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Video: Stranded teen sailor: Reality-TV show ‘was a lie’

  1. Closed captioning of: Stranded teen sailor: Reality-TV show ‘was a lie’

    >>> "today's update." you may remember abby sunderland from her attempt to sail around the world last summer. but her dreams were shattered when she hit rough waters and her sailboat was destroyed. the world was watching and praying for a miracle.

    >> good morning, breaking news, she's safe.

    >> rescued, a 16-year-old american safe after a harrowing ordeal on the open water .

    >> rescue boats are headed to the indian ocean where 16-year-old abby was found alive and well .

    >> nearly six months into the trip of a lifetime, more than halfway around the world , abby sunderland's record-breaking dream soon became a nightmare. a dangerous storm packing powerful wind and 30-foot waves te stairwayed abby 's boat snapping off her mast and throwing abby across the cabin.

    >> i just went flying across the room. i was expecting it to stop at a certain point and me to pop back up, you know, but it didn't. it just kept on going. before i knew it i was on the roof.

    >> stranded deep in the indian ocean , abby was lost in one of the most remote parts of the world. her family waited for a miracle.

    >> we're just hoping and praying she gets through okay.

    >> reporter: abby set off emergency beacons . a qantas aircraft spotted her thousands of miles from land.

    >> i'm happy to report they did find the sailing yacht "wild eyes" upright in the water. they spoke to abby by vhf radio . she's fine.

    >> reporter: she was on her bay home but a new storm was brewing. the sunderlands faced criticism for allowing their teenagered daughter to set sail in the first place, a decision her father defended.

    >> the criticism comes from people who don't know the preparation of the boat, the team involved and the fact that she reacted the way she did and survive sd a testimony to how well she and the boat were prepared.

    >> reporter: abby 's age wasn't the only point of controversy. there were reports that the sunderlands had plans to film a reality show . abby 's fatherer wanted the show to be inspirational but said the producer of the show wanted it to be something else.

    >> he wanted it to be about me being irresponsible and abigail dying.

    >> reporter: a claim the producer denies.

    >> the fact that he's gone to news agencies saying we hoped for her death and it would be great for the reality show was ridiculous. i think abby was pushed too soon to leave on her voyage.

    >> reporter: regardless, the show was scrapped and abby shifted focus to the future. strong, determined and unshaken, abby 's sailing dreams remain alive.

    >> i'm not sure how many people will believe it but i think i like sailing even more than when i left.

    >> reporter: abby has written a book about her adventure called "unsynchable." nice to see you.

    >> hi.

    >> let's start with what you said in the piece. you think you like sailing more now? a lot of people would find that hard to believe after what you have been through.

    >> as crazy as it seems it's really increased my love for sailing. i have always loved it. love it even more now.

    >> i will ask you later if you will do it again. june 10 of last summer is a memorable day. you and a friend worked to produce the animation we are going to see that depicts what you went through in that boat. it got knocked down, flips over. the mast is snapped off. what is going through your mind during that time?

    >> well, any sailor that heads onto the ocean knows being hit bay rogue wave is a chance you're taking. at the same time you don't really expect it to happen. when this was going on it was major disbelief. i couldn't believe my boat was rolling. i knew through this my trip was ending.

    >> when things calmed down and you could see the condition of your boat and you knew it wasn't going to be doing any more sailing and when you realized where you were in the remote corner of the world did you think about the fact you wouldle never be found?

    >> of course. in the circumstances your mind wanders. it's at those times it becomes extremely important that you control that. you know, you take the fear and just find something to take your mind off of it.

    >> i understand that from a 55-year-old. "control your fear." you're 16, in the middle of the ocean in a crippled boat. how did you keep it together? or did you?

    >> i had sailed my whole life. as a sailor, keeping control of your emotions is one of the most important things. i had been taught that my whole entire life.

    >> were there moments when you sat on the boat and wept?

    >> of course there were times i sat there thinking, you know, i'm in the middle of nowhere . i don't know if people can get to are where i am. but i would find something to do, anything, working around the boat.

