Eight Years Later, This Teen’s Abandoned Boat Was Discovered

By: Emma Roberts | Published: Nov 06, 2023

Abby Sunderland was an extraordinary young woman. At the age of 16, she set off on a daring journey to sail around the world, an adventure filled with both beauty and disaster.

But, eight years later, Abby received an unexpected phone call that would change her life. Breaking a record and experiencing the unexpected, her story is one of courage, bravery, and resilience.

Young Sailor Sets Sail on an Unprecedented Journey

At the age of sixteen, Abby Sunderland was determined to do something no one her age had ever achieved – circumnavigate the world alone. The incredible journey was inspired by her brother Zac, who had become the first person under 18 to sail around the world the year before. 

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Despite having the necessary support and guidance from her family and friends, Abby was still faced with a daunting challenge. But, she was determined to make her solo sailing trip a success, and nothing was going to stand in her way.

Abby's Dream: Setting the Record

Before Abby could bring her lifelong dream to fruition, her father Laurence Sunderland knew he had to give her the toughest training. He wanted to make sure his 16-year-old daughter was fully prepared for the challenge that lay ahead of her. 

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Despite the hundreds of hours on the water with her family, it was her dad who knew what it would take to make her dream come true. He taught her the value of resilience and the importance of being ready for anything. Now, Abby is ready to take on the world and set a record like never before.

A Journey of a Lifetime Supported by Loving Parents 

Abby was determined to make her parents proud by taking a journey of a lifetime. Her mother Marianne Sunderland voiced her concerns, “Could there be a tragedy? Yeah, there could be. But, there could be a tragedy on the way home tonight, you know, or driving with her friends in the car.”

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Despite this, Abby’s supportive parents provided the necessary help to make the trip possible. She was grateful and determined to take this exciting opportunity and make her parents proud.

Discover the 'Wild Eyes': A Seaworthy Sloop Built for Exploration 

Spanning 40 feet in length, Wild Eyes is a sloop designed and built by Jutson Yacht in 2001. Initially named BTC Velocity, the vessel was used in the Around Alone 2002 race, where it rose to finish second in Class 3. After being bought by the Sunderland family in 2009, the boat was refitted with newer electrical, communication, and navigation systems. 

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Source: Jaco Marais/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Wild Eyes is made of fiberglass with Kevlar reinforcement, creating five watertight compartments, making it a perfect vessel for sailing through the Southern Ocean. 

A Courageous Journey Around the World: Abby’s Solo Circumnavigation 

Abby was determined to take on the audacious challenge of circumnavigating the world, all solo and unassisted. The route she mapped out was a 10-leg journey that started in Marina del Rey, CA, and headed south to Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin and back to Marina del Rey. 

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To meet the strict standards of the International Sailing Federation World Sailing Speed Record Council, Abby had to ensure she crossed the equator during the trip. With her courage and determination, Abby embarked on a remarkable journey that would take her around the globe.

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Courageous Abby Fights Her Fears and Sets Sail 

Amidst the looming fear of pirates and the unpredictability of the weather, courageous Abby faced her fears and embarked on a journey of a lifetime. On January 23, 2010, Abby boarded her ship Wild Eyes and set sail from Marina del Rey, California. 

Source: sailmagazine.com

Despite her anxiety, she was determined to not let her fears hold her back. With her brave spirit and intrepid attitude, she was ready to tackle whatever came her way.

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Abby's Solo Voyage: An Interview After 100 Days 

Abby knew she was in for a serious challenge when she set sail alone from Marina del Rey. Despite her previous experiences on the open ocean, she was now facing a new set of problems. 

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In an interview after 100 days, Abby revealed that a massive wave had struck her vessel, and the wind had become increasingly difficult to battle. Nevertheless, she was determined to persevere and complete her voyage.

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Abby's Courageous Choice: Taking on the Horn in the Autumn

When Abby decided to take on the challenge of rounding the Horn, Sail-World warned her of the autumnal weather she would likely encounter. Despite the risks, Abby felt that she had gone too far to back out now. 

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Her courageous choice was to brave the weather and persevere in her journey. Despite the odds being stacked against her, she remained determined to reach her goal. It’s a testament to Abby’s strength and determination that she chose to take on this challenge in the autumnal months.

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Abby's Daring Journey: Battling the Waves and Relying on Rescue 

In her daring journey, Abby was met with strong winds that ripped through one of her sails and water flooding the engine. Even with her best efforts, Wild Eyes encountered serious damage. Abby was eventually forced to give up. 

Source: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A beacon was activated and French and Australian search and rescue authorities came to the rescue. Thankfully, Abby had all the necessary supplies in case they were delayed in her rescue. In the end, Abby’s courage and resilience were rewarded, as she was saved and brought to safety.

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Sailing in Unfathomable Waters: Abby's Journey 

On the 10th of June 2010, Abby set sail into the unknown and her journey took her to a remote area of the Indian Ocean, around 2,000 miles west of Australia. The strong winds and the powerful waves caused her boat to be knocked down multiple times and she soon lost satellite phone contact. 

Source: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

With the nearest known land mass 400 miles away from her electronically reported position, she navigated through the waters, hoping to find her way. Her beacon position at that time was 40° 48′ 0″ S, 74° 58′ 0″ E, approximately 2,000 nautical miles west-south-west of Perth. Abby’s journey was a reminder that in life we can all strive to exceed our fathomable limits.

