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Published: Tuesday, 7/21/2009

Are We Not On Board With Zac Sunderland's Nautical Adventure?

G'morning, Hack:

Well, it's sort of a sports-themed blog post today.

Two words: Zac Sunderland. Yes, I know. The story of the 17-year-old who just finished sailing single-handedly around the world dates all the way back to late last week. But I'm still thinking about it - a lot - and the question I keep asking myself is:

Would I let my child set sail alone like that?

The kid was 16 when he left on his 13-month journey, completed Thursday in Marina Del Rey. Now, I'm not someone who disparages teenagers.

Really. I know that, as a class of people, they're not nearly as vapid

and self-absorbed as pop culture and mainstream media reports suggest. I

know this.

But I'm not entirely sure that, when my own was 16, she could be counted on to keep her focus while journeying to take out the garbage. And I don't think she's so atypical. You know what I mean?

Of course, Zac is born of sailors. His father is a Southern California boat designer and builder, so no one in that household of seven children mistakes any line on board for a "rope."

But my question isn't about sailing. It's about parenting. As

ref="http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-zac-sunderland6-2009jul06,3,366

1090,full.story " target="_blank ">this

Los Angeles Times story reported:

...the wisdom and judgment of his parents were debated on Internet

comment boards.

"It's not negligence," says Marianne, a mother of seven, who points to her eldest sons's extensive sailing background and adventurous spirit.

"It's just that we're not accustomed to living inside the box. We pay our taxes and do things legally, but what's the harm in letting a kid pursue his dream?"

When I read those words, I found myself nodding in agreement. Yup, sure, make sense: Embrace life, kid! Have at it!

But then I read, in that same LAT story, some of what it means to "embrace life," in an account of Zac's close call with piracy off the Indonesian coast, where a "mysterious boat" appeared out of nowhere:

The 60-foot wooden vessel did not appear on his radar screen. He tried unsuccessfully to raise its crew on the radio. He changed direction it changed direction.

Winds were light and he could not escape, so he clutched his satellite phone -- his lifeline -- and dialed his home in Thousand Oaks.

A sister answered. Laurence Sunderland heard his son's panicked voice, grabbed the phone and rushed into his office. Zac's heart raced as he digested the instructions: Load your pistol and flare gun, then issue a radio security alert with your position.

Fire a warning shot if necessary, but at the first sign of aggression, shoot to kill because they'll try to kill you.

Laurence recalls: "For two hours we're sitting here not knowing what the situation was or whether Zac could handle it.".

While I like to think of myself as the kind of parent who'd never stand in the way of a child determined to pursue her dream, if I'm honest with myself I admit my support would probably be conditional. I'm on board only if it makes sense to me and seems relatively safe.

The Zac Sunderland story is fabulous. I applaud the kid. But if he were my son, I'm both sorry and relieved to admit that I'm pretty sure this is one story that would never have been written.

How about you, Hack? Would either of your two now-grown girls have gotten your blessing for an undertaking so epic?

Hoping the wind is always at your back,

Bert

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Dave Hackenberg Dave Hackenberg
Enlarge

Dear Bert:

No.

Heck no.

H-e-doublehockeysticks no. See ya' next week.

What? The editors want me to write more? Sigh.

I've told this story before, most recently in a column last year when my eldest daughter got married. I mentioned that maybe a week after her 16th birthday, on the day she got her driver's license, Amy also got her first speeding ticket. And I was supposed to let her sail solo around the world?

I would have hesitated to let her sail solo around the Burger King parking lot.

My other daughter, Beth, happens to be visiting from Pennsylvania. Her boyfriend, Alex, is with her. A few minutes ago, when I mentioned I had to interrupt my hard-earned vacation to write this blog entry, they asked me the subject. So I told them the story of Zac Sunderland, including his close brush with pirates.

Alex is in his mid-20s and already, thanks to Uncle Sam, has seen and experienced more than most of us would ever care to see or experience while serving two years in Iraq. He is an outdoorsman - a hunter and fisherman and boater - and is a gun collector as well. He mentioned that to go along with all his guns, from the antiques through his hunting weapons, he has about 8,000 rounds of ammunition at his home in Pennsylvania.

And he said fully armed and with all 8,000 rounds, you wouldn't catch him getting into a boat and taking on pirates at sea.

Smart guy.

I can't say the same for Zac's parents. His mother said her attitude on life and parenting is not a matter of negligence. She's wrong.

That's it Bert. I'm going back on vacation now. If the editors want me to write more, tell 'em I said no, heck no, h-e-doublehockeysticks no!!

Your buddy,

Hack

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Readers: Have something to say?

E-mail:

dhack@theblade.com

roberta@theblade.com



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