    >> you came back and everybody was wildly relieved that you had been rescued but then the criticisms started.

    >> mm-hmm.

    >> a lot of it aimed at your parents that they let you do it at 16, you were inexperienced though you say you had been sailing your whole life. you left at the wrong time of year according to some people and you didn't have the proper equipment. how do you respond to the critics today?

    >> of course there is always going to be criticism. you can never make anyone happy. but a lot of people don't understand the extensive preparation the boat went through. they also had a full-on weather routing team that routed people down that part of the world for years. also, i had a team of experts behind me that, you know, were a phone call away if i needed anything.

    >> there were reports of a reality show . i think your family kind of took it on the chin. people said, you know, this is a publicity stunt . the family is doing this, pushing this 16-year-old girl out to see ill-prepared because they want to become famous and they want this reality show to put them on the map. tell me about your family. is there any truth to that -- the fact that they like the limelight a little bit too much?

    >> well, you know, if i had been out here just for publicity and just to set a record i would have left when i first decided to go at 13. i wouldn't have waited until i was really ready at 16. we were approached by a reality tv show . they wanted a great show, inspirational for teenagers about the american spirit and teenagers getting out and doing great things, but they were turning it into something we didn't like. we didn't like the direction.

    >> the producer disagrees that he was out to do a show about irresponsible parents and, in fact, after wiring your boat with all the cameras believed he would be watching you die out there?

    >> yeah. i didn't realize -- i didn't hear about that until i was in the ocean. i was shocked because he had said all this stuff and here i was a few seconds earlier had gotten a nice e-mail from him. the whole time it was a lie. so we cut ties with the whole show.

    >> in other words, there are no plans now in the near future to do a different reality show or has that been scrapped completely.

    >> there are no plans for one.

    >> what about your plans? you're 17 now. you did this when you were 16. you still love sailing. you like it now more than ever. would you do this again?

    >> definitely. i'm working on learning to drive now. but the second a boat and sponsorship comes up, i will try again.

    >> it's all about money. you have to have the right funding and backing to make a serious attempt at this.

    >> it depends on what type of trip you do. i could buy a little beat up boat and work my way traveling around the world which i might do.

    >> don't do that. all right? not in a fixer-upper. thanks, good to have you here. we're back after your local news and weather.

Submitted by Jason Jones  /  UGC
TODAY books
updated 4/8/2011 11:36:47 AM ET 2011-04-08T15:36:47

Abby Sunderland made headlines when she attempted to sail around the world last year unassisted — at the age of 16. In her new memoir “Unsinkable: A Young Women’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas,” the fearless sailor recounts her amazing journey and tenacity. An excerpt:

The Indian Ocean
The storms were amazing — sometimes even fun. Wild Eyes was built for speed and I was flying down walls of water twenty and thirty feet high. As a sailor, you dream of seeing waves like that, rolling mountains of water that look like they’re covered in dark gray silk. During the day, vast dark clouds hung low over the water.

Sometimes the sun shined through in places. At night, the weather often cleared and I clipped myself in up on deck, racing along the swells under stars so big and bright they lit up the night like extra moons.

But in the second week of June, storms roared in one after another — bashing Wild Eyes, my open 40 boat, shredding her sails, knocking out my gear. There was very little time between blows to patch up the damage.

One day a screaming wind tore my genoa, the big sail on the front of the boat. What a pain! You have to thread the sail up the furler and it flogs all over the place while you’re doing it, gets jammed, then sticks like a zipper. When that happens, you have to run it back down the furler and start over. In twenty-knot winds, it took a whole day to run up a new genoa.

Another day the sail ties on my mainsail came loose and I had to climb all over the boom like a monkey trying to secure it again. The storm whipped the 120-pound Kevlar sail back and forth like it was as flimsy as a bed sheet. Repairing my sails was job number one. Without them, Wild Eyes was helpless. But fixing sails ate up the short lulls between storms, leaving the rest of the damage — and the work — to pile up. I was already running on secondary autopilot and it wasn’t working all that well. I had fixed a leak under the throttle, but the leak popped loose again, pouring seawater back into the compartment. The heater was broken, so I couldn’t get dry between blows, and I couldn’t shake off the numbing cold.

