California teen sailor Abby Sunderland reunited with brother Zac after remote ocean rescue

By Masha Macpherson, AP
Saturday, June 26, 2010

US teen sailor reunited with brother after ordeal

SAINT-DENIS, Reunion — Sixteen-year-old Californian sailor Abby Sunderland got a big hug from her older brother Saturday on the appropriately named Reunion Island, and again defended her family for letting her try to sail around the world alone.

Though saddened by the loss of her boat in an 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 remote French island of Reunion, located in the waters near southeastern Africa.

Massive waves snapped her boat’s mast June 10, and she was rescued in a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean two days later by a French fishing boat. It took two weeks more at sea to reach Reunion, from which she plans to fly home Sunday.

“Any sailor that goes out to the water knows that being hit by a rogue wave is a risk, no matter where you are,” said Sunderland, flanked by her 18-year-old brother Zac, who flew to Reunion to meet her. “That was a risk that I was willing to take.”

Sunderland said she was as well-prepared as she could have been.

“You can’t eliminate risk, you can do a lot to minimize it but it’s always there,” Sunderland said.

Australia and France worked together to rescue the American teenager — and they footed the hefty bills for chartering jets to find her and diverting boats to her location.

Both countries have brushed off questions about the price tag for the American teenager’s solo adventure and say they have no plans to seek compensation for the maritime search and rescue operation.

Sunderland thanked everyone who helped in her rescue 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.

Sounding composed and lucid, she choked up only once, when thanking Zac — who at 17 briefly held the record for being the youngest person to sail solo around the world — for “inspiring my dreams.”

Her brother met the French patrol boat as it sailed into the harbor of Reunion’s capital, Saint-Denis, climbing aboard and embracing her as Abby teared up.

The accident “ended my trip but it didn’t end my dream,” Sunderland said. But she blanched and didn’t answer, however, when asked whether she would try another solo circumnavigation 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 40-foot (12-meter) boat, Wild Eyes, on Jan. 23. In April she had to give up hope of breaking the record for being the youngest when she was forced to stop for repairs.

Then three-story-high waves broke her boat’s mast and cut off her satellite communications. She was rescued June 12 by a French fishing boat 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) west of Australia, then was transferred to a French patrol boat.

She described her surprise when an Australian airplane finally spotted her and her relief some 40 hours later when she first caught sight of the fishing boat.

“The past few months have been the best of my life,” she said. “I was on an adventure. You can only plan so far.”

Sunderland said criticism of her family for letting her undertake the expedition “is ungrounded.”

“They have put up with a ton of stuff to help me follow my dream,” she said.

Some observers have wondered if the family isn’t pandering to media attention with both Zac and Abby seeking records.

Her father Laurence, reached by phone late Friday at his home in Thousand Oaks, California, told The Associated Press the family was thrilled that Abby had 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.

Sunderland said she wants to write a book eventually and definitely wants to keep sailing, but for now 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 French patrol boat Osiris as it returned from the Kerguelen Islands, a remote and barren patch of rocks north of Antarctica, where she was taken briefly after the rescue.

Associated Press Writer Yoann Guilloux in Saint-Denis, Reunion, and Denise Petski in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

will not be displayed