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Teen Sailor Battle: Abby Sunderland Did Better Than Laura Dekker Or Jessica Watson


Australia’s Jessica Watson is currently the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe solo. In a few days Dutch 16-year-old Laura Dekker will take her record.

Yet according to Dekker’s former manager, the teenage adventurer with the best sailing record is American teen Abby Sunderland – who had to abandon her quest to be the youngest solo-sailor after being hit by a rogue wave in the Indian Ocean in 2010.

“Jessica’s trip was almost over before it started when she hit a bulk carrier. By comparison, Abby hit nothing but was simply a victim of extreme weather,” explained Lyall Mercer, who has worked with both Sunderland and Dekker.

Mercer was Sunderland’s publicist after she was rescued and taken to the French Island of La Reunion, assisting the young sailor to weather the media storm amid intense criticism of her parents by the American media.

Mercer also worked as Dekker’s publicist until recently, when he handed the job to a family friend based in the Dutch Caribbean where Dekker is due to arrive.

He said Dekker is a very accomplished sailor and “deserves all the accolades” but had the benefit of choosing the best weather on each leg, something Watson and Sunderland did not.

“Jessica ran into a ship and Laura could basically wait out rough weather until it was safe. Of the three sailors, Abby is the stand-out. She is the youngest person to round Cape Horn solo and was on track to complete her journey when a wave – not a ship – stopped her.”

Mercer said it was ironic that Sunderland is still not always given the credit for such a tremendous feat. “There is no doubt that all three are amazing girls and great sailors, but Abby has the best record and this should be recognised,” he said.

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28 thoughts on “Teen Sailor Battle: Abby Sunderland Did Better Than Laura Dekker Or Jessica Watson

  • January 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    That’s a cheap shot at Jess, Lyall. I guess you are mad at being dumped by Laura before the big payday, and are back to promoting Abby.
    Abby’s trip to Capetown was noteworthy, but she never should have left to cross the Indian Ocean in winter. That was asking for the “big wave”. Bad judgement on her/her father’s part. Of all three girls, Jess is the standout.


  • January 19, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Mercer is incorrect on a few things.

    Firstly Abby Sutherland did not complete a circumnavigation.

    Secondly Jessica Watson was not on her circumnavigation when the incident with the bulk carrier occured. The ship ran down Watsons vessel in open water, having been aware of her presence, on a collision course, for some 23 minutes before hand and failed to change course as powered vessels are required to do. Watson will still be the youngest to circumnavigate solo. non-stop and unassisted.

    I look forward to Laura Dekker completing her voyage with my best wishes and congratulations.

  • January 19, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    How can anyone suggest that Abby’s attempt to go round on a boat that was to much for her to handle in the worst possible weather window makes her more deserving of anything. What a joke.

  • January 20, 2012 at 4:17 am

    Jessica has demonstrated not only her superior sailing prowess but also her outstanding planning ability. In addition to her tremendous sailing knowledge, she can attribute her successful circumnavigation to the many years of preparation. And Jessica also made a very wise and knowlegable decision in choosing an outstanding public relations manager. She is certainly the young sailor others should see as the ultimate role model. Although their sailing accomplishments don’t compare to those of Jessica’s, Laura and Abby have my total respect as outstanding young sailors. Congrats to Laura on her soon to be completed voyage.

  • January 20, 2012 at 5:37 am

    Watson had $500,000 sponsorship money behind her. Pretty much bought the best of everything. Neither of the other two had such massive resources. With Laura having next to nothing out of the lot.

    You could stick any of the three in Watson’s over-engineered boat and set them afloat and they would accomplish the same thing.

  • January 20, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Once Abby had stopped in Capetown, she also had the option of waiting out the bad weather, and should have done so.

    And while the decision to cross the Indian in June was bad, it was doable, if only she had been at least 5 degrees further North.

    But what made in it egregious was it committed Abby to being under Australia in July, when the weather was so bad it would have wrecked “Wild Eyes” in conditions that would have made rescue impossible.

    The Indian ocean storm saved Abby’s life.

  • January 20, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I can’t believe what I am reading. The only one of the three to complete a circumnavigation is Laura. NO QUESTION. In fact she already accomplished it days ago , ST. Marteen is just a stop for her. There is no finish line, she already crossed all the longitudes. The other two women who are referenced may be worthy sailors and maybe even better, but, never proven. I say who cares. Laura completed her mission and the above rhetoric sounds a bit begrudging to me.

