead, who
didn't blink and who pressed ahead to succeed.
That embodies that uniquely courageous American trait called "pioneering spirit," a trait that seems lost to our current president who bows to despots, cowers to environmentalists, snubs long-time allies and cowardly cuts our space program.
The courage and spirit Sunderland showed are what once made a group of loosely connected colonies bravely become states and then, in turn, a new nation.
Pioneering and gutsy, Sunderland sailed away from the safe shore. And while she and her "Team Abby" family and friends were hoping for the best, they were prepared for the worst and survived. And isn't that the measure of ultimate success?
Capt. Ed Montgomery of Superior owns, with his wife, Jeanne, Sea Service, which does vessel inspections and which operates tugs, barges and other crafts, including pilot vessels in the ports of Duluth-Superior and Chicago.