Posted by: laughs4dads | June 14, 2010

…without a Paddle

I’ve been writing this month about all the things parents have to worry about these days.

I should point out, though, that there are parents who actually go out of their ways to create things to worry about. As recently documented in this blog, that includes parents who allow high schoolers to go to foreign resorts on spring breaks, or parents who allow their toddlers to develop smoking habits.

For an extreme example of this type of parent, one need not look further than last week’s headlines about 16-year-old Abby Sunderland, whose folks allowed her to take an around-the-world cruise by herself.

Now, when I say “cruise,” I don’t mean on Carnival. Abby was on a small sailboat, equipped with all kinds of high tech safety devices but, alas, no midnight buffet. And when I say “by herself,” I don’t mean with lots of strangers. I mean alone.  As in “Tom-Hanks-talking-to-a-volleyball” alone.

Her parents were criticized for letting her set out from California in January, which would mean she’d be in the Indian Ocean during winter.  Yes, that would have been my main criticism as well: “Great idea letting your teeneaged daughter out alone on the high seas, but you might want to rethink the timing.”  I don’t care how good a sailor Abby might be.  I don’t care if Abby is the Christopher Columbus of teenaged girls.  You can’t send her out on her own.  To get an idea of the magnitude of this error in judgement, consider the trouble teenagers can manage to get into at the mall.

When my daughter, Casey, was 16, we used to tell her to not drink and drive. I think we could have figured out to also say, “And, by the way, don’t circumnavigate the globe by yourself in a small boat.”  (We probably would have added, “But if you do, call us to pick you up.”)

This is what Abby’s mother told critics before Abby set off: “Could there be a tragedy? Yeah, there could be. But there could be a tragedy on the way home tonight, you know, or driving with her friends at 16.”

Yes, that’s a good point. And don’t forget, Abby was going to be a lot less likely to crash into a tree!

In any event, on June 10, the Sunderland family experienced every parents’ nightmare. Their daughter seemed to be lost at sea.

Okay, maybe not every parents’ nightmare.

Anyway, Abby, who had last blogged about rough waters north of the Kerguelen Islands, was suddenly incommunicado. This was quite alarming, since she apparently had more communications devices on her boat than I have in my house. Not to mention, evidentally, access to wi-fi. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me; why wouldn’t there be a Starbucks in the middle of the Indian Ocean?

A family spokesperson, Jeff Casher, said that emergency beacon signals indicated that “she’s drifting, not sailing.”  She probably could have used the oars that her parents didn’t have in the water, if you get my drift.

Well, Australian authorities got mobilized faster than if they had been offered free Fosters. Thankfully, a team of experienced spotters flew out from Perth in an Airbus 330 and found Abby in a remote section of the ocean off Madagascar. A family spokesperson, William Bennett, said that the mast had broken off Abby’s boat.

Abby’s adventure raises a number of important questions:

  1. The Sunderland Family has not one but two spokespeople? Doesn’t that mean they’re rich enough for Abby to have flown?
  2. How come Abby could make calls from the middle of nowhere, and I can’t get more than one bar in some areas of New York?
  3. If Abby had made it to one of the Kerguelen Islands, would she have met Hurley and Ben?  (I, for one, was much less than satisfied with the finale of Lost.)

I’m glad Abby’s safe. And I’m happy that her parents can afford to pay the bill for the boat repairs and all the search and rescue efforts.

And I’m happy I don’t own a sailboat.

Addendum: After I posted this, the news this morning brings word that Abby’s father is actually broke and had been trying to sell a reality TV series, Adventures in Sunderland, based on the exploits of his many children (seven, I believe).  If money was tight, he might have first thought about selling the boat…and maybe firing at least one of the spokespeople.

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