Abby Sunderland successfully rounds Cape Horn

I interviewed Abby Sunderland today, minutes after she rounded Cape Horn at South America’s tip, and the intrepid adventurer was in good spirits despite a freezing rain pelting her 40-foot sailboat.

The 16-year-old from Thousand Oaks, Calif., who is attempting to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone, was clearly relieved to have safely achieved this milestone. She looks forward to venturing north to warmer waters to try to repair a faulty auto-pilot (she has been using a backup) before continuing along her Southern Ocean route.

“It’s the milestone I’ve been waiting for,” she said, when reached on the satellite phone, minutes after negotiating the passage and crossing from the Pacific into the Atlantic. “It’s pretty much the hardest part of my trip, and now it’s over so it’s really great being here.”

Yet renowned adventurer Don McIntyre notes the danger that lies ahead. “The biggest question mark will not be the Horn,” said McIntyre. “It will be the Indian Ocean and under Australia. It can be worse there, especially late in the season…close to winter…This will be Abby’s biggest challenge.”

But for now Abby is taking her journey one milestone at a time.

The high-school junior, who is trying to make the trip nonstop and unassisted, acknowledged being fortunate that seas were only 15 feet when she rounded Cape Horn, whose large seas have sunk many vessels in years past. “It can be much colder and far worse,” she said.

She talked about missing friends and family and wishing she could take a warm, fresh shower, and eat real food from a plate, rather than freeze-dried food from a bag, brought to life with heated, desalinated seawater.

But they were not complaints. “Of course you’re going to miss home when you’re out doing something like this, but I’d still rather be here doing what I’m doing than be home,” she said.

Sunderland has critics but far more fans and hopes to prove to them all that she can accomplish this feat, despite an unfortunate late start caused by numerous delays in the preparation stage.

— Pete Thomas

Photo of Abby Sunderland during her January departure from Marina del Rey, Calif., courtesy of GizaraArts.com