In 2010, a 17-year-old Abby Sunderland had one goal: to travel around the world solo in her yacht. If she was successful, she would be the youngest person in history to accomplish the feat. When she set off on her journey, she was filled with hope in her heart and adventure on her mind. Then she had to be rescued after her boat was struck by a rogue wave, something Sunderland barely survived. Her boat wasn’t so lucky. But then eight years later, something amazing happened!
Following In Her Brother’s Footsteps
Just one year before Abby Sunderland embarked on her solo world tour, her brother had done the same thing. Zac Sunderland successfully returned home from his trip on July 16, 2009. At the time, it made him the youngest person to ever solo sail the globe.
Maybe it was because of their sibling rivalry, but Abby was determined to break that record. Sailing ran in the family, so convincing her family to let her follow in her brother’s footsteps wouldn’t be hard.
She’d Been Training For Years
Abby had been planning and training for her trip for a while. When she was 13 years old, she came up with her master plan. It was then up to her father to train her.
In an interview with ABC News, he talked about one particularly tough day of training, “Her boat was rocking from gunnel to gunnel.” As tough as that day was, it would help build the foundation for Abby’s incredible survival story when everything seemed lost.
One Bad Day Didn’t Stop Her
Laurence Sunderland knew that Abby needed to be tough to sail around the world. That meant long training sessions to replicate how long her days on the ocean would last. One of these training days took place in the freezing cold.
At the end of the day, Laurence recalled turning to Abby and asking, “So, Abby, are you ready to sail around the world now?” Abby looked at her father, unafraid of the journey, and answered, “Where is my boat?”
Abby’s Mother Reluctantly Agreed To The Journey
With Abby’s father steadfastly on board, there was still one parent who needed convincing. Marianne Sunderland was hesitant to give her only daughter permission to sail around the world, but eventually agreed.
For her, it was about putting Abby’s journey into perspective. “Could there be a tragedy? Yeah, there could be. But there could be a tragedy on the way home tonight, you know, or driving with her friends in a car at 16. You minimize the risks,” she explained.
Abby Had Her Critics
When Abby’s plan to sail the globe went public, she was 16 years old. The news was met with a harsh backlash by a national media worried for the teenager’s safety.
The harshest critic was T.J. Simers, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. In a scathing analysis he wrote, “Child abuse. Child endangerment. I just don’t understand the idea of risking life. This kid’s going to be out there all by herself.”
She Fought Back Against Simers
In his article about Abby, Simers said, “Death is a possibility. Bad weather. Are you kidding me? Who’s responsible for this? She’s a kid.” Little did Simers know Abby wasn’t going to take his remarks sitting down.
She may have been young, but Abby knew what she wanted to do. First, she acknowledged that she was nervous. The she fired back at Simers, “I understand [the] ocean and I understand how dangerous what I’m doing is.” With great risk comes great reward, and Abby had a huge reward in mind.
Abby’s 40 foot yacht was named “Wild Eyes,” which seemed fitting for the young adventure seeker. Even though she had her critics, the most important people in her life supported her.
Her parents trusted her and she trusted herself, even if the outside world didn’t. Before setting off, Abby said, “I understand how careful I need to be out there.” On January 23, 2010, she stepped on board Wild Eyes in Southern California and departed on the first leg of her journey.
One hundred days into her journey, things were going smoothly. Abbey Sunderland had wisely plotted her course to avoid dangers such as pirates. The natural elements, however, weren’t as predictable.
On her 101st day at sea, Abby spoke to 202/20 and reported that a rogue wave had challenged her. “I did get knocked down. I’d be happy if that didn’t happen again,” she said. If only nature was less temperamental, it might have listened.
She Had To Stop In South Africa
When Abby left California, she needed to detour to Cabo San Lucas for last-minute boat repairs. When she set sail again, she was hoping not to have to make any more stops.
Unfortunately, she was forced to stop in South Africa for more repairs. While there, she was able to give an update. While her spirits were high, she admitted, “I think it actually might be more fun if there was somebody else on board, but I’m happy to do it alone, too.”
In June, The Weather Turned On Her For Good
In June, Abby Sunderland reached the halfway mark on her journey. This should have been a celebratory occasion, but mother nature was in no mood for cake. On her blog, Abby said she had hit a tough patch and had gone through “a rough few days.”
