Global Crossing

Four teens and the quest to be the youngest to sail around the world

Escape // Christian Beamish // 08/09/10
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Jessica Waters takes the wheel

Mike Perham's portrait from the sea

Laura Dekker's "the Guppy" boat

Zac Sunderland looks ashore

Last week we were reminded of an article that appeared in our April/May issue about teens sailors attempting to circumnavigate the globe alone when 14-year-old Dutch teen Laura Dekker won her legal battle against child protection services. She set sail last week for Portugal, and if she succeeds she will become the youngest teen to complete the journey: is built for speed. The sailboat’s fiberglass hull knifes through the water, its narrow bow flaring back to a wide stern section like a futuristic bomber covered in corporate sponsor logos. Returning to homeport, Mike Perham, 17, holds two burning flares aloft in celebration of becoming the youngest person to sail around the world alone. It’s August 27, 2009, and the young man from Hertfordshire, England was wrestled his prize from Zac Sunderland of Thousand Oaks, Calif., who is four months older, and only 37-days earlier had become the world’s youngest solo circumnavigator. Zac’s sister, Abby Sunderland, who hopes to win the distinction of “Youngest Around the World” by completing the trip at 16 years of age. She has competition though, as Miss Jessica Watson of Australia, also 16, has already embarked on a solo circumnavigation effort of her own. But if the courts in Holland allowed it, both girls would have to worry about Laura Dekker, who is only 14.

What is this? Do these youngsters represent some kind of “Generation Super-Achiever?” After the so-called “slackers” of Gen X, perhaps this next wave, with their seemingly inherent knowledge of media platforms, are in fact a new breed –teens of the new millennium who dash off incredible feats before they think of where they might apply to college. And right on. Still, a slight undercurrent of doubt might swirl at the motivation for these undertakings. It seems the emphasis on the record books and the heavy use of technology is at odds with the simple longing–ancient and long honored in human history– to travel the seas by sail. Though the dream remains the same, the daily blog posts and big sponsor money throw these adventures from the inward and the solitary into the realm of public spectacle.

Captain Joshua Slocum, the father of single-handed circumnavigation, certainly used the media to support his dream of circling the globe by sail –and if he had a satellite Internet connection, it’s likely he would have maintained a Web site too. As it was, Slocum wrote a captivating account of his 1895 to 1898 travels, Sailing Alone Around the World and made extensie lecture tours to promote his work. Still though, his journey was of an entirely different character than those current quests to break records and gain public recognition. Alas, this is the world of today.

Read the rest of this article in the digital edition.

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Originally published in April/May 2010

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