Teen Sailor Completes Solo Voyage Around the World

Teen Sailor Completes Solo Voyage Around the World
Zac Sunderland testing out his new sail in Panama
Jen Edney

07/17/2009 AT 01:00 PM EDT

Zac Sunderland dodged pirates, braved gnarly seas, and – as of Thursday – became the youngest sailor to single-handedly circumnavigate the earth in a sailboat. So how does the 17-year-old feel about his achievement? "Awesome, but tired," Sunderland tells PEOPLE.

Thirteen months after leaving from Marina del Rey, Calif., Sunderland returned to the harbor Thursday, having logged nearly 26,000 miles on his 36-foot sailboat.

The past few weeks, he insists, proved to be some of the most challenging times for the young helmsman. "I've been working my way up the Mexican coast," he says. "The sailing has been pretty rough."

Sunderland, who has returned to his parents' home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., that he shares with his six younger brothers and sisters, says he's in awe of what he experienced on his voyage. "The world is such a diverse and amazing place," he says. "I learned so much and met so many people who have so little, but are so happy."

Sunderland insists that his happiest moment occurred near the remote islands of Cocos, perched in the Indian Ocean between Australia and Sri Lanka. "They had awesome surf there," recalls Sunderland, who toted a surfboard with him on his voyage. "I tore it up there for a few days."

He says the most important lesson gleaned from his record-setting adventure was the realization that he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to. "It's amazing how far you can push yourself," he says. "I did stuff I never thought was possible."

So what's next for the adventurer? "I'm looking into climbing Mt. Everest," he says.

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