It was announced on Abby Sunderland’s blog yesterday that the 16-year-old record-seeker would be stopping in Cape Town, South Africa, to deal with a potentially dangerous autopilot problem. The Thousand Oaks sailor left Cabo San Lucas on February 6 in a bid to become the youngest person to solo circumnavigate non-stop, and had difficulties with her self-steering almost from the beginning. Her main autopilot failed some time ago, and now her back-up has become tempermental. Having no windvane on her Open 40 Wild Eyes, Abby and her team have made the wise choice of giving up her record bid instead of pressing on and risking the loss of the autopilot altogether. "It’s one thing to sail across an ocean with one well-working autopilot," her blog said. "it’s another to keep going with one that is not at all reliable. It would be foolish and irresponsible for me to keep going with my equipment not working well." The posting says she will continue her voyage after repairs are made, though it’s uncertain if it will be non-stop from there.
We congratulate Abby on sailing halfway around the world without stopping, which is an absolutely tremendous feat. That said, we’re not at all surprised that it was equipment failure that ended her quest. "As four-time circumnavigator Scott Piper of the J/160 Pipe Dream IX told us on last year’s Baja Ha-Ha," said the Grand Poobah, "’The biggest obstacle is breakage.’ What surprises me is that Jessica Watson’ S&S 34 Ella’s Pink Lady has had very little breakage on her trip. Has anyone seen my copy of 1,001 Ways to Prepare and Eat Crow?"
Indeed, the 16-year-old Aussie is closing in on Sydney — she’s just 1,500 miles away — but has had some rough-going in the last few days. "I was in my bunk asleep this time when we went over, and I was woken up when various objects and a whole lot of water landed on top of me," she wrote on her blog on Saturday. "It wasn’t too bad as far as knockdowns go. I’d say the mast only just touched the water and there wasn’t any damage." Her last knockdown, which was really a 180, damaged one of her solar panels — the worst damage she’s seen for the entire voyage.
Meanwhile, according to solo circumnavigator Jeanne Socrates, she and Jessica are very close to each other but Jeanne’s attempts to contact Jessica or anyone on her team have been met with ‘radio silence’. "Jess sent me a very nice email in February to say how sorry she was to hear of the repairs needed in Cape Town and asked me to email her when I left so we could talk on HF/SSB radio as we both sailed east," she posted on her site. "While my computer was still working, I was able to email her several times wishing her well and giving her my position but I never received a reply." Yesterday, Jeanne posted that she and her Najad 380 Nereida were buzzed by the same Coast Guard plane Jess reported talking to. "He called me Ella’s Pink Lady. I asked him where she was. He came back and reported that she is 56 miles to the NNW. My worries confirmed — we crossed paths. But now I know she’s astern of me." It seems strange that Jessica’s team would not want her to be in contact with another solo sailor who is in such close proximity — even emails from us regarding the situation were ignored. We wish both Jeanne and Jess smooth sailing for the remainder of her trip, but according to the forecast, the ride looks bumpy for the next few days.