Young Sailors' Around-the-World Bids Examined

This summer, two teenagers have sailed solo around the world, becoming the youngest sailors to do so. In the wings are a number of other teens eager to do the same. Tania Aebi, who at 18 embarked on a solo sailing trip around the world two decades ago, says the technological advantages for sailors now is immense.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And I'm Noah Adams.

There's Mike and Zac, Jessica, Abby(ph) and Laura.

SIEGEL: All teenagers with a passion for sailing and a desire to circumnavigate the world alone. Two did it this summer.

ADAMS: Last weekend, 17-year-old Mike Perham arrived back at his starting point of Portsmouth, England. He became the youngest sailor to complete the around-the-world trip.

SIEGEL: The title had been held by another 17-year-old old, Zac Sunderland of California, who completed his journey earlier this summer.

ADAMS: And then there is 13-year-old Laura Dekker from The Netherlands.

SIEGEL: Her attempt to sail around the world was scuttled, at least temporarily, by a Dutch court. She was deemed too young to go alone.

ADAMS: So, why all the interest in sailing among the teen set? We're joined now by Tania Aebi, who's in Corinth, Vermont, who was 18 years old when she started a solo trip around the world, and that was back in 1985. How did that trip go, Ms. Aebi?

Ms. TANIA AEBI: It took two and a half years and it went well. I survived.

ADAMS: You went from where to where?

Ms. AEBI: New York to New York through the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, so the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. The trip itself was great. It was a huge adventure, and it tested me, and it taught me all kinds of things and so on. But the best part of the whole trip was sitting down at the end of it and writing about it and processing the whole experience.

ADAMS: You had quite a different experience technically. You had a sextant, right, and not a GPS?

Ms. AEBI: Yes, that's right. They didn't even exist back then.

ADAMS: And you weren't sending any Twitter messages or any - you weren't on the Web. You write in an article coming up in a magazine that if you Google Zac Sunderland, you get 1.17 million hits.

Ms. AEBI: I did get that at the time when I wrote it. And then, of course, there are less and less. I guess they disappear. I don't know how Google works, but yeah, there was no Internet when I went. There was no cell phone. It was the Dark Ages, really.

ADAMS: And so he was in touch with much of the world for much of his trip.

Ms. AEBI: Zac was.

ADAMS: Zac was.

Ms. AEBI: And so was Mike and so will Jessica. Yeah, they have all their blogs and Web sites and it's changed. The technological advantages are huge.

ADAMS: And you were out there by yourself sighting the stars at night, trying…

Ms. AEBI: I did. I'd get one position a day. With a GPS, you have a position constantly - constantly being updated. There was no communication with land. There was a VHF radio, which carries for 12 miles. So I could talk to other ships when one came within sight of me.

Articles I wrote about the trip were handwritten on lined paper, and I had to put them in an envelope with a stamp. And when I called home, I had to find a telephone booth and make a collect call. It just, it seems like it was so long ago, but not really, 20 years only.

ADAMS: What about those long nights, you know, in a dark ocean, when you're trying to stay awake a little bit, just in case there may be a whale or a container ship floating along. A ship would be, you know, sort of off-course in a shipping channel and couldn't see you, and you wouldn't show up on radar.

Ms. AEBI: You had to suspend a little bit of that fear. Otherwise you can't sleep. I kind of operated on the premise that the chances of being in the exact same spot as a ship at any given time in all that ocean were slim, until I actually got hit by a ship one day, which changed it, kind of altered the way I was able to sleep at night.

ADAMS: You know, when we talk about teenagers, 17, 18, 16, but then we talk about a 13-year-old young woman, Laura Dekker.

Ms. AEBI: Yes.

ADAMS: A Dutch court says she can't go alone.

Ms. AEBI: Yes.

ADAMS: How do you feel about Laura Dekker's situation?

Ms. AEBI: I think technically, she'd probably be okay, especially with all the technological advances that have been made. Emotionally, I don't know. I don't know her, but I have to respect her desire to do it and her parents' belief in her.

I take it a little personally, the criticism, because I fielded that, as well, and I was 18. I mean, I was old compared to these kids now. The thing that I say the most now is that a lot was made of my courage and my abilities or whatever, but my dad's faith in me was the biggest. That was the biggest factor of the whole thing, for him to have had the faith in me that I could do it and to let me go and to give me that chance. And I would have to respect that for these parents, too, because the girl wants to do it. They're not making her go. She wants to do it. It's her dream.

ADAMS: Tania Aebi, who two decades ago sailed alone around the world. She's the author of the upcoming article "Soloist to Soloist" in the October issue of Cruising World Magazine. Thank you, Ms. Aebi.

Ms. AEBI: You're welcome. Thank you.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.