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The New Young Adventurers

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.


Abby Sunderland

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.

Jordan Romero

The issue is that both Jessica Watson and Abby Sunderland were just 16 years of age during their adventures.  Jordan Romero was just 13!

Jessica Watson

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.

A dream!

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?

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The Will to Live

The earthquake disaster in Haiti is a tragedy with the deaths of over 100,000 people plus countless more injured and many more homeless.  The world has rallied, raising millions of dollars to help the poor people of Haiti to rebuild.  Out of the rubble comes the inspirational rescue of a young 7 year old boy, Kiki and his older sister, Sabrina.  Eight days after the 7.0-magnitude quake devasted Haiti on January 12, 2010 the world witnessed a smiling, Kiki raising his arms in triumph as he was rescued from his destroyed home in Port-au-Prince.  The image is one I will never forget and instantly became my feel good moment of 2010 and it will take a lot to beat.

A smiling Kiki is pulled from the rubble of his Haitian home

Throughout the years I have seen examples all over the world of ordinary people, in extraordinary circumstances, who have stared death in the face and lived to tell the tale.  Kiki’s rescue reminded me of some other inspirational examples of their will to live and of those who risked their own lives to rescue them.  I would like to share three more examples that have touched me.

Beaconsfield Gold Mine Disaster, April 2006

Todd Russell and Brant Webb emerge from the mine shaft which had trapped them 1km underground for 14 days

A mine collapse at the Beaconsfield Gold Mine located in Tasmania, Australia occurred on April 25, 2006 killing one man and trapping two more men approx 1km underground.  The world watched on for the next fortnight while rescue teams tried to reach the trapped men who were confined to a small area of space not large enough to even stand up in.  Brant Russell and Todd Webb were eventually rescued on May 9, 2006 and the first the world saw of these two brave men was when they stepped from the underground elevator, arms raised high in jubilation looking incredibly healthy and happy.  They then clocked off by punching their cards as I am sure they were keen to collect all of the overtime that was definitely due to them.  These two brave men, beat the odds and were able to tell their story to the world, including a media tour of the USA and an interview with Oprah.

Stuart Diver is rescued after 65 hours in sub zero temperatures and trapped in the rubble of his Thredbo home

Thredbo Landslide Disaster – July 1997

On Wednesday, July 30, 1997, a landslide in the NSW snowfield town of Thredbo saw the collapse of two lodges killing 18 people.  Rescuers combed through the horrific scene searching for survivors and eventually, on Saturday, August 2 they heard the faint cries of help from Thredbo Ski Instructor, Stuart Diver.  Stuart was uninjured but extremely cold, lying naked in the ruins of his apartment with the body of his beloved wife, Sally only inches away from him.  Over the next 12 hours, Australia sat glued to their televisions (myself included while I was on my honeymoon and my birthday) waiting for Mr Diver to be freed from the collapsed lodges.  When the first images of Stuart Diver were broadcast, the relief that was felt across the country was enormous not only for Mr Diver but the pride and admiration we felt for the rescue teams made us all proud.

Tony Bullimore, Round the World Yachtman, January 1997

Earlier that year, in January of 1997 the world watched as an upturned yacht, The Exide Challenger, skippered by Englishman, Tony Bullimore competing in the Vendee Globe single-handed non-stop round-the-world race, was drifting capsized in the huge seas of the Southern Ocean approx 1,500 south of Perth, Australia.  A distress beacon was the only form of communication from the stricken yacht and no one knew whether the experienced sailor was alive or dead.  The Royal Australian Airforce repeatedly flew P-3 Orion sorties to the scene in an attempt to determine the fate of Mr Bullimore while the Royal Australian Navy dispatched the HMAS Adelaide from Perth on a rescue mission which would take 5 days through mountaineous seas to reach the area of the upturned yacht.  On arrival at the scene and with French sailor, Thierry Dubois on board, who also needed rescuing when his yacht also capsized involved in the same race, the HMAS Adelaide deployed a rigid hull inflatable boat to the capsized yacht.  When the crew banged on the hull of the yacht, a very relieved Tony Bullimore swam up from within the yacht to be greeted by his Australian rescuers and to the waiting world media.

The stricket yacht, Exide Challenger, drifting in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean
Tony Bullimore minutes after being rescued from his capsized yacht by crew from the Royal Australian Navy ship, HMAS Adelaide

The will to live enabled all of these exceptional people to survive in trying circumstances.  I don’t know if I could have done the same and I hope I never get the opportunity to see if I would.

Do you remember these incredible survival stories?  What were your thoughts at the time?  Can you think of any other examples of incredible survival stories?  Let me know in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading.  Your feedback is always welcome.