Record-Setting Teenager Finishes Sail Around The Globe

Adam BoutonCorrespondent IJuly 16, 2009

After a year of fending off pirates, suffering through squalls, and terrorizing storms and repairs to his vessel, 17-year-old Zac Sunderland docked near Los Angeles on Thursday marking his return to the area a full year and one month after leaving.

Sunderland left on June 14, 2008 as a 16-year-old without a driver's license. He returned as the youngest person to sail and navigate solo around the world. 

The previous record holder was Australian David Dicks, who was 18-years-old when he completed his trip in 1996.

Sunderland completed the 28,000-mile journey by finishing where he started—in Los Angeles.

His family, friends and hundreds of other supporters were there when he pulled his 36-foot Intrepid sailboat—fully funded by his own saved money—into the dock.

He was stoic in his return to the familiar, but yet foreign, shores of Marina del Rey.

"As I get closer and closer to home it is getting really exciting to be finishing up this year long adventure," Sunderland wrote on his blog. "It is going to be strange getting back but awesome to see my friends from Southern California."

During his journey, he encountered several obstacles including what he thought was pirates near Indonesia.  It was hard to tell, but whenever he shifted his direction, the other vessel did as well and he couldn't get in contact with them, either.

Eventually, the mysterious craft changed directions and moved away.  However, it certainly got the heart beating for the teenager on the other side of the world.

"For 30 minutes I was living on the edge out there, not knowing what to do," he told reporters after the incident.

The phantom boat was just the beginning of the problems he encountered on the open seas.

"The whole trip had its share of scary moments," he said.  "Broken forestay, broken boom, broken tiller, the rogue wave off Grenada that broke over the back of the boat at 2 a.m. and took out all the electronics."

That's not to mention he was secluded almost the whole time.

"He looked drawn and worn-out, relieved to see a familiar face," his father Laurence Sunderland said.

Laurence had flown to Mauritius to visit his son with a hug and spare parts for the boat.

His father wasn't with him much, however, leaving his parents hungry for news on his well-being throughout the trip.

Laurence and his wife, Marianne, tried for about 20 hours to reach their son at one point during the expedition. They had begun their efforts at a search-and-rescue mission, when a high-frequency radio appeared on their computer screen saying, "Hi mom, I'm OK."

The family spent over $150,000 on Zac's successful trek and hopes to gain much of that through donations and DVD sales from his voyage.

Sunderland's Web site also documents his travels through a series of blogs and videos. 

Sunderland's record might not stand for long as British sailor Mike Perham is a few months younger than Sunderland and is using a faster, bigger sailboat in an attempt at conquering the new record.