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Reporter who sailed with Abby Sunderland says child protective services visited her before she departed

June 16, 2010 |  3:35 pm

Outdoor blogger Pete Thomas, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, weighed in on the controversy surrounding 16-year-old Abby Sunderland, offering unique insight into her quest to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world and the role her family played in those dreams.

Thomas said a representative from child protective services interviewed Abby Sunderland for nearly two hours before she departed from Marina del Rey.

"The interview was to make sure the high school junior was not being coerced into making this voyage," Thomas wrote. He said Abby's mother, Marianne Sunderland, told him this in the weeks after the young sailor set off.

Thomas, who has interviewed the Sunderlands numerous times, even joined them on a 17-hour overnight trip to deliver Wild Eyes to San Diego from Ensenada, Mexico.

Charges of child endangerment could be leveled at any parents encouraging children in high-risk sports, Thomas said.

Sid Wing, a Sunderland family friend, told Thomas that the Sunderland children were raised to be achievers who pursue their dreams.

"I personally applaud how they are preparing their children for success in this world of overabundant naysayers and failure-avoiders. They demonstrate that nothing is achieved without risk, and the greater the achievement there is, no doubt, the greatest risk. Did Abby and her parents know there was danger involved in her quest? Yes, but they were consistent with their principles. She and the boat were definitely properly prepared. The Sunderlands did not carelessly endanger their daughter as many suggest," Wing said.

Thomas said the Sunderland parents have had a falling out with the people involved in documenting both Abby's voyage and that of her brother Zac. "Either the Sunderlands are difficult to work with or they align themselves with the wrong kind of people, who expect too large a share of any proceeds," Thomas wrote on his blog. "I have not figured this one out."

Thomas said he agreed with critics who have suggested that the timing of Abby's trip would send her into colder, more extreme conditions in the Indian Ocean. When Wild Eyes rolled and lost its mast, it may have been a blessing, Thomas wrote, "because the storms Abby was sure to encounter as she sailed closer to Australia could have been deadly."

Still, Thomas said he expects she will keep trying:

"I have no doubt that Abby will eventually sail around the world or take part in some great sailing adventure. Mother Nature knocked her down and out -- literally and figuratively -- but this will inspire a fiercely determined mariner to try again at some point in her life."

-- Kimi Yoshino