1. Headline
  1. Headline

Video: Teen sailor feared ‘no one would come’

  1. Transcript of: Teen sailor feared ‘no one would come’

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: But let us begin with Abby Sunderland 's ordeal on the Indian Ocean . We're going to talk to her exclusively in a moment. But first, here's NBC 's Kristen Welker .

    Ms. ABBY SUNDERLAND (Attempted to Sail Around the World): I'm really happy to be home, very sad things didn't work out the way that I...

    KRISTEN WELKER reporting: With mixed emotions, at the same marina where she set sail last January, Abby Sunderland described her harrowing voyage for the first time since returning home.

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: I'm living proof that things don't always work out the way you plan.

    WELKER: The 16-year-old had planned to sail around the world alone, but that dream was sunk when halfway through her trip and in the middle of the Indian Ocean a storm hit, followed by a rogue wave that rolled her boat and snapped her mast, briefly knocking her out.

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: I did hit my head kind of hard and things went black for a second, but just for a second.

    WELKER: A second. That's also about as long as Abby says she allowed herself to feel afraid.

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: I knew what to do in case of that problem, and because of that I felt comfortable out there.

    WELKER: Still, Sunderland knew she needed help so she sent out distress signals. And after an excruciating 20 hours, during which Abby 's family had lost all contact with her, emergency crews located the teen and then a French fishing vessel plucked her from the sea. She says the positive outcome is proof that while she may be young, she was prepared, and calls criticism of her parents unjustified.

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: It's extremely hurtful and it can -- it's sad to see some of it.

    WELKER: Abby spent 14 days on two different vessels to get from the middle of the Indian Ocean to the Kerguelen Islands and then onto Reunion Island off the coast of Africa , where her brother Zac was waiting for her. The two flew to Paris and finally, Monday night, home at last. And now the Sunderlands have one more reason to celebrate. Tuesday, mom Marianne gave birth to her eighth child, a boy whose family named him Paul in honor of the captain who rescued his older sister. For TODAY, Kristen Welker, NBC News, Los Angeles .

    VIEIRA: And Abby Sunderland is with us exclusively along with her brother Zac and her father, Laurence . Good morning to all of you.

    Mr. LAURENCE SUNDERLAND (Abby Sunderland's Father): Good morning.

    Mr. ZAC SUNDERLAND: Good morning.

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: Good morning.

    VIEIRA: Abby , it's so nice to see you safe and sound. How does it feel to be back on dry land? Is it strange?

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: Yeah, it's a little weird. It's hard -- it's kind of hard to get used to things at first.

    VIEIRA: Do you have your sea legs?

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: I'm pretty much over that now, but I was having trouble walking down stairs for the first few days.

    VIEIRA: You were. Yeah, I can imagine. You set out in January to circumnavigate the earth, and things were going pretty well until that day in June. You hit that storm in the Indian Ocean and that rogue wave about 30 feet, three stories high, it broke the mast, it rolled your boat over and it knocked you out briefly. Can you take us back to that day and what you remember?

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: Well, yeah. I was in a pretty bad storm. I had 60 knots. I had been knocked down four times throughout the day. But it wasn't actually until the storm was dying down, I only had 40 knots, things were calming down...

    VIEIRA: So you thought you were out of the woods , probably, yeah.

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: Yeah, yeah. I thought it wasn't going to get any worse in the day. SO it was really unexpected when, you know, I did -- my boat got -- I thought it was just going to be another knockdown, but it kept on rolling and I went all the way around .

    VIEIRA: But at that point you were inside, at least, so you were safe, but you did get knocked out for a moment.

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: Yeah, yeah. I just finished some work on the engine and I was actually about to go outside. Luckily, I wasn't quite out there yet. SO I just got thrown across the cabin. I didn't hear it coming because the wind was howling pretty loudly. So really all I remember is just being thrown across the cabin, and a few seconds later I was on on the roof and everything was falling down and, you know, water pouring in everywhere.

    VIEIRA: Was there a moment -- I know you -- as we pointed out in the piece, you said you didn't allow yourself to be scared, But in that -- in that moment when you have no phone, you have no mast, you're out in the middle of nowhere , you're setting off those beacons, was there a moment when you thought, `I might not get out of this'?

