Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: How old is old enough to sail around world?

The story of 16-year-old solo sailor Abby Sunderland has generated pages of comments on this newspaper’s website and is the subject of a recent Web poll. No doubt letters to the editor are pouring in as well.

Sunderland attempted to become the youngest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe without stopping. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out for her; she had to put into port for repairs. But she persevered and continued on, still harboring a burning desire to finish her solo circumnavigation.

On June 10, literally in the middle of the Indian Ocean, she lost contact with her parents, then two of her emergency signaling devices were activated, thus initiating an immediate rescue effort. Fortunately, she has been found alive and well. Her boat had been dismasted.

The Tribune poll is running 56 percent against her solo sailing circumnavigation attempt, based on “It’s far too dangerous.” The website comments have been overwhelmingly negative too, as have the comments on other websites. My guess is the letters to the editor will be weighed on the negative side. We’ve all got an opinion.

What if one of my kids wanted to solo circumnavigate the globe at age 16? Assuming they were competent sailors — mariners — and I felt they were mentally mature enough to handle the solitude, I’d be supportive. Go for it. Live your dream.

Scores of teenagers have solo circumnavigated without losing their lives. We applaud them when they return home. Courageous! Hero!

But have an accident, or worse, lose your life, and the parents are to blame for allowing it in the first place. They were irresponsible, bad parents.

“Make them pay for the rescue!” many insist. The notion that search and rescue should be fee-based is absurd. Our Coast Guard is searching for and rescuing mariners every day — it’s their primary mission — all without sending anyone an invoice for their service. It’s about saving lives. We do it for mountain climbers and hikers lost in the woods, for someone trapped in the bottom of a well and for anyone else whose life is in peril, regardless of whether they put themselves in a dangerous situation or not.

When it comes to teenagers solo sailing the world, I say let the parents make the end decision. They are the ones who know their kids, not anyone else. I submit there are 16-year-olds far better-equipped to solo sail across an ocean than many others considerably older. It’s not about number of years, it’s about competence; this is proven by the aforementioned scores of teenaged solo sailors who have successfully sailed around the globe already.

I do not believe Sunderland’s parents would have been supportive of her dream had they not felt she was capable of doing it. And bravo to them for supporting her and not thwarting her dream.

Morro Bay resident William Yates is a long-distance solo sailor with 30,000 solo miles under his keel. He has five children, none of whom sail.