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Teen sailor reunited with brother after sea drama

Sixteen-year-old Californian sailor Abby Sunderland was reunited with her brother Saturday and defended her attempt at a solo round-the-world voyage.
Abby Sunderland, Zac Sunderland
Zac Sunderland, who sailed around the world at age 17, meets his sister Abby Sunderland, 16, on Saturday in Reunion Island, a French oversea territory in the Indian Ocean. Zac traveled to pick up his sister Abby Sunderland, who was rescued by a French fishing boat after storms crippled her vessel as she tried to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo and nonstop.Lionel Cironneau / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sixteen-year-old Californian sailor Abby Sunderland was reunited with her brother Saturday and defended her family against criticism that she had been too young to try to sail around the world alone.

Though saddened by the loss of her boat in a southern Indian Ocean storm, Sunderland said she isn't giving up sailing.

"I'm really disappointed that things didn't go as planned," Sunderland told reporters after coming to shore early Saturday on the French island of Reunion off of east Africa, brought by a French patrol boat.

"I knew what to do. I was well-prepared for anything that could have happened," she said, flanked by her 17-year-old brother Zac, who flew to Reunion to meet her.

Her brother took a separate boat to meet the patrol boat as it sailed into the harbor of Reunion's capital, Saint-Denis, climbing aboard and embracing her as Abby teared up.

Dream didn't sink
The accident June 10 "ended my trip but it didn't end my dream," Abby Sunderland said. She blanched and didn't answer, however, when asked whether she would try another solo circumnavigation of the globe anytime soon.

Her parents stayed in California, where her mother is soon to give birth to her eighth child.

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. In April she had to give up hope of becoming the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo, when she was forced to stop for repairs.

Then on June 10, three-story-high waves snapped her boat's mast. She was rescued two days later by a French fishing boat 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) west of Australia.

She described the drama of her accident and her surprise when an Australian airplane spotted her and some 40 hours later when she first caught sight of the French boat.

"The past few months have been the best of my life," she said Saturday, flanked by her brother.

"I was on an adventure. You can only plan so far," she said.

Sailor grateful
She thanked everyone who helped in the rescue, particularly the French and Australian authorities, and acknowledged "the public debate about the cost of rescues."

"I know that the USA would do the same for a citizen of any other country as these countries did for me," she said.

She said criticism of her family "is ungrounded." "They have put up with a ton of stuff to help me follow my dream," she said.

Sunderland's young age as she sailed off to her perilous journey has sparked controversy, with some observers wondering if the family isn't pandering to media attention.

Her father Laurence, reached by phone late Friday at his home in Thousand Oaks, California, told The Associated Press that the family is thrilled that Abby has arrived safely on Reunion island.

"I am absolutely totally over the moon with how quickly the plane and boat reached Abigail. I think the guys did a fantastic job with the rescue and we are so grateful to them," he said.

Eventually, Abby Sunderland said, she wants to write a book. And she definitely wants to keep sailing.

For now, though, she's most looking forward to getting home.

"I hope to have a new brother soon," she said. "And I look forward to seeing my dog."

Sunderland had spent the past 10 days on the Osiris as it returned from the Kerguelen Islands, a remote and barren patch of rocks in the ocean toward Antarctica, where she was taken briefly after the rescue.