Abby Sunderland comes from a unique family. But, as I've come to notice, most homeschooling families don't walk down the well-trod path. They tend to choose the road not taken. In Abby's case, her father didn't want his kids growing up glued to the TV set or addicted to video games. He wanted them to live life, not watch it.
He endeavored to accomplish this by moving his family to a boat and living on it for a number of years. Both Abby and her older brother Zac became competent sailors working with their dad. By the age of thirteen, Abby was single handedly sailing boats to and from ports. This was also the age when she began to dream of sailing around the world, unassisted and alone.
Abby makes an interesting comment about her age group:
...there are all these minivans driving down the road with bumper stickers that say, “My child was Student of the Week at Smith Elementary”..But guess what? Every child gets to be student of the week. It's like we, as kids, aren't expected or required to reach higher, to be different, to do anything special in order to get some kind of warm, fuzzy award... (pg.93)
By the time she was sixteen, her dream became an ambition. Her older brother Zac had already broken the record of youngest person to sail solo without assistance around the world. His record was broken shortly thereafter by another, even younger, sailor but if Abby sailed and succeeded she would hold the record of youngest sailor.
Unsinkable is an account of Abby's endeavors to attain this record: how she raised support, selected and bought a suitable boat and all the people and technology that went into making her dream a reality. Most of the book is a description of the nuts and bolts that go into putting such an ambitious project together. It nevertheless also includes personal accounts of the different people that gave of their time, energy and technical know-how to get a boat designed and geared up to deal with high winds, waves, and keep Abby connected to the rest of the world through satellite communications via her blog and phones.
It's pretty amazing to read Abby's first hand narrative of trouble shooting all the different problems that seemed to consistently arise during her journey. Amazing and suspenseful:
The wintry wind screamed across the deck, and I could tell it was now holding up near fifty knots. Imagine standing on the roof of a car that's driving down the freeway. ...As the mainsail flogged crazily in the racing wind, I had to climb all over the boom and do the monkey thing to try and get it down. But the way I was clipped in to the jack-lines my harness line didn't reach far enough for me to get the job done. So I unclipped it, wrapped it around the boom to shorten the line and clipped it back onto itself. Then I started working to get the sail down.
At that moment, a huge gust slammed into the mainsail like a train. The autopilot snapped into standby.. The boat heeled over to port as if a giant hand had smacked her down and I tumbled over the top of the mainsail toward the water. Terror ripped through me as I was falling, falling, falling toward the sea. Wild Eyes (the name of her boat) was nearly mast down in the water when my harness line jerked me to a stop.....(pg. 125)
That is only one of many instances where Abby found herself in a tight fix but managed to work her way out of it. Abby conquered wiring problems, autopilot shut downs and taking sails down during storms-problems that would have caused many a grown man to give up.
Still, Abby does not take entire credit for her success. Brought up in a Christian home that knew the power of prayer, Abby did a lot of that during times of crises. She knows that ultimately God protected her on more than one occasion.
At one point in the journey the line that lowered the sail got entangled around around the mast. With a huge storm coming in, it was imperative that she lower the sail. Going up the mast in thirty-five-knot winds was practically suicide. After several sleepless nights and days and troubleshooting with her team back home via phone calls, everyone conceded that she was going to have to pull in somewhere, thus terminating her chances of making her dream happen as youngest solo sailor around the world.
While still on the phone chewing on this decision Abby decided to go topside and see what the weather was doing.
Suddenly, up in the air, a dark shape caught my eye. It was some kind of seabird and as I watched it fly right over my mast, a burst of joy filled my chest.....I could see the little line that had been knotted around the spreader. It wasn't tangled anymore. (pg. 153)
Of course that sounds like God was going to help Abby with accomplishing her dream. No one can second guess God, however. Abby's next crisis came in the middle of the Indian ocean. A rogue wave capsized her boat. Luckily her boat was designed to bounce back up when capsized, which it did, but it broke her mast off. It was over.
Looking at the stump where her mast was Abby said out loud, Lord, how long have you been planning this? (pg. 161)
I didn't realize how sucked into the story I was until I felt my eyes welling up with tears when I realized that Abby had come so far only to be stranded on a truncated boat in the middle of the most isolated part of the world.
The next part of the book is a suspenseful recounting of how rescue teams and a fishing boat that happened to be passing by found Abby which was nothing short of miraculous in itself.
The Sunderlands have been viciously attacked by the news media for allowing their underage daughter to embark on such an undertaking, not to mention the tax dollars involved in the rescue operation. I myself feel ambiguous about it, especially when after reading this book I see how dangerous and risky such an adventure is. It really is miraculous that Abby survived. I don't, however, like to see myself siding with a hypocritical pack of media wolves. I don't believe they give a rip about Abby or any child (where's their hue and outcry for all the youth exploited in Hollywood movies by aggressive stage parents?). Their only concern is keeping their network ratings up.
Still, I wouldn't be willing to give up a year with my son. Or risk his life.
I'll give Abby the last word on the subject:
As I passed weeks alone at sea, especially when watching amazing sunsets or night skies filled with shooting stars, I was so thankful that my parents trusted me enough, and had enough faith in my abilities, to let me follow my passion and try to do something great, even if I might fail. And it was little successes along the way that changed me, built my confidence,and helped me grow.(pg.93)
Unsinkable is a gripping read. Abby's adventure captures the imagination and I think sea dogs and land lubbers alike would enjoy reading her story.
I received this book Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
If you buy this book please do so through my link so I can receive a small commission, thanks!
Outside of books what's my guilty pleasure? Chocolate-lots of it!1