  • January 20, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Jessica’s sponsorship money didn’t just drop out of the sky, Lucy. She earned it through years of hard work, planning and her impeccable character. And since she completed her circumnavigation, Jessica has worked diligently to fulfill her obligations to represent those sponsors and she has done so with grace and dignity. Again, her tremendous work ethic is an example for all young people to follow. Jesse Martin was a wonderful role model and inspiration for Jessica and she is now following his example as a wonderful role model for other young people.

  • January 20, 2012 at 2:36 pm


    Her $500,000 sponsorship money did just that. It dropped out of the sky into her lap. In the name of Elle Bache. Go look at the time line when her boat suddenly became pink.

  • January 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Laura certainly deserves a huge congratulations for her fantastic accomplishment. Like Laura, Jessica crossed all lines of longitude, crossed the equator twice and began and completed her voyage from the same port. Jess completed a circumnavigation and did it none stop. As far as the sponsorship money just dropping out of the sky, Ella Bache didn’t just show up on Jessica’s door step and ask if she wanted to sail around the world if they would sponsor her. Jessica had the determination and work ethic to approach potential sponsors and prove herself to them that she and her project were worthy of their sponsorship. Ella Bache and her other sponsors are the ones who got a bargain for having such a great spokesperson representing their company. Anyone who came to know Jessica and who worked on her project would tell you that she was the driving force behind her project, not the other way around.

  • January 20, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Jess didn’t really sail the necessary miles to achieve a proper circumnavigation. She took the shortest possible route that she could, akin to walking around the south or north pole marker and claiming you walked around world. The Dutch girl did it correctly and her was much more difficult. Sailing in the open is the easy part, the hard part is negotiating port entries and exits around the world. Plus she got to see many many cultures, vist many different countries and participate in life for a year. Much much more impressive.

  • January 20, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    I suggest to you that you are simply speculating about the value of Jessica Watson’s sponsorship. The terms of any of her sponsors has never been disclosed, let alone the financial value. Jessica worked hard to prepare herself and her boat for the RTW voyage and it paid off. Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. Ella Bache did not become sponsors untill late in the preparation of the vessel. It was done by herself , friends, family and volunteers.

    Jerry2 me,
    A solo, non-stop and unassisted circumnavigation is far more difficult than one that involves many stopovers and that is not to dimminish Lauras efforts, which I admire.

    In relation to the distance, Jessica knew that the WSSRC would not acknowledge her voyage, because of her age, so she chose a route similar to that of Kay Cottee which included crossing the equator twice, so you are incorrect to say that WAtson chose the shortest route.

  • January 21, 2012 at 2:32 am

    I hope there will be a book on the sailing/port adventures of Laura Dekker (in English). Have the books of Jessica and Abby. Such amazing young ladies!

  • January 21, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Her route was shorter than the official record holder Martin. You cannot lay claim to it whether sanctioned or not unless you match it mile for mile. That amounts to Laura Dekker being the youngest to sale round the world alone BUT with stops, to Jessica Watons being the youngest to sail around the world alone non-stop BUT not the correct distance. The benchmark had been set. No short cuts allowed. As to the dollar figure mentioned elsewhere, the published figure was AU$300,000 payment from Ella Bache. Never a sum of half a million dollars. Perhaps all combined, but its published out there what Ella Bache paid. That’s neither here nor there, just FWIW if anyone cares about that.

  • January 21, 2012 at 4:44 am

    Dave in Kamloops is right. A book by Laura Dekker would be fantastic. Reading about her experiences in each port that she visited would be facinating. I hope she releases a book too, Dave

    Neil is absolutely correct that Jessica didn’t choose the shortest route. Even though records are no longer kept for solo circumnavigations for people under the age of 18, the WSSRC stipulates that to be considered “around the world”, the shortest orthodromic track of the vessel must be at least 21,600 nautical miles in length calculated based on a “perfect sphere.” Jessica had TracPlus data to confirm that the exact distance of her non-stop voyage was 22,336 nautical miles. However, the WSSRC claims that her orthodromic track was less than the required 21,600. By crossing the equator twice, crossing all lines of longitude and starting and finishing her voyage from the same port, she fulfilled all other requirements for an around the world voyage. And she rounded the four capes, Cape Horn, Cape Agulhas, Cape Leeuwin and the South East Cape of Tasmania. Obviously some who have posted comments here are not nearly as informed as you are, Neil. I appreciate your support for these great young sailors and your knowledge of their projects. I just don’t understand why some people feel that they need to unjustly diminish the tremendous accomplishments of an AMAZING person like Jessica Watson. Having met Jessica, I will always remember her for her incredible warmth, positive attitude and indomitable passion to live her dream.