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: Yeah, where I was, I knew it was an area that's really hard to get to. I was right in the middle of the Indian Ocean . So I wasn't sure when anybody would come or if they would come. So I tried to keep myself from thinking about that too much, but in the back of my mind I knew that there was a possibility that nobody would come.

    VIEIRA: And, Laurence , when you got the call from search and rescue saying that, you know, that your daughter had let off those beacons, you don't know whether she's dead or alive. That must have been the most dreaded call you could possibly get as a dad.

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Absolutely. We were actually in conference with Abigail when we got the notification from the US Rescue Center . We'd been dealing with Abigail 's engine issue. And it was -- it was -- initially, because she had the 60 knots during the day, we had thought that the beacon was her automatic beacon. And when I checked the paperwork, it was the beacon that needed to be deployed manually, and we realized that we were in a search and rescue situation. And from that moment on, which was about a quarter to 6 in the morning, we just notified the authorities, the people that deal with that region of the world, and literally within one hour the French from the Reunion Island deployed three vessels to Abigail 's location and the Australian initially assisted the Reunion , they had committed within about two hours of sending out an A330 airplane at first light.

    VIEIRA: But you still had that period of time, about 20 hours, where you don't know the fate of your daughter. As a dad, at that point did any part of you go, `You know what? It was the wrong decision to let her go out there alone and attempt this'?

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: You know, there's a lot of thoughts that go through your head at that time. Would that have been one of them? Maybe, I don't know. But like Abigail had said, when you get to those situations, that fear and those emotions don't serve you well. You need to react in a positive way. You need to notify the authorities that are dealing with the search and rescue and give them the information that they would need. At that time we didn't know whether Abigail 's boat was upside down or right side up. We were giving them photographs of the boat upside down. We were trying to ascertain exactly what had happened. We knew that the storm had abated. We didn't know whether the keel had come off the boat. So we're just trying to speculate and give as much information as we could to the rescue centers.

    VIEIRA: Fortunately for Abby , they -- she was found and she was rescued. But, I mean, you all know, you talked about in the piece, there's been a lot criticism directed at the family.

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Absolutely.

    VIEIRA: And particularly at you, Laurence . There was an article in today's LA Times , a merchant marine , I don't know if you saw this, read this...

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Hm.

    VIEIRA: ...a merchant marine captain writes that Abby was ill prepared to handle an emergency on her own. He says, quote, "In spite of the Sunderlands ' statements regarding their desire to encourage their children to be independent, fearless adventurers, it's obvious the Sunderlands ' primary plan to deal with an emergency was to immediately call for help from the world's search and rescue services. So much for teaching your children independence and self-reliance." Is that a fair criticism?

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: No, it's not. And the criticism comes from people that don't know the preparation of the boat, they don't know the team that was involved. And, you know, Abigail was on a boat that was a category zero boat. It was designed for the southern ocean . It was as well prepared as the best prepared boat out there. And the sheer nature that she survived the incident and she reacted the way that she did is a testimony to how well the boat was prepared and how well she was prepared.

    VIEIRA: And part of the reason that Abby did survive was that the search and rescue people went out there. It cost a lot of money. Some estimates are like over $1 million. You have not been asked to absorb any of those costs.

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Right.

    VIEIRA: Do you think you should've been?

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Not really. There's an understanding internationally that if an American -- or an Australian was in trouble in American waters, we would absorb the costs. America would -- the Coast Guard could absorb the costs and vice versa. It's an international understanding. And from what I can make -- ascertain from the rescue centers, the media always jump on that every time and they make a big song and dance about it. But the reality is that the rescue centers worldwide have an understanding that they absorb the costs for -- if it's an American, if it's an Australian, if it's a Kiwi , whoever, they would absorb the costs depending on what region of the ocean the -- whatever sailor got into trouble. I mean, let's look at the Newport / Bermuda race . A boat tipped upside down, lost its keel, we don't hear any of that in the news. About five weekends ago there were five people on the west coast of America that lost their lives. You know, they were all rescued, it all cost a lot of money, but we don't hear about their rescue. I think...

