Wild Eyes

I have to say something about the whole Abby Sunderland thing. Abby, 16, saw her attempt to circumnavigate the Earth alone in a sailboat end prematurely when a storm in the Indian Ocean broke her boat's mast, leaving her stranded 2,000 miles from both Australia and Africa.

I'm already sick of hearing all the criticism of her parents, the talk about how at 16 she shouldn't have been out there, and especially about the cost of the rescue operation. She didn't do anything wrong; she didn't make some silly juvenile mistake for the grownups to clean up. A storm broke her mast.

But it's all over the news, and all over the internet: what kind of parents would allow a 16-year-old to do something like this? As if the mast were broken by the sheer force of her age alone. As if waiting a couple years would make a difference; would the storms see that she's 18 now, and stay away? Isabelle Autissier was over 35 years old when she needed to be rescued from the Indian Ocean during a solo circumnavigation attempt; was she too young as well? And yet, Abby's parents are taking criticism for failing to crush their daughter's dream.

Some jackass at the Los Angeles Times writes that, were it his daughter, he would “lock her in her room, chain her to a tree or slip sleeping pills into her oatmeal.” And we're supposed to think he's a good parent? I think we need to alert the authorities about his idea of parenting. I bet he would, however, give his teenager the keys to the car, putting her in more danger than Abby was ever in, and risking the lives of everyone else on the road as well.

I bet he would send his daughter off to college, where she has a one in four chance of being raped. What kind of irresponsible parent puts his daughter into a position where she stands a one in four chance of being raped?

But putting an experienced sailor on a boat to pursue her dream, well, no, that just won't do.

Abby's adventure was surely dangerous, as she knew better than most when she set sail in her specially-equipped boat, Wild Eyes. But I don't think the danger is really what upsets so many people. The real problem is that they dared to stray outside what we're taught we're supposed to do: Stay in school, go to college so you can get a job where you spend all your time sitting in an office never doing anything that matters, waste most of your money buying a house and waste the rest filling the house with crap you don't really need, ensuring you remain dependent on that soul-sucking job, the one you were made to choose before you had the experience to really know what you'd want to be doing ten or twenty years in the future. Have a couple kids so you can pay it forward by discouraging their dreams too.

They say she should be in school. Why? I'm long enough out of high school to have some objectivity, and I can report that it was a waste of four years, a miserable experience during which I learned a bunch of lies that had to be unlearned in college, and a few other things I could have picked up any number of other ways. You don't think sailing around the world is educational? Is sitting in math class secretly texting her friends going to prepare her for life better than that?

People are afraid of things that are unfamiliar or different. Abby's parents aren't. They're not the problem here. Her brother sailed around the world solo, successfully, at 17: where was the outrage then?

For the people going on about the cost of her rescue, suggesting that her parents should receive the bill: excuse me, but this is why I pay taxes. Tell you what, sunshine, next time you're in trouble, don't call 911. Why should we pay to help you? When your kid is in a car accident, shall we send you the bill for everyone who came to help?

At 16, Abby has already done something cooler than anything you've done in your entire life. She's an inspiration. Maybe that's what bothers people; maybe they're jealous. Abby dared to live, and her parents dared to let her.

I hope she tries again.