Fri, Jan 04, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Airplane locates boat from teen’s ill-fated voyage

The Guardian

The upturned, barnacle-encrusted boat Wild Eyes drifts off the Australian coast on Monday.

Photo: AP / South Australia Police

Eight-and-a-half years after it was abandoned in the middle of the Indian Ocean when then-16-year-old solo sailor Abby Sunderland had to be rescued in rough seas, a yellow yacht named Wild Eyes has been found floating upside down off the coast of South Australia.

The yacht was encrusted with barnacles, the signature eyes on the hull scratched and faded. Its mast snapped off in the wild weather that forced Sunderland’s rescue midway through her world record attempt to be the youngest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe in 2010.

It was spotted from the air by a tuna spotter airplane at about 12:30pm on Monday, 11 nautical miles (20.4km) from Vivonne Bay on Kangaroo Island.

A South Australian police helicopter and two commercial fishing vessels were sent to investigate and identified the yacht.

It had not been seen since Sunderland was picked up and rescued by the French ship Ile de la Reunion on June 12, 2010, midway between Madagascar and Western Australia.

In a blogpost written on the Ile de la Reunion hours after she was picked up, Sunderland said: “The long and the short of it is, well, one long wave, and one short mast (short meaning two inch stub.) ... am still trying to get over the fact that I will never see my Wild Eyes again.”

A month later, after she had returned home to California, she said that it was unlikely the boat would ever be found.

“A lot of people have been asking about Wild Eyes,” she wrote on July 5, 2010.

“She was still afloat when I boarded the Ile de la Reunion. She could end up on a beach in Western Australia at some point, but it’s just a guess, we don’t know for sure,” she wrote.

“She would have to be very lucky to wash up on a beach, and not get smashed on the rocks or something like that. While I do wish that she would be found and fixed up, it’s not all that likely she will be found,” she added.

Sunderland, now 25, set sail from Marina del Rey, California, on Jan. 23, 2010, but had to restart her world record attempt at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 10 days later due to electrical problems and higher-than-expected fuel and power use from her navigation and communication systems.

Sunderland’s family had bought Australian-built Wild Eyes in October, 2009 — just months after her elder brother, Zac, became the first person younger than 18 to sail solo around the world, with stops and assistance — and equipped it specifically for her journey.

Sunderland intended to beat her brother’s record and complete a nonstop circumnavigation, but had to stop in Cape Town for repairs in May 2010.

She activated her emergency satellite beacons after being tumbled about in 60-knot (111.1kph) winds and 15.2m waves about 3,220km east of Madagascar.

Her parents were heavily criticized for allowing her to undertake the attempt, and Sunderland in turn criticized the media, saying that her age had nothing to do with encountering a storm in the Indian Ocean, something she said happened to all sailors.

She has not commented on the yacht’s discovery, but her younger brother Toby posted the story yesterday.

Australian Jessica Watson, who is just five months older than Sunderland, is the youngest person ever to complete a solo nonstop circumnavigation and arrived home in Sydney on May 15, 2010, three days before her 17th birthday and six days before Sunderland departed Cape Town.

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