US & World

Abby Sunderland is safe on French boat in Indian Ocean

Abby Sunderland on her yacht 'Wild Eyes' at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa on May 21.
Abby Sunderland on her yacht 'Wild Eyes' at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa on May 21.
Jaco Marais/Getty Images

MARINA DEL REY - Abby Sunderland, the teenage girl who set out to become the youngest to solo circumnavigate the globe, was safe on a French fishing boat in the Indian Ocean today. She was heading back to her parents here in the Southland.

Sunderland, 16, of Thousand Oaks, went missing Thursday when an emergency alert on her 40-foot sailboat sounded and communication was lost.

She was spotted Friday, safe on the boat, which had a broken mast in the south Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles from land and some 2,000 miles east of Madagascar, by the crew of an Australian search plane chartered by her father. On Saturday, the French fishing vessel Ile de la Reunion got her off the damaged boat.

She's expected to reach the French possession of Reunion, an island off the African coast, in eight to 10 days, after a stop at the Kerguelen islands, where Abby will transfer to a larger craft, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Sunderlands weren't sure when she will arrive home.

From the fishing boat, Abby talked to her family for about 20 minutes just after 3 a.m. Saturday.

``We had a great answer to our prayers today," father Laurence Sunderland told reporters outside the family's Thousand Oaks home. ``We are obviously relieved."

He said he believed Abby was uninjured except for a few bumps and bruises.

Her mother, Marianne Sunderland, who is due to have a baby in two weeks, said Abby ``was tired and her voice was a bit smaller."

Although the failed in her quest, her mom said the endeavor was still a success.

``She put the wheels in motion, and to pour herself into that and make that happen is success,'' she said. ``You make plans and life happens, so we talked to her about that, and how it's just part of the adventure.''

On a blog posting from the French craft, Abby wrote, ``The long and short of it is, well, one long wave and one short mast (short meaning two-inch stub) ... Crazy is the word that really describes everything that has happened best.''

``It's been a little bit crazy the past few days, everything's happened pretty fast, but I'm really lucky there was a boat that could come and get me where I was,'' she told an Australian TV station.

Waves 25 feet high snapped the carbon-fiber mast the sailboat, called Wild Eyes, on Thursday.

``I was actually, I had just finished fixing my engine when I got hit, I don't know if it was a rogue wave or what, but the boat rolled all of a sudden,'' she said.

Meantime, the family continued to defend themselves against allegations that they shouldn't have allowed their daughter to take such a risk.

``It wasn't a flippant decision," said Laurence Sunderland. ``Abigail has been raised on the ocean all her life. She's lived over half her life on yachts. She's cruised for three years with us on our own particular boat. This is like second nature to Abigail.''

He said his daughter had been delivering yachts solo since she was 13, and that he tried to dissuade her by showing her the rough seas around Point Concepcion. He said he also kept her from pursuing her dream until she was 16 -- a few years after she first wanted to become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe.

Older brother Zac, now 18, sailed around the world alone in 13 months on a 36-foot boat, arriving back in Marina del Rey on July 16, 2009, to become one of the youngest sailors to do so. He was 16 when he left and 17 when he returned, and remains the youngest American solo circumnavigator.

But the United Kingdom's Mike Perham claimed the title as the world's youngest solo circumnavigator only about month after Zac completed his voyage.

Just last month, Australian Jessica Watson completed a solo circumnavigation, arriving home just before her 17th birthday.

Abby set out Jan. 23 from Marina del Rey at age 16. But her quest to round the world alone and unassisted ended early when she put in along the Mexican coast for repairs.

She braved Cape Horn and continued on her quest circumnavigate the fierce Southern Ocean, but a failed autopilot caused her to put into Capetown, South Africa.

Despite the problems, Abby said she wants to complete her mission.

``I don't know when I'll get another chance to do it, but ... I'm definitely going to do it sometime.''