  • January 21, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Well Coot (if that is really your name), Jessica actually did the required distance of 21,600nm+, she just didn’t take the shortcuts thw WSSRC says she could have taken (but then nobody does, because their route involves going around Antarctica at 63 South)

    And if you follow their reasoning, nobody has run a Marathon since 490BC, because although the runners follow a course of 26 miles, it’s not in a straight line and they could get from start to finish in less if they took shortcuts.

  • January 21, 2012 at 8:32 am

    You cannot come up with a credible quote of any figure put up by Jessica Watson’s sponsors. Anything is just pure speculation nothing more. You should be aware that her parents are ordinary working people and the only way Jess could achieve her goal is to get support from sponsors, which she did.

    Considering they lined up for a second time, supporting her team in the Sydney-Hobart race they must think it good value.

    Only if one wants to be acknowledged by the WSSRC does one need to follow their rules. Jess did not qualify, because of her age and neither will Laura. So they can do it their own way which they have, and good for them. Jessica crossed all lines of medidium and crossed the equator twice, similar to Kay Cottee, whom is well recognized, so there is no argument about distance.

    Why not leave it to a revered yachtsman like Sir Robin Knox-Johnston who stated “This girl (Jessica) sailed around the worrld and did it properly, by going round the three capes”

    That should end any debate and I only wonder why some try to belittle Watson’s success. Will you do the same to Laura Dekker? I certainly will not.

  • January 21, 2012 at 9:17 am

    It’s quite apparent to me that Jesse Martin is the official record holder of youngest around the world.

    Jessica Watson became of aware of the World Record sailing club closing this record when she had recovered after rounding cape horn. She was quoted then as saying that it wasn’t about the record.

    You can’t deny that Jessica gained far more experience as a sailor by choosing to sail predominately in Gale force winds as a similar young circumnavigator Mike Perham did.

    Poor young Laura can’t go back to her homeland to celebrate because she hasn’t done the required schooling. Regardless of what is being said she is being pursued for truancy.

    All adventurers have to raise funds and they need a good team to get the job done. Abby seems to be the only one that was let down by her team.

  • January 21, 2012 at 10:25 am

    The consensus amongst most old timer sailors is that Laura Dekker’s campaign is the most impressive out of the three; a genuine effort for personal goals alone, while the other two were more money making schemes than anything. It is peculiar in that respect as apparently Laura Dekker doesn’t even have a water maker and weather routing data and only up until half way through when she made mention of not even having a long wave radio, did someone step forward to give her one. Quite incredible actually, bare bones campagain not one single complaint about her boat or equipment and thoroughly enjoying herself.

  • January 22, 2012 at 6:51 am

    Laura Dekker’s voyage is certainly impressive and she has my total respect. She is a natural sailor having been born on her parent’s boat during their circumnavigation. She has very impressive sailing skills from an entire life spent on boats. I’ve been in support of Laura from the beginning and I congratulate her on her amazing voyage. Jessica’s voyage was certainly NOT all about the money. Because of her severe dyslexia, her mother read Jesse Martin’s book to her. Jesse Martin actually had very limited sailing experience when he made his voyage and that’s what inspired Jessica at a very young age to dream of sailing around the world. NOT the money. The fact that Jessica became an experienced sailor through her own passion and extremely hard work makes her story extraordinary. To this day, she remains very well grounded and very humble. Her character is to be admired as much as anyone’s sailing ability. I can think of no one who is a better role model for young people than Jessica Watson.

