Long Beach Boat Show: Sunderland Eyes New Sailing Record

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Alternative rock music playing on the radio, long hair blowing about his young face, Zac Sunderland hopped to and fro on his small sailboat “The Intrepid” in the Rainbow Harbor Marina in downtown Long Beach on Sunday. He and his little craft were lost among rows of million-dollar yachts, and luxury catamarans and sailboats with interiors large enough and posh enough to put the average home to shame—all in town as part at the Long Beach Yacht and Boat Show.

The 18-year-old casually welcomed folks aboard his humble boat, politely confirming for one or two clueless people what most already knew when they approached the record-breaking 36-foot Islander sailboat: “Yeah, this is it.” The people who boarded the boat were largely unimpressed by the tiny craft he sailed solo around the world at age 17, at the time making him the youngest sailor ever to do so. British sailor Michael Perham broke Sunderland's record in 2009 and earlier this year, Australian sailor Jessica Watson completed the feat just days before her 17th birthday.

Sunderland leaned casually against a wall in the tiny cabin where he’d spent 13 months and two days of his young life a little over a year ago and answered questions clearly and concisely, and with a big dose of humility and matter-of-factness that was unexpected coming from a renowned adventurer and pioneer in his sport.

Then this kid, who many would quickly dismiss as such at first site—he’s very laid back and looks exceedingly comfortable in his T-shirt and jeans—talked about his next ambition: He plans to sail around the world solo again, this time through the treacherous Northwest Passage. He said so calmly. He chest didn’t heave out when he said it. He wasn’t anywhere near bragging in his demeanor, though he could have bragged and been fully justified to do so.

He plans to make the effort within the next six months, and if successful, Sunderland would be the first to solo around the world via the Northwest Passage route. “The biggest concern is the ice,” he said in answer to questions about the danger of the voyage—although, there was no apparent concern in his face when he said it. His expression while talking about sailing through the Northwest Passage was more that of a kid talking about a trip to a local skate park.

Sunderland is clearly adept at being interviewed. He even joked about taking classes at Moorpark Community College, noting that among his five required general education classes is a media class. “I think I know enough about that,” he quipped, glancing over at a large album brimming with news and magazine clippings featuring Sunderland and his round-the-world trek. His speech is clear and concise, and seldom does he saying anything he didn’t mean to say. However, when asked if his parents had a problem with the Northwest Passage effort, the teenager casually replied: “They’re fine with it, as long as I make it, and I don’t get killed or anything.

"Why do it? It’s not for fame, or to break another record," he said. “I just love adventure and I love sailing,” Sunderland said.

He also spoke modestly about his record setting trip, offering his take with mostly just the facts. He departed Marina del Rey on June 14, 2008 in a 36-foot Islander sailboat that he purchased or $6,000, and a little over a year later he returned to Los Angeles. No embellishment.

Sunderland, who was selling a self-made documentary of his trip at the show and promoting his website, said he’s considering being a film major in college, and possibly looking into UCLA film school. Sunderland is also into some activities befitting an 18-year-old—he’s active in dirt biking, with a trip to South America coming up, and skateboarding. Sunderland’s sister, Abby Sunderland, made the news earlier this year when she attempted to sail solo around the world before she was rescued in the Indian Ocean in June when weather conditions damaged her mast and she was forced to activate emergency beacons and was rescued two days later.

Sunderland was at the boat show this weekend along with Jessica Watson from Australia. On Oct. 18, 2009, the 16-year old Watson departed Sydney in a 33'6" Sparkman & Stephen S&S 34 with a course charted to cover over 23,000 nautical miles of ocean during the following eight months as she solo circumnavigated the globe. Her journey took her over the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans and back to Sydney on May 15, 2010. She was at the show promoting her new book “True Spirit.”

Boats ranging from $5,000 to $1.6 million were on display in the water and for sale at the four-day show, which began on Thursday and ended Sunday. It was the 42nd annual event produced in Long Beach by the Southern California Marine Association.

Also featured at the show were hundreds of motor yachts, cruisers, sailboats, fishing boats, performance sport boats, family trailerables, ski boats, electric boats, inflatable’s, pontoons, and personal watercraft.

Boat dealers with boats from Marina del Rey to San Diego were involved in the show, and a great deal of representation from Long Beach, said boat show spokesman Bill Long. “Long Beach is the boat capital of California. There are more boats registered in Long Beach than any other city in the state,” Long said.

While the boating grew over the last decade when the economy was healthy, over the last year and a half it has slowed down due to the recession, Long stated, adding, “That said, boating is a buyers’ market with fantastic values.”

While many attendees remarked that this year’s show was smaller than previous years, others noted that the industry is beginning to show signs of improving. “We were among the first to know when the economy was getting rough,” said show attendee Rob Webb, a former Long Beach councilman and a yacht broker for Flying Cloud Yachts in Long Beach. “Now we see it turning up. We’re starting to see sales. We’re getting more and more boats in escrow now.” Webb was at the show promoting the Long Beach Yacht Club’s 1st annual Congressional Cup 2001 Vendor Expo being put on in conjunction with the Congressional Cup race on March 26. The race is one of the nation’s biggest ocean racing events. The expo, which is free to the public, is being staged on the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier.

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