A California teenager who spent three days adrift on the turbulent Indian Ocean described her ordeal as “crazy” as she started a long journey home aboard a French fishing boat that rescued her Saturday from her crippled sailboat.
Abby Sunderland was bumped and bruised but otherwise healthy, her parents said after hearing from the 16-year-old in a 20-minute phone call to their home northwest of Los Angeles.
“She sounded tired, a little bit small in her voice, but she was able to make jokes and she was looking forward to getting some sleep,” her mother, Marianne Sunderland, told reporters outside the family home.
Her mother, who is close to giving birth to a boy, said her daughter joked about her ordeal affecting the baby and also talked about plans for the next school year.
The young sailor continued to blog after being rescued more than 2,000 miles west of Australia two days after a wave broke the mast of her boat, Wild Eyes, satellite phone communication was lost and she set off emergency beacons.
“Crazy is the word that really describes everything that has happened best,” she wrote Saturday morning from “a great big fishing boat headed I am not exactly sure where.” She will spend more than a week traveling to Reunion Island, a French territory east of Madagascar.
“The long and the short of it is, well, one long wave, and one short mast,” she wrote.
She dismissed criticism that she was too young to undertake an attempt to sail around the world by herself.
“As for age, since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?” she wrote.
Her father, Laurence Sunderland, a boat builder who teaches sailing, said his daughter had thousands of miles of solo sailing experience before she set out and he had scrutinized her skills.
“This was not a flippant decision,” he said. “Abigail’s been raised on the ocean all her life. She’s lived over half her life on yachts. … This is like second nature to Abigail.”
Laurence Sunderland said the team of experts that worked on Wild Eyes and the circumnavigation project were “second to none.”
He said his daughter desired to sail solo around the world since she was 13 but he considered her “not fit” at that age or 14, when she was already helming by herself.
“And I did a lot of things to dissuade her actually by showing her the ferocity of the ocean around here … taking yachts in very adverse conditions and to see what her mettle was made of,” he said.
He said his daughter simply “caught a bad wave.”
“Should age be a factor here?” he said. “Abigail has proven herself. She sailed around Cape Horn, the Cape of Good Hope. She’d endured 50 knots and 60 knots-plus of wind prior to this unfortunate circumstance.”
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the French ship Ile De La Reunion brought Abby Sunderland aboard from her stricken craft Saturday afternoon at the site.
French authorities called it a “delicate operation,” and said at one point the fishing boat’s captain fell into the ocean and had to be rescued, but was in “good health.” Laurence Sunderland said the crew used its dinghy in the transfer.
Australian authorities were broadcasting a message to boats crossing through the area warning them that Sunderland’s sailboat is still adrift.
Sunderland will leave the French fishing boat in about two days to board a maritime patrol boat that will take her to Reunion Island, according to a statement from the office of the French Indian Ocean island’s top official. The transfer will take place off the Kerguelen Islands, with the exact timing depending on weather and ocean conditions.
Authorities said Sunderland likely would not arrive in Reunion for at least a week.
Marianne Sunderland said her daughter was relieved to be off her boat, but it was difficult to abandon it.
“When you’re on a boat like Abby has been and so closely related to that boat for your everyday existence you become very close to it,” she said. “She had to leave Wild Eyes in the middle of the ocean and that’s been hard for her.”
Sunderland wrote in her blog: “I keep hitting the wrong keys and am still trying to get over the fact that I will never see my Wild Eyes again.”
Sunderland set out from Marina del Rey on the Los Angeles County coast on Jan. 23, trying to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo and nonstop.
Soon after starting her trip, Sunderland ran into equipment problems and had to stop for repairs. She gave up the goal of setting the record in April, but hoped to complete the journey.
Zac Sunderland, her brother, held the record briefly last year until Briton Mike Perham completed his own journey. The record changed hands last month when 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson completed her own around-the-world voyage.
Outside the family home on Saturday eight pink balloons were tethered to the white picket fence and beneath them was a hand-painted sign that read: “Thank God Abby’s alive.”
She had been keeping in contact with her parents and support team by satellite phone during the voyage. Early Thursday she reported her yacht was being tossed by 30-foot (9-meter) waves — as tall as a 3-story building. An hour after her last call ended Thursday, her emergency beacons began signaling.
Rescuers in a chartered jet flew from Australia’s west coast and spotted Sunderland’s boat on Thursday. She was able to radio to the plane to say she was in good health and had plenty of food supplies.
The Australian maritime authority did not say how much the rescue mission cost but said it would not be seeking compensation for the search, which initially fell just outside of Australia’s search and rescue region. It was not immediately clear if the French vessel would seek compensation. — AP