Abby Sunderland’s voyage comes to an end

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Australian search-and-rescue authorities say Abby Sunderland was just like "a small dot on the ocean" when they spotted her alive on the back deck of her Open 40 Wild Eyes.

"Because I was at the front of the plane, I just happened to spot Abby as she came into the field of view," said Michael Wood, who saw Sunderland's vessel from a spotter plane out of Perth, Australia, according to a post on Abby Sunderland's blog. "We're all mindful that Abby's got a number of hours left so we've all got our fingers crossed."

A crew of 11 volunteers was on board a spotter plane that flew out of Perth, Australia. A second, smaller plane was to leave Perth to conduct another sighting, according to Chris Lawson, spokesman for Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia.

Abby was in very good spirits, according to Will Blackshaw, the organization's task force leader. "The window of opportunity to speak to her was very short, so we had very brief, direct conversations about her health, the condition of the vessel and her communications," he said. "The seas are very rough indeed, and there is a lot of wind and she is obviously going to have a very uncomfortable night of sleep."

The crew instructed Sunderland to activate two more EPIRB devices tomorrow afternoon so rescuers would have a continuous signal.

Abby Sunderland was dismasted about 2,000 nautical miles off Western Australia, which means the end of her solo circumnavigation attempt and, likely, the end of her Scott Jutson-designed Open 40, Wild Eyes.

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Sunderland's team notified Soundings at 2:30 a.m. (EDT) June 11 that the 16-year-old was found alive in the Indian Ocean by Australian rescue authorities.

"Wild Eyes is upright, but her rigging is down. The weather conditions are abating," says Sunderland's parents, Laurence and Marianne, on her blog. "Radio communication was made and Abby reports that she is fine!"

The voyage, however, is over, says Laurence Sunderland.

"I don't know how she'll be routed back to us here or where we'll go to meet her, but knowing that she's alive and well means far more to me than any sailing record," he told Australia's ABC news.

Two of Sunderland's three EPIRBs were manually set off in the southern Indian Ocean at about 6 a.m. (PDT) June 10. She activated a PLB attached to her survival suit and activated a manual EPIRB on the boat. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., teen was more than halfway into her attempt to be the youngest solo circumnavigator.

The family says a French fishing vessel has been diverted and will reach her in about 24 hours.

"A plane flew over her at about 11 p.m. [Pacific time] and made contact with her via VHF radio," Laurence Sunderland told Good Morning America. "They got a visual of her boat, which is right-side up but dismasted."

In a June 10 interview with Soundings, he explained how they lost contact with their daughter.

"We were on the satellite phone troubleshooting some engine problems; she couldn't get it started," says Sunderland. Seas were 20 to 25 feet and winds 35 knots. "The call kept getting dropped intermittently, but we resolved the issue with the engine. The call then got dropped [again], but we thought Abby was just making sure the engine was [running] properly."

However, the next call he received wasn't from his daughter - it was from rescue authorities.

"They told me her EPIRB had been set off and the numbers matched perfectly to what we had. There was no question it was her," says Sunderland.

Marianne says while she knew in her heart that Abby was OK, she couldn't help but play out the worst possible scenarios in her head.

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"But I knew the boat would stay afloat. It was designed that way," says Marianne.

According to the family's blog update, the teen sailor has a dry suit, survival suit, life raft and ditch bag with emergency supplies. Wild Eyes is designed for ocean racing and has five watertight bulkheads to help keep her from sinking in the event of major hull damage. It also is designed to right itself.

"I think Abby is a calm person and levelheaded," said her brother, Zac, in the Good Morning America interview. Zac completed a solo circumnavigation in July 2009 at age 17. "She knows that rescue is on the way."

Abby Sunderland had encountered a rough few days in the Indian Ocean before the dismasting, enduring multiple knockdowns in 60-knot winds.

Sunderland's trip has been fraught with problems since she set off Jan. 23 from her hometown of Marina del Rey, Calif.

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On Feb. 1, she had to put in at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to pick up additional batteries and address other technical issues. She began a "new" non-stop attempt from Cabo San Lucas, recasting the trip from Marina del Rey as a shakedown cruise.

On April 24, Sunderland announced on her blog that her non-stop attempt was officially over because of malfunctioning autopilots. She had to stop at Cape Town for repairs.

Her father and Zac met her there to help with repairs. Sunderland was back on the water May 21.


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