Sailboat voyage ends in clash over parenting

By the Herald editorial staff

The blogosphere still tingles with anonymous outrage directed at 16-year-old Abby Sunderland's parents for letting her set out in a sailboat to circumnavigate the globe.

There also is equally anonymous outrage directed at the critics for denouncing Abby and her parents.

Both sides came about because Abby ran into a storm in the Indian Ocean that destroyed her boat's mast under a towering wave.

Other teens of Abby's age succeeded in sailing around the world, or climbing Mount Everest or accomplishing other spectacular feats without facing such an onslaught of criticism.

But Abby was struck by a wave, leading to an expensive and successful search for which someone will have to pay.

Advice on parenting has been plentiful. Abby's parents have been called criminal by some for letting her go and courageous and wise by others who think a properly prepared 16-year-old should be allowed to pursue her dream.

It's tempting -- it always is when writing editorials -- to say the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

But we don't think so.

To us, both positions seem correct.

Parents who would not let their own teenagers undertake such adventures likely didn't raise their children to be prepared for such risks. They would be right to balk at the ludicrous notion their unskilled offspring ought to sail off around the world.

But obviously Abby's upbringing included lots of solo sailing. Add to that the fact that she was halfway around the world when her boat was dismasted. That sort of thing could happen to a 60-year-old sailor with a world of experience just as easily as to a 16-year-old girl.

Other bloggers who say they would let their loved ones set out and applaud the Sunderlands' decision probably have raised their youngsters with a strong inclination toward self-reliance.

And it is essential to add that the parents aren't the only factors here.

The right decision depends on the teens themselves. Some may be ready while others are incredibly ill-prepared for the risks. It's a matter of individual experience and ability.

NBC News, in discussing the Sunderland girl's voyage, brought up the case of Jessica Dubroff, the California 7-year-old who died in 1996, along with her father and a supervising pilot, when the overloaded Cessna airplane she was supposedly "piloting" stalled after a questionable takeoff into a storm in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Jessica was trying to be the youngest person ever to pilot a plane coast to coast. (By FAA requirements, she was not the official pilot of the plane but her father, before the last takeoff, said she had been at the controls all the time up until then. Father and daughter were in a hurry to complete the cross-country flight before Jessica's eighth birthday.)

The Herald editorialized at the time of Jessica's death that 7 was entirely too young to be allowed to attempt such a thing.

There are greater differences between 7 and 16 than just the years.

Whether Abby Sunderland adequately was prepared for her voyage is a separate issue from the outcry over who will pay for her rescue.

It has a touch of malice in it.

Instead of rejoicing that she is safe, some folks seem to want to punish her -- or her family -- because she survived.

They give more credence to the act of nature that sent a gigantic wave her way than to the extraordinary skill that brought her, alone, through some of the most dangerous ocean passages in the world.

It almost is as if Abby is being blamed for not dying, and someone has to pay for it.

That usually is not what parenting is about.