Teen Circumnavigator Sails for Home - NBC Bay Area

Teen Circumnavigator Sails for Home

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    AP
    FILE - In this May 19, 2009 file photo, US sailor Zac Sunderland, 17, of Thousand Oaks, California stands by his 36-foot (11 meter) sailboat Intrepid as he poses for a picture after crossing the Panama Canal in Panama City. Sunderland is scheduled to leave Panama on Tuesday, May 26, 2009, for the final leg of his attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)

    A 17-year-old sailor is expected to arrive in Marina Del Rey Thursday to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone.

    Zac Sunderland set sail June 14, 2008 from Marina Del Rey in his 36-foot sailboat "Intrepid,'' a vessel he bought with $6,000 -- all his savings -- and with the help of his shipwright father, who retrofitted the Islander for the circumnavigation trip.

    "His progress is good so far. He's doing well,'' Laurence Sunderland said, talking by cell phone from his car. "I've got loads of thoughts going through my mind. It's been an incredible journey that I've been able to support. It's been so exciting.''

    "It's hugely exciting. Any father would be proud,'' he said. "He's left a boy and come back a man. It's been a huge inspiration for many people, young and old. I think Zac would agree with me that he would like this to serve as an example for young people to continue doing great things.''

    Zac is off the Baja California Sunday, headed upwind.

    In his latest blog, Zac wrote: "I am still fighting the tight winds on my way back to Marina Del Rey. The weather has warmed up a bit. I guess I have passed out of the cold current I was in. It's been really nice to not be so cold.

    "As I get closer and closer to home it is getting really exciting to be finishing up this yearlong adventure. It is going to be strange getting back but awesome to see my friends from Southern California. Just a few more days.''

    Zac's website, updated daily with his trials and tribulations, has had more than 150,000 hits a day, his father said.

    Zac was in part inspired by Robin Lee Graham's 1974 book "Dove.'' Graham left Los Angeles on a 24-foot boat when he was 15 and circled the globe, though not alone. He also is trying emulate his friend, Aussie Jesse Martin, who completed his own circumnavigation at age 18.

    Australian David Dicks is the current world record holder. Dicks, who sailed in February 1996, at the age of 17, from Fremantle, Western Australia, and supposedly finished the circumnavigation in nine months, finishing his voyage in 1996, aged 18 years and 41 days.

    Sunderland crossed the Pacific to his first port of call, the Marshall Islands, then headed west to Papua, New Guinea, then Australia, the Indian Ocean, Mauritius and Madagascar, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, sailing across the Atlantic and finally, transiting the Panama Canal back to the Pacific and Marina Del Rey.

    Only once did his father instruct him by satellite telephone to load his gun as suspected pirates trailed him off Indonesia. When Zac entered Mexican water, he dumped the gun, since Mexico doesn't allow them, and authorities could seize his boat.

    The previously home-school senior studied on board to finish his high school education during the roughly 40,000-mile journey. He began his journey with more than 15,000 hours of sailing experience.

    To be the new record-holder for youngest solo circumnavigator, all he has to do is get home before January. But British sailor Mike Perham, also 17, is now in the Panama Canal headed east for his home in a similar globe-rounding record attempt.

    Coincidentally, the elder Sunderland said he used to work for a company in England where Perham's father now buys yachts.

    "Basically, they (the Perham camp) came out of New Zealand in November, saying that they be done in four months,'' Sunderland said. "They were humbled by a lot of breakdowns. Zac was a cruising guy who wanted to see the world. Mike wanted to zip around the world. Both are commendable feats. The bottom line is that he'll (Zac) be the first man under 18 to sail around the world. He'll go down in the history books for that.''

    Zac, the oldest of seven children, was partly raised on a boat and came to his love of sailing through his parents, Marianne and Laurence Sunderland of Thousand Oaks.