As much as Abby wanted to smile and stay positive, she had to be honest with her followers, writing, “I’ve in some rough weather for a while, with winds steady at 40 to 45 knots, with higher gusts.”
Boat Repairs Weren’t Easy
With the unrelenting weather bashing Wild Eyes, Abby was forced to make some repairs. Most troubling, her sail had been damaged. She needed to fix it as best she could before the weather inevitably got worse.
Like a professional, Abby set to work to get Wild Eyes back together, “I managed to take [the sail] down, take care of the tear and get it back up in a couple of hours,” she wrote. “It wasn’t the most fun job I have done out here.”
70 Mile Per Hour Winds
Over the next few days, winds burst up to 70 miles per hour and 50 foot waves came crashing down on Abby’s boat. With every passing moment it was getting harder and harder for Abby Sunderland to keep herself afloat.
The last message Laurence and Marianne received from their daughter was that she had managed to get all the breached water out of Wild Eyes. They updated her blog, then waited anxiously for her next transmission.
The Last Call A Parent Wants To Get
The next call that Abby’s parents got was not from her; it was from the authorities. Laurence and Marianne then took to their daughter’s blog, writing that her emergency beacon had been activated.
Initially, everyone though the beacon had been automatically set off. The alert had been triggered manually, though. This was the best news Abby’s parents could have heard under the circumstances. Her daughter was likely still alive, but time to save her was running out.
The Rescue Mission Began
French, American, and Australian authorities came together to begin the search for Abby using the last signal from her beacon. They would search on the water and in the air, covering as much ground as possible.
As scared as Laurence and Marianne were, they knew that before Abby’s journey began she had enough supplies to survive the worst conditions. This was the worst case scenario, but it was far from hopeless, especially with so many people on Abby’s side.
Wild Eyes Was Found Upright
Thirteen hours after the search for Abby began, a plane spotted Wild Eyes upright in the water. From the air, there was no sign on how Abby was doing, but via radio communications she was able to signal that she was alive and okay.
The update on Abby’s blog read, “Wild Eyes is upright but her rigging is down. The weather conditions are abating. Radio communication was made and Abby reports that she is fine.”
Goodbye Wild Eyes
The rescue mission was a success! Abby was returned home safe and sound, no worse for the wear. The same couldn’t be said for Wild Eyes, though. The boat that had been through so much with Abby was broken and abandoned in the middle of the ocean.
After Abby returned home, she decided to put her adventures on hold and focus on being a teenager. School and planning for her future became her main focus.
Eight Years Went By
Abby spent the next eight years building a new life for herself. She grew up, got married, and had three kids. Her days of exploring the ocean were behind her. And then she received a call.
Wild Eyes had been found by a tuna spotting aircraft off the coast of Australia. It was floating upside in the water and covered in barnacles, but it was still unmistakably Abby’s Wild Eyes.
The Sunderlands couldn’t believe the news when they found out. Abby’s dad told MSN, “I was just gobsmacked… just incredibly amazing. I thought I might see it in matchstick pieces on a beach after being beaten by the Southern Ocean.”
Of course, John Sayer, the man who built Wild Eyes, knew his boat was made to last. “I’m surprised it took so long to actually appear again,” he said. The boat was built to never sink, and thanks to that, it eventually found its way back home.
Wild Eyes Finished The Job Abby Started
When Abby Sunderland set sail in 2010, she wanted to travel the globe. When she was rescued, she thought her dreams were over. Thanks to Wild Eyes’ long journey home, though, she may have succeeded after all.
Oceanographer David Griffin believes that with the amount of time Wild Eyes spent adrift, it very likely may have circumnavigated the globe. He believes, “There is every chance it has done a lap of the world already and is on its second time around.”
Abby And Wild Eyes Together Again
Abby and her father both thought that bringing Wild Eyes back home was the best idea. Laurence especially liked the idea of bringing the boat back to the spot it originally left from.
Abby wanted to bring the boat home too. She may have grown up, but she still had fond memories of her teenage years, “My heart skipped a beat. It brought back many memories – good and not so good –but it was neat to see it after so long.”