Video: Teen sailor's parents call attempt a 'success'

  1. Transcript of: Teen sailor's parents call attempt a 'success'

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Abby Sunderland is safe tonight. She's the 16-year-old California girl who ran into big trouble on the high seas as she tried to sail solo around the world. NBC 's Mike Taibbi has more on the happy ending to a harrowing ordeal.

    MIKE TAIBBI reporting: Sixteen-year-old Abby Sunderland is safe now. And though she left her broken boat and her pursuit of one of those youngest-ever records behind, her parents won't call it a failure.

    Ms. MARIANNE SUNDERLAND (Abby Sunderland's Mother): And to put the wheels in motion and to pour herself into that and make that happen is success.

    TAIBBI: She'd sailed south from California in January, around Cape Horn , then across the Atlantic , then rounded Capetown . But Thursday, halfway to Australia and halfway around the world , and 2,000 miles from any populated landfall, her boat's mast snapped in the rough seas and her mayday beacons went off.

    Mr. LAURENCE SUNDERLAND (Abby Sunderland's Father): She caught a bad wave and it demasted her vessel, compromised it to the degree where it called for a search and rescue.

    TAIBBI: And what a rescue. She drifted nearly two days. The search plane almost ran out of fuel, and the French fishing captain who rescued her reportedly fell overboard briefly before pulling Abby to safety. In her first blog today aboard that fishing vessel, Abby responded to criticism of her parents that they shouldn't have let her go for the record at 16. "I was in a storm," she wrote. "Since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?" Her brother Zac had endured his own miseries two years ago to briefly hold that youngest-ever record.

    Mr. ZAC SUNDERLAND: It's been a nightmare out there.

    TAIBBI: Abby , he said, was ready for the worst the storm-tossed Indian Ocean could throw at her.

    Mr. Z. SUNDERLAND: Luckily, Abby had all the right gear to get out of it safely.

    TAIBBI: Her father pointed out that the great French ocean racer Isabelle Autissier also had to be rescued once, and that Abby , too, was a lifelong long distance sailor.

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: She was delivering yachts solo at the age of 14. She has actually thousands of miles solo.

    TAIBBI: She's reportedly said she's eager to sail again on another boat.

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: Her goal initially was never to break a record. Her goal was to be out there. She likes being alone at sea.

    TAIBBI: Right now she's not alone, but slowly headed home; one journey ended, others still possible. Mike Taibbi , NBC News, New York.

updated 6/12/2010 10:40:37 PM ET 2010-06-13T02:40:37

A California teenager who spent three days adrift on the turbulent Indian Ocean described her ordeal as "crazy" as she started a long journey home aboard a French fishing boat that rescued her Saturday from her crippled sailboat.

Abby Sunderland was bumped and bruised but otherwise healthy, her parents said after hearing from the 16-year-old in a 20-minute phone call to their home northwest of Los Angeles.

"She sounded tired, a little bit small in her voice, but she was able to make jokes and she was looking forward to getting some sleep," her mother, Marianne Sunderland, told reporters outside the family home.

Her mother, who is close to giving birth to a boy, said her daughter joked about her ordeal affecting the baby and also talked about plans for the next school year.

The young sailor continued to blog after being rescued more than 2,000 miles (3,218 kilometers) west of Australia two days after a wave broke the mast of her boat, Wild Eyes, satellite phone communication was lost and she set off emergency beacons.

"Crazy is the word that really describes everything that has happened best," she wrote Saturday morning from "a great big fishing boat headed I am not exactly sure where." She will spend more than a week traveling to Reunion Island, a French territory east of Madagascar.

"The long and the short of it is, well, one long wave, and one short mast," she wrote.

She dismissed criticism that she was too young to undertake an attempt to sail around the world by herself.

"As for age, since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?" she wrote.

Her father, Laurence Sunderland, a boat builder who teaches sailing, said his daughter had thousands of miles (kilometers) of solo sailing experience before she set out and he had scrutinized her skills.

"This was not a flippant decision," he said. "Abigail's been raised on the ocean all her life. She's lived over half her life on yachts. ... This is like second nature to Abigail."

Laurence Sunderland said the team of experts that worked on Wild Eyes and the circumnavigation project were "second to none."

He said his daughter desired to sail solo around the world since she was 13 but he considered her "not fit" at that age or 14, when she was already helming by herself.

Image: Abby Sunderland
Getty Images File
Abby Sunderland will leave a French fishing boat in two days to board a patrol boat that will take her to Reunion Island, a statement from island officials said.
"And I did a lot of things to dissuade her actually by showing her the ferocity of the ocean around here ... taking yachts in very adverse conditions and to see what her mettle was made of," he said.

He said his daughter simply "caught a bad wave."

"Should age be a factor here?" he said. "Abigail has proven herself. She sailed around Cape Horn, the Cape of Good Hope. She'd endured 50 knots and 60 knots-plus of wind prior to this unfortunate circumstance."

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the French ship Ile De La Reunion brought Abby Sunderland aboard from her stricken craft Saturday afternoon at the site.

French authorities called it a "delicate operation," and said at one point the fishing boat's captain fell into the ocean and had to be rescued, but was in "good health." Laurence Sunderland said the crew used its dinghy in the transfer.

Australian authorities were broadcasting a message to boats crossing through the area warning them that Sunderland's sailboat is still adrift.

Tales of survivalSunderland will leave the French fishing boat in about two days to board a maritime patrol boat that will take her to Reunion Island, according to a statement from the office of the French Indian Ocean island's top official. The transfer will take place off the Kerguelen Islands, with the exact timing depending on weather and ocean conditions.

Authorities said Sunderland likely would not arrive in Reunion for at least a week.

Marianne Sunderland said her daughter was relieved to be off her boat, but it was difficult to abandon it.

"When you're on a boat like Abby has been and so closely related to that boat for your everyday existence you become very close to it," she said. "She had to leave Wild Eyes in the middle of the ocean and that's been hard for her."

Sunderland wrote in her blog: "I keep hitting the wrong keys and am still trying to get over the fact that I will never see my Wild Eyes again."

Sunderland set out from Marina del Rey on the Los Angeles County coast on Jan. 23, trying to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo and nonstop.

Soon after starting her trip, Sunderland ran into equipment problems and had to stop for repairs. She gave up the goal of setting the record in April, but hoped to complete the journey.

Zac Sunderland, her brother, held the record briefly last year until Briton Mike Perham completed his own journey. The record changed hands last month when 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson completed her own around-the-world voyage.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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