    VIEIRA: Let me -- let me just touch base on one more -- because we are going to run out of time...

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: ...one more criticism, and give you a chance to respond to it, this whole notion about the reality show .

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Yes.

    VIEIRA: And some people who have said that Abby 's going out on this journey was really just to create buzz about a reality show . There was one in the works. What happened to it?

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: There was a shopping agreement that was -- that was signed with a start-up company. They were unsuccessful and that was -- that was it, basically.

    VIEIRA: But Abby 's journey had nothing to do with that reality show ?

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: No. Abigail 's journey was a passion of hers from the age of 13. And from the age of -- obviously, if I let her go at 13, I would have been very irresponsible. But from that age, we just monitored Abigail and her boating career and her life. And as she became of age, 16 years old, she proved to us that she was capable of undertaking this journey without a shadow of a doubt . She's the youngest person to round Cape Horn . She endured many storms before this tragic incident with a rogue wave , and a rogue wave can hit any sailor.

    VIEIRA: At any time.

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Isabelle Autissier , you name it.

    VIEIRA: How do you handle the criticism that's been leveled at you? Why do you think so many -- so many people have been critical of what you did?

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: I think it's mainly because people don't understand. I mean, not a lot of people sail, especially not my age, and I think it's mainly just they can't understand why I do it and they don't fully understand what I did out there and why I did it. So, you know.

    VIEIRA: Would you do it again?

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: I definitely would.

    VIEIRA: Are you -- are you making plans to do it again?

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: Not right now.

    VIEIRA: In the future.

    Ms. SUNDERLAND: But I'm going to keep sailing. I still love it.

    VIEIRA: I'll give Zac the last word. How proud are you of your sister? I know you were the one who picked her up at Reunion Island .

    Mr. Z. SUNDERLAND: I was extremely proud. Yeah, it was great to see her again. And yeah, just a great accomplishment that she has made.

    VIEIRA: All right, Abby , we're glad to have you back home. Zac , nice to see you. Laurence , as well.

    Mr. L. SUNDERLAND: Thank you very much , Meredith .

By
TODAY contributor
updated 6/30/2010 10:26:14 AM ET 2010-06-30T14:26:14

Safe at home nearly three weeks after her boat was disabled in the Indian Ocean during an attempt to sail solo around the world, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland expressed no anger Wednesday at those who have harshly criticized her and her family for undertaking such a dangerous adventure.

  1. Stories from
    1. Surprise - Lake Bell Is Pregnant!
    2. Amy Purdy Shows Off Her Specially Designed 'New Feet' for Dancing with the Stars
    3. It's a Boy for Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde
    4. Amanda Bynes Gets Her Driver's License Back
    5. Kaley Cuoco Sweeting Gets a Sexy New Bob (For Real, This Time!)

During an interview in New York with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira, Abby and her father, Laurence Sunderland, said the criticism was coming from people who don’t know Abby’s skill and dedication, or the amount of preparation and care that went into her attempt to circumnavigate the globe in her sailboat, Wild Eyes.

“I think it’s mainly because people don’t understand. Not a lot of people sail, especially not my age, and I think it’s mainly they can’t understand why I’d do it. And they don’t fully understand what I did out there and why I did it,” Abby said a day after her California homecoming.

Alone in the ocean
The precocious sailor admitted to being scared when a 30-foot rogue wave flipped her boat upside down after a day of ferocious storms that knocked her boat down on its side four times.

“I was right in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I wasn’t sure when anybody would come, or if they would come. I tried to keep myself from thinking about that too much, but in the back of my mind, I knew there was a possibility that nobody would come,” Abby said.

But then her experience and training kicked in, and she did what she needed to do to survive. With her satellite phone out, she deployed a rescue beacon that led to her rescue almost three days later, on June 13, by a French fishing vessel.

As for her father, he also had to fight off his worst fears when the satellite phone connection with his daughter went dead and the emergency beacon went off.

Vieira asked Sunderland if he ever thought that perhaps he made the wrong decision when he allowed his teenage daughter to set out on her dangerous journey.

