Thursday, April 14, 2011


A sixteen-year-old girl wants, more than anything else, to sail around the world alone.

When I was a kid, I read the Willard Price Adventure series and loved the stories of teenagers in foreign places, facing all kinds of challenges – including storms and shipwrecks. I thought Abby Sunderland’s Unsinkable: A Young Woman's Courageous Battle on the High Seas (written with coauthor Lynn Vincent) would be similar to that, except more up-to-date and gripping since it’s non-fiction. So I requested it from Thomas Nelson as part of their BookSneeze program.

There was another reason I requested it, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Told in alternating points-of-view – those of both Abby and her family/support team – this is both a biography and the story of a dangerous, unforgettable journey. In 2010, Abby sailed from Los Angeles, around Cape Horn and through the Atlantic Ocean, only to be caught in fierce weather in the middle of the Indian Ocean. That snapped the mast of her boat, leaving it disabled (and ultimately abandoned).

Her family counts other sailors, including her older brother – who successfully circumnavigated the globe in 2009 and inspired her. Their work on her craft Wild Eyes included painting a giant heart on the boat’s bottom to make it more visible from the air if the boat capsized. That was one of my favorite details.

Via phone, she was also in contact with her family and support team, who talked her through repairing the boat’s engine while storms raged and the satellite transmission was lost more than once. The book is fascinating in those parts. It’s bad enough to be a parent wondering where your child is; it’s worse when you can hear that child struggling to fix a disabled engine in the middle of the ocean, with a storm cutting her off periodically.

So when it dealt with the journey, this book was a great read.

However, the other reason I requested it was because Thomas Nelson’s website stated, “This title does not contain the amount of faith-focused content as many other books offered on If you prefer Christian Living titles featuring a large amount of faith-centered content, Unsinkable is probably not the best selection for you.”

To me there was a large amount of faith-focused content. For instance, fortuitous events are always treated as the result of answered prayer or an act of God. And before Abby’s departure, her mother states that if her trip makes people aware of her family’s faith, it’ll be a success “no matter what happened”. Even if she had gone down with the boat?

There's also some controversy about whether a determination to break the world record ultimately sabotaged Abby's journey, and experienced sailors expressed concerns about her boat's seaworthiness. Finally, while the book didn't quite work for me, perhaps I should have seen that coming from the title. It's reminiscent of the Titanic... which sank as well.

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