In her first public statements after being rescued June 12 in the Indian Ocean, teenage sailor Abby Sunderland said Tuesday there were "times when I was terrified" during the ordeal, but that she was prepared for the perils of a solo circumnavigation and was proud of her achievement.
Sunderland's parents, through a family spokesman, defended their 16-year-old daughter's effort and condemned the media and public criticism of their decision to allow the voyage to take place as "shocking to us" and some of which "crossed the line of human decency."
Laurence and Marianne Sunderland did not attend the press conference in the Marina del Rey Hotel and Marina near her hometown of Thousand Oaks, Calif., because they were at the hospital, where Marianne gave birth to her eighth child. It was announced at the press conference that the baby boy would be named Paul, after Paul Louis Le Moigne, the French fishing boat captain who rescued their daughter.
"There are no words in the English language that can describe my feelings having her back home," her father, Laurence, a shipwright, told Soundings before leaving for the hospital for the birth of the couple's child. "It's just amazing - it's still sinking in she's really home."
Abby Sunderland said that she was planning to focus on school, getting her driver's license and "getting back to a normal life."
"I've made it clear I love sailing, but I haven't planned to do anything further yet," Sunderland said. "It'll be a few years if I do it again ... I really feel bad for putting my parents through all this worry."
Sunderland set off Jan. 23 in her Open 40 from Marina del Rey with a goal of becoming the youngest solo circumnavigator. She was following in the footsteps of her older brother Zac, who finished his solo circumnavigation July 16, 2009. (Zac briefly held the record as the youngest solo circumnavigator before being surpassed by younger teen sailors Mike Perham of England and Jessica Watson of Australia.)
Abby Sunderland's solo bid came up short in the Indian Ocean in heavy weather. Abby told reporters that she was dismasted about 2,000 nautical miles off Western Australia and 570 miles northwest of the Kerguelen Islands. Seas were 20 to 25 feet with winds at 35 knots. Abby says the storm was abating and she was in good shape before a rogue wave rolled Wild Eyes, snapping the mast and flooding and disabling the engine.
Her first thought was a jury rig, she said, but when she came back onto the deck, "there was no mast there ... just a one-inch stub was left on deck." Her boom was also "snapped in half."
She triggered two EPIRBs on June 10 and was rescued June 12 by a commercial fishing vessel. Sunderland arrived home Monday in California.
"I was without contact for three days while the ship was getting to me," says Abby. "I saw the plane fly over me and I knew they knew I was out there. I just felt bad because I knew everyone at home was going crazy."
The young sailor describes the experience of being dismasted as "unbelievable."
"You know in the back of your mind it's a possibility, but it is so unexpected and it was hard to know what to think when it happened," says Abby.
Look for an in-depth account of Sunderland's story in the September issue of Soundings.