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French boat rescues Sunderland, 16

6/12/2010

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- A French fishing vessel rescued a
California teenager Saturday from her crippled sailboat in the
turbulent southern Indian Ocean, bringing relief to her family but
ending her around-the-world sailing effort.

Abby Sunderland, 16, was quickly back to blogging about her experience after she was picked up more than 2,000 miles from the western Australia coast.

"The long and the short of it is, well, one long wave, and one short mast [short meaning 2 inch stub,]" Sunderland wrote on soloround.blogspot.com. "I'll write a more detailed blog later, just wanted to let every one know I am safe and sound on a great big fishing boat headed I am not exactly sure where."

Sunderland's father, Laurence Sunderland, told reporters outside his home that the Australian Maritime Safety
Authority had contacted him to confirm his daughter's rescue.

"She got out of her vessel with the clothes on her back, and we
are just really excited and ecstatic that Abigail is in safe
hands," he said. "She was in good spirits ... She talked to her
mother."

"It was incredible to hear her and to hear she was still in
good spirits," Mary Anne Sunderland said later on NBC's "Today"
show.

Sunderland has been stranded in heavy seas since Thursday, when
she set off a distress signal after the mast collapsed, knocking
out her satellite communications.

"There are plenty of things people can think of to blame for my situation; my age, the time of year and many more," Sunderland wrote in her blog. "The truth is, I was in a storm and you don't sail through the Indian Ocean without getting in at least one storm. It wasn't the time of year it was just a Southern Ocean storm. Storms are part of the deal when you set out to sail around the world.

"As for age, since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?"

The elder Sunderland said the
family was not going to elaborate on the problems that led to the
emergency.

The Australian group said the French ship Ile De La Reunion
brought Sunderland on board from her stricken craft Saturday
afternoon at the site (about 5:45 a.m. ET).

French authorities called it a "delicate operation" and at one
point the fishing boat's captain fell into the ocean. "He was
fished out in difficult conditions" and is in good health, said a
statement from the French territory of Reunion Island. Laurence
Sunderland said the crew used its dinghy in the transfer.

He said her boat will now likely be sunk because of the
difficulty towing it a great distance.

Sunderland's destination wasn't immediately clear. Her father
estimated it would be 10 days before she reaches Reunion or Perth,
Australia. French rescue officials said the boat carrying the
teenager is headed initially toward the Kerguelen Islands but her
final destination will be determined later.

Despite a lag in getting to see her, Laurence Sunderland said
the family is "just ecstatic that she is alive and well and
survived the ordeal."

Sunderland set out from Los Angeles County's Marina del Rey on
Jan. 23, trying to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the
globe solo.

Zac Sunderland, her brother, held the record for a little more
than a month last year until Briton Mike Perham completed his own
journey. The record changed hands again last month, when
16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson completed her own
around-the-world voyage.

Outside the family home early Saturday, news crews gathered to
hear word of the rescue from the family, which had been receiving
updates by telephone from Australian rescue officials. Eight pink
balloons were tethered to the white picket fence in front of the
single-story house and beneath them was placed a large,
hand-painted sign that read: "Thank God Abby's alive."

Soon after starting her trip, Sunderland ran into equipment
problems and had to stop for repairs. She gave up the goal of
setting the record in April, but continued, hoping to complete the
journey.

She had been keeping in contact with her parents through
satellite communications and had made several broken calls to her
family in Thousand Oaks, reporting her yacht was being tossed by
30-foot waves -- as tall as a 3-story building. An hour
after her last call ended Thursday, her emergency beacons began
signaling.

Rescuers in a chartered jet flew from Perth on Australia's west
coast and spotted Sunderland's boat, Wild Eyes, on Thursday. She
was able to radio to the plane to say she was in good health and
had plenty of food supplies.

Her parents have come under criticism from some observers for
allowing the high-risk adventure.

Veteran sailors questioned the wisdom of sending a teenager off
alone in a small boat, knowing it would be tossed about for 30 or
more hours at a time by the giant waves that rake the Southern
Hemisphere's oceans this time of year.

Her father defended the voyage.

"I never questioned my decision in letting her go," he told
reporters Friday. "In this day and age we get overprotective with
our children. If you want to look at statistics, look at how many
teenagers die in cars every year. Should we let teenagers drive
cars? I think it'd be silly if we didn't."

She was contacted by rescuers in a chartered Qantas Airbus A330
jet that made a 4,700-mile round trip from Perth
to Sunderland's boat, which is near the limit of its range.

They spotted Sunderland on the back deck of her boat. Its sail
was dragging in the water but Sunderland appeared to be in good
shape.

She told searchers Friday that she was doing fine with a space
heater and at least two weeks' worth of food.

Family spokesman Jeff Casher said her vessel so badly damaged,
her attempt to circle the globe was over.

"This is the end of the dream. There's no boat to sail," he
said.

The Australian maritime authority did not say how much the
rescue mission would cost but said it would not be seeking
compensation for the search, which initially fell just outside of
Australia's search and rescue region. It was not immediately clear
if the French vessel would seek compensation.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.