Well. You certainly had a lot to say! When I wrote about 16 year old Abby Sunderland’s solo boat trip, I didn’t realize how passionately many of you felt on the subject – and how your opinions would fall on both sides of the issue. Assuming that Abby’s parents were loving and conscientious, I suggested that they made a responsible decision in letting her attempt her, eventually aborted, around the world trip.
Some of you agreed and appreciated my arguments. Others, both landlubbers and sailors, vehemently disagreed. Clearly, the topic resonated with parents, and since many readers whom I highly respect thought I was way off in my analysis, I decided to give it a second look. However, I ended up in the same place.
Let me be clear. I am delighted that none of my children wanted to attempt such a trip. But then, solo sailing is neither part of our family culture nor were our children trained for such a voyage. On the other hand, there was a period in his teens that my son did consider assembling a crew and heading off for Australia. It would have been pretty hard to crush his plans considering that my husband and I took three children under the age of three sailing from Los Angeles to Honolulu.
Let me be clear about this. Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, the closest I came to an ocean voyage was the Staten Island Ferry. But making a Pacific crossing was a lifetime aspiration of my husband’s and one that he was competent to achieve. While I joke that I can’t believe my mother or mother-in-law let us go, realistically we were probably in more danger each time we strapped our children into their car seats and went to the park. Crossing the Pacific may be less common than driving, but the chance of a random disaster for a well prepped boat, isn’t actually that great. My husband spent years honing his sailing skills. I spent fewer but substantial time becoming familiar with our boat, we planned the specific voyage for over a year and we brought along other experienced sailors (who did double duty as baby watchers).
A number of sixteen year olds, including Robin Lee Graham whose adventure was documented by National Geographic magazine and more recently Abby’s brother have successfully solo navigated around the world. Obviously, it isn’t something lightly undertaken, but I still don’t see it as an automatically reckless activity. Statistically, there may well be more risk in a sixteen year old driving in many localities.
My close friend, Diane Medved (Searching for Bright Light) wrote the following:
I disagree with you, though on your support of Abby Sunderland’s solo journey. It was dangerous beyond just “testing herself.” I remember the movie Bofinger where the very stupid actor is asked to run across the freeway, which he did. Wanting to do something extraordinary is fine, but I do think the word “prudence” has some relevance. I don’t want my kids to take risks with their lives. So I tell them to wear their seatbelts in the car, even if they feel fettered.
Sorry, but I don’t accept the analogy. Running across a freeway is all risk and no reward. It is a no-hard-work required way to flirt with danger for the sake of flirting with danger. Sailing solo around the world is more in league with mountain climbing or stowing away on Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic exploration as nineteen year old Percy Blackborow did.
I have no desire to attempt such a thing and am relieved if my children have no such desire, but those who do often turn out to be the ones who push our societies forward and serve as leaders when we face dangerous times.
I wear a seat belt and would take driving privileges away from my children if they didn’t wear their belts. At the same time I do believe that our society is overly obsessed with trying to remove any chance of physical harm at the cost of focusing too much on that and too little on spiritual dangers, including the crushing of a child’s spirit. In addition, some people feel the need for excitement and physical challenge more strongly than others. I believe that if you don’t give those with that craving a wholesome outlet for that God-given sensation, they will act out that need in unhealthy ways.
So, with appreciation to those of you who let me know your attitudes on the subject – and I do especially appreciate when you “talk” to me through the comment box at firstname.lastname@example.org so that others can join the dialogue as well – I stick with my thumbs up for Abby and her parents.