Meanwhile, as I tried to do repairs, the storms tossed me back and forth across the tiny cabin so much that

I began to feel like a giant pinball.

I tried to keep the mind-set: Don’t get overwhelmed. Do one thing at a time. That’s all you can do.

The open ocean often takes you past your physical limits and when it does, sailing becomes a mental game. When fear starts to flicker in your brain, you have to stop it quickly before it turns into something bad. As soon as you let your thoughts start racing down the road of what could happen, what might happen, fear can snatch you up and run away with you. Nothing good comes from that. Fear causes hesitation instead of decisive action. At sea, you have to think fast, be ready at any moment to make big decisions. You can’t waste time being scared. You can’t risk it.

Story: Teen sailor feared ‘no one would come’ to save her

But I would learn that some challenges are greater than others. And fear can tear its way into your heart no matter how tough you think you are.

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On June 10, the worst storm in the series swept across the middle of the Indian Ocean, and Wild Eyes was directly in its path. Four times during the day, massive waves and winds knocked my boat completely down, putting my mast in the water. I was below and if I wasn’t strapped in, the force lifted me from wherever I was in the cabin and threw me against the wall. And every time, the autopilot went into standby mode. Once Wild Eyes started to right herself, I had to race topside, jump in the cockpit, and grab the tiller to hand steer the boat back on course.

Each time I opened the companionway door, Wild Eyes was heeled way over toward the heaving sea. Outside the wind was screaming. Waves sloshed across my head, smashing into my face, sucking my breath away. I had to clip my harness to a railing then rise up through the companionway. The boat’s deck had become a high wall on my right, forcing me to find footing along the skinny inside wall of the cockpit, which was now slightly submerged. I stepped out. The boat dipped wildly and saltwater whipped across my face, spraying the vertical deck as I picked my way along the cockpit wall. I tried not to think about the fact that my feet were wading on the edge of nowhere, that the nearest land was Kerguelen Island, a little rock seven hundred miles south.

But it was a hard fact that wouldn’t go away.

Fear pecked at me, and I tried to swat it away by moving, moving, moving.

Get to the cockpit.

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Grab the tiller.

Steer the boat.

The fourth knockdown was the worst. Even before I opened the hatch, I knew my mast was well in the water — a potential disaster. Heart pounding, I listened as the howling wind banged the rigging against the mast, and waited. How far will it go? Will the weight of the mast, of the water in the tiny bit of staysail, keep pulling me over? Will I roll?

Story: Was teen’s round-the-world sail a stunt?

No!

I felt Wild Eyes rally against the sea — again! — and begin to right herself.

Relief surged through me.

I love this boat!

But it wasn’t all good news. The Indian Ocean had ripped my radar right off the carbon-fiber mast and swallowed it whole. The radar had been secured to the mast with four huge steel bolts. The sea had pulled the gear off as easily as the pop-top on a tuna can, and it reminded me who was boss. Still, the mast was upright again and I had all my sails. Wild Eyes’ resilience inspired me.
Okay, that was the worst of it, I thought. I’ll just hang on until things calm down.

And they did.

Early that evening, I stood on the deck in the stiff wind and looked out at the rolling sea. The gray daylight had melted away and it was full dark. The moon rose behind the clouds and found patches to shine through, like a flashlight from God. The waves were still huge, but they seemed less angry, the swells glinting silver in the moonlight.

Just before dark, I had pulled the staysail all the way out to take advantage of the easier winds. Now I stood still, hand on the rigging, and turned my face into the freezing salt spray. I was already exhausted from pulling all-nighters to patch up my boat. Physically, I was getting pretty worn down. Emotionally, too.

For now the worst was over, but Commanders’ Weather had forecast another big storm ahead.

I needed to start pulling Wild Eyes back together.

I went below to prioritize the workload.

From "Unsinkable: A Young Woman's Courageous Battle on the High Seas" by Abby Sunderland. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Thomas Nelson.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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