Now will it be Laura Dekker's turn?
Sunderland's Indian Ocean saga, which included a violent rolling and crippling of her boat and a dramatic rescue, underscored the perils of open-ocean sailing and, since Sunderland is only 16, brought the issue of age to the forefront.
Six weeks later, the controversial age issue has shifted from Southern California to The Netherlands, where Dekker, 14, is planning anew to sail around the world by herself in a boat named Guppy. She hopes to leave within two weeks.
The Dutch teen on Tuesday was released by a court of state guardianship, meaning she's free, with both parents' blessings, to attempt to become the youngest sailor to solo-circumnavigate the planet.
"With this decision, the responsibility for Laura lies with her parents," Judge S. Kuypers said. "It is up to them to decide whether Laura can set off on her sail trip."
Dekker had hoped to begin her voyage last fall. But her mother objected, a child welfare agency got involved and a court made Dekker a ward of the state. (Dekker's parents are divorced.)
Apparently, though, the influence of a child on a parent is a powerful thing. Babs Mueller, Laura's mother, announced in an open letter published recently in a local newspaper that she had changed her mind and supports her daughter's dream voyage.
Mueller stated, "I know she can do it, she's a strong girl who does not give up easily. Of course no mother on earth likes it if her daughter goes to sea alone. I will have sleepless nights from the worry, but this is about Laura and how I can help her."
The court had deemed Laura too inexperienced and underdeveloped. She responded by running away, briefly, to the Dutch Antilles.
They included keeping up with schoolwork via the Internet and completing classes in first-aid and survival. Dekker has reported on her website that she has learned to make smoke signals and use hand flares, how to handle a life-raft in rough seas, and to close wounds with sutures.
Though she had been under guardianship, she was free to work on her new version of Guppy, a 38-foot, two-masted sailboat.
In fact, Dekker last month sailed alone to England, and on the return trip across bustling shipping lanes her main engine and auxiliary engines quit after becoming entangled in fish netting.
There wasn't enough wind to sail out of the way of the big ships, so she jumped into the water and cut the netting free with a knife.
Dekker's planned route around the planet, which includes a few different options, is not considered as dangerous as the Southern Ocean course followed by Sunderland and Australia's Jessica Watson, who in May completed a seven-month, nonstop solo-circumnavigation, just days before turning 17.
Watson is the youngest person to have sailed around the world.
Dekker's voyage is expected to last about two years, concluding in time for her to take that distinction from Watson.
She'll stay well north of the Southern Ocean, sail in more temperate seas and make multiple stops. That's similar to what Abby Sunderland's older brother Zac did over the course of a 13-month odyssey that ended last July when he was 17.
However, Zac endured numerous hardships. They included a brief encounter with suspected pirates and a three-day hellish nightmare trying to hold his rigging together in a violent storm.
Like the Sunderlands, Dekker has sailing in her blood. She was born on a boat off New Zealand while her parents were sailing around the world on a seven-year voyage.
Dekker reportedly sailed by herself from The Netherlands to England and back when she was 11.
She's not wasting time getting on with her big trip around the world. Her most recent blog post contains this passage:
"If everything works out I will be able to start my voyage and sail to Portugal within the next two weeks. And to continue sailing from there. I'm looking forward to it!"
The sailing community, for or against the adventure, will be pulling for her.
-- Pete Thomas