Thursday, June 17, 2010

Teaching Sailing and Learning..

A couple of people suggested that I comment on the young lady who was attempting to sail around the world and recently got dismasted by a major storm.  You need to be aware that for a number of years I taught how to sail, small boat seamanship, piloting and cruising for several local charter companies.  I hold a Coast Guard license for 100 ton ships (now retired)--sounds large but they aren't.  Small tour boats, whale watching boats, things like that.  But primarily I taught aboard sailboats.  I like sailing and have sailed in a number of boats for around fifty years....mostly in Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands (British Columbia, CA) and Desolation Sound (also BC).  I like teaching and I like giving back to my sport or hobby.

However, a few folks who know me asked my opinion about how I felt about the family who let their fifteen year old daughter go sail around the world by herself.  My first reaction to these questions was to follow one of my idols, Lionel Hardcastle (As Time Goes By--TV series) (Geoffrey Palmer) lead in that " is none of my business what that family does. It is their business."  But my friends persist in their questioning.  "She is so young!"  "They have no right to let her go out on the ocean that way."  "They are being negligent parents."

I've thought about this since Abby Sunderland left many months ago on her pink boat.  At that time to myself I wished her well.  And in my opinion she has done well.  So have her parents.  Abby is one of six children (with one more on the way) and from what I've read the children all appear to be independent, intelligent young folk.  I think "parenting" is just that--getting your child to be an independent, self secure and intelligent person.  Man, would I like to have Abby in my high school classroom.  She would be a delight to teach.  She might even teach me somethings.  This is one mature young lady and my hat is off to the parents to raising her.

Once again, my favorite sociologist, Margaret Mead, has documented that many societies send their young out into the world in some form of danger to prove that they are worthy of being adults.  True, it is mostly the boys, but some cultures demand much of the girls as well.

And before some say what a dangerous challenge Abby undertook lets look at some facts.  The boat is a retired round the world racer with five sealed compartments to keep it afloat.  It is called an Open Sixty and is rigged to be sailed by one person.  The boat is a technological wonder with winches that permit Abby to change configuration of the sails, solar power panels to recharge batteries, a special bed to allow her to sleep no matter what the conditions, special storage areas, and electronics that are amazing.  She had gadgets on board that would announce other boats in her area, gadgets that would tell her if she was off course, radios that kept her connected to her family as well as support team back in the states, and computers to tell the world how she was doing.  She was blogging in the southern forty.  And she knew how to operate all this equipment.  

But she hadn't just set off with no training--she learned from her brother who had already gone around the world in a sailboat.  She had on a number of occasions ferried other boats to other ports for their owners.  She had made several ocean journeys.  She had the education necessary to take on this challenge. 

For those who haven't followed this story, her boat was hit by a major wave during a storm and she lost her mast.  Without a mast, she is basically dead in the water.  It was time to call in help.  That itself must have taken courage.  The Australian government sent out a plane, located Abby and her boat through some great electronics and then coordinated a rescue by a major French fishing boat.  Now if I know the French they are avid sailors--they probably were racing to get to save Abby.  I can hear them say (in French of course), "'tis an honor to pick you up, Miss."  This is the law of the sea--we help each other.

I had great parents when I taught grade school.  I couldn't ask for finer parents.  They were interested in their children and wanted them to succeed.  I suspect Abby Sunderland's parents are the same way.  Supportive and nurturing.  I'm glad Abby is safe and on her way home.  Well done, Abby. 


  1. I'm with you, Les! We want kids to excel, to try new things, to not be afraid to fail. How in the world are we going to do that if we don't teach them to take risks? Why is it different for a 15 year old than an 18 year old?

    And, I want to BE in that kid's classroom when she returns!