  • January 22, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Jessica Watson sailed a solo circumnavigation alone and unassisted and it was non-stop.
    I think that this solo circumnavigation effort deserves much more credit than a solo circumnavigation that has quite a few
    stops on the way (8 or 10 if I recall).
    There is a huge difference in both womens journeys and the World Media, as
    usual , just likes to get involved on it to give themselves an income as usual.
    Some people will say that Laura’s Jeanneau Ginfizz 38 Ketch (2 masts) , is harder
    to sail , but it has a lot more sail area than Jessica’s S&S 34, and
    is easier to set actually if you have autofurlers etc.
    Jessica never owned her boat for a start, it was orignially lent to her by a really nice guy and had the skills of Don McIntyre and Bruce Arms.
    It is far,far easier to do a journey as Laura has done than Jessica’s.
    What the Media don’t seem to understand is that fact.
    Try carrying everything on board and sailing non-stop, never setting foot on dry land for 210 days and you may understand.
    I know what is takes to outfit a boat to do a Solo Circumnavigation as I am building a Mk2 S&S34 for just this purpose, and have budgeted $450K for the job and fitting it out myself to save about a further $70k.It is a 2 year project.
    The cost of a new Mk2 S&S34 is about $300k alone.
    Jessica never had that in her dreams to buy her own yacht, (and a s/h Mk1 S&S34 you can easily get for under $60k) was still too much for her before fitting out.
    She did so much of the work herself and so many people gave their time and energy to the task as did Laura’s people and Abby’s.
    My S&S 34 will be a much faster yacht than Jessica sailed, as I am going for speed.
    While Laura did a great job in doing a solo circumnavigation, there has to be a
    clear distinction between Jessica’s effort and hers.

  • January 22, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Just a minor correction. Watson was aware of the age ruling by the WSSRC before setting out, as she had corresponded with them during her planning stage. They informed her that they would not recognize her RTW voyage because of her age.

    That is the reason Watson chose a route similar to that of Kay Cottee. There was no point in doing more if it would not be recognized.

    Therefore according to the WSSRC Jesse Martin will remain the youngest irrespective of any other sailors age or the distance sailed, or any other factor.

  • January 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    This is a fact:Jessica Watson was the youngest to complete a solo, unassisted, non-stop circumnavigation. Watson’s accident, mentioned in this article, was not a part of that journey and it was misleading of the author to indicate that it did. Laura Dekker’s journey was made with many stops, Abby Sunderland’s journey was not completed. All three young ladies are to be commended on their bravery and their spirit of adventure. However, Jessica Watson is the only one who completed, solo, unassisted and without stops.

  • January 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Let me see if I have this all correct.

    To succeed and be considered a success, you must fail in that feat in which you are attempting to succeed?

    If that is the prevailing line of reasoning you are employing here, then the last place horse in the horse race should be draped with the garland of roses?

    Do I have that correct?

    Bill in Georgia USA

  • January 22, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    January 22 @ 09:10 Sunday
    All three young ladies are to be commended for their feats of bravery and knowledge of the seas and sailing. Most of us seem to forget these facts. While all of us “Armchair Sailors” talk about the differences in there sailing techniques and how they reached their goal, these girls were the ones facing the elements and the dangers of nature. There is no comparison to what each individual girl accomplished. Three different girls, boats and styles. Jessica sailed around the world unaided, non-stop, Abby, unfortunately, was hit by a rogue wave and suffered a broken mast and had to be rescued, and Laura completed her “year long, around the world” cruise after seeing many different Islands and places of interest, and fulfilling her dream.
    I can’t criticize one without offending the other, and I won’t do that.
    I got to know each one of these girls and how they started out and eventually accomplished their goals and I respect and admire each one for their ability, tenacity, knowledge and personality.
    The facts are out there, read them with an open mind, give credit where credit is due, and be thankful that they all arrived home safe and sound.
    I hope, and I believe, that Laura will write a book, I’m impatiently waiting for it to come out.
    May God Bless all you young ladies,
    Michael (77) in Kingwood, WV (USA)

  • January 23, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Media spin,

    Jessica Watson, is truly a serious ocean sailor, and after her solo, NON-STOP circumnavigation, holds the earned respect of many sailing peers, young and old, around the world.
    Laura Dekker is also an experienced and respected ocean sailor, and sailing from port to port to accomplish this is very admirable, but, the next step up would simply be, sailing solo non-stop around. I really have nothing to say about the silly California teens publicity attempt, is was dangerous, life threatening, and very very poorly planned and managed by the adults around her.

