Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Unsinkable ( A book review)

Abby Sunderland and Lynn Vincent, Unsinkable: A Young Woman’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011),  221 pages with a 16 page insert of color photos.

In June 2010, the world watched and listened to the news about Abby Sunderland, a sixteen year old who was attempting to sail solo around the world.  In the middle of the Indian Ocean, her boat rolled over, tearing off her mast and her communication gear.  The boat was equipped with beacons that sent warning signals to a satellite and soon Australia (the closet nation capable of launching a rescue effort), sent out a plane in search for Abby and her boat.  Thanks to the precision of technology, they found her boat and were able to learn that she was in good shape.  A French fishing vessel picked her up the next day.  Abby’s disaster occurred just after another sixteen year old woman, Jessica Watson of Australia, became the youngest person ever to travel unassisted around the globe.  At the time, Sunderland’s family was tried in the court-of-public-opinion as people questioned the wisdom of a family sending out their daughter on a round-the-world trip.  This book is an attempt to show the support that Abby had from her family and that the trip wasn’t as reckless as one might assume.  Abby had spent her life sailing.  For several years, she and her family had lived on a sailboat.  A year before her attempt to sail around the world, her older brother had sailed around the world.  She was obviously a seasoned sailor.  In addition, although she was alone on the boat, she was anything but alone in her attempt to sail around the world.  Thanks to communication technology, she was in constant contact via a satellite phone and the internet, with a team that helped her through problems and to plan her course. 

This book is written from two points of view (using two authors): Abby’s and a narrator.  The format works quite well.  I enjoyed reading of the adventure, but found myself wanting to know more, especially the day in-and-out details of sailing a boat alone.  When I was a teenager, I was captivated by the experiences of Robin Graham, who sailed his small boat, “Dove” around the world.  Reading about Abby’s constant contact and dependence on technology made the trip seem less challenging and also made me wonder what the point there is in trying to go around the world without stopping.   Throughout the book, the authors make a point to mention the family’s “evangelical Christian” faith.  Yet, other than mentioning this and noting a few prayers, little evidence is seen of their faith until Abby gets in trouble in the Indian Ocean.  There, where storm after storm batters her boat, prayer comes to the forefront.  I found myself questioning if the early mentions of faith had to do with the book being published by company known for their religious titles. 

At the end of the book, there is a glossary of nautical terms and a nice outline of Abby’s boat, “Wild Eyes” which was helpful and made the reading more enjoyable. 

It took me a few days to get my hands on this book to read because my daughter grabbed it first.  At 13, she is about the age I was when I read Graham’s accounts of sailing around the world.  She started reading and wouldn’t put it down.  I wonder what influence this book might have on her life for I am sure that Graham’s journeys (although I’ve never done in long-distant sailing) influenced my tendency to be a bit of a vagabond.   Abby’s parents should be praised for encouraging their children to reach for their goals. 

If you like this type of book, you might also enjoy Gregg Granger's book Sailing Faith, which is about him and his family spending four years sailing around the world.  For my review of Gregg's book, click here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 


  1. Forgive me, I have no ambiguous thoughts about this and situations like this at all. I define this as child abuse. It uses the fearlessness within kids that armies across the world mold. I saw the graveyards outside Ypres where the majority are but two years older at 18/19.
    On the point of the Roaring Forties and the idiots that sail in those waters. Off they go I say. BUT, they should not expect that shipping whether naval or commercial be diverted into danger in order to pull their idiotic arses out of the fire.
    My good friend Kristine works in those waters. And last year a wave turned a section of steel piping into a butchers hook. And it was only just a bit rough. This video is by my friend and shows the rescue of a ships crew.
    But even with ice strengthened vessels almost every season a vessel goes down. Whats remarkable is that more of the little boats don't. Again sorry.

  2. What an interesting my kids and I would both enjoy I am sure! I remember the news on this last year and often wondered what came about.
    I have to lean towards your comment at the end, "Abby’s parents should be praised for encouraging their children to reach for their goals".....and I agree. I was raised in a wonderful family, yet I never felt confident enough to branch out on my own and try anything new because the world was "just too scary of a place". NOW I regret moments gone by, and seem to be filling life up with adventures and trying to be confident to do them! Confidence instilled in a child at a young age is never wrong.