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A Mother's Joy: Rescuing Abby from the High Seas 

When Abby’s boat was hit by a rogue wave, sending it off course, her family was worried. Fortunately, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority stepped in. They sent a chartered passenger jet on a 4,700-mile round trip from Perth, with 11 trained SES air observers and a FESA officer on board. 

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Despite the distance, the crew made brief radio contact with Abby, who reported that she had righted the boat and was unharmed. Her mother expressed her immense joy and gratitude for the team’s heroic efforts in rescuing her daughter from the high seas.

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Miracle At Sea! 

On June 12, 2010, Abby was at risk of losing her life at sea. But, thanks to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Rescue Coordination Centre, three ships were sent to save her. 

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The French commercial fishing vessel Ile de la Réunion braved rough seas and was able to bring Abby to safety – but not without a hitch. The captain of the French fishing boat ended up in the water and had to be rescued, too. An incredible story of survival and bravery, this is surely a miracle at sea.

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Rescue Teams Reach Abby After an Epic 13-Hour Struggle 

After a long and tough 13-hour battle, rescue teams finally reached Abby, who had been stranded at sea in her boat Wild Eyes. Her parents had written to her followers, expressing their hope that she would manage to survive until help arrived, as she had a dry suit, survival suit, life raft, and ditch bags with emergency supplies. 

Source: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

When the rescue teams reached her, the boat was still upright in the water, though its rigging was a mess. Abby was then taken to a nearby island, where she received an unexpected and heartwarming surprise.

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Abby's Rescue Mission: A Costly Affair

At 16, Abby Sunderland made an attempt to be the youngest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe. Unfortunately, her mission didn’t go as planned and she was left stranded at sea. Luckily, she was rescued but the French and Australian taxpayers had to foot the bill, which is assumed to be around $300,000 in Australian currency. 

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This has caused some to criticize Abby’s team for their lack of financial help and even The Daily Telegraph has stated that they did not contribute anything to the rescue or the salvage of the boat. This has been a costly affair, but luckily Abby is safe.

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A Brother's Surprise Visit: A Reunion to Remember 

Abby had never expected this – her brother Zac, waiting on the island of Réunion to congratulate her on her bravery! Not only was his surprise visit an incredible show of support, but he had also brought her much-needed supplies such as fresh clothes and a hairbrush. 

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After facing the perils of the ocean, Abby was thrilled to be on land again. But, she would always cherish the memories from her journey, like surfing down giant swells and sitting on the deck to watch the sunset. It was a reunion that she would never forget.

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Miracle at Sea - Abby's Miraculous Survival 

Abby’s parents Laurence and Marianne were overwhelmed with relief when they heard that their daughter had survived her treacherous sea voyage. Although they were sorry that she had to abandon her dreams, they were grateful that she wasn’t seriously injured. 

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Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for her beloved ship, Wild Eyes. The ship was so damaged that the rescuers had no choice but to leave it drifting in the ocean, and Abby assumed it was gone forever. Little did she know that a miracle was waiting for her at sea.

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'Wild Eyes': The Story of an Incredible Oceanic Journey 

A decade ago, the Sunderland family was shocked to hear that their daughter Abby had gone missing during her solo circumnavigation of the globe. Much to their surprise, 8 years later they would be contacted by authorities with news that a tuna-spotting plane had seen a yellow yacht flipped upside down off the coast of Kangaroo Island, Australia. 

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And, yes — that boat was none other than Wild Eyes. An oceanographer, David Griffin, theorized that the ship had indeed circumnavigated the world despite Abby’s absence. An incredible feat, Wild Eyes had succeeded in completing the journey!

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The Sunderland Family: Adventures on the High Seas

The Sunderland family caught the world’s attention when Abby embarked on her solo sailing journey and miraculously survived her ordeal. After her rescue, it was reported that her father had signed a deal with Magnetic Entertainment for a television show about his family. 

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He described the potential project as being about family, Abigail’s trip, or a combination of the two. However, the family later clarified that the show had been shopped around, but was not sold and there were no plans to pursue a reality TV show or documentary. Whether by land or sea, we’ll have to wait and see if the Sunderland family have any other adventures in store.

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Unsinkable Abby: A Young Woman's Courageous Battle on the High Seas

Abby Sunderland didn’t give up on her dream of sailing solo around the world even after her reality show fell through. Her courage and determination were documented in the documentary film Wild Eyes: The Abby Sunderland Story, released on September 8, 2011. 

Source: Jaco Marais/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Abby also co-wrote a book about her experience with Lynn Vincent titled Unsinkable: A Young Woman’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas. The book was released on April 12, 2011, leading Abby to travel across the country for book signings. Abby’s story is an inspiration to sailors and dreamers alike, showing that nothing is impossible if you stay determined!

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From 12,000 Miles to Centreville, Alabama: Abby's Remarkable Journey

Abby’s journey was truly remarkable; she managed to travel 12,000 miles before being rescued, an incredible feat. Thankfully, her emergency beacon worked and she was saved from the same fate as the two women aboard the Sea Nymph

Source: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Today, Abby lives in Centreville, Alabama with her husband Justin T. Sims, and their three children, with another on the way. Her life has gone full circle – from a daring 12,000 miles journey to settling down in the heart of Alabama with her family.

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