Second of eight children
Brother, Zac Sunderland, became youngest person to solo circumnavigate the world at age 17 in 2009
Abby Sunderland's Unsinkable Faith
The 700 Club
A YOUNG GIRL’S DREAM
Abby Sunderland turned sixteen in October, 2009. To the outward observer, she was a seemingly clean-cut, All-American girl…the second of seven children (now eight), home-schooled by her Christian parents. But a passion burned inside of her.
Abby had been around the water and on boats since she was six months old, and by the time she was thirteen years old, she felt the call of the sea. She set her sights on making history as the youngest person, male or female, to circumnavigate the world. Not only did she plan to accomplish this feat alone and unassisted, she planned to do it without once taking refuge on land.
Abby watched her brother, Zac, sail around the world in 2009. Abby says she was excited to see him go on his trip. “Seeing my brother make his dream happen gave me the courage to do the same,” Abby says.
So, in January, 2010, Abby set sail on an Open 40 racing sailboat, named Wild Eyes, to make her own dream come true. When she left on her journey, Abby was filled with excitement, and a little fear. “If there hadn’t been [fear] I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to go. You have a healthy respect for the ocean.” Abby knew the risks, but she also knew her way around a boat. Although she realized not many people make it all the way around the world, she says she pushed that out of her mind and set out with confidence. “Fear causes hesitation instead of decisive action,” Abby says. She’d need that kind of positive outcome for the journey ahead.
On June 10, 2010, just over four months into her journey, Abby encountered a storm in a remote area of the Indian Ocean. Wild Eyes was rolled 360 degrees by a massive rogue wave. Abby recalls the realization that her beloved boat was upside down: “It was dark. Something had fallen on top of the cabin light, turning the cabin into a black tunnel. I couldn’t hear anything at all. The roll didn’t stop. It continued to port, and for just a few seconds I was sitting on the ceiling in the dark.”
Once Abby was upright again, she quickly discovered Wild Eyes had lost its mast. Her trip was over. “Everything we had worked for, all the fund-raising, the training, all the prep, the jury-rigging, the brutal days at sea, gone in a couple of seconds,” Abby says. But that was the least of her problems. Abby soon realized her satellite phones were ruined by the water the boat had taken on.
“Not being able to make my way in a boat was one thing,” Abby says. “Not being able to communicate was something else.” Abby fought panic as she realized the seriousness of the situation. She was in one of the most remote locations in which she could possibly be. She set off her emergency beacons, which she says was the hardest thing she’s ever had to do, because it meant admitting defeat.
RESCUE AT SEA
While television viewers watched news reports about Abby missing at sea with bated breath, Abby tried not to think too much about what would become of Wild Eyes and herself. Instead, she found things to work on around the boat. Without communication, Abby had no idea when or if she’d be rescued, but she clung to the hope that she’d be found.
Fortunately, Wild Eyes, an Open 40 sailboat was made to withstand the elements and keep itself upright. Two days after her boat capsized, Abby was rescued by a French fishing vessel approximately 2,000 nautical miles off the west coast of Australia. Several days later, she was reunited with her family and learned about the media firestorm that had ensued while she was missing.
Abby's parents had been widely criticized for allowing their young daughter to make the dangerous journey alone. Abby felt like she’d proven herself, and that age had nothing to do with her difficulties at sea and was surprised by the criticism, but she says her family got through the criticism by pulling closer to God. In fact, their relationship with God helped them through the entire situation.
Abby comes from a strong Christian family, who stated to the press throughout the ordeal that they believed God was in control, and after Abby was rescued they credited her safe return to “answered prayers.” Abby says she grew closer to God through the whole experience, as well. “Most people that go to sea, at some point, get pushed to their limit,” Abby says. “When you’re out in the ocean alone and you got God there, your relationship with God grows a lot.”
Abby has no immediate plans to sail around the world, but says she can’t wait for the chance to try again. “I have learned much about overcoming difficulties and what constitutes a true spirit of adventure,” Abby says. Although she was disappointed that she didn’t reach her goal, she’s proud of all she accomplished. “I’m living proof that not everything works out the way you planned,” Abby says. “But I have learned an important truth: In stepping out and trying to achieve great things, the only way I can truly fail is never to try at all.”
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