Teenage solo sailor rescued from ordeal in 30-foot waves

Yacht girl Abby Sunderland, 16, saved by French fishing boat 2,000 miles off the coast of Australia

A French fishing boat rescued teenage sailor Abby Sunderland from her crippled boat in the southern Indian Ocean. She was 2,000 nautical miles from the Australian coast, aged just 16, and had been attempting to circumnavigate the globe.

Initial reports three days ago had indicated she might have perished in these turbulent waters after her boat was disabled by 30ft waves which broke the mast and knocked out satellite communications. But contact was re-established, a rescue mission launched, and she is now on board a French vessel, Ile de la Réunion, steaming to Reunion Island, apparently unharmed apart from a few bruises.

"She had been knocked about a bit but I don't think there was anything serious," said her mother, Marianne, from the family's home in California. "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."

Abby, updating her blog from the French vessel – "a great big fishing boat heading I am not exactly sure where" – wrote: "The long and the short of it is, well, one long wave, and one short mast." She added that the world's media had been "eager to pounce on my story now that something bad has happened", and answered those who have criticised her parents for allowing someone so young out alone on the ocean by saying: "As for age, since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?"

Her father, Laurence, refused to elaborate on the incident that had led to his daughter's rescue. Her boat, Wild Eyes, is still adrift, but will not be towed back to shore.

Abby had set sail from Los Angeles County's Marina del Rey on 23 January, trying to become the youngest person to sail round the world single-handed. Her brother, Zac, held the record for a little more than a month last year until Briton Mike Perham completed his own journey, aged 17 years and 164 days. The record changed hands again last month, when Australian Jessica Watson, 16, completed her round-the-world sail. Abby, whose father is a shipwright and has a yacht-management firm, ran into equipment problems and had to stop for repairs soon after beginning her journey. She gave up the goal of setting the record in April, but continued, hoping to complete the journey.

In the Indian Ocean, Abby had made several broken calls to her family, reporting that her yacht was being tossed by 30ft waves. An hour after her last call on Thursday, her emergency beacons began signalling. She was contacted by rescuers in a chartered Qantas Airbus A330 jet that made a 4,700-mile round trip from Perth to Abby's boat. They spotted her on the stern deck of her vessel, its sail dragging in the water, but the girl appeared to be in good shape. She told searchers she was fine, and had a space heater and at least two weeks' worth of food.

A fishing boat and an Australian naval craft sailed at full speed to her estimated position, and, yesterday morning, with the French vessel an hour away, an Australian search and rescue spotter plane flew over Abby's boat. She fired a flare to confirm her position. The Ile de la Réunion used one of its boats to bring Abby on board.

One critic is Derrick Fries, a world sailing champion and author of the standard instruction manual Learn to Sail. He said that while he did not doubt Abby's abilities as a sailor, she could not possibly have gained enough experience to prepare for every possible emergency. "Never would I allow my 16-year-old son to even attempt it," he said. "It's almost a death sentence."

Abby's family defends her trek, saying that as a lifelong sailor she was as well prepared for the journey as anyone could be. "Sailing, and life in general, is dangerous," said her father, Laurence. "Teenagers drive cars. Does that mean teenagers shouldn't drive a car? I think people who hold that opinion have lost their zeal for life."

The Australian maritime authority did not say how much the rescue mission would 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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'