Homeschooled Teen Sails Around The World

Zac Sunderland

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As of June 1, 2009, Southern California teenager Zac Sunderland is heading toward home in his 36-foot sailboat, with just a few more weeks and about 3,000 miles left to go before he becomes the youngest person to sail around the world alone. The 17-year-old expects to arrive at Marina Del Rey in the Los Angeles area sometime in mid-to-late June. Zac was 16 when he left Marina Del Rey on June 14, 2008.

Zac has spent his whole life on and around boats. His father was always fixing up boats and using them for family cruises before selling them. A sailboat was literally Zac’s first home, and a three-year family cruise was a formative experience during Zac’s preteen years. An experienced young sailor who had already logged over 15,000 sea hours, Zac spent all of his savings to buy a 36-foot sailboat named “Intrepid” for the circumnavigation trip. His father, a shipwright who also runs a yacht management company, retrofitted the ship with sophisticated communications, safety equipment, a water maker, and many other custom upgrades.

Zac is the youngest American sailor since 1965 to attempt a solo global circumnavigation. That was the year 16-year-old Robin Lee Graham departed Los Angeles, but Graham did not finish his voyage until the age of 21. Graham’s book, Dove, was one of Zac’s inspirations. Zac will sail west from Los Angeles on approximately the same course as Graham, but plans to complete his voyage while still 17 years old.

The record for the youngest solo circumnavigation since Robin Lee Graham has been held by an Australian, David Dicks, who was age 18 years and 41 days when he completed his voyage in 1996. Zac Sunderland won’t turn 18 until November 29, so he should easily beat that record. Zac is also following in the footsteps of another hero and friend, Jesse Martin, who completed his own solo, nonstop, and unassisted circumnavigation at age 18.

The eldest of seven children, Zac is a homeschooled straight-A student. He brought books along to study on board so that he could finish his high school education during the 40,000-mile journey. “I have all my books with me. I have one more year to finish at high school and I have to send back my tests (via e-mail) to my mum. She’s going to grade them and make sure I am doing well.”

Zac will have plenty of projects to keep him busy when he returns. He would like to write a book and he also plans to put together a documentary using footage from the eight video cameras aboard his boat. Included in the footage is a pirate ship circling his sailboat between Indonesia and Australia. Locking himself behind the bullet-proof glass of his cabin, he made a call on his satellite phone to notify authorities, who sent a plane that presumably scared off the pirates.

Zac has stated, “My dad says cruising is 80 percent hassle and 20 percent fun, but somehow that 20 percent outweighs the 80 percent. When you’re in port and it’s like a beautiful day and you’ve worked so hard to get somewhere, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Visit Zac’s website:

See Also: ESPN’s June 15 Cover Story

Updated: April 22, 2011 — 2:52 pm


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