  • January 23, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Kinda understand why Jennifer Watson took the safe open sea non stopping route while the little German girl took the port to port.

    If I remember she had a epic fail trying to sail in boat traffic falling alseep and crashing into a huge steel boat. The other one is experter at that sailing the traffic laden North Sea at 13 years old there and back and in and around Rotterdam the busiest port in the world.

    Makes sense one can handle marine traffic the other cannot there4 choose the safer open sea no port stoppage route.

    Whatever their both cool in my book.

  • January 25, 2012 at 5:29 am

    What Jessica Watson’s circumnavigation was, was not only pursuing her own dream, but it was amazingly inspirational, as can be documented by reading the thousands of blog comments she received, from fellow Australians, and followers world-wide, during, and since, her RTW. Male or female, young, or old, rich or poor, experienced sailor, or landlubber, fourth grader, or university graduate . . . all were inspired by her courage at this undertaking even before it was successfully completed! Many were motivated to the point of going ahead and making goals and dreams of their own, or accomplishing a goal that had been set aside, and needed this inspiration to move them to see it through to completion. You have only to read her blog archives to see how often Jessica had inspired her legion of followers, and continues to do so even today!!

    Jessica has continually demonstrated her ongoing concern for the environment, and for the unfortunate circumstances of the poor and hungry of the world. She demonstrated her interest in these before her voyage, and has been tireless this past year and a half since her triumphant circumnavigation, both to fulfill all of her obligations to her loyal sponsors (by the way, all the girls had sponsors), as well as supporting the World Food Program, visiting school groups, and other worthwhile pursuits.

    Regarding the collision with the 63,000 ton bulk carrier, Silver Yang, it’s been reported that it saw the sailboat beforehand, but did not initially alter their course or attempt to contact EPL And, as far as Jessica sleeping was concerned, she was into her second day of a 10-day trip down to Sydney, sometime before her planned RTW departure. Surely you realize that on any ocean voyage, the sailors need to sleep at some point, even if only 15 or 20 minutes at a time, and this happened in the middle of the night night. That is the reason that they have warning systems that are supposed to alert them in time to avoid contact. And, can we honestly blame Jessica if her warning system failed her? By the way, the Silver Yang did not initiate any inquiry as to if she was ok, Jessica repeatedly tried to contact the Silver Yang herself, after the collision, and after a difficult time understanding the person on watch due to the language barrier, the Silver Yang continued on its course.

    Jessica was under-sail, and 15 miles out to sea (not in a crowded harbor or port, where she obviously would have needed to be on deck). Jessica was able, by herself, to cut her headsail free, retrieve her mast, the mainsail and the rigging, secure it all on board, and get her damaged boat to Southport, Queensland unassisted.

    Everything Jessica has done has shown her willingness to work hard herself, to learn from experienced sailors what was necessary to prevent the need for others to risk their lives by having to come to her aid during her amazing voyage . . . learning every facet of her boat so that she could make repairs while “at sea” (not in some port, completed by experts); learn how to use a sextant, if her navigation equipment failed; learn how to stitch sails, and even to “stitch up her own skin” if that had become necessary. She had to improvise, or do without . . . even had to completely reassemble her dunny (toilet) when it broke apart during a knockdown.

    Jessica’s whole focus was on preventing problems, by her wise pre-planning, and by her constant maintenance during her circumnavigation; continually checking and double-checking every part of Ella’s Pink Lady for wear or chafe. These are the things that make up a successful voyage, not luck!!! And, remember, all this was while under-sail, not using her engine to get her through the doldrums or the day after day of no wind. These are the things that can cause lesser ones to become unglued, and lose their bearings, but proved Jess’ mental strength as well as her physical seamanship skills.

    In my mind, Jessica, and Laura, and even Abby, all showed amazing bravery and courage to even attempt a circumnavigation of our beautiful, but sometimes unforgiving, oceans, particularly after reading the experiences of other circumnavigators, about the loneliness, the dangers, and the extreme elements they would have to survive . . . and how anyone can minimize all that, is beyond me!!!

    Please, can’t you give each of these young women the full credit that is due them, and not attempt to put down what they have accomplished?!!

    Carol Florida U.S.A.

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