Welcome Back, Zac

Teen completes solo voyage around world

A 17-year-old boy from Thousand Oaks got a hero's welcome in Marina del Rey, California as he officially became the youngest person to sail around the world alone.

"It's awesome to be back," Zac Sunderland said yesterday. had endured storms, suspected pirates and months of solitude, when he reached land.

The boy wonder began his historic journey on June 14, 2008, from Marina del Rey aboard his 36-foot boat, Intrepid.

"It's been a crazy 13 months and ... yeah, it's awesome to finally get back here," he said. "I just want to thank all my supporters out there, the 'Zac Pack' for keeping up with my journey on the website, and everyone else who offered advice and, you know, you guys helped me along the way ... that was a pretty big part of that out there."

Zac had some inspirational words upon his return.

"As far as you know inspiring people, the main thing today would be that ... society puts younger people like 15 through 18 in kind of a box, that no one's really expected to do much," he said. "They kind of just tend to go to high school and play football and that's pretty much it, you know? There's so much more potential that people can do with the right motivation and the right ambition."

When Zac left he was 16 years old. He turned 17 on Nov. 29 while off Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

Charlie Nobles, executive director of the American Sailing Association, said Zac's around-the-world voyage was an amazing feat.

Fewer than 250 people have sailed solo around the world, while nearly three times as many reached the top of Mount Everest, according to the association. Zac said Everest may be his next challenge.

"The patience, knowledge and fortitude required for such a journey is immeasurable," he said. "And, it's beyond unusual to find those qualities in someone Zac's age. This is an age group we associate with all things instantaneous -- texting, tweeting at a mile per second."

His record may not stand for long though, The Associated Press reported that a fsailor a few months younger is cattempting the solo circumnavigation.

"I really don't care," Zac said. "Someone's going to beat it some day."

Even if someone does take the title, nothing can take the adventure away from Zac. Over the past 13 months and roughly 28,000 nautical miles, he dodged gigantic freighters, languished in doldrums, limped into distant ports with equipment failures and braved all manner of high-sea anxiety.

Only once did his father, Laurence -- his chief booster and sponsor -- instruct him by satellite telephone to load his gun. That was a day in October when suspected pirates shadowed him off Indonesia.

"I had this boat following me all over the place and circling and stuff and ended up calling the Australian coast watch," he said. "And they flew over and they (the other boat) took off, so luckily nothing happened there."

Once Zac entered Mexican waters, he dumped the gun. Privately owned firearms on boats are illegal in Mexico and, had he been caught with one, authorities could have seized his boat -- a 36-foot Islander that he bought with $6,000 of his own savings.

In an interview Sunday, Zac's dad Laurence Sunderland, a British-born sailor and shipwright whose maritime business is based in Thousand Oaks, told City News Service that he couldn't be prouder.
"It's hugely exciting. Any father would be proud," he said. "He's left a boy and come back a man."

The oldest of seven children, Zac was partly raised on a boat and came to his love of sailing through his family. He was also in part inspired by Robin Lee Graham's 1974 book "Dove." Graham left Los Angeles on a 24-foot boat when he was 15 and circled the globe, though not alone.

Sunderland  went west, crossing the Pacific to his first port of call, the Marshall Islands. Then he moved west to Papua, New Guinea, then Australia, the Indian Ocean, Mauritius and Madagascar, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, sailing across the Atlantic and finally, transiting the Panama Canal back to the Pacific.

The home-schooled senior, who began his journey with more than 15,000 hours of sailing experience, studied on board to finish his high school education during the voyage.

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