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Late last week, an American solo sailor, Abby Sunderland required rescuing after her yacht, Wild Eyes, was damaged in wild seas in the Indian Ocean. A rescue effort from Australia was launched with a chartered Qantas jet flying to the scene of the emergency transmission to locate the stricken yacht. The yacht was located and radio contact made with the sailor. A French fishing boat in the Indian Ocean headed towards her and the following day rescued her.
Late last month, Australian solo sailor, Jessica Watson fared much better when she successfully completed her voyage, circumnavigating the planet in a 210 day epic journey in her boat, Ella’s Pink Lady.
Also in May, an American, Jordan Romero climbed to the summit of the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest. Starting from the Chinese side of the mountain, the climber has now climbed the highest peaks on 6 of the worlds 7 continents.
The issue is that both Jessica Watson and Abby Sunderland were just 16 years of age during their adventures. Jordan Romero was just 13!
When Jessica Watson sailed her yacht to the starting line in Sydney from Mooloolaba on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, prior to setting off on her quest, she collided with a bulk coal carrier which caused minor damage to the yacht but major damage to the credibility of Jessica’s parents. The criticism levelled at the Watsons who were allowing their teenage daughter to undertake the arduous voyage was sustained and vicious. They were given a ravishing on talk back radio and on the TV news channels. Letters to editors and editorials in the papers questioned the judgement of the Watsons. How could they allow their daughter to attempt this world record at such a young age? How could they put their daughters’ life in danger? They responded by saying their daughter was mature, well trained and very, very well prepared. As it turns out now and as history will show it, Jessica completed her voyage and sailed back into Sydney Harbour to a hero’s return. The Prime Minister of Australia was there to meet her as were tens of thousands of pink wearing Aussies. The fears of so many were quashed and Jessica and her parents were able to sail into the sunset, job well done.
The same can’t be said for Abby Sunderland and her parents. Being American, we in Australia have been sheltered by any media backlash prior to her journey so I can’t say what the reaction was like back in early January prior to the start of her world record attempt. However, when her emergency beacons went off last week and no one was sure what kind of trouble Abby was in, the chorus of critics started to sing loudly. As it turned out, Abby was safe. Her yacht had been knocked down several times with the last knock down de-masting her boat and ending her dream of circumnavigating the globe.
All of the criticism levelled at both of these teenagers and their parents is based solely on their age. It didn’t matter how prepared or how well trained they were, people who didn’t know either of these young ladies labelled them too young to undertake such a risky and dangerous voyage. Yet people who knew these girls better than anyone, their parents and family and friends allowed them to go on these journeys. Their supporters and sponsors and mentors also know them better than Joe Public. Don’t you think it is up to these people to make the decisions?
Yes, if either Jessica’s or Abby’s parents thought their child couldn’t handle it I am certain they would never have allowed them to leave in the first place. The simple fact of the matter is that it was the parents’ decision based on years and years of knowing their children. No one knows them better.
I guess Abby Sunderland summed it up best when she wrote on her blog in response to her age and that being the reason she had to be rescued:
“There are plenty of things people can think of to blame for my situation; my age, the time of year and many more. The truth is, I was in a storm and you don’t sail through the Indian Ocean without getting in at least one storm. It wasn’t the time of year it was just a Southern Ocean storm. Storms are part of the deal when you set out to sail around the world.
As for age, since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?”
She has hit the nail on the head. She ran into a storm and a giant wave knocked her down and ripped off her mast. Mother Nature doesn’t discriminate. Whether it is a tornado in Oklahoma or a Tsunami in Indonesia or a hurricane in New Orleans, people of all ages are affected.
A case in point. Tony Bullimore was rescued from his yacht, deep in the Southern Ocean, in 1996. He spent 4 days in his capsized yacht before being rescued by the Royal Australian Navy. The difference? He was 57 at the time of the rescue. Mother Nature also vented her awesome power and it almost cost him his life. Age had nothing to do with it.
So where to from here? Do we stop teenagers from following in the footsteps of explorers and adventurers of yesteryear? Where would we be without Burke and Wills? What about Christopher Columbus or Capt James Cook? Would America and Australia have been discovered without these brave explorers? They sailed across the same oceans as Jessica and Abby, in tall ships with nothing to guide them except the stars. They knew nothing of reefs and inherent dangers. They left on voyages lasting for months with no hope of rescue if they encountered problems.
At least Jessica and Abby had up to date technology to assist them. Survival suits and EPIRB’s and distress beacons and satellite phones and the internet and flares and survival rafts not to mention their yachts are built to state of the art safety measures with radars and satellite navigation to guide them on their way. Everything they could possibly need to succeed and to keep them safe is available and, as was the case with Abby last week, worked.
She was successfully rescued due to the fact that her safety equipment worked exactly as it should have.
There is an argument about who should pay for the rescue and briefly, I think that we should. When you start throwing up obstacles like cost of rescues and insurance etc, perhaps this will prevent people from embarking on these adventures in the first place.
I love the fact that Jessica and Abby and Jordan had a goal and a dream to do something so grand. At their age I was too busy trying to pick up girls and serving customers at the supermarket. In today’s world, most teenagers are busy playing computer games and surfing the internet. Some are vandalising property. Some are taking on the world and winning. I say well done kids. You are giving hope to thousands of other kids out there and showing that with the right attitude and with a dream, anything is possible.
As this famous quote from Star Trek states:
“To boldly go where no man has gone before”
To me, this doesn’t have to mean just a destination, but an attitude, a desire, a voyage.
So what do you think. Are these kids too young? Should there be a minimum age before allowing them to embark on these dangerous adventures? Would you let your kids do it?