It seems to be the season for sixteen-year-olds to sail around the world. First it was Jessica Watson. Then yesterday, Abby Sunderland got blasted through the blogosphere because she lost her mast in 40 foot swells and set off her emergency beacons.
At 16, the most risky thing I attempted was to sneak into the local pub with my schoolmates in England and pretend we were all 18. If truth be told, I'm probably a 9.5 on the risk-aversion scale: no bungee-jumping, sky-diving, or helicoptor skiing in avalanche territory for me. (My brother got all those genes.) I wouldn't go sailing round the world--heck, I wouldn't go sailing round a farm pond, not with my history of seasickness--at age 47, let alone 16.
What surprised me, though, wasn't the fact of these particular sailors' youth. What amazed me was the vitriol spewed forth in those internet forums (should that be fora?) lambasting the girl for her stupidity and the parents for their recklessness in letting her go.
Now, ocean-going is not for everyone (c.f. above) but I say if a 16-year-old possesses the necessary skill and ambition to do such a thing, let her go. I'm sure everyone involved knows the risks, and I suspect that everyone involved has entertained the thought that she might, if unlucky, perish. I've had it up to here with these nasty types who erupt on the internet with all sorts of mean-spirited bromides. (The only thing I can see as a negative is that, if the sailor does need to be rescued, taxpayers are probably footing the bill. So provision should be made for that by the adventuring families.)
Squishing of people's dreams has become a spectator sport. It's a particular landmine for writers (and others with active imaginations) who are constantly being shown their shortcomings. To which I say Reach for the Stars. And to Abby Sunderland and others of her ilk I say, in Virgil's words (yeah, that was another thing I was doing at 16, plodding through the Aeneid in Latin class; no wonder I made haste to the pub.) Macte nova virtute, puella, sic itur ad astra. (The original has puer/boy, of course.) The translation: Blessings on your young courage, girl; that's the way to the stars.