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California teenager’s sailboat adrift in Indian Ocean

A 16-year-old California girl, Abby Sunderland, from Thousand Oaks, who was attempting to sail around the world solo and uninterrupted, manually triggered distress calls from two beacons, in rough seas in the Indian Ocean today. Electronic signals from the 40-foot sailboat indicate that it is moving at 1 mile/hour, which means that it is still afloat and adrift, and NOT under sail.

The sailboat is in the middle of the Indian Ocean, about 2,000 miles east of Madagascar, 2,000 miles west of Australia, and 500 miles north of the French Antarctic Islands. The government of the French Island, Réunion, sent a fishing boat toward the last known position, but the fishing boat should not be able to reach the area until Saturday. An Australian military vessel has also been sent, but it is more than two days away. Friends in Australia chartered a Qantas Airbus to fly over the area at sunrise on Friday.

Sunderland had been in rough weather with winds steady at 40-45 knots with higher gusts, but that front had passed and conditions were lighter. According to a statement on her blog:

“She has a dry suit, survival suit, life raft, and ditch bag with emergency supplies. If she can keep warm and hang on, help will be there as soon as possible.”

Sunderland began the voyage from Marina del Rey, California on January 23, with the goal of circumnavigating the globe non-stop, but had to stop twice for mechanical repairs, including at Cape Town, South Africa in early May. Abby’s older brother Zac sailed around the world alone last year, and was the youngest to do so at that time. Australian Jessica Watson earned the distinction last month when she completed a non-stop circumnavigation three days before her 17th birthday.

We wish Abby and her family a safe reunion.

(Note added June 11, 2010: Today, Australian authorities made radio contact with Abby Sunderland. Her boat, Wild Eyes, is NOT taking on water and is seaworthy but has been demasted, and the rigging is in the water. Wild Eyes is in the Southern Ocean, about 2,00 miles southwest of Perth Australia. It coule be a day before a French fishing vessel pulls Abby Sunderland and Wild Eyes to shore. We are delighted that this incident seems to be moving toward a happy resolution.)

(Note added June 12, 2010: Well, Abby Sunderland’s sailboat, Wild Eyes, is STILL adrift in the middle of the Indian Ocean, but fortunately, Abby is no longer ON it! A French fishing vessel reached Abby this morning and rescued her from her situation, after what she describes as a rogue wave hit the Wild Eyes and damaged its mast and communications equipment. Abby is “safe and sound,” although it will take her weeks to get back to California. Abby’s parents, in Thousand Oaks, spoke with the media today and thanked the people from France and Australia who aided in Abby’s rescue.

Abby’s comments about both “storms” and criticisms with regard to her “age” (1) made me recall two of my favorite quotes.

The first, from John Muir, is about storms (I have seen some variations of this one):

“When I heard the storm I made haste to join it, for in storms nature has always something extra for us.”

The other, from Theodore Roosevelt, is about critics:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Congratulations, Abby Sunderland, for daring to “strive valiantly.” California needs more people like you! Have a safe voyage home!)

-Bill at

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