  3. nice...did not realise this was out...i am very interested in reading it as i had hit her blog a couple times through out the journey and watched the end as well...i do think we should encourage our kids so i am for sure behind them...

  4. I admire both girls, but I have to doubt the wisdom of parents who allow their teens to do this and similar things.

  5. Thanks for mentioning Sailing Faith in your blog. In a number of speaking engagements following Abby's mishap, I've been asked what I thought about "these young people" doing these things. My answer continues to be that God gave parents the tools to make these types of decisions. He certainly didn't give those tools to me in Abby's case any more than he gave Abby's parents the tools to govern my children. As for her troubles, she survived, which speaks more about her ability than a lifetime of easy breezes would. I wholly agree with your closing sentence.

  6. There is as much danger as walking the streets as their is sailing the sea. Given the resource, and choice and assured that she knew how to walk I would have let any of my kids go at 16.

  7. I'll probably pick it up. But I share some of Vince's feelings about these sorts of stunts pursued by ever younger participants and facilitated by parents. Query to what end? Either the parents are forcing their young to mature ahead of their time or forcing them to confront dangers which they are incapable of handling.

  8. It's amazing that she got through that with such grace.

  9. Vince, I somewhat agree with you, but I also think we all have to be encourage people trying to push to do something new... Unfortunately, she got a lot of bad weather (in a part of the ocean known for it's bad weather)

    Dawn, I am getting a copy of Jessica's book (and also a copy of Dove by Robin Graham) for my daughter--she might as well be "well rounded" when it comes to sailing. She first sailed last summer and loved it

    Brian, I hope you enjoy reading the book

    Kenju, well, put it this way, my daughter won't be allowed to sail around are the globe at 16!

    Gree, you have a good book and I hope people read it because of your message about how all people are the same--I still find it intriguing that your favorite countries are Indonesia and Yemen, places most Americans would avoid

    Walking Man, I agree with the danger on the streets

    Randall, have you read Dove? I read his story in National Geographic around 1970

    Lynn, yes, it is an amazing story

  10. I am one who feels a bit ambiguous about it. I probably won't read it, though I followed teh story some when it was happening.

  11. Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm all for pushing kids into challenges. What I don't believe is that you push them into situations that could have a realistic chance of killing them. Which is what a three-day force ten will do to you. There is a darn good reason why 16yo kids don't have the vote. And we don't send them to war anymore either.

  12. Sage: Another fine post. I have watched Sir Richard Branson take such risks. I felt this was an extremely dangerous feat to try at such a young age. Thank God for the technology and preparation that led her to have that safety equipment onboard.

  13. I just looked at this book the other day and thought about reading it. After reading a few comments here (not completely) I have to say that I am of the opinion that it's an amazing thing to be that young and to even attempt to acheive something so great. I think we often forget that not long ago in our culture, and still in many other cultures today, 16 is an age where you journey out and "become a man" or woman in this case. It's really mostly in the American/European cultures that we seem to feel that 16 is too young for this. Granted, I think people do a lot of stupid and crazy things, but not having read the book, it appears that this young woman's parents did the research, and she did as well, and was quite experienced. What's wrong with that? Without a little danger in life, where is the adventure? You cannot have true adventure without a little danger.

    To say this is child abuse seems quite harsh. And then to compare it to warfare is, I'm sorry, ridiculous. Sailing around the world at 16 and putting a machine gun in a 5 year old kid's brainwashed hands are two very extremely different things. A girl of 16 can make her own decisions with the guidance and help of her parents and that seems to me to be exactly what [she] did. Sorry if I offend anyone, but I know that if I was 16 (I'm many years past that now) I would have jumped at the opportunity to do something so adventurous and challenging.

    Why not "nudge" or encourage our children into doing something amazing rather than encouraging fear of the world and all the amazing things in it? I'll step off my soapbox now. I guess I am just a tad jealous of the girl that attempted to sail around the world. I think it's beautiful. I should probably read this book.