“There’s a lot of thoughts that go through your head at that time. Would that have been one of them? Maybe. I don’t know,” he replied. “When you get to those situations, that fear and those emotions don’t serve you well. You need to react in a positive way.”

Cost of rescue
Sunderland said he notified the United States’ search-and-rescue center to start the search for Abby and her boat. An Australian search plane located her the next day, and the sailing vessel picked her up two days later. After two weeks on two French boats, she was reunited with her 17-year-old brother, Zac, on Reunion Island, from where they both flew home.

The media have speculated on the cost of the rescue, with estimates running up to $1 million, and have criticized the Sunderlands for not offering to pay. But that’s because the media are not familiar with the vagaries of rescues at sea, the father said.

“There’s an international understanding,” he said. “If an Australian was in trouble in American waters, the American Coast Guard would absorb the costs, and vice versa.” Sunderland cited other recent ocean rescue efforts that received little or no media attention as examples of that understanding. “The media always jump on that every time. The reality is that the rescue centers worldwide will absorb the costs.”

The latest criticism came in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece by merchant marine captain Sean Dolan that greeted Abby on her return. “In spite of the Sunderlands’ statements regarding their desire to encourage their children to be independent, fearless adventurers, it is obvious the Sunderlands’ primary plan to deal with an emergency was to immediately call for help from the world’s search and rescue services,” Dolan wrote. “So much for teaching your children independence and self-reliance.”

“The criticism comes from people that don’t know the preparation of the boat, that don’t know the team involved,” Sunderland rejoined, noting that Abby’s boat was specially built and rigged for the most extreme conditions a sailor would encounter. “It was designed for the southern ocean. It was as well-prepared as the best-prepared boat out there,” he said.

‘Everything was falling down’
Abby repeated her account of how her boat was disabled. She had been enduring 60-knot winds and heavy seas and dealing with engine failure, which she fixed with the help of her father, a shipwright, who spoke with her via satellite phone. She said winds had dropped to about 30 knots when the rogue wave struck.

“Things were calming down. It was really unexpected. I thought it was just going to be a knockdown, but it kept on rolling; it went all the way around,” she said. “I had just finished some work on the engine. I was actually about to go outside. Luckily, I wasn’t quite out there yet.”

Inside the cabin was chaos.

“I just got thrown across the cabin,” Abby continued. “I didn’t hear it coming, because the wind was howling pretty loudly. A few seconds later, I was on the roof and everything was falling down and water pouring in everywhere.”

Abby’s boat was fitted with several TV cameras. Laurence Sunderland confirmed that he had discussed a reality show when she began the journey, but he said there was no interest and he dropped the idea.

Sunderland’s eldest child, Zac, 17, last year became the youngest person to sail solo around the world, a record that has since been broken. On Tuesday, Laurence Sunderland’s wife gave birth to their eighth child, Paul, named after the captain of the fishing boat that rescued Abby.

  1. Related stories
    1. Did Sunderlands want TV fame?
      TODAY

      June 15: Allegations swirl that teen sailor Abby Sunderland’s family was seeking fame via reality-TV.

    2. Critics call teen’s round-the-world sail a stunt
    1. After rescue, she eyes ‘another try’
      TODAY

      June 14: Abby Sunderland may have left behind a broken boat, but her passion for sailing is still intact.

    2. Rescue boat nearing stranded teen sailor
    1. Teen sailor’s dad ‘happy she’s safe’
      TODAY

      June 12: The parents who let their 16-year-old try to sail the world solo address their critics.

    2. Interactive map: Abby Sunderland’s route

Laurence stoutly defended his daughter and her sailing abilities. “Abigail’s journey was a passion of hers from the age of 13. From that age, we just monitored Abigail and her boating career. As she became of age, she proved to us that she was capable of undertaking this journey, without a doubt,” he said.

“She’s the youngest person to round Cape Horn,” he added. “She endured many storms before this tragic incident with the rogue wave, and a rogue wave can hit any sailor.”

Vieira asked Abby if she would do it again.

“I definitely would,” she replied. “Not right now, but I’m going to keep sailing. I still love it.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments