Most teenagers can barely be bothered to leave the house to go to school. But then there's Abby Sunderland - a spunky young woman who decided in 2010 to blow all her classmates out of the water and go on an incredible journey around the world.
She embraced all of nature's majesty and felt its devastating power as she crossed oceans, experienced harsh weather conditions and battled against danger at sea single-handedly. Fast forward eight years, just when she thought her epic adventure was a distant memory – BOOM! Outta nowhere, life throws her an unexpected curveball in form of a phone call. Continue reading to find out what that phone call was all about...
The Journey Of A Lifetime
In 2010, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland set out to do something no one her age had ever accomplished. She came from a family of sailors and wanted to sail around the world on a solo trip.
Her brother, Zac, was a significant motivator, and the year before, he became the first person under 18 to complete the journey. Even though she was surrounded by the right people and had her brother to look to for advice, it was still a daunting mission.
A Long-Time Dream
Abby had dreamed of setting the record her whole life. Yet, even at the young age of 16, she had already logged hundreds of hours out on the water with her father, mother, and the rest of her family. However, it was her dad who gave her the toughest training in order to prepare for her trip.
His lessons taught her the reality of what she was about to go through. Laurence Sunderland was well aware that his daughter would face tough times and if she wasn't properly prepared, she was doomed.
Her Mother Was In Full Support
Abby's mother, Marianne Sunderland, commented, "Could there be a tragedy? Yea, there could be. But there could be a tragedy on the way home tonight, you know, or driving with her friends in the car."
So, the planning of the trip began. Abby knew she was lucky to have such supportive parents by her side, or the trip wouldn't have been possible without their help. Now, all she wanted to do was make them proud.
Abby's boat, Wild Eyes, was a 40-foot sloop built in 2001 and designed by Jutson Yatch, and built specifically for sailing through the Southern Ocean. Before being owned by the Sunderland's it went under the name BTC Velocity, and finished second in the Class 3 category of the Around Alone 2002 race.
The vessel was built using fiberglass with Kevlar reinforcement into five watertight compartments. It was purchased in 2009 by the Sunderland family and was refitted in Marina del Rey, California, with new electrical, communication, and navigation systems.
The route that Abby planned to sail began in Marina del Rey, California, then to Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, and back to Marina del Rey.
The goal was to complete the circumnavigation with a series of ten legs, all solo and unassisted, following definitions set by the International Sailing Federation World Sailing Speed Record Council, in which, according to them, the equator must be crossed in order for the trip to count as a full circumnavigation.
More Threats Than Just Weather
Not only did Abby need to be aware of all the weather coming her way to avoid disaster, there were also pirates roaming the seas. However, there was little she could do in order to prepare for the possibility of running into a ship of violent criminals.
Abby admitted that she was "definitely nervous," but her fears wouldn't hold her back. Then, on January 23, 2010, she boarded her ship called Wild Eyes and set sail from Marina del Rey, California.
She Knew She Was In For An Adventure
Almost immediately after setting sail from Marina del Rey, Abby realized just how serious of a situation that she was up against. Even though she'd had plenty of experiences on the open ocean, being by herself presented a whole new set of problems.
In an interview that took place over 100 days since she first set out, Abby admitted that a massive wave struck her ship at one point and that wind was becoming an increasing problem.
Her Trip Was Documented By Sail-World
Sail-World took note of Abby's departure time, stating, "While ... she will round the Horn in the height of summer when conditions should be the best they can be, her delayed departure ... means that by the time she sails south of Australia, the weather will be approaching autumn, and the weather will be deteriorating."
However, even after being warned about the weather, Abby felt that it was too late to back by this point.
She Ran Into Some Problems
At one point, howling gusts of wind ripped through one of her sails and water flooded the engine. Luckily for Abby, she was able to handle both problems, but Wild Eyes was taking some serious damage.
However, although Abby was disappointed, she was eventually forced to give up. When she knew that all hope was lost, she hit her emergency beacon, and French and Australian search and rescue authorities came to the rescue. Luckily she had all the supplies if they couldn't get to her immediately.
The Damage Was Severe
On the morning of June 10, 2010, Abby was sailing in high winds and suffered multiple knockdowns in a remote area of the Indian Ocean, around 2,000 miles west of Australia.
Abby then lost satellite phone contact. The nearest known was about 400 miles away from her electronically reported position. Her beacon position at the time was published as 40° 48′ 0″ S, 74° 58′ 0″ E, around 2,000 nautical miles west-south-west of Perth.
The following morning, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority sent a chartered passenger jet to the area with 11 trained SES air observers and a FESA officer on board. The plane had a 4,7000-mile round trip from Perth to Abby's boat, which was almost too far for the crew to reach.
Brief radio contact was made with Abby who said that she had righted the boat and was uninjured. Abby's mother said that the pilot of the search plane told her that the boat had most likely been hit by a rogue wave.
She Was Incredibly Lucky
The area where Abby was found is rarely visited by merchant ships or other sea traffic, so the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre then sent three ships to the scene.
Abby was then rescued by the French commercial fishing vessel Ile de la Réunionin in the afternoon of June 12, 2010, although didn't go off without a hitch. The rescue took place during rough seas, with the captain of the French fishing boat falling into the water and having to be saved as well.
She Was Safe At The Moment
Her parents wrote to her followers, stating, "Abby has a dry suit, survival suit, life raft and ditch bags with emergency supplies. If she can hang on and keep warm, help will be there as soon as possible."
After a long 13 hours, the rescue teams finally arrived at Wild Eyes. Although the boat was bobbing upright in the water, the rigging was a mess. Abby was then taken to a nearby island where she was met with quite the surprise.
The Cost Of The Rescue
Unfortunately, the French and Australian taxpayers had to pay for Abby's rescue mission with the Australian government confirming that neither Abby nor her family could be billed for the expenses. The cost is assumed to be around $300,000 in Australian currency, with some criticizing Abby's teams' lack of financial help.
The Daily Telegraph went so far as to state, "failed teen solo sailor Abby Sunderland's team did not put a cent towards her rescue but still tried to get the public to pay for the boat's salvage."
Her Brother Was Waiting
To Abby's shock, her brother Zac was waiting on the island for her! Not only did he fly to Reunion Island to commend her for her bravery, but he also brought her much-needed supplies like fresh clothes and a hairbrush. Now, it was time to go back to California.
While Abby was happy to be back on land and out of the grip of the ocean, she missed the memories such as "racing along surfing down giant swell and sitting on the deck and watching the sunset."
Safe At Home
Of course, Abby's parents, Laurence and Marianne, felt sorry that their daughter had to give up on her dreams. However, they were just relieved that Abby hadn't been badly injured.
Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for her ship Wild Eyes, which she was forced to abandon at sea. The ship had been through so much that it was left floating in the ocean, which was a decision that the rescuers were forced to make. Abby assumed her boat was long gone.
Finding The Boat
Then, eight years later, the Sunderland family was contacted by authorities who notified them that a tuna-spotting aircraft saw a yellow yacht flipped upside down off the coast of Australia's Kangaroo Island. Yet, when they towed it in, the boat's name stood out.
It turned out to be Abby's ship! An oceanographer named David Griffin theorized that the ship very well might have circumnavigated the entire world over all those years. Therefore, Abby may not have completed the journey, but Wild Eyes did!
There Was Almost A Reality Show
After Abby's rescue, it was reported by The New York Post that after Abby set sail from Marina del Rey, her father signed a deal with Magnetic Entertainment for a television show about his family titled Adventures in Sunderland.
He later commented on the potential project saying, "The show might be about family, it might be about Abigail's trip. It's something that was shopped around." The family later wrote on their blog that "The show was shopped and not sold [...] There is no reality TV show or documentary in the works, and we will not be pursuing one."
Documentary And A Book
Although the reality show fell through, Abby was the subject of a documentary film produced and directed by her father titled Wild Eyes: The Abby Sunderland Story. The film was released on September 8, 2011.
On top of the documentary, Abby also released a book co-written by Lynn Vincent about her experience titled Unsinkable: A Young Woman's Courageous Battle on the High Seas. The book was released on April 12, 2011, which resulted in Abby traveling the country for book signings.
It Wasn't A Complete Failure
Incredibly, Abby still managed to travel 12,000 miles before she was forced to be rescued, which is still an amazing feat. Fortunately for her, the emergency beacon worked.
Abby now lives in Centreville, Alabama, with her husband, a US Navy sailor named Justin T. Sims, whom she shares three children with plus one on the way.