U.S. teen sailor unfazed by ordeal
PARIS – Yes, she’s 16, but Abby Sunderland says she knew what she was doing when she tried to sail around the world alone, and was prepared when it all went wrong in a remote zone of the Indian Ocean.
In an exclusive interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Sunderland acknowledged that her adventure “can look pretty crazy,” but she defended her parents against critics who say she never should have been allowed to attempt it.
“Those people don’t know me. And if they did, they wouldn’t be criticizing my age,” she said by phone from the remote Kerguelen Islands, near Antarctica, where her rescue boat stopped briefly Tuesday en route to Reunion Island and a true reunion with her family.
“I think that a lot of people are judging me by the standards they have for their teens and other teens that they know … and thinking, ‘She’s exactly like them,”‘ Sunderland said. “They don’t understand that I’ve sailed my whole life and I do know what I’m doing out there.”
Sunderland’s dream of sailing solo around the world was dashed last week when three-story-high waves snapped her mast and cut off her satellite communications. After 20 tense hours of silence, a rescue plane tracking her emergency beacons found her. She was rescued Saturday by a French fishing boat 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) west of Australia.
“Storms and bad weather, it’s the chance you take when you’re sailing around the world,” Sunderland said. “And I was up for it, and my parents knew I was.”
On Tuesday, Sunderland posted a statement on her blog from one of the meteorologists who had been tracking the weather for her during her journey. Ken Campbell of New Hampshire-based Commander’s Weather defended both Sunderland’s capabilities as a sailor and her decision to cross the Indian Ocean as the Southern Hemisphere winter was approaching.
“We were late crossing the Indian Ocean, but I felt Abby was fully capable,” Campbell wrote.
“We have over 6,000 clients, but we will not work with somebody that is not capable or does something we consider too dangerous,” he added.
Last year, Sunderland’s brother Zac briefly became the youngest person to sail solo around the world when he was 17. That unofficial record now belongs to 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson, who completed her around-the-world solo sailing trip in May.
Abby Sunderland, whose father is a shipwright and has a yacht management company, set sail from Los Angeles County’s Marina del Rey in her boat, Wild Eyes, on Jan. 23. But she ran into equipment problems and had to stop for repairs soon after beginning her journey. She gave up the goal of setting the record in April but continued on, hoping to complete the journey.
Sunderland declined to go into details about how her 40-foot (12-meter) yacht became disabled. It has since been abandoned and sunk.
“You don’t have time to be terrified. If you get terrified, things just get worse. You just deal with what you get given and make the best out of it,” she said.
“I think my biggest regret is having to give up my dream, but I didn’t really have a choice,” she said. “I was definitely up for it and I definitely could have done it.”
Sunderland said she was grateful to the crew of the French fishing boat that came out of its way to rescue her.
“I was so far offshore it’s hard to get a boat out there, so it’s great that there was one that close by,” she said.
She was transferred early Tuesday to another French vessel, this one a fishing patrol boat, that dropped anchor off the Kerguelen Islands. The archipelago, 3,300 miles (5,300 kilometers) southeast of Africa, once hosted whalers and sealers and its main island was nicknamed Desolation Island.
After a brief break on island – which houses a nature preserve and a scientific research facility – Sunderland was to travel on the same ship to Reunion Island, where she is to be met by her family. That journey is expected to take five to seven days.
Sunderland says she loves sailing “just as much as the day that I left,” and that she still hopes to circumnavigate the globe someday.
“It’s been a dream or a goal of mine for years. I don’t know when or how I will, but I’m pretty sure I will one day sail around the world,” she said.