Page last updated at 06:25 GMT, Saturday, 14 June 2008 07:25 UK

US teen sailor takes on the world

A 16-year-old from Los Angeles is hoping to become the youngest person to sail round the world alone. Zac Sunderland sets off on Saturday and will make the historic year-long journey in a boat bought with his own savings, the BBC's Rajesh Mirchandani reports.

Zac Sunderland (Photo:
Zac will cross treacherous waters in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans

"The boat's called Intrepid," Zac Sunderland tells me, as we step aboard. A more fitting name might be "Unfinished", I think to myself.

A few days before he sets sail on a world record-breaking attempt, Zac is waiting for new sails to arrive.

Several people are working on deck, drilling, fastening, making adjustments.

Down below, the mess resembles, well, a typical teenager's bedroom.

However, Zac is far from typical. He cannot yet drive legally, yet he plans to sail this 36-foot (11m) boat around the world. Alone.

And to return as the youngest person ever to do so, he needs to get back by January 2010. The current record belongs to Australian David Dicks, who finished his voyage in 1996, aged 18 years and 41 days.

"It's going to be an amazing adventure, going to all those places, meeting all those people, you know, just checking out all the different places around the world," Zac says.

"It's the adventure of a lifetime."

Freeze-dried food

So, home for the next year, at least, will be a cramped cabin: here he will sleep on a narrow bunk, strapped in, in case of choppy seas; he will plot routes, study weather charts and communicate with his family, friends and the outside world via a sophisticated array of equipment (with two iPods for some light relief).

Here he will also prepare meals on a stove that pivots back and forth, although he admits his kitchen skills to date begin and end at the microwave (there is one onboard).

Zac's supply of fresh food will last four weeks. After that, it is tins and freeze-dried food, supplemented by a few fish he may catch himself.

Los Angeles and Hollywood
Zac is setting sail from Los Angeles on America's Pacific coast

He will spend periods of up to four to six weeks alone at sea, in between stops.

Zac's first port of call will be the Marshall Islands, 4,000 miles (6,437km) away.

The 40,000-mile (64,400-km) route will then take him across the Pacific to Papua New Guinea and Australia, and from there across the Indian Ocean to Mauritius and Madagascar.

After rounding the treacherous Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, he will traverse the South Atlantic ocean.

He will then navigate the Panama Canal before taking in the Galapagos Islands and heading north back to California.

He had planned to sail through the Suez Canal, but changed his route after reading about pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Safety precautions

Now this unassuming teenager's greatest fears are being away from his friends, not getting enough sleep and falling behind with the year's worth of school work he is taking with him.

Isla Isabella in the Galapagos
One stop near the end of his intended route is the Galapagos Islands

"I have all my books with me. I have one more year to finish at high school and I have to send back my tests [via e-mail] to my mum. She's going to grade them and make sure I am doing well."

So, apart from checking up on homework, how do his parents feel about their son's voyage?

Well, it helps that they cruised the Pacific with their young family for three years, and are in the ship maintenance business themselves.

Zac's mother, Marianne Sunderland, says: "As far as worrying about something tragic, I don't have that worry.

"I think we have taken all the necessary safety precautions, he has all the latest equipment, his own father outfitted his boat. So as far as that goes, we have managed those risks."

His father, Laurence Sunderland, from England, adds: "He's a very competent man on the ocean. If he was going to be involved in some other feat that I was not involved with I would be more worried."

Zac intends to write a book while he is on his trip and record footage for a potential documentary on his return.

He is far-sighted and mature enough to acknowledge this adventure could set him up for a career in sailing.

In all, he expects to cover more than 40,000 miles. But whether he breaks the record or not, it looks set to be the greatest journey of his young life.

Map showing Zac Sunderland's projected route round the world

Follow Zac's progress via his blog at

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