Seattle's Karen Thorndike, who in 1998 became the first American woman to sail around the world alone via the Southern Ocean, has some concerns about Sunderland's age.
"I could not have done it at 16," Thorndike said. "I would not have wanted to face that at 16, voluntarily."
Thorndike was 63 when she embarked on what she hoped would be a nonstop sail, but boat and weather issues forced delays and her trip lasted three years. She cited fatigue and sleep deprivation as major obstacles for Sunderland.
Charlie Nobles, executive director of the American Sailing Assn., said he's concerned about timing. Sunderland's departure, because of various issues, occurred much later than planned, so when she reaches the southern Indian Ocean the Southern Hemisphere, summer will have given way to fall. As she approaches New Zealand, icebergs might pose navigation hazards.
"Ideally, she should have left a month ago," Nobles said. "Obviously, we want to see her make the trip and have the greatest success, but there are some serious challenges with her voyage."
Laurence Sunderland said his weather team will route his daughter in the safest possible manner and expressed full confidence she'll succeed despite the late start.
Toby, her 12-year-old brother, was not as convincing. "She's a girl ," he said with a playful laugh. "My brother's my brother and he's this huge strong guy and my sister, I don't know . . . she's a GIRL